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k e l l y o l i v e r & s.k.

k e l t n e r | e d i t o r s

Psychoanalysis, Aesthetics,
and Politics in the Work of
Julia Kristeva


Psychoanalysis, Aesthetics, and

Politics in the Work of Kristeva

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Psychoanalysis, Aesthetics, and

Politics in the Work of Kristeva

Edited by
Kelly Oliver and S. K. Keltner

Published by State University of New York Press, Albany

2009 State University of New York
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
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For information, contact State University of New York Press, Albany, NY
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Psychoanalysis, aesthetics, and politics in the work of Julia Kristeva / edited by
Kelly Oliver and S. K. Keltner.
p. cm. (Suny series, insinuations)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4384-2649-5 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Kristeva, Julia, 1941
Criticism and interpretation. I. Oliver, Kelly, 1975- II. Keltner, S. K.
PN75.K75P79 2009
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1




Introduction: Politics from a bit of a distance

S. K. Keltner


1. A Meditation, a Political Act, an Art of Living
Julia Kristeva, translated by S. K. Keltner


2. Decollations
Julia Kristeva, translated by Caroline Arruda



3. Meaning against Death
Kelly Oliver


4. Kristevas Intimate Revolt and the Thought Specular:

Encountering the (Mulholland) Drive
Frances L. Restuccia


5. Julia Kristeva and the Trajectory of the Image

John Lechte


6. The Darkroom of the Soul

Robyn Ferrell


7. Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic Journeys: From Byzantium to the

Phantom of Europe and the End of the World
Maria Margaroni



8. Loves Lost Labors: Subjectivity, Art, and Politics
Sara Beardsworth


9. Symptomatic Reading: Kristeva on Duras

Lisa Walsh


10. What Is Intimacy?

S. K. Keltner


11. Fear of Intimacy? Psychoanalysis and the Resistance to

Cecilia Sjholm
12. Humanism, the Rights of Man, and the Nation-State
Emily Zakin
13. Kristevas Uncanny Revolution: Imagining the
Meaning of Politics
Jeff Edmonds



14. Religion and the Rights of Man in Julia Kristevas Work

Idit Alphandary








A Meditation, a Political Act, an Art of Living is a translation of the text of
Julia Kristevas speech to the University of Paris VII Denis Diderot in May
2005. The symposium was organized to celebrate her reception of the prestigious Holberg Prize in the fall of 2004. A revised version has been published as
the first chapter of her most recent collection of essays, La haine et le pardon
(Paris: Fayard, 2005). Decollations is a translation of a chapter from Kristevas
Visions capitales (Paris: Runion des Muses Nationaux, 1998), the catalog of a
museum exhibit that Kristeva organized in the spring and summer of 1998 as
part of the Carte Blanche program initiated by the Department of Prints and
Drawings at the Louvre. The editors wish to express their gratitude to Julia
Kristeva for contributing the text of her speech and for allowing it, along with
the selection from Visions capitales, to be translated for this volume.


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Politics from a bit of a distance

S. K. Keltner

Julia Kristevas relationship to modern and contemporary social and political

discourses is complex, ambiguous territory. Though she has claimed that the problem of the twentieth century was and remains the rehabilitation of the political
(1990, 45; 1993, 68) and that our world is a necessarily political one (1987, 242;
1989, 235), exactly how her works are to be related to social and political thought
is difficult to clarify. The difficulty is tied to both her chosen object domain, as that
of singularity or what she tends to call, more and more, the intimate, and her interdisciplinary approach, which includes the entire human and social sciences, but
which privileges psychoanalysis and aesthetics. Aside from her broad-reach cultural
and political essays that have appeared in such publications as the popular France
Culture, Kristevas major, book-length works are not easily classified as social or
political texts, and even bracket more familiar political approaches. Revolution in
Poetic Language (1974) and the revolt books of the 1990s, for example, reinforce her
commitment to psychoanalytic and aesthetic discourses. In the latter, she expressly
avoids an analysis of political revolt in order to concentrate her efforts on what
she calls intimate revolt. The works of the 1980s, including her interrogation of
the foreigner in Strangers to Ourselves (1988), are concerned with the fate of
individual, psychic life in modern societies. Her biographical trilogy on female genius neither explicitly elaborates a recognizably feminist thought nor does
her choice or treatment of Hannah Arendt, Melanie Klein, and Sidonie-Gabrielle
Colette viscerally strike a feminist sensibility as immediately sensible. Furthermore,
her turn to detective fiction and her privileging of the work of Proust over the
past two decades pursues venues that avoid direct confrontation with the sociopolitical problematics of modern societies. Kristevas chosen object as the singular

