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Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing

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Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing PDF, ePub eBook "Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing" is a poetic, insightful, and ultimately moving exploration of 'the strange science of writing.' In a magnetic, irresistible narrative, Cixous reflects on the writing process and explores three distinct areas essential for 'great' writing: "The School of the Dead"--the notion that something or someone must die in order for good writing "Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing" is a poetic, insightful, and ultimately moving exploration of 'the strange science of writing.' In a magnetic, irresistible narrative, Cixous reflects on the writing process and explores three distinct areas essential for 'great' writing: "The School of the Dead"--the notion that something or someone must die in order for good writing to be born; "The School of Dreams"--the crucial role dreams play in literary inspiration and output; and "The School of Roots"--the importance of depth in the 'nether realms' in all aspects of writing. Cixous's love of language and passion for the written word is evident on every page. Her emotive style draws heavily on the writers she most admires: the Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector, the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, the Austrian novelists Ingeborg Bachmann and Thomas Bernhard, Dostoyevsky, and, most of all, Kafka.

30 review for Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    We must have death, but young, present, ferocious, fresh death, the death of the day, today's death. The one that comes right up to us so suddenly we don't have time to avoid it, I mean to avoid feeling its breath touching us. Ha! H H ~ . H This book is my scripture. I don't even know what that means, but the word feels right in this case. I want to absorb it entirely. It was emotionally devastating even though there were no moving scenes--there is no narrative; no, this is an Instruction Man We must have death, but young, present, ferocious, fresh death, the death of the day, today's death. The one that comes right up to us so suddenly we don't have time to avoid it, I mean to avoid feeling its breath touching us. Ha! H H ~ . H This book is my scripture. I don't even know what that means, but the word feels right in this case. I want to absorb it entirely. It was emotionally devastating even though there were no moving scenes--there is no narrative; no, this is an Instruction Manual!! Ha, what a joke, because that is the least of it H H . H H The desire to die is the desire to know; it is not the desire to disappear, and it is not suicide; it is the desire to enjoy. H ~ H H H HFor starters it should be required reading in every writing school. Definitely in every art school. Yes, even in any sort of educational institution. I cannot see how it can be any other way. And yet it is. Curious . H H You will tell me everyone dies, but not everyone dies of writing. H H Why do we desire to die so much? Because we desire to say so much. H . H HThough fair warning: for a beginning writer, there is no real practical advice in this book. Well, maybe one, and I can remember exactly what it was, but it's like a paragraph. For the rest of the book, what the reader will come away with is not a new set of skills on writing, but a new perspective on writing, a deeper understanding of reading (and the importance, difficulty, and seriousness of really reading), and lastly, a feel for the impulse to write, and what that impulse necessarily entails H . H H H H . *In the direction of truth*, because telling the truth and dying go together. Something allies truth with death. We cannot bear to tell the truth, except in the final hour, at the last minute, since to do so earlier costs too much. But when does the last minute come? Perhaps going in the direction of what we call truth is, at least, to "unlie," not to lie. Our lives are buildings made up of lies. We have to lie to live. But to write we must try to unlie. Something renders going in the direction of truth and dying almost synonymous. It is dangerous to go in the direction of truth. We cannot read about it, we cannot bear it, we cannot say it; all we can think is that only at the very last minute will you know what you are going to say, though we never know when the last minute will be. H . H H ~ H H In writing school, during workshops, I was always tempted to give the criticism "what's at stake here?"--i.e. "where is the urgency in this?" But I rarely voiced this concern, because it was seen by the other participants and the teacher as not a very helpful one. What does this criticism even mean? And how is it helpful, since one cannot learn urgency? Better to stick to the craft! Because that word 'urgency' gets too personal--as if criticizing the writer--from what depths are you writing out of?--rather than the work. And perhaps they're right. You can't teach it. But Cixous doesn't try to teach urgency. She makes a case for the urgency of urgency H H H . H H H . H . H we must lie, mostly as a result of two needs: our need for love and cowardice. The cowardice of love but also love's courage. Cowardice and courage are so close that they are often exchanged. Cowardice is probably the strange, tortuous path of courage. Love is tortuous. So it is only at the very last page of a book that we perhaps get a chance to say what we have never said, write what we have never written all our lives, i.e., the most precarious, the best, in other words, the worst. H H H H Cixous is a poetic writer, but not in the popular understanding of that term "poetic". She writes simply and directly exactly what is there. For true poetry is not circuitous, slant or not--it is the shortest route from A to B, i.e. it is, unintuitively, a straight line H H H H H H H Try to look for the worst in yourself and confide it where there is no process of erasure, where the worst remains the worst. Try to write the worst