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How to '(not) Arrive': Hélène Cixous's and Sara Stridsberg's drama vs. appropriation

How to ‘(not) Arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara
Stridsberg’s Drama vs. Appropriation
Romana Švachová
In answer to Cara Berger, this article examines how Hélène Cixous’s play Portrait de Dora and
Sara Stridsberg’s play Valerie ska bli president iAmerika approach as examples of feminist dra-
ma (and in case of Cixous, also an example of feminist postdramatic theatre) the problem of
appropriation, an important question of feminist theories. The article maps the means the
texts use to tackle the problem, or whether they resign on it, and discusses Cixous’s reinstal-
ment of the narrator in drama and usage of astructure based on the narrative mode of the
stream of consciousness as methods to highlight appropriation processes.
Hélène Cixous; Sara Stridsberg; feminist postdramatic theatre; appropriation; the narrator in
drama; the stream of consciousness in drama
Brünner Beiträge zur Germanistik und Nordistik 35 / 2021 / 2
Romana Švachová
How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
In 2019, Cara Berger in the article ‘Feminism in Posttraumatic Theatre: An Oblique
Approach’ asked: “What works do we consider as part of the spectrum of feminist the-
atre-making? What proper names, aesthetic forms and critical perspectives are sum-
moned when we determine, debate and reforge connections between theatrical practices
and feminist politics?” (Berger 2019: 423) Berger also suggested that there had been
feminist postdramatic works, although not overtly, and in the article, she analysed the
means of the so-called oblique approach. Her methodology war partially based on the
theory of French poststructuralists Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous, thus also, via the
latter, with the concept of écriture féminine, an experimental mode of writing connect-
ed prominently with the context of French second-wave feminism and deconstruction,
a mode that aimed to create a subversive force in the literary sphere and by that, also
in the sociocultural space. Although both Kristeva and Cixous focused in their theory
mainly on literature, Berger suggested that there were certain crossroads of Lehmann’s
characteristic of postdramatic theatre and propositions made by Kristeva and Cixous;
she pointed out that according to Lehmann, in postdramatic theatre there was a clear
inclination to “abandon the representation of subjects in favour of embodiments of
‘hidden impulses, energy dynamics and mechanics of […] motorics’” (Berger 2019: 424),
which, for sure, was also an important aspect of Cixous’s and Kristeva’s theories, as
illustrated by their engagement and partial rework of Freuds and Lacan’s psychoana-
lytic assumptions, leading Cixous to the formulation of “writing the body” method and
Kristeva to her work on chora, the semiotic and the symbolic as linguistically disruptive
forces and the possibilities these concepts offer to writing.
In this article, I intend to pick up on Berger’s article and suggest some other answers
to her initial questions presented above. To some extent, I will proceed analogously to
Berger, who began with a re-examination of Pina Bausch’s Café Müller, a piece from
1978, and then tried to identify analysed principles in a newer production, The Wooster
Group’s The Town Hall Affair that premiered in 2016. However, in one important aspect,
I will digress from Berger’s methodology, even though at first glance, it may seem coun-
ter-logical, given that postdramatic theatre does not, according to Lehmann, construct
a mere stage reproduction of the initial script, but rather treats it as a semi-finished prod-
uct that can be altered in many ways. Nevertheless, here I will not analyse a specific stage
production; I will work solely with scripts of two plays, namely Portrait of Dora by Cixous
herself (Portrait de Dora, written in 1976 for Théâtre du Soleil) and Sara Stridsberg’s
Valerie Jean Solanas for President of the United States (Valerie Jean Solanas ska bli president
i Amerika), stage-managed first time in 2006 by the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stock-
holm. The main goal of this article is to analyse how the texts themselves approach and
deal with the problem of appropriation,1 which is, as Berger rightfully stressed, central
to Cixous and écriture féminine, because she rejects “phallocentrism and desire premised
on appropriation” and instead, calls for “an act of approaching without appropriating,
1 On basis of Sarah Cooper’s article regarding Cixous’s novel Manne aux Mandelstams aux Mandelas, I de-
fined here the problem of (general) appropriation as “the ethical wager for the writing self [consisting in the
dilemma of] how to write about [other’s] experience without making them her own” (Cooper 2000: 311).
Romana Švachová
How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
of ‘not arriving’ at a place of mastery while also not dismissing the other as completely
remote and thus beyond our concern” (Berger 2019: 430).
