Monday, October 29, 2012

Julia Kristeva

The beauty of Kristeva’s career has been its multifaceted nature. She has moved between the poles of poetics, linguistics, feminism, psychoanalysis, and even novel writing. I have read bits and pieces of Kristeva’s works over the course of the past few years, but for this post I will focus on my encounters with Kristeva through Kelly Oliver’s “The Portable Kristeva,” a text that provides a cross-section of disparate writings drawn from throughout Kristeva’s career. Since Kristeva is so prolific, I will also try to tie my reflection on her work back to previous posts and discuss some of the ways her work poses a challenge to Lacan (whose lectures she attended while a student in Paris).

In her early career, Kristeva was interested in poetics and discussed how poetry functioned, especially in her writings about the revolution of poetic language. In her poetics writings, Kristeva broached the ideas of the semiotic and the symbolic and also coined the idea/phrase “intertextuality” (which she arrived at by doing readings of Bhaktin’s idea of heteroglossia and dialogue in Barthes’s work on anagrams). Returning to the semiotic and symbolic (later these terms would become the genotext and the phenotext), Kristeva saw poetry “working” when these two ideas struggled or were in tension with each other. The symbolic, in Kristeva’s formulation, could be described as the “rules” of poetry or language (similar to Saussure’s idea of the “Langue”). The symbolic is what makes poetry make sense, as it allows a poet to string words and ideas together in his or her text. The semiotic, on the other hand (not to be confused with the scientific study of semiotics) was where the “poetry” could be found. The semiotic is hard to define as it is what lies underneath the symbolic structure of a poem and every-now-and-again pokes through the surface of the symbolic elements of a poem and creates a deep sensation within the reader.

In furthering her discussion of the semiotic, Kristeva develops the idea of the chora. The chora (a term that can be traced back to earlier philosophic works, especially in Plato) was the semiotic area where “poetry” was created. For Kristeva, the chora was a distinctly feminine space akin to the womb. This is crucial when looking at Kristeva in relationship to Lacan and her reformulation of his work. Lacan essentially shuts the feminine out of his work. There is a transcendent m/other in Lacan’s work, but she quickly disappears. In Lacan’s development of language acquisition, the child becomes introduced into language through the laws of the father and by setting himself in opposition to the mother. In other words, there is no feminine space for language acquisition in Lacan. With the idea of the chora, Kristeva attempts to rectify this situation by creating/discovering a space that is left out of Lacan’s work.

Aside from the chora, Kristeva challenges Lacan’s notion of the patriarchal symbolic order on a number of other fronts, which include: bring the feminine body back into the discussion; arguing that language development happens earlier than Lacan says it does (a type of pre-verbal language that is more closely tied to the mother); and by positing that the move into language may not be one fraught with fear and trembling underneath the gaze/phallus of the father/law-giver (in fact, Kristeva posits that the acquisition of language is an incredibly pleasurable experience for the child). by moving into areas of the psyche and human experience that have traditionally been ignored or elided by traditional patriarchal psychoanalysis (such as the feminine, corporeal, and pre-verbal) Kristeva provides incredibly astute challenges to the patriarchal symbolic order of Jacques Lacan.

Next time...Cixous

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