S. K. Keltner

or intimate and her chosen approach through psychoanalysis and aesthetics seems
to limit the relevance of her work to social and political thought. Nevertheless,
both Kristeva and her readers persistently remind us to think through the problematic of the relation between her object and approach, on the one hand, and
more traditional and familiar social and political discourses and themes, on the
other. This volume does not suggest that there is a one-to-one correlation, such that
Kristevas psychoanalytic and aesthetic approach to intimacy might be translated
into social and political thought. It is questionable as to whether such a translation
is not only possible, but desirable. Our concern is, rather, how might we clarify
that tension, and what is the value of doing so? All of the chapters presented
here, including Kristevas own chapters, interrogate this essentially ambiguous
gap between a psychoanalytic and aesthetic approach to intimacy and social and
political thought.
As the chapters in this volume show, to raise the question of the relationship between the intimate and the public requires attention to the sense in
which Kristevas concern for the intimate is not a concern for the private individual in opposition to what is more properly social or political. Rather, Kristevas concern with the intimate is a concern for a border or threshold that is at
once the border of affectivity and discourse, the social bond, and historical being.
In a lecture addressed to Columbia University and subsequently published as
Nous Deux or a (Hi)story of Intertextuality in the Romanian Review (2002),
Kristeva claims that the concepts and themes addressed in her work share the
common point of a frontier, border, or, she says, even better, threshold.
This threshold indicates the object domain of Kristevas interrogations into the
processes governing subjectivity and language and introduces an equivocation
into traditional, metaphysical distinctions, including mind/body, affect/word,
nature/culture, subject/object, individual/society, private/public, and present/
past. Moreover, threshold represents not only a spatial and temporal meaning,
as in the space of a passageway or a transitional interval, but also a social melting spot, a political openness, and a mental plasticity. For Kristeva, this fragile threshold is both permanently and historically in crisis.
Sara Beardsworth has aptly called the modern shape of this border the
tendential severance of the semiotic and the symbolic (2004, 12). Kristevas articulation of the semiotic and symbolic is most rigorously presented under those
terms in the early work, Revolution in Poetic Language (1984), and her subsequent work may be seen as the attempt to bring further precision to this primary
problematic. The semiotic and the symbolic are two modalities of signification
that are never experienced as separate, but are theoretically separable as two
tendencies within signification. The symbolic roughly refers to the domain of
symbolic representation, which includes law, grammar, logic, structure, and
form. The semiotic roughly refers to the affective, corporeal elements of language that contribute to meaning, but do not intend or signify in the way that
symbols do: one may think of the rhythms and tones of poetry or music, or the


affective dimension of language that is part of but remains heterogeneous to

the symbol. The semiotic is thereby outside of the symbolic as the excessive
demand of affective, corporeal existence to accomplish expression, though this
demand is qualified by its being conditioned by sociohistorical structures of
meaning. Kristeva describes this threshold as heterogeneity vis--vis language
(1998b, 9). The relation between the semiotic and the symbolic makes signification possible, even when one is emphasized at the expense of the other, as in
purely formalistic enterprises of thinking like math or logic or in purely expressive music. Kristevas distinction entails both a theory of language and a
correlative theory of the subject qua speaking being as in process or on trial
(le sujet-en-procs). The subject is not substantive, but a movement, an event, or
an affective relating that takes place at a certain linguistic, affective threshold
that is at once also social and historical. The subject-in-process is the relating
of semiotic and symbolic that avoids both traditional logic, which would oppose
them, and dialectical logic, which would absorb one into the other. It is, instead, a fragile border that conditions the speaking being. Drawing on Batailles
concept of inner experience, Kristeva has described this border as always a contradiction between the presence of the subject and its loss, between thought and
its expenditure, between linkage (logos) and its separation (1973/1995, 248).
Beardsworths naming of the modern shape of this border a tendential severance locates the modern problematic of social and symbolic discourses in the
historical loss of those resources that enable the giving of form and meaning to
the semiotic. Such a diagnosis does not implicate Kristevas thought in a conservative call for the recovery of traditional forms of meