23 June 2022

Silence féminin: Shackled by Writing and Theory

Natasha Chychasova, Anna Scherbyna, Uliana Bychenkova
Silence féminin: Shackled by Writing and Theory


Tongue in exchange for legs

Anna Scherbyna

Tongue in exchange for legs is the price the Little Mermaid paid to get from an underwater castle to a terrestrial one. I, too, once made a deal: I chose to be silent, which gave an illusory opportunity to feel solid ground under my feet.    

Not to lift up one’s own voice, so as not to hear the Other’s in response. After all, speech is always addressed to the Other. Who owns that alien voice? 

Yawning smoke-filled gun slots stare inside. The enemy is there, inside this trembling skin which is impossible to get rid of – it has grown tight. It contains a bloody jelly in the form of a human (female) body. Don’t let this thin, blue and red-streaked skin burst.    

She doesn’t have a mouth, and the words breaking out leave small holes on her surface. They ooze with murky, sticky liquids and smell of dampness. 

She stands nearby, alive, with unevenly painted lips. I feel her gaze. She exposes me. I feel ashamed (…but pleasure hides in the folds of shame). 

Blood Vessels, 2020, Anna Scherbyna

There’s definitely a desire here, I must admit. It’s the point of attraction that holds the pieces of me together.

Silence, 2020, Anna Scherbyna

The desire to write has a libidinal character; it’s comparable to the desire of Princess Marie Bonaparte to experience orgasm. Marie, following her desire, performed manipulations and procedures with her and others’ bodies and minds. By exploring herself physically, and through writing, she liberated her sexuality. What a pity that I am not a princess! 

By looming, flickering in the reflections of imaginary trophies, I break away from the gaze of the Other and appear before him again. On the run, in the gaps of the palisade, a picture emerges. 

If, according to Helen Deutsch’s early psychoanalytic ideas, female subjectivity is built on a sequence of narcissistic traumas, can writing, like art, be a space for a woman to flaunt and heal? 



Silence féminin

Uliana Bychenkova


‘Everybody’s burning up!’ shouted Little My happily, anticipating the totality of destruction caused by a volcanic eruption in one dangerous summer in Moominvalley[1]. If things, women (and women artists as a particular case of speechlessness) suddenly started talking, the end of the world would likely come, Luce Irigaray warns[2]. Speaking is a sign of the potential for political inclusion, writing is a feminist tool but this tool is not handed out to everyone, or not everyone has it according to the morpho-logic[3]. There is a theoretical écriture féminine canon, and then there is my practical life, which is not only outside theory, but also, perhaps, outside the expressive corporality notoriously praised by this canon. I may find myself an adherent of formal meagreness, but also, oddly enough, of sentiment; and feminist art, I believe, is the art of a particular randomness. But while I rest against the impossibility of writing and persist in developing an alternative, get burned, and explain myself, the essay writes itself:


The provocative question of the female form and where to look for it: in theory, or in practice? Whom to listen to on the issue of how can (we) create our beauty[4]? Salome Voegelin’s remark[5] that the alternative-saving path lies through “the laughter of feminine writing” encourages and emancipates the artists from the phallocentric mode of academic research, where speaking and writing is essential and necessary for existence in the professional field. However, from the perspective of my practice as a more visual and tactically-oriented artist, many questions on the proposed path are still open for me, just like the many doors that are closed. Text and reading from the perspective of new materialism are becoming more and more materialized; as for the matter in its older sense, is it becoming more articulate because of this? How can it be silent in a self-important and proud enough way? After all, silence, in fact, is equated to non-existence. What, then, should the female artist choose: “the cry of a doll” or “the silence of a hysterical woman”[6]; “the incredible babbling of Kassandra” or “the fearsome hullabaloo of Artemis”[7]    

Altogether: laughter, tears, screaming, babbling, noise, writing, or silence as usual? French psychoanalytic feminist theory is linked to language, although it develops a corporeal alternative to it. This path has its formally redundant canon, and I’m not sure if it works for me. Ascetic expressiveness can express the effective chic (and spectacular spike) of feminine purism, which can also be appropriated and developed as a form, as well as a particular corporeal case. So, here the focus is on the examples of non-writing, and if it is, then what kind of writing? I would like to think productively and establish silence féminin – female artistic silence – both as a term and as a practice.


0 – [Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?]*


“Silence is the kosmos of women” is Sophokles’ ultimately shocking formula, which I came across in The Gender of Sound (1995). Anne Carson analyzes how the negative connotations of the feminine voice in the body-sound dimension developed in Western culture, noting that “putting a door on the female mouth has been an important project of patriarchal culture from antiquity to the present day.”[8]

In her passionate speech “Breaking the Silence” at Frau Musica Nova conference (1998), composer and feminist musical critique pioneer Pauline Oliveros declared: “Two thousand years have elapsed since Paul’s edict in the Bible proclaiming that women were to keep silent in the church. By extension, women were also to keep silent in all public institutions of the patriarchy. <…> The residue in the collective mind of women from such treatment and the de facto continuance of physical and psychological abuse to this day is certainly a considerable force in women’s fear to speak up and take charge of their lives and creativity.”[9]

Logos is rational speech. The conflict between voice and logos also runs through the history of sound and musical culture. Historian of philosophy and music improvisonationalist  Yuriy Vinogradov critically reflects on “the confrontation between two musical traditions – written and improvised – inherent in the European musical world. The former draws a line between the composer and the performer. In the latter, this distinction is not so crucial. The existence of ‘written’ and ‘oral’ is not unique only to the music of the 20th century, when jazz and classical music began to compete for their listeners. Along with the ‘high’ academic genre, there has always been folk music which was basically not recorded.”[10]


  • – [“pierced dot,” “black pea” are everyday names for musical icons

        – I was fascinated when I came across the explanations of their musical typography]


Professionally and graphically, I am connected with writing. I have studied the form (I am sharpened like a stylus) but remain alienated from the content. I am an executor + “a delegate from the materiality of nothingness”[11] = multiplied silence (woman x artist). Fun fact: in music schools, children who are unable to distinguish and reproduce a given pitch are called “artists” in a derogatory manner.  

The question of recognizing writing or non-writing, silence or non-silence, voice or another sign system of my artist is practically important. My artist doesn’t chatter. My artist is silent, perhaps her opinion is too beautiful (precise and charming) to be shared with everyone? A secret only for a select few of the chosen ears? What is a defense mechanism and what is Self-morpho-logic?

I don’t like many words. I don’t like extra movements. I don’t like hustle and bustle. I avoid the risk of pointlessness. I love single words. Some combinations of sound, graphic writing, paradoxical meaning. Catchwords, remarks, ironic incuts. I find formulas the most beautiful. Terms. Names. I like to give names, assign titles, they are like signs – semantically chiseled dots and icons.

The silence of the graphic artist is the sharpening of a little quill. To the fiery brilliance of accuracy, to the point. In graphic art, convention and selection are important. Concentration. Expressiveness. Graphics is all about precision, it is the blow of a blade to strike at the right moment of wit. The cold calligraphic tool is a steel pen. Graphics is the direction of tension. Tension is the most important compositional means. Graphics is a metaphorical shift of attention, a visual gimmick. Graphics is a sign. And there shouldn’t be too many signs. Graphics is a focus – a concentration – a selection – a decline – a blackout – an exact crumb of light on the most semantic essentials, an actress who knows for sure what her best angle is.

Graphic art is effective: minimum means, maximum expressiveness. Graphic art is sharp, it must express the character with the most characteristic feature, formalize the essence into a visual formula. This limited means, the narrow gap in the closed darkness of the female mouth-door creates the conditions of deprivation, in which something special, highly durable, and radiant can take place.


o – [“To discover these pearls at the bottom of the sea, one has to dive to an unthinkable depth”]**


Graphic chromaticity, or simply a nominal designation of texture, is a paradoxical sounding term that I encountered while studying the art of graphics. Circles or cells, their large or small patterns are considered in the graphic art as different colors. Is it comparable to writing about color? To a rather conceptual, albeit mundane, effort, as, for example, in this evening floral excerpt from Virginia Woolf: “and all the sweet peas spreading in their bowls, tinged violet, snow white, pale – as if it were the evening and girls in muslin frocks came out to pick sweet peas and roses after the superb summer’s day, with its almost blue-black sky, its delphiniums, its carnations, its arum lilies was over; and it was the moment between six and seven when every flower – roses, carnations, irises, lilac – glows; white, violet, red, deep orange; every flower seems to burn by itself, softly, purely in the misty beds.”[12]

Reading into Luce Irigaray’s essay “How Can We Create Our Beauty?” again and again, in search of ways to develop the female form in art, I repeatedly stumbled indignantly over the idea of the role of color in possible feminist creativity. To be frank, it evoked distrust in me, the distrust of my craft experience within a theoretical assumption: “As women, we have thus been enclosed in an order of forms inappropriate to us. In order to exist, we must break out of these forms. That act of liberation from imposed norms could have various results <…> In breaking out of our formal prisons, our shackles, we may discover what flesh we have left. I think color is what’s left of life beyond forms, beyond truth or beliefs, beyond accepted joys and sorrows. Color also expresses our sexuate nature, that irreducible dimension of our incarnation. When all meaning is taken away from us, there remains color <…>.”[13]

Perplexed by this idea, I noticed the solemn totality of color among other intense means of expression, as well as in the work of Monique Wittig, another titular explorer of the canon of lush feminine writing (and issues of the flesh): “…the butterflies return from a long journey. The brown and yellow Camberwell beauties the beautiful violet and pink parnassians the modest grey-yellow alucites the snowy bombyxes the giant orange blue ultramarine yellow pink violet uranias the blue arguses the peacocks with their large ocelli the swallowtails splashed with black red blue the mauve orange violet green red admirals barely visible for a moment so rapid is their flight, the priestesses welcome them on the island shore.”[14]

The butterflies mentioned above are none other than vaginas. The return of female sexuality from the “long journey” is certainly as relevant as it was at the time of The Lesbian Body (1973). But no less interesting are the equivocals of the relay emancipation pen. Écriture-blade I Love Dick by Chris Kraus (1997) although tickles the heterosexual surface, reaches for something much more obscene than erotic dreams, suddenly turning the miserable into power: “In Chris’ case, abjection <…> is the road out from failure. Into something bright and exalted, like presence.”[15] It seems that sentimentality is about to return from an equally protracted departure. The dimension of the flesh is partly encouraged by modernity, while feelings are much more shameful and very dangerous, because feelings hurt.     

Why do I desperately dream of picking up the baton of emancipation or even the expansion of sentimentality, of the cordo(ec)centric romantic obsession? What if it’s not writing but a passionate audiovisual movement; perky, colorful, shamelessly enjoyable? Waving a dangerous flower, to the rescue comes the figure of artist Pipilotti Rist who, while manifestly working with colorin her video, parallels it with an emotional perception of beauty: “In the Western world, color is underestimated. Color is borderless, it’s dangerous, it’s emotional, like music.”[16] It is noteworthy that she uses popular songs rather than estranged avant-garde material such as, for example, musique concrète. In Sip My Ocean (1996), Rist artistically, ruthlessly, sentimentally rehashes the Wicked Game. The artist’s vocals are expressive, abrupt, waggling with messy seconds-long intervals which are called “chromatisms.” In the classical Western tradition, they are classified as dissonances but etymologically they are also associated with color, the expression of shades.


O – [And now you try your handful of notes; the clear vowels rise like balloons]***


Writing an essay is an unthinkable torture for me. This is not my type of thinking. The things I’ve tried to do to myself to be able to write! Paradoxically, writing became possible for me only when speaking became impossible. In my case, personal relationships are inextricably linked with intellectually-intimate exchange. I make jokes for the Other. In order to amaze, to please. My jokes are targeted. Communication is an improvisation with sound and meaning. I am subject to phonetic and compositional mobility depending on the interlocutor. Communication for each opponent means rhythm, distance, range of improvisation. Topics, Vocabulary. Such a productive and frightening mobility, the instability of my own sound and even calligraphic style, which I also worried a lot about, remain somewhere outside the brackets, in the past. Finding myself in a situation of incommunicability with the Other, I discovered writing as a means of recording my own reflection, recording instead of exchange. A selfish act that I would never allow myself to perform with the female Other; taking in, exchanging and giving away immediately in a flow, without delaying and not looking so closely at what I have. Composing, as it turns out, means keeping pearls behind your teeth.

