Explicating Process: Helene Cixous' Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing
I hesitate to write about Cixous' work. She says it all so well herself. In Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing (Columbia University Press, 1993), she begins with the letters I and H, H particularly for its ladder-like appearance, and when that letter (in French) is "out of breath" (4), she turns to English to give it sound (life). With that introduction, proclaiming "this H, this ladder is writing" (4), she proceeds to send us to the School of the Dead.
It is important that these are not schools in the traditional sense, but levels of consciousness that intersect and repeat. Whether you take notes, read straight through, skip around, reread or re-reread, reading Cixous often mirrors the act of memory, much like reading Morrison (as outlined in her essay "The Site of Memory," from Inventing the Truth, edited by William Zinsser).
Then we progress to the School of Dreams, still accompanied by the dead writers discussed in the previous School – Kafka, Lispector, Poe, Tsvetaeva. We learn that "One has to go away, leave the self. How far must one not arrive in order to write, how far must one wander and wear out and have pleasure? One must walk as far as the night. One's own night. Walking through the self toward the dark" (65). Forget what you know. Look for what you don't understand, don't see – write through it.
The point of such a process, according to Cixous, is to unravel the self's mysteries, to know more than before about yourself and the world. Armed with that knowledge, "let the dream ladder grow. It grows down – toward the depths" (108) to the School of Roots. Reminiscent of Jenny Boully's recent work, not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them (Tarpaulin Sky, 2011) with its "Home Under Ground" throughout, we enter "a world under the world" (126), a place of metamorphosis, restoration, recovery of self and language anew (129). Then we come to a finishing place. We write something else. Do it again.
(Learn more about Khadijah Queen herself here.)