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Manna

for the Mandelstams for the Mandelas

2000
Author:

Helene Cixous
Translated by Catherine A. F. MacGillivray
Introduction by Catherine A. F. MacGillivray

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A lyrical meditation on political resistance by a preeminent feminist thinker-now in paperback!

In this novel, Cixous considers the linkages that exist between Russian Jewish poet Ossip Mandelstam and South African political leader Nelson Mandela. The shared destinies of these two men, so far apart in time and space, are unraveled in light of the Jewish and African diasporas. Cixous links her distant subjects through the common first syllable of their names, the dates of their respective exiles, and the women, Nadezhda Mandelstam and Winnie Zami-Mandela, who disclose and restore their partners’ lives through language.

The shared destinies of two exiles are brought together in this theorie-fiction, in which Cixous considers the linkages that exist between Russian Jewish poet Osip Mandelstam and South African political leader Nelson Mandela.

In this act of willful writing, by turns lyrical and intense, Cixous brings Osip Mandelstam and Nelson Mandela together through the common first syllables of their names, the dates of their respective exiles, and the women, Nadezhda Mandelstam and Winnie-Zami Mandela, who disclose and restore their partners’ lives through language.

In a highly reflective and dense poem of mythic proportions, French feminist and avant-garde writer Cixous draws parallels between two couples-Nelson and Winnie Mandela, who fought a decades-long struggle against South African apartheid, and the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, who, with his wife, Nadezhda, waged a moral revolt against Stalinism. Each couple faced arbitrary arrests, imprisonment and banishment for refusing to submit to a corrupt system. Each woman gave her husband hope and inspiration to carry on, yet was also a moving force in her own right. Cixous’s poetic reimagining of these seemingly disparate lives is informed by contemporary currents of French thought and, in the Mandela narrative, filtered through the prism of African myths, oral traditions and animal totems. While Cixous, at first blush, glorifies and sanctifies her four protagonists, readers who dig deeper into her extraordinary experimental fiction will be rewarded by more, including passages of astonishing beauty and a deep meditation on the well-springs of political resistance.

Publishers Weekly

They didn't know each other, but they knew the same suffering.

A Russian Jewish poet who died in exile in Siberia; a South African political leader who survived his banishment to prison: The two men, Osip Mandelstam and Nelson Mandela, so far apart in time and space, are brought together in this story, their shared destinies unraveled in light of the Jewish and African diasporas.

In Manna, Hélène Cixous, a writer associated with the notion of écriture féminine and a major figure in Continental feminist practice during the 1970s and early 1980s, continues her disruption of the orthodoxies of politics and social order through the liberating use of poetic language. In this act of willful writing, by turns lyrical and intense, she links her two distant subjects through the common first syllables of their names, the dates of their respective exiles, and the women, Nadezhda Mandelstam and Winnie-Zami Mandela, who disclose and restore their partners' lives through language.

For Cixous, politics is approached most openly and freely through poetry; no social change occurs without linguistic change. In Manna her poetic language mediates the historical, political, and personal narratives of Mandelstam and Mandela (two cores lodged in the heart of the world) to produce a new sense of individual tragedy and cultural possibility. An act of emancipation, exhilarating in the way it subverts the master texts of social and political power, this strange and beautiful book releases its subjects-and its readers-from the limited language of constraint and exile.

Long distinguished among creative writers and intellectuals in France, Hélène Cixous is the author of over thirty volumes, which have only recently begun to appear in translation, earning her a growing reputation among English-speaking readers. She chairs the Center for Research in Feminine Studies at the Université de Paris VIII-St. Denis and teaches at the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris. The University of Minnesota Press has published her Newly Born Woman (1985) coauthored with Catherine Clément.

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Catherine A. F. MacGillivray studied with Hélène Cixous at the Institut d'Etudes Féminines from 1980 to 1984 and has translated a number of Cixous's articles and short texts.

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In a highly reflective and dense poem of mythic proportions, French feminist and avant-garde writer Cixous draws parallels between two couples-Nelson and Winnie Mandela, who fought a decades-long struggle against South African apartheid, and the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, who, with his wife, Nadezhda, waged a moral revolt against Stalinism. Each couple faced arbitrary arrests, imprisonment and banishment for refusing to submit to a corrupt system. Each woman gave her husband hope and inspiration to carry on, yet was also a moving force in her own right. Cixous’s poetic reimagining of these seemingly disparate lives is informed by contemporary currents of French thought and, in the Mandela narrative, filtered through the prism of African myths, oral traditions and animal totems. While Cixous, at first blush, glorifies and sanctifies her four protagonists, readers who dig deeper into her extraordinary experimental fiction will be rewarded by more, including passages of astonishing beauty and a deep meditation on the well-springs of political resistance.

Publishers Weekly