This writing was born from ground zero. When I couldn’t find an interlocutor – not just the best but also different from me – to share my ideas. I allowed myself to joke for myself, to surprise and delight myself. Or, finally, I even considered myself an interlocutor. Did I hear an interlocutor in myself? Writing is associated with listening, observing, collecting. The ability to listen to your thoughts, the ability to play again and again, adjusting the signal, hooking the signals to each other, weaving the ends, piercing with emphases, tuning the tension, hearing the tones of certain links.

Loneliness is a hole in a pierced dot, the tunnel in a well, the  neck of an hourglass, where only a responsible grain of sand can seep in, exclusively by itself, to turn into a pearlescent carved-out unit. It turns out that writing is associated with silence, with a speech fed to the eaglet-loneliness. To resound, you need silence around you. The door of a female writer’s mouth opens behind the closed door of the “room of her own.” The female k(c)osmos is a space of deprivation where, behind closed doors, pearls can be created from sand, caramel manganese glass can be blown out of anger, and after all, a bladed essay can be forged from logos itself, which remains a priceless treasure of existence.




* Sylvia Plath, Crossing the Water, in Sylvia Plath, Poems, (Moscow: Zakharov, 2000), p. 66. 

** Вирджиния Вулф, «Дневник писательницы» (1940), «Вирджиния Вулф: “моменты бытия”», Александр Ливергант, (Москва: АСТ, 2018), стр. 106.

*** Sylvia Plath, Morning Song (1961).

[1] Tove Jansson, Moominsummer Madness, trans. Thomas Warburton, (London: Penguin Books, 1954).

[2] Irina Aristarkhova, “A Feminist Object,” Katherine Behar (ed.), Object-Oriented Feminism, (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), p. 52.

[3] Luce Irigaray, Je, Tu, Nous: Toward a Culture of Difference, trans. Alison Martin, (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 59.

[4] Luce Irigaray, “How Can We Create Our Own Beauty?” in Luce Irigaray, Je, Tu, Nous: Toward a Culture of Difference, trans. Alison Martin, (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 107

[5] Salome Voegelin, “Writing Sonic Fictions: Literature as a Portal into the Possibility of Art Research,” in Artistic Research and Literature, Tan Wälchli and Corina Caduff, (eds.), (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2019), p. 99–109.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Anne Carson, “The Gender of Sound”, Glass, Irony, and God (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1995), p. 120.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Pauline Oliveros, “Breaking the Silence,” in Pauline Oliveros, Sounding the Margins: Collected Writings 1992–2009, Lawton Hall (ed.), (Kingston, NY: Deep Listening Publications, 2010), p. 17–18. 

[10] Юрий Виноградов, «Письменность, импровизация, раскол и немного джаза», JAZZIST,

2020, режим доступа: https://jazzist.club/raskol/

[11] Лолита Агамалова, «Гипер-Хаос vs Материя-в-процессе-материализации», альманах ГИ №24, стр. 123, режим доступа: http://kcgs.net.ua/gurnal/24/11-gi24.pdf

[12] Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925), access: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4OOoZUTvdgBd2hPSVRGNFotLXM/view?resourcekey=0-BrK4jrXHGFhzlft-kj8wvA, p. 10

[13] Luce Irigaray, “How Can We Create Our Own Beauty?” in Luce Irigaray, Je, Tu, Nous: Toward a Culture of Difference, trans. Alison Martin, (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 109. 

[14] Monique Wittig, The Lesbian Body, trans. David le Vay, (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1975), p. 136

[15] Eileen Myles, “What About Chris?”, introduction to I Love Dick by Chris Kraus, access: https://serpentstail.com/2015/10/29/i-love-dick-what-about-chris-kraus/

[16] Calvin Tomkins, “The Colorful Worlds of Pipilotti Rist,” interview with Pipilotti Rist (The New Yorker Magazine, September 14, 2020), access: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/09/14/pipilotti-rists-hedonistic-expansion-of-video-art



See other parts of the publication:


Part I: Linguo-speechlessness

Part III: Nobody Talks About This

Part IV Bedtime Stories


See also