Pauline O’Callaghan – Note on Kristeva

THE LETTER 17 autumn 1999, pages 71-78

The work of the Bulgarian  psychoanalyst,  Julia Kristeva, provides an interesting parallel  with   the theories  of both Freud  and  Lacan  with regard  to women. Her ideas on the formation  of the subject; her theory  of the semiotic  and the chora; her views on the origin of poetic language  and its relationship to psychotic babble; the maternal  role and the abject; all of these seem very relevant to any attempt  to understand the development of the female subject.

Kristeva,  a Bulgarian living in France, contends  in an interview in 1989 that psychoanalysis offers a way to approach  foreignness and alterity because  ‘the Freudian  message, to simplify things, consists in saying  that the other  is in me. It is my unconscious ‘.1     She claims to be ‘very attached to  the  idea   of  the  woman   as  irrecuperable  foreigner   …   (having)   a permanent marginality, which is the notion of change’.

Following  Lacan, Kristeva  maintains  that subjectivity  is formed  in conjunction   with  language  acquisition  and  use  and  she  challenges  the unity  and  claim to mastery  of a sovereign  subject.  However, she focuses her analysis  upon  the transgressions of the law of the symbolic in the form of the semiotic, which she argues  is an integral  and  revolutionary part  of symbolic language.

Kristeva  bases language  on  the  pre-Oedipal  relationship  between the  child  and   the  mother, thus  shifting  the  emphasis   away  from  the Freudian  and   Lacanian  concern   with  the  Oedipal   father.  In  this  she resembles  Melanie  Klein, from  whose  work she draws.  Kristeva uses the term ‘semiotic  chora’ for the pre-Oedipal  stage of life, suggesting that it is…

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