"Writing is not arriving, most of the time it's not arriving... How far must one not arrive in order to write?" (page 65).

Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing is a text on poetics by the French author Helene Cixous, published in the United States in 1994.

There are three steps on the ladder. They are: The School of the Dead, The School of Dreams, and The School of Roots. Cixous' reflections are at once poetic (she is best known in France for her poetry and fiction) and highly philosophical (she is best known in North America for her literary criticism and feminism). She draws heavily on Franz Kafka, the Russian poet Marina Tsvetayeva, Michel de Montaigne, and most of all the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector whose influence is imprinted all over Cixous' own writing.

The School of the Dead -- "Writing is this complex activity, 'this learning to die.' " It is not insignificant for Cixous that her own father died when she was young. Nor is it of little import that Clarice Lispector finished writing The Hour of the Star and then died right away, right after Macabea (whom the book is about) dies, suddenly, on the street; she dies only so that the book will be finished. "It is (Hour of the Star) the most extraordinary example of total exchange and merging with the soft and mysterious violence of writing." To write, then, in a sense, is to die, to lose one's self in a certain exile, but also to arrive, to arrive at that which we were blind to within our severe myopia.

The School of Dreams -- "In dreams you are spared this the feeling of foreignness is absolutely pure, and this is the best thing for writing." You write, through the dark, she says, you walk through the dark towards yourself. Writing is an activity, a getting-going, an arrival, but also a not-arriving, she says. The dream, the vision of night, can be a writing, an unmediated writing. Against Freud she writes, "The dream's enemy is interpretation." Because the dream is unique, it is newly born, we might say. The interpretation only comes later. Do not interpret the dream, just write the dream.

The School of Roots -- This is a question of origins, as I read, as I write her book. "Writing is not put there, it does not happen out there, it does not come from outside. On the contrary, it comes from deep inside." There is an obession with caves and with trees, with roots and depth of all kinds. It is also a question of the law, which is it that which determines and circumscribes, and circumcises, the origin. "The purpose of Those Bible is to forbid the root." Those Bible who forbid, who deny the origins, the depth, the inward-turning, the heroism of self, the presence of the self, the writing of the self--because always there is a law forbidding the self, insofar as there is either the self or the law, at least, for those who stand Before the Law.

"I'm writing you as if I were tearing the snarled roots of a colossal tree form the depths of the earth, and those roots were like powerful tentacles, like the voluminous nude bodies of strong women wrapped in serpents and carnal desires of realization, and all this is a Black Mass prayer and a graveling plea for amen: because what is bad is unprotected and needs the acquiescene of God: behold, creation" (Clarice Lispector, Agua Viva, p. 13).