and you will see that the worst will turn against you and, treacherously, will try to veil the worst. For we cannot bear the worst. Writing the worst is an exercise that requires us to be stronger than ourselves. My authors have killed. H . . H H I found myself reading sentences over and over again, to understand better but also--mostly--to delay the pain of the direct encounter, to allow time for the truth to land and settle in. To become more prosaic and therefore digestible. That is how you recognize truth's appearance, when it is sudden and indigestible H H H H H Man cannot bear having committed what I would call *a perfect crime*, since no one knows about it. Even the dog does not know about it. The crime is so perfect it is imperfect. The really perfect crime should indeed be imperfect. But this crime, perpetrated on a dog, is not recognized as a crime, and this is what Man must deal with. We are criminals and we do not know how to express or prove that we are criminals. The problem is that if, as criminals, we were recognized as such, we would have to pay for the crime. Yet if we paid, the crime would disappear and our debt would be wiped out. We must keep our crime in order to keep our crime safe, to avoid the terrible fate of being forgiven. H H H *The inclination for avowal*, the desire for avowal, the yearning to taste the taste of avowal, is what compels us to write: both the need to avow and its impossibility. Because most of the time the moment we avow we fall into the snare of atonement: confession--and forgetfulness. Confession is the worst thing: it disavows what it avows. H H H . H . H H . H She requires the same of writers: that they too look unflinchingly into the face of the worst, most uncomfortable, most otherworldly H H H . We could think over these mysteries but we don't. We are unable to inscribe or write them since we don't know who we are, something we never consider since we always take ourselves for ourselves; and from this point on we no longer know anything. H H H Within the book lurks the temptation to misread the book. For what it proposes is at once obvious, teetering at the edge of cliche, yet not obvious at all. It is easy, then, to read into it the tired argument of the suffering artist, that all good art comes out of suffering and pain. There is some truth to the cliche, but the very form of the cliche demeans it through vulgarity and simplicity. And with it the reader dismisses the entire package as untrue. But what Cixous proposes here, when not misread, is nothing so crude. It is full of subtlety and does not involve suffering, death, borders, metamorphosis, displacement or sexuality in any of the traditional ways. It's theory that's not theoretical but felt. She breaks these ideas down in a compost heap of lived and read experiences, through her favorite writers: Ingeborg Bachmann, Clarice Lispector, Thomas Bernhard, Marina Tsvetaeva, Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jean Genet. These are who she calls descenders on the ladder of writing: To us this ladder has a descending movement, because the ascent, which evokes effort and diffuculty, is toward the bottom. I say ascent downward because we ordinarily believe the descent is easy. The writers I love are descenders, explorers of the lowest and deepest. H . H And Cixous is a great reader. I enjoy reading her version of Poe more than reading Poe himself, directly. I want to re-read Clarice Lispector with Cixous's eyes, since I have always admired Lispector, but have never completely connected with her emotionally, and the fault is probably mine. As for some of the other writers like Ingeborg Bachmann and Thomas Bernhard, I beam with joy and recognition when she talks about them, as I also read them in a very similar way H H . H If the truth about loving or hateful choices were revealed it would break open the earth's crust. Which is why we live in legalized and general delusion. Fiction takes the place of reality. This is why simply naming one of these turns of the unconscious that are part of our strange human adventure engenders such upsets (which are at once intimate, individual, and political); why consciously or unconsciously we constantly try to save ourselves from this naming. . . H H Cixous understands so much that is pre-speech, pre-understanding, so much that is under the surface and she treats her subject with such care not to explain it away, but to bring just the smallest glint of light onto it. I fear that this book will mean nothing to those who don't have this book inside of them already. That was my experience. I feel like I've always known the book even before I read the book. And that reading the words just brought them forth in my mind more clearly than ever . . H . 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 dark.

  2. 5 out of 5

    vani

    Yes, it's a book about writing, but it's not easy and prescriptive, and it's not hard the way you'd think. Cixous writes about the necessary connection between writing and death, imagining death as an ongoing process rather than an instantaneous one (which can shift our thinking; we are at once all both living and in the process of dying). By knowing we are dying, we can come closer to writing authorless texts, to moving beyond our animal selves to reach even our vegetal and mineral selves, and Yes, it's a book about writing, but it's not easy and prescriptive, and it's not hard the way you'd think. Cixous writes about the necessary connection between writing and death, imagining death as an ongoing process rather than an instantaneous one (which can shift our thinking; we are at once all both living and in the process of dying). By knowing we are dying, we can come closer to writing authorless texts, to moving beyond our animal selves to reach even our vegetal and mineral selves, and other really cool things like that which are by no means a piece of cake but also not impossible, in fact, by the end of reading this book, you can start to believe it's all possible, if elusive and riding on a lot of serendipity and grace.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andreea