The plays were chosen for several qualities that they share: for the first, both fall into
the category of biographical fiction, a fact that promotes the problem of appropriation
even more than in the case of a narrative proclaimed to offer pure fiction, however
biographical or autobiographical it may covertly be; and interestingly, both the plays
are highly intertextual, which also underscores the problem of appropriation, since the
former encompasses selected parts of Freud’s texts on his patient with the pseudonym
Dora, given by him, whom he diagnosed with hysteria, and the latter emanates from
the dramatic and literary work of the American radical feminist Valerie Solanas, the
author of the satirical play Up Your Ass as well as the manifesto SCUM, from which one
finds a sheer number of excerpts even in Stridsberg’s take on Solanas’ complicated life.
Secondly, both the dramas approach controversial, marginalised female figures having
been diagnosed with mental issues, but who refused the suggested treatment at a point2,
or partially the diagnosis itself, and the diagnosis is indeed questioned today (for more,
see Breanne Fahs’ biography Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote
SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol), 2014); the texts then place these personalities and their
point of view into the centre of attention in an empowering gesture, as well as contesting
the “official” narratives surrounding them, by making them protagonists, which creates
a certain platform for giving voice to those that were neglected by our culture; however,
the voice is fictional in these cases, which, again, puts the problem of appropriation into
light. And for the last, both the texts are playwriting debuts of the authors who prior to
having written them, appeared on the literary scene and became connected with literary
feminism, although in a different time and place; and above all, both the plays are stage
adaptations of novels written by the authors themselves – in Cixous’s case we are talking
about the novel Portrait du soleil, in Stridsberg’s about Drömfakulteten.
The fact that the plays are not only playwriting debuts, but also book adaptations, is,
I believe, important as any other with regards to the purpose and methodology of this
2 “Nevertheless, although Freud never seems to have doubted Dora’s version [of what happened with K by
the lake], instead of displaying any sympathy for his vulnerable patient, he was to declare himself ‘embarrassed’
(Freud, p. 66) because her sharpness had no need of him to make sense of her situation, and to devote himself
to proving, with extraordinary virtuosity, that [accepting K’s version instead, denying any kind of harassment
from his side] serve her own interest as well: that she really still loved K. The most obvious example of Freud’s
tunnel in his interpretation of a scene that had taken place when Dora was only fourteen. K, who was then
approaching middle-age, had arranged to find himself alone with her, clasped her to him, and kissed her. Dora
had torn herself away and fled. According to Freud, ‘the reaction of this child of fourteen was already entirely
hysterical’ (Freud, p. 59); he goes on to propose that her various hysterical symptoms, such as her throat prob-
lems, were in reality displacements of the pleasure she had felt. Such manifest projection on Freud’s part has
occasioned all the more comment since the Dora case history was path-breaking in that it was the first to assert
the importance of transference. Freud himself acknowledged that his own blindness was the reason the analy-
sis failed, when Dora ended it only after three months. He attributed the failure to the fact that he had not
realized that Dora was transferring the negative affect she felt for K onto him; only subsequently did he admit,
though only in the margins of his text, in a footnote, that the main mistake consisted in his failing to realize
the importance of Dora’s homosexual love for Frau K. Freud considered this an intellectual failing on his part,
not a symptom of his unconscious; it was Jacques Lacan who first pointed out the counter-transference at work
in his analysis of Dora.” (Hanrahan 1998: 49)
Romana Švachová
How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
article. Both authors later developed as dramatists and reflected upon the specificities of
writing drama3 4; my premise is that in their playwriting debuts and book adaptations at
the same time, the boundary between a literary text and a dramatic text would be less clear
and the genres would more overlap, which allows me to treat the texts also as literary ones.
