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…