    I am astonished, always mesmerized, by Cixous' lucid and extremely poetic usage of language and at the intensity of the love that transpires for her subjects. Extremely inspiring, a book to cherish and return to numerous times.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paulina

    This book is beautiful--I truly recommend it to anyone who feels great emotions when either reading or writing. Cixous explores a beautiful aspect of what it means to write, to give self to language, to figuratively die for it. And she writes with powerful passion; it is as though you linger in the vibrations of the words on each page (or at least on your favourite pages), and when you finish reading this book it leaves you in a bit of a soulful trance.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    Cixous illuminates her craft-- I read it because I needed a jump start to some of my own projects. Her emphasis on reading is spot-on, and throughout she addresses psychological aspects of mining the self for writing, normalizing the discomfort and awkwardness of the process by providing some really wonderful examples.

  6. 4 out of 5

    TaraShea Nesbit

    "We then spend our lives not seeing what we saw" (8) "That is the definition of truth, it is the thing you must not say" (38). "Thinking is trying to think the unthinkable..." (38)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sandrine

    The book that inspired me to study literature...One of the best books I've ever read...a book that lived in me before I read it...a coming home.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Christina Nicole

    Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing is a contemplation by Hélène Cixous regarding essential elements of writing that distinguish pieces of vision and profundity from the slew of writing available on the market. Cixous channels her focus on authors such as Franz Kafka and Clarice Lespaector whom have impacted the history of literature and have given the world gifts of writing that permeate the human experience and communicate fundamental aspects of mundane life with an artistic gesture. The book Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing is a contemplation by Hélène Cixous regarding essential elements of writing that distinguish pieces of vision and profundity from the slew of writing available on the market. Cixous channels her focus on authors such as Franz Kafka and Clarice Lespaector whom have impacted the history of literature and have given the world gifts of writing that permeate the human experience and communicate fundamental aspects of mundane life with an artistic gesture. The book is categorized into three main sections: “The School of the Dead,” “The School of Dreams,” and “The School of Roots.” Each section sings to the reader in poetic diction and romanticized concepts, conveying an extreme respect and admiration for language and those whom share and delight in its revere. Contained in the brief introduction, Cixous delineates some of her beliefs regarding writing and its power to unify two unrelated fields. Using the letter H to visually represent a ladder, Cixous weaves an extended metaphor that respectively represents language’s jurisdiction to create “a passageway between two shores” (Cixous 3). Furthermore, it is brought to awareness that in the French alphabet, H is omni-gendered, switching between feminine, neutral and masculine at will, which creates a space of mutability that encompasses all possibilities and cultivates increasing opportunities for relation. Despite writing’s ability to cohesively script a whole from two distant halves, all writing shares a common root. Cixous states that “the texts that call me have different voices. But they all have one voice in common, they all have, with their differences, a certain music I am attuned to” (Cixous 5). The aforementioned declaration exemplifies Cixous’s adoration of language and how her basic qualifier of a moving piece of literature is that it sings to her from a level of depth and profundity within her psyche; an quality of downward ascension pervades the authors whom climb her ladder of writing, providing an expression of reaching that touches the innermost depth of her soul. In “The School of the Dead,” living and writing are expressed as the same action, compelling the reader to question his or her relationship to life, death, the activities in life that support vitality and the habits that kill individuals with monotony and petrification. The function of writing is to address the immediate mortality faced by all humanity, to come to peace with this fact and to see, with eyes wide open, that life is ephemeral and cannot (in a physical sense) be preserved. Cixous states that “Writing is learning to die. It’s learning not to be afraid, in other words to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death give us” (Cixous 10). In the dualistic reality of life, life invades death and vice versa, creating an inextricable bond between both, like the rung contained within the letter H that connects two polar compliments. In a letter to a friend Pollak, Kafka wrote: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside of us” (Kafka 16). Kafka’s belief about writing proposes the idea that writing must wake up the dead components of the reader’s psyche with a violent force. Cixous proudly declares that “When I write I escape myself, I uproot myself,” a demonstration of writing’s sheer power to shake an individual from themselves or at least, his or her definition of self (Cixous 21). Lispector additionally provides commentary on writing and Cixous interprets her conveyance of writing as “the hour of relinquishing all the lies that have helped us live” (Cixous 37). Writing is akin to the connection between individuals and their breath, providing an honest, forceful awareness of living and a relinquishment of fear surrounding the experience of death. The continuation of “The School of the Dead” leads to “The School of Dreams,” where individuals look past their avoidances and disavowal to peer, without obstructions, into the contents of their psyches. Dreaming teaches individuals to forget about a storyline or contextual setting while living through experiences, furthermore teaching them to live independently of expectation and open themselves to the yearning drive of the soul. Writing is a process of creation and proliferation is the inherent goal of human’s genetic programming; this similarity unites writing with the desires of the soul, therefore writing becomes an act that nourishes deep human needs. Dreams express the workings of the subconscious without transition or translation; interpretation murders the magic found within dreams, an attempt to predict the unpredictability of human nature. Reality cannot be calculated and is dangerous, providing humanity and all nature with a messy experience, one that is not divided into right and wrong, safe and hazardous; an experience that is impure. As “The School of Roots” contains in its teaching, “to be ‘imund,’ to be unclean with joy…[is] the moment you cross the line the law has drawn by wording, verb(aliz)ing, you are supposed to be out of the world. You no longer belong to the world” (Cixous 117). Those whom find themselves peering in at the world from the outside have climbed Cixous ladder of writing, reaching further than social constrains and crawling into a world in which they no longer perceive themselves as engaging in writing, but they see themselves and their psyches as being written into fruition. To understand writing is to understand that books exist without a singular creator, they exist as an extension of life, they breathe with each breath of a reader and they persevere through time by reaching toward the next reader to touch the innermost part of his or her psyche.