Portrait of Dora: the narrator in drama
“Cixous’s choice of a theatrical form [for this work dealing with Dora’s case] has received
relatively little attention, her subversion of that form even less. The play was first staged by
Simone Benmussa in 1976, and a version based on her production, and incorporating her
stage directions, was then published. However, for the second edition, and again when the play
was republished in 1986, Cixous chose to come back to her original text. The most significant
difference between the two editions was that the ‘Voice of the Play’, which introduces and
comments on the action in the original, had been replaced for the most part by ‘Freud’s Voice’
in the Benmussa version.” (Hanrahan 1998: 48)
The influence of Cixous’s previous experience with writing novels, specifically with writ-
ing experimental literary texts trying to develop aesthetics and means that would cor-
respond to aims of écriture féminine that the author described in the 1975 manifesto The
Laugh of the Medusa (Le Rire de la Méduse) and later in her essays, show itself clearly in
Portrait of Dora. The very first replica of the text in its original 1976 version belongs to the
‘Voice of the Play’, an unpersonified voice that proclaims the following over the scene:
VOICE OF THE PLAY “… These events declare themselves, like shadows, in dreams, they often become
so clear that we feel we can reach out and grasp them, but, in spite of this, they elude any final clarifica-
tion, and if we proceed without skill of particular caution, we find ourselves unable to determine whether
or not such a scene ever really took place.” (Cixous 2004: 35, italics in the original)
This is an important part of the exposition, and the only solid one here, given subse-
quent replicas of Dora and Freud, that, especially at this very beginning of the play,
3 “[Cixous] considers that the theatre is the space in which the writer and her writing are in the closest
possible contact with the other, in all its forms. The immediacy of the theatre, in terms of time, creates writing
that operates through a kind of ‘violent condesantion’ (p. 16). Cixous argues that writing for the theatre cannot
indulge in long passages of reflection or diversion – pausing for an unspecified length of time here, wandering
off in unknown directions here. On the contrary, she explains: ‘One must lose neither time nor attention. No
detours… The look of the spectator should go straight to the actor’s heart’ (p. 16). Cixous considers that the
theatre is also an immediate physical space – a space in which one is brought into close proximity and made
aware of the existence of many others.” (Blyth – Sellers 2004: 54)
4 “Stridsberg betraktar själv pjäserna som annorlunda än romanerna. Tillkomma på ett annat sätt, under andra
förutsättningar och i ett annat tempo. […] Hon ser också uttrycket i pjästexterna som ett annat än det i roma-
nerna. Om ingen är på plats för att plocka upp dem faller replikerna på det nakna scengolvet. […] En pjästext
är ingen litterär text, inte som en roman ett rum i vilket man kan vistas i långa tidsrymder och som förändras
medan man vistas där. En pjästext är i första hand en samling anvisningar till regissör och skådespelare om hur
scener och repliker skall tolkas. De är ett slags bruksanvisningar, kort sagt.” (Sem-Sandberg 2012: 461–462)
Romana Švachová
How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
seem to have a clear surreal quality as they remind of a dream scene5. This initial replica
of the Voice of the Play, which is, in fact, a quote of Freud himself6, specifically a loan
from ‘Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis’, seems crucial because here, used in
this manner in the very opening of the play, it does not remain simply a quote of Freud,
not only because there is no acknowledgment of the source given in the play; by making
specifically this quote an opening replica of the whole play, it is recontextualized to offer
a comment both on the structure and the content of the play, as well as a disclaimer; in
other words, it is turned into an exposition that is literally nothing more but a piece of
factual information on what to expect: a dream of someone, a personal re-vision of the
outplayed events.7 But who is the dreamer then? Especially if the Voice of the Play is
quoting Sigmund Freud?
In the terms of literary theory, we could say the Voice of the Play has the role of overt
narrator, who brings herself to light for specific purposes. As Maireád Hanrahan has
pointed out, “Cixous’s invention of the Voice of the Play is intricately bound with her
concern to present a version of Dora’s story that is different in genre (in both senses
of the French word: genre and gender) from Freud’s version” (Hanrahan 1998: 48). As
for the difference Hanrahan addresses, it is established mainly by the self-reflectivity,
the self-awareness of the play, created by the presence of the Voice of the Play and its
disclaimers acknowledging the nature of the work on the overlapping borders of fact
and fiction, dismissing the concept of any true objectivity by blending them; instead,
by working on these borderlines, it warns us that there is always only bulk of subjective
versions of events and that if one of the subjective versions is regarded as more valuable
and becomes privileged over the others, or the others are completely disregarded as
such, discrimination is created. In this case, we are thus informed that we are, indeed,
about to see a subjective version of events as they were dreamt by the dreamer, the Voice
of the Play, and by this, the Voice of Play indicates that we should approach the offered
content as such.
5 “DORA [in a voice that shatter a silence – with a tone between a request and a threat] If you dare to kiss me,
I’ll slap you! [With a cajoling reflection]
DORA [suddenly in his ear] Just dare to kiss me, I’ll slap you!
FREUD Yes, you will tell me about it. In every detail.
DORA [in a faraway voice] “If you like.” [in an awakened voice] If you wish. And then?
