Ecriture Feminine and Visual Significations in the Writings of Roland Barthes and Helene Cixous


Jacqueline Claire Oboussier

A thesis submitted to the University of Bristol
in accordance with the requirements for the degree of
Ph.D. in the Faculty of Arts

Bristol University French Department

September 1994


This study takes as its point of departure the fact that Roland Barthes’s work has most often been read as theory before writing. This is an approach which, whilst justified with regard to his earlier texts, when carried through to those of (broadly) the last decade has the effect of overlooking their substance as writing. Here however Barthes’s text is given priority as writing. Taking ecriture feminine as developed by Helene Cixous as an intertext, this reading traces how Barthes’s texts as writing intersect with this economy and share many of its poetic characteristics and epistemological concerns. The thesis is constituted of seven chapters, each divided into subsections, which explore different paradigms of signification (beyond the representational theory of signs) influential or, Barthes and mobilised by him within the writing process. The opening chapter, which also functions as an introduction, considers the notion of ecriture feminine and how it may be seen as both an approach to and a production from Barthes’s (mainly) later writing. Thus it proposes the intertextual relationship between the writing of Cixous and Barthes to be expanded in the chapters to follow. Chapter two explores the notion of the body as it is written by both authors; how they inscribe an analogous relationship between body and text and how this relationship, in turn, generates a materialist paradigm of signification which challenges the closed-circuit of representation. Chapter three examines Barthes’s recourse to the Orient (most notably Japan and China) as a utopian and ultimately atopian model of signification and how this model functions within the writing, its successes and its limitations. Chapter four takes up visual signification as addressed in the writing of Barthes and Cixous. It considers their attentiveness to the materiality of language as poetry, their respective textual reactions to painting and, ultimately, their shared ambivalence towards the visual. Taking its lead from this ambivalence, chapter five discusses synaesthesia as an expanded field of signification operating in the writing of both Barthes and Cixous. Chapter six traces the evolution of Barthes’s writing on photography. It examines the notion of l’obrus and how, from an early stage, photography embodies a transgressive potential for signification. The final, concluding chapter again deals with photography in the context of Barthes’s last work La Chumbre claire which, it proposes, marks a significant shift in the economy of Barthes’s writing. La Chambre claire, it is argued, takes as its underlying economy a feminine relation to the gift and, more specifically, to depense, the axial characteristic of ecriture feminine.


List of Illustrations 1

Introduction 3

Introduction Notes 5

Chapter 1: The Feminine as approach 6

Notes 14

Chapter 2: The Embodiment of writing 16

The body writing back 18

Figurations of the body in writing 21

The body as pictogram 25

The body as voice/voice as music 29

Barthes’s voice 32

Beyond the Lacanian Imaginary 37

Atopias of language/languages of atopia 46

Notes 50

Chapter 3: Cette bdance d’utopie: Barthes’s Orient(alism) 57

Barthes’s Japan: The Orient as utopia 57

Japan: Signing differences 62

Barthes writing Japan 69

Alors, !a Chine?: Towards silence 81

Notes 90

Chapter 4: Visual Writing and writing the visual 96

From idea to image 97

roland BA RTHES par roland hartlres and 100

Fragments d ‘un discours antoureu.r:

Configurations of the Imaginary

A/phabetlsme: plaisir or jouissance 107

Writing from painting to writing 111

Masson, Rcyuichot and Twombly: Une peinture 116


Notes 130

Chapter 5: Barthes and Cixous: A Synaesthetic writing 136

The marginalisation of sensorial perception 138

The Man Who Tasted Shapes: Synaesthesia 140

and neurology

Metaphorical effects and corporeality 145

Clarice Lispector: Sensing the world 146

Signifiance: Meaning as sense 153

Writing from Twombly 157

Rhythm 166

Chapter 6: Unspeakable images: Barthes, photography 175

and femininity

The photographic paradox: Connotation vs. 175


‘Le Troisieme sens’: L’ohvie and 1’ohtus 181

Cindy Sherman and L’ohtus 186

Le seas obtus and intersuhjectivity 195

Droit duns les yeur: The photographic look 199

Notes 209

Chapter 7: Le reveil de I’intraitable realite: 213

La Chambre claire and writing as depense

Depenser: A feminine relation to the gift 215

Une Matlresis singularis 220

The suspension of images 223

The Studium and the Puncttun 227

A recantation: Wholeness and fragmentation 231

The Real: Resisting the Simulacrum 237

Un-thinking time 240

La Chambre Claire: Death and life 244

Notes 250

Bibliography 258