  9. 5 out of 5

    John Madera

    Here are some quotes from this provocative book that elliptically engages Lispector, Bachmann, Bernhard, Kafka, and others: "Writing is learning to die. It's learning not to be afraid, in other words to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death, give us." "The writers I feel close to are those who play with fire, those who play seriously with their own mortality, go further, go too far, sometimes go as far as catching fire, as far as being seized with fire." "Writing and reading Here are some quotes from this provocative book that elliptically engages Lispector, Bachmann, Bernhard, Kafka, and others: "Writing is learning to die. It's learning not to be afraid, in other words to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death, give us." "The writers I feel close to are those who play with fire, those who play seriously with their own mortality, go further, go too far, sometimes go as far as catching fire, as far as being seized with fire." "Writing and reading are not separate, reading is a part of writing. A real reader is a writer. A real reader is already on the way to writing." "Reading is a provocation, a rebellion..." "It can also happen that an author will kill himself or herself writing. The only book that is worth writing is the one we don't have the courage or strength to write. The book that hurts us (we who are writing), that makes us tremble, redden, bleed. It is combat against ourselves, the author; one of us must be vanquished or die." "I have always loved the writers who I call writers of extremity, those who take themselves to the extremes of experience, thought, life." "The thing that is both known and unknown, the most unknown and the best unknown, this is what we are looking for when we write. We go toward the best known unknown thing, where knowing and not knowing touch, where we hope we will know what is unknown. Where we hope we will not be afraid of understanding the incomprehensible, facing the invisible, hearing the inaudible, thinking the unthinkable, which is of course: thinking. Thinking is trying to think the unthinkable: thinking the thinkable is not worth the effort. Painting is trying to paint what you cannot paint and writing is writing what you cannot know before you have written: it is preknowing and not knowing, blindly, with words." “We must work. The earth of writing. To the point of becoming the earth. Humble work. Without reward. Except joy.”

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ron Ratchford

    How do you review a book you have read and continue to read. Each page is a revelation. The writing is a synonym for living, breathing and being. I hate the book for having brought me to a place where I will never be that same smug person I have been getting by with all of my life. I would like to see someone write a book about this book. And then I would like to see the book that is inspired by that book. The spiral is opening. The date I noted on this form is the most recent time I have reread t How do you review a book you have read and continue to read. Each page is a revelation. The writing is a synonym for living, breathing and being. I hate the book for having brought me to a place where I will never be that same smug person I have been getting by with all of my life. I would like to see someone write a book about this book. And then I would like to see the book that is inspired by that book. The spiral is opening. The date I noted on this form is the most recent time I have reread the book

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marcia

    This is a book about reading as much as writing -- Cixous is an attentive, nuanced, and most importantly, a loving and joyful reader. I love her poetic deployment of erudition, the way she uses her knowledge of language and languages to open up the texts she examines. "I have talked about school, not goals or diplomas, but places of learning and maturing," she writes, and also: "School is interminable."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Poupeh