FREUD You will tell me about the scene by the lake, in every detail.” (Cixous 2004: 35)
6 Symptomatically, Ann Liddle’s translation of Portrait de Dora does not use Alix and James Strachey’s
so-called Standard Edition translation of Freud’s works into English. Instead, it offers a different translation,
fully in concordance with the play’s aim to provide a different version of the events. Feel free to compare
Liddle’s translation above with Strachey’s translation and also, to take provided context into consideration:
“In psycho-analyses we frequently come across occurrences of this kind, dating back to the earliest years of the
patient’s childhood, in which his infantile sexual activity appears to reach its climax and often comes to a cat-
astrophic end owing to some misfortune or punishment. Such occurrences are apt to appear in a shadowy
way in dreams. Often they will become so clear that the analyst thinks he has a firm hold of them, and will
nevertheless evade any final elucidation; and unless he proceeds with the greatest skill and caution he may
be compelled to leave it undecided whether the scene in question actually took place or not.” (Freud 1981a:
206, text in bold highlighted by me)
7 This is typical for Cixous, who calls any story a dream in her poetically written theory (for more, see the
chapter “The School of Dreams” in her collection of essays Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing).
Romana Švachová
How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
Later, the Voice of the Play makes another loan from Freud8 and proclaims one other
replica in the first moments of the play – which script is symptomatically not structured
into separated scenes or acts by nothing more than several indents between sections of
replicas –, namely: “This initial account may be compared to an unnavigable stream, a stream
whose bed is sometimes obstructed by rocks, sometimes divided by sandbanks” (Cixous 2004: 36,
italics in the original). This time, the Voice of the Play informs us that the play will un-
fold in the manner of the stream of consciousness (but of whose consciousness then?),
the modernistic mode which is known for its use of structure based on associations and
focused on the fluidity of cognitive processes and that was, in fact, inspired by Freud’s
work on the unconscious, these very words included. And indeed, precisely these qual-
ities can be attributed to Portrait of Dora as a whole. Dora’s sessions with Freud serve
here as a kind of a point of departure and an anchor at the same time, from which the
narration constantly “travels” back to crucial points in Dora’s or even Freud’s memory
or to Dora’s dreams that she is requested by Freud to recount to him, and on at least
two occasions, even to Freud’s dreams. The discussed events or visions are more often
shown on the stage than being simply retold in words, thus the sensory aspect of the
events gets more prominence on the side of the spectator, and by that, understanding
of a situation in favour of context and the sensorial instead of the spoken word could
also be promoted. Both memories and dreams can start to outplay seemingly wildly,
almost out of nowhere, being called out by associations, and sometimes, the difference
between a dream showing the unconscious processes and using the symbolic vocabulary
of dreams is indivisible from the dialogue of the patient and the therapist, who are also
developing relations during the time:
DORA Mr K. was serious when he spoke to me I think.
DORA But I didn’t let him finish.
FREUD What were his actual words?
DORA I don’t remember anymore. He said to me: you know that my wife means nothing to
me. And I cut him off immediately.
MR K. You know that my wife means nothing to me.
MR K. And I beg you to forgive me, and to say nothing about what happened.
DORA And what if I told you wife?
You offer me a cigarette. […] Out of weariness, I agree to spend the night with you. You
smoke two cigarettes. You have one in your mouth and one in your hand. You never stop
This can’t go on any longer. Besides, the cigarette is burning out.
FREUD [insinuating voice] Just one more puff!
8 “This first account [of the patient asked to give me the whole story of his life and illness] may be compared
to an unnavigable river whose stream is at one moment choked by masses of rock and at another divided and
lost among shallows and sandbanks.” (Freud 1981b: 16 in Strachey’s translation)
Romana Švachová
How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
DORA Well, let’s hurry up and get it over with then!
FREUD [insinuating voice] And what if we went on a journey somewhere?
DORA I don’t have the strength to start all over again. I accepted the cigarette out of weari-
ness. But it’s impossible for me to desire. I can no longer smoke or travel. Adieu, adieu!
Where is the station?
FREUD Were those lilies-of-the-valley that were growing in big white patches next to the forest,
just a kilometre or two away from your hand?
DORA And if the white flowers had been blue, would I have given up?
[Imitating her mother’s voice] I am told: Shame on you! Dora, what are you doing? That’s
poison. It makes people stupid.
DORA Where! is! the! station! [She shouts]
VOICE OF THE PLAY What lilies-of-the-valley say in a dream
Mr K. said with a jewellery box.
What one says with flowers
Papa said with pearls
What Dora did not say
The Doctor said with smoke
DORA At last, at last, I arrive at the station.
