Telefoam: species on the shores of Derrida and Cixous

Turner, Lynn. 2014. Telefoam: species on the shores of Derrida and Cixous. European Journal of English Studies, 18(2), pp. 158-171. ISSN 1382-5577 [Article]

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‘[…] are there more telephones or animals in the life and works of Helene Cixous? Answer: animals are telephones and sometimes the other way around, and they multiply, in the prolifauny of all their animal, human and divine metamorphoses.’
(Jacques Derrida, H.C for Life, That Is to Say, 2006, 102)

In an otherwise positive review of a collection of work on feminism and French philosophy, Claire Colebrook singled out Hélène Cixous’s chapter for hostile, even scornful remarks (Hypatia 20.1, 2005). First attacking her style by implication, holding Cixous’s chapter or “essay” at a distance with the pincers of scare-quotes, Colebrook then suggests that, at best, such a work could only be a parody of what misogyny might think of feminist endeavour. The work in question was ‘From My Menagerie to Philosophy’ included within Cixous’s book Messie (Des Femmes, 1996) and in the English language anthology, Stigmata (Routledge, 1997). Only one quotation from Cixous evidences what could draw such condemnation and it connects animals, telephones and the maternal: ‘All mammals bear the trace of the first telephone cord’. While readers such as Colebrook usually bring a conceptual sophistication to thought, this difficulty with Cixous is indicative of the still uneven quality in the reception of her work.

Bringing animals, the technology of the telephone, and indeed the maternal together might put one in mind of the animal-machines of Descartes, doomed to repetition, to reaction, cut off in kind from the capacity to respond and thus the supposed domain of the human. Conceptually speaking, this essay will pursue the deconstruction of such a distinction that Derrida explicitly sets out in The Animal That Therefore I Am (2008) as well as in ‘Typewriter Ribbon: Limited Ink (2)’ (2002) such that human response is always infected by the repetition of the mechanical - say the telephone, and animals cannot be corralled into uniform, timeless, automaticity. His arguments ruin human exceptionalism and insist on the ongoing complexity of what counts as the living.

Of course Derrida has long-pressured the discrete tongue of the discipline of philosophy with its necessary infiltration by literature, as well as challenging the limits of the French language in which he is both at home and not at home. Sharing his ‘Algeriance’ (Stigmata, 1998), Cixous’s writing puts perhaps greater emphasis on sounding the poetics of language as the means of shaping its theoretical ambitions, demanding complex feats of invention from her translators. Paying attention to the poetic articulation of her thought, this essay will further examine the ways in which Cixous doubles and even anticipates that now readily associated with Derrida, especially on the question of the animal (an argument begun in my ‘When Species Kiss’, Humanimalia, 2.1, 2010). It will focus on the question of the distance-proximity of the telephone and the non-species specific nature of communication. Just as a letter can always not arrive at its destination, the telephone can always produce crossed wires. The shores of the other are subject to limitrophy in the telefoam of their correspondence, prompting a posthumanist ethics.

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Cixous, Derrida, posthumanist ethics, postanthropocentrism, communication

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Visual Cultures


31 August 2014Published

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Date Deposited:

19 Feb 2015 09:49

Last Modified:

14 Aug 2018 14:07

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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