    I am writing a new work with three sections, the city, the corpses, the dreams; A friend, as comments to a small part of the project shared with class, simply tells me about a book that has three sections: the school of the dead, the school of dreams, the school of roots. how strange is that? stranger still is when reading that night an analysis of Anais Nin, Cixous is mentioned, for the second time on the same day in two seemingly unrelated context. A few pages in the book and i already know why I am writing a new work with three sections, the city, the corpses, the dreams; A friend, as comments to a small part of the project shared with class, simply tells me about a book that has three sections: the school of the dead, the school of dreams, the school of roots. how strange is that? stranger still is when reading that night an analysis of Anais Nin, Cixous is mentioned, for the second time on the same day in two seemingly unrelated context. A few pages in the book and i already know why i need to read this... Cixous is now one of the women i will come back to over and over again, i am sure of.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ishita

    A philosophical exploration into what it means to write. Categorizing writing into three facets, the School of the Dead, School of Dreams, and School of Roots, Cixous captivates with her poetic language, and offers strange yet delightful explanations for what truth means in writing. Not quite criticism, not quite creative writing, ultimately Cixous is able to deliver a book that, as Kafka would say, hits you like a blow to the head - a unique piece that you ponder over for time to come.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mimi

    Helen continues to foster my lust for ink, she adopts a philosophical approach coated in a beautiful garment of syntax, both talk to one another in a beautiful exposure. The aura of the Deconstruction movement is vivaciously illuminating through the question of identity and feminism she perpetually correlated to the very simple act of writing. A straight-out five

  15. 4 out of 5

    Easton Smith

    This book made me want to write a Gothic novel, among other things. Too many wonderful quotes to write here, and insights about writing too deep to be read outside of the book as a whole. If you are looking for someone to tell you how to write (not what to write), interlibrary loan this shit.

  16. 4 out of 5

    christopher leibow

    This is the most powerful book I have ever read about writing and life. Cixous power is that she not only writes as a critic but as a poet. Her lines are tight and a times lyrical. The are so many facets to this book that I read it over and over again and always find something new.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    A deep, beautiful book--essential for any writer.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Schantz

    This is one of my favorite books--both as a reader and as a writer.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christine Bissonnette

    I won't forget this book anytime soon. At points chaotically written, this meditation changed my understanding of what writing is and could be. Definitely didn't enjoy all of it, but the parts I did, I loved. At times spent over an hour reading only 6 pages. Here's an excerpt from chapter 1, The School of the Dead: "I'll tell you frankly that I haven't the faintest idea who I am, but at least I know I don't know. I am not the other able to perceive me. I know some things about myself. I know who I won't forget this book anytime soon. At points chaotically written, this meditation changed my understanding of what writing is and could be. Definitely didn't enjoy all of it, but the parts I did, I loved. At times spent over an hour reading only 6 pages. Here's an excerpt from chapter 1, The School of the Dead: "I'll tell you frankly that I haven't the faintest idea who I am, but at least I know I don't know. I am not the other able to perceive me. I know some things about myself. I know who I'm not, I believe."

  20. 5 out of 5

    JuliaCaesar

    Brilliant: Both intriguing and confusing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shelby Lynne

    I've understood exactly 2 books less than I understood this one and one of them was written in Spanish. TRULY baffled as to how this earned so many 5-star reviews. To each their own, I guess.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tatyana

    "The only book that is worth writing is the one we don’t have the courage or strength to write. The book that hurts us (we who are writing), that makes us tremble, redden, bleed."

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gloria

    This is an extraordinary, weird, book about the life of writing. I'll return to it many times

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jules

    Cixous 'writes about writing' in metacognitive fashion. She coaches the aspiring writer, advising them to write with death in mind and read only what is disturbing and violent. Her favorite author is Clarice Lispector. The metaphor of Jacob's ladder takes us through the writing process, as we ascend to our heights and descend to our depths. On the way, if we are lucky or unlucky, depending on how you look at it, we may stumble upon our buried genius.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Oriana

    I'd never heard of this book, but then I read Jimmy's gorgeous review, and I couldn't get it on the old "to read" shelf fast enough.

  26. 4 out of 5

    missy jean

    I loved the lecture on "The School of the Dead" the most. This is reading and re-re-re-reading material. This is the kind of book that you can feel it changing you as you read. I recommend it for everyone who writes or wants to write.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I am disappointed in how the second section swerves toward the maternal as its rungs along the ladder, a theoretical misstep in my estimation, but almost redeemed by the later insistence of the imund book, and a final call toward no conclusion

  28. 4 out of 5

    Irus

    doubtful this makes writing any easier, but it is amusing nonetheless

  29. 5 out of 5

    elizabeth

    but i really loved parts of it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    Good.

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