MR K. There’s no train. The rails have been cut.
FREUD [in a normal voice] You knew there would be no train? No flowers for the forest; no
train for the station [in your dream]. This is no accident. There is something you don’t
want to touch or catch. (Cixous 2004: 54–55)
As we can see in this highly dynamic scene in which Dora retells one of her dreams for
Freud, between the plot of the dream and her dialogue with Freud about it, there is no
clear boundary between the two plots indicated in the text. Thanks to that, Freud step-
ping into the shoes of Dora’s past harasser Mr K. in the replicas “Just one more puff!”
– smoking cigarette has here sexual subtext – and “And what if we went on a journey
somewhere?” could be interpreted in more than one way, for example as: (1) a part of
Dora’s retold dream, displaying her transference; (2) Dora’s vision happening during the
session with Freud, displaying her transference; (3) an antimimetic portrayal of Freud
seen through the Voice of the Play’s eyes, showing him developing counter-transference
to his patient, as suggested by Jacques Lacan after rereading ‘Fragment of an Analysis of
a Case of Hysteria’ (Hanrahan 1998: 49).
The use of a structure resembling the literary stream of consciousness works in the
play as another tool to promote the role of the narrator. Simply put, where there is
a stream of consciousness, there must be also someone producing it; someone who, as
shown in the example above, brings ambivalence in the case of this play, not clarification.
For modern realistic drama as presented by Ibsen, for example, the narrator is an
abandoned, relic concept that one does not need to have in a play; instead, the stage
itself and the analytic exposition are put to work to show and uncover everything that
is needed for a delivery of a coherent message from the author himself. However, in
Romana Švachová
How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
line with tendencies of postdramatic theatre, to deliver a coherent, unified, thus osten-
sibly objective message is not the purpose of Portrait of Dora. The purpose is reversed
here, because the concept of objectivity is problematized by the play, and therefore,
the narrator, who nowadays is at home solely in the literature, is re-invited even onto
the stage. Although the identity of the narrator remains here a mystery (it is not clear,
for example, whether she is an extradiegetic or intradiegetic narrator, and if the latter,
what character is it; is it Freud? Dora? somebody else? Cixous as the narrator? an anon-
ymous narrator, a mere framework? the identity of the narrator is purposefully left
to remain an implicit question), via coupling the Voice of the Play with the stream of
consciousness Cixous created a subjectified point of view through which the events are
shown, but without actual personification of the narrator. In other words, she pointed
out that even in a genre that has rid itself of her, there is a narrator and by this, she
implied that there is a narrator behind every story, every message, every communicat-
ed content, however objective account it seems to offer at first glance.
This emphasis serves more purposes at once: not only does it naturally question Freud’s
account of Dora’s story by stressing that he is also a personal narrator of ‘Fragments of an
Analysis of a Case of Hysteria’, but it is also an efficient way how to deal with the problem
of appropriation. If narrative art (which drama is as well) stands trial for its fundamental
principles – simply put, somebody is telling a story about someone else, even in the case if
they are telling a story about themselves because in such a case, they construe themselves
as characters in the story –, one of the logical solutions seems to be to acknowledge this
circumstance and make it a part of both the content and the form of the work.
In postmodernist literature, metafiction and overt narrators that can be easily used
for such acknowledgment have already become relatively common phenomena; on the
stage, however, the use of it can be still seen as rarer, and thus experimental. Neverthe-
less, if we consider specifically feminist theatre-making, the questions the problem of
appropriation proposes should be considered crucial in the same way as they are crucial
to feminist literature, and for the very same reasons, if when considering appropriation
a symptom of hegemony.
Valerie Jean Solanas for President of the United States:
the stage as memory space
Interestingly, even though I have already described that at least in the case of the two plays
discussed here, Sara Stridsberg, a major contemporary Swedish belletrist and dramatist,
can be coupled with Cixous for her use of the same vastly intertextual recipe to create
a biographical fiction about an actual person connected via history with feminism, who
had experience with psychological (mis)care, Stridsberg herself has rejected the notion
that she might have been influenced by Cixous9. However, not only the topical but also
the formal similarities of Valerie Jean Solanas for President of the United States to Portrait of
9 “Croyez-vous à l’écriture de femme ? / Non ! Je sais qu’ici, en France, vous êtes très influencé par Hé-
lène Cixous et son concept d’« écriture féminine » mais je ne partage pas cette idée de la littérature. La seule
Romana Švachová
How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
Dora are considerable. A surrealistic conception of time, space and plot has also a signif-
icant role in the aforementioned Stridsberg’s play; also here we find realistically depicted
point of departure, namely the death bed in which Stridsberg’s Valerie Solanas lays with
severe pneumonia, but shortly afterwards, the bed is gone when anything in the hotel
room brings out an old memory and in a subsequent scene, the plot jumps to the point
in the protagonist’s past that has been recalled. In other cases, such as in scenes 4, 5,
and 17, the room in which Valerie is dying becomes occupied by visions of clearly absent
mother Dorothy Solanas or Cosmo Girl (Ann Duncan), an already gone lover, and the
protagonist talks with both. The other characters that visit the patient during these last
days of hers, namely Sister White and Daddy’s Girl, might also be hallucinations of the
lonely protagonist troubled by high temperatures, since these characters are not denot-
ed as fully personified characters with proper names, but are given names that remind
of something Valerie would call them if she was to belittle them (which she, at least with
Daddy’s Girl, does) and we do not get to know much of them; by this, they are construct-
ed rather as walking stereotypes than proper characters. As a result, the stage is turned
into a sort of Valerie’s memory space that is ruled by similar laws and principles as the
stage in Portrait of Dora; however, even this summarizing description of the play’s form
already indicates considerable differences in how the surrealistic conception of the time,
space and plot works in the two texts.
In the case of the script to Valerie Jean Solanas for President of the United States, there
is no reference that would indicate the presence of some narrator. It seems paradoxical
if one knows that the play is in fact a stage adaptation of a novel by Stridsberg herself,
The Faculty of Dreams (Drömfakulteten, 2005). The famous and critically acclaimed novel
was written as a second-person narrative, in which we find means of metafiction, namely
a character named “the Narrator” (“Berättaren” in Swedish) having occasional talks with
the bedridden protagonist; the Narrator is probably female, but otherwise, we do not get
to know much of her as a character, and thus, she can be viewed both as a supporting
(and sort of elusive) character in the story and a narrative tool that was made overt by
getting a body, but still presents rather an abstract concept since all other aspects of her
identity remain a mystery. Similarly as the narrator of Portrait of Dora, even the Narrator
of The Dream Faculty could be anyone. Moreover, the nonlinear plot depicting selected
points from Valerie Solanas’ life is several times interrupted by sequences that remind
of writing notes or prose poetry focused on the mood and atmosphere, that are, in fact,
central to the whole narrative.
In Valerie Jean Solanas for President of the United States, most of the quotes of the Nar-
rator are turned into replicas of Daddy’s Girl. However, even though I have mentioned
that from the script, we do not get to know much of Daddy’s Girl and Sister White
(in comparison to other supporting characters of the play, e. g. Cosmo Girl or Andy
Warhol), they are not tabula rasa; in the script, we find information that Daddy’s Girl is
a postgraduate student that is writing her dissertation on Valerie (Stridsberg 2012: 450)
– not a novel or a piece of drama – and through their dialogue, we even get other pieces
écriture qui m’intéresse c’est celle qui joue avec la possibilité de la vérité.” (Desroziers, quoting an interview
with Stridsberg in the French literary magazine Transfuge)
Romana Švachová
How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
of information about her, mostly leading to stereotyping her as a “dutiful daughter of
patriarchy”. In other words, Daddy’s Girl and the Narrator of The Faculty of Dreams are
hardly the same, although Daddy’s Girl is given words of the latter, because in the play,
she gets only the function of a supporting character, whereas in the novel, the Narrator
can be considered as having more functions at once and by that, being an ambiguity.
With Portrait of Dora, I have also discussed the method of the stream of consciousness
used as a guiding principle for the structure of the play. As indicated above, elements of
such structure can be found in Valerie Jean Solanas for President of the United States as well;
however, when compared to the former, the play is at first glance much more organized
according to the principles of linear and logical narration. Here we get separated scenes
(27) and although the drama as a whole does not comply with the principle of classical
unities, the individual scenes do. One of the outcomes of such structure is that unlike in
Portrait of Dora, the past (presented via memories) cannot dissolve into the presence of
the protagonist. Thus, one of the possibilities for greater ambivalence, so greater inter-
pretational freedom on the side of the recipient, is out of reach.
As the result, even though Valerie Jean Solanas for President of the United States has sim-
ilar surrealistic quality as Portrait of Dora, it does not use it to approach and cope with
the problem of appropriation. In the play, the life of Valerie Solanas is appropriated, as
is the life of Sigmund Freud and his patient known under the pseudonym Dora in Por-
trait of Dora. However, Portrait of Dora acknowledges this fact via its reintroduction of the
narrator to the stage and its work with a chaotic structure based heavily on the stream
of consciousness, which supports the concept of the overt narrator and further develops
it. In Valerie Jean Solanas for President of the United States, comparable structure from its
novelistic predecessor was not transferred into the stage adaptation and as the result, the
drama itself does not deal with the problem of appropriation, although it would be well
suited especially with regards to its genre as well as topic.
Turning back to the beginning
One of the possibilities of how to manifest, and by that in fact dismantle appropriation
even in Valerie Jean Solanas for President of the United States was, however, offered by
Berger in her article. When analysing The Wooster Group’s production of The Town
Hall Affair, “a meditation on D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary Town Bloody Hall (1971)
featuring a fierce debate between Norman Mailer and a panel of feminists” (Berger
2019: 431), she described how the production used screening of parts of the original
document, and on one key occasion, it used it next to a stage version of it performed
by an actor in parallel. Thus, the “dance critic, essayist and lesbian feminist ‘jokester’
Jill Johnston” (Berger 2019: 434), who presented a poem at the panel discussion, was
shown twice at this moment (that in the documentary was interrupted and cut short by
Mailer) on the stage, once on the screen as Jill Johnston herself and once in the portray-
al of her, performed by the actress Kate Valk. Berger remarks that “[Valk’s] mimicking
Johnston’s physical and vocal characteristics is both foregrounded and complicated by
Romana Švachová
How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
the presence of the video which encourages spectators to assess her performance against
the historical document” (Berger 2019: 434); in other words, by creating this contrast,
the production used the original document for various reasons and indeed, one of them
seems to be the need of dealing with the problem of appropriation. By showing and
underlining the discrepancies between the original and the recreation, we get another
kind of acknowledgement of the nature of the situation, this time created with the help
of authentic multimedia.
When staging Valerie Jean Solanas for President of the United States, one could, in fact,
choose to do the same: there is a plethora of video and audio material with Solanas in
person. Besides several recorded interviews with her, there is also the short film I a man
created by Warhol, in which, according to the biographer Breanne Fahs and even Strids-
berg, she plays nobody but herself (Fahs 2014: 98; Stridsberg 2012: 433), and other re-
cords made by him when having talks with Solanas. However, the script of Stridsberg’s
play does not suggest this; instead, it proposes to recreate one of such recorded talks be-
tween the two artists during the performance on the stage without providing reference
to the factual visual or audio material (scene 12, scene 19) and to outplay another one
short film by Warhol, Blowjob. In this piece, however, Solanas does not perform.
When returning to Berger’s questions presented at the beginning of this article, it is
clear that to answer them fully, one would need to consider extensively more than this
article could encompass. However, my intent was: (1) to suggest that if we are looking
specifically for feminist postdramatic theatre, it might be useful to turn attention also to
Cixous as a dramatist, not only as a literary theoretician; (2) the work of Sara Stridsberg,
a feminist author and a major figure of contemporary Swedish drama, is also noteworthy
when we are asking for “proper names, aesthetic forms and critical perspectives [… and]
when we determine, debate and reforge connections between theatrical practices and
feminist politics” (Berger 2019: 423); (3) the problem of appropriation, either cultural
or any other, a challenge that narrative art is today facing on several fronts, was to some
degree addressed already during the second-wave feminism and some means how to deal
with the problem evolved in this area.
Berger, Cara (2019): ‘Feminism in Postdramatic Theatre: An Oblique Approach’. In: Contempo-
rary Theatre Review, 29/4, pp. 423–438.
Blyth, Ian – Sellers, Susan (2004): Hélène Cixous: Live Theory. New York/London: Continuum.
Cixous, Hélène (1993): Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. New York: Columbia University
Cixous, Hélène (1995): Le Rire de la Meduse. New York: Columbia University Press.
Cixous, Hélène (2004): ‘Portrait of Dora’. In: Prenowitz, Eric (ed.). Selected Plays of Hélène Cix-
ous. London/New York: Routledge, pp. 33–59.
Cixous, Hélène (2010): La Rire de la Méduse et autres ironies. Paris: Editions Galilée.
Cooper, Sarah (2000). ‘The Ethics of Rewriting the Loss of Exile in «Manne aux Mandelstams aux
Mandelas»’. In: Paragraph, 23/3, pp. 311–323.
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How to ‘(not) arrive’: Hélène Cixous’s and Sara Stridsberg’s drama vs. appropriation
Desroziers, Marianne (not dated): ‘Valérie Solanas: «Souvenez-vous que je suis la seule femme
ici qui ne soit pas folle»’. Editions de l’Abat-Jour [online, quoted 10-5-2021]. Available from:
Fahs, Braenne (2014): Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and
Shot Andy Warhol. New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY.
Freud, Sigmund (1981a): ‘Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis’. In: The Standard Edition
of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud X (1909): Two Case Histories (‚Little
Hans‘ and the ‚Rat Man‘). London: Vintage, pp. 155–318.
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of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud VII (1901–1905): A Case of Hysteria,
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flyktningens dagdröm…)’. In: Stridsberg, Sara: Medealand och andra pjäser. Stockholm Albert
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Medealand och andra pjäser. Stockholm Albert Bonniers Förlag, pp. 307–451.
Mgr.Romana Švachová /
Masarykova univerzita, Filozofická fakulta, Ústav germanistiky, nordistiky a nederlandistiky
Arna Nováka 1, 602 00 Brno, CZ
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Full-text available
This article seeks to recover a strand of postdramatic theatre that is engaged with feminist concerns. The motivation for this is three-fold: firstly, to redress the relative lack of attention paid to postdramatic forms and female practitioners whose work might be broadly identified as postdramatic in feminist theatre scholarship to date. Secondly, to develop a mode of feminist analysis and theory suited to postdramatic aesthetics which are typically only obliquely concerned with political matters. In order to do so this article, thirdly, suggests a return to feminist poststructuralist theorists of difference, specifically Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva. The continued usefulness of ideas from both theorists is developed in relation to two case studies: Pina Bausch’s Café Müller (1978) and The Wooster Group’s The Town Hall Affair (2016). Through close analysis of both pieces in relation to negativity (Kristeva) and the poetic (Cixous), the article asks for a re-evaluation of the use of their ideas to facilitate a broader historical understanding of feminist theatre. The article concludes that feminism in postdramatic theatre might be considered doubly oblique: formally, in its indirect approach to feminism and historically, in its tendency to lie at an angle to more readily recognised feminist waves.
This article explores the implications of the choice of a theatrical form in Hélène Cixous's "Portrait de Dora", a rewriting of Freud's famous 'Dora' case history. It focuses especially on how the subversion of that form represented by the 'Voice of the Play' that introduces and comments on the action in the original text, and which Cixous restored in the second and subsequent editions of the play, is an integral part of her concern to present a version of Dora's story different in genre, in both senses of "genre" and "gender", from Freud's version.
Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing
  • Hélène Cixous
Cixous, Hélène (1993): Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. New York: Columbia University Press.
Valérie Solanas: «Souvenez-vous que je suis la seule femme ici qui ne soit pas folle
  • Marianne Desroziers
Desroziers, Marianne (not dated): 'Valérie Solanas: «Souvenez-vous que je suis la seule femme ici qui ne soit pas folle»'. Editions de l'Abat-Jour [online, quoted 10-5-2021]. Available from: seule_femme_ici_qui_ne_soit_pas_folle_-4098732.html
Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol
  • Braenne Fahs
Fahs, Braenne (2014): Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol. New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY.
Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis'. In: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud X (1909): Two Case Histories (‚Little Hans' and the ‚Rat Man'). London: Vintage
  • Sigmund Freud
Freud, Sigmund (1981a): 'Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis'. In: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud X (1909): Two Case Histories (‚Little Hans' and the ‚Rat Man'). London: Vintage, pp. 155-318.
Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria'. In: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud VII (1901-1905): A Case of Hysteria
  • Sigmund Freud
Freud, Sigmund (1981b): 'Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria'. In: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud VII (1901-1905): A Case of Hysteria, Three Essays on Sexuality and Others Works. London: Vintage, pp. 7-123.
Valerie Jean Solanas ska bli president i Amerika
  • Sara Stridsberg
Stridsberg, Sara (2012): 'Valerie Jean Solanas ska bli president i Amerika'. In: Stridsberg, Sara Medealand och andra pjäser. Stockholm Albert Bonniers Förlag, pp. 307-451.
Ústav germanistiky, nordistiky a nederlandistiky Arna Nováka 1
  • Filozofická Masarykova Univerzita
  • Fakulta
Masarykova univerzita, Filozofická fakulta, Ústav germanistiky, nordistiky a nederlandistiky Arna Nováka 1, 602 00 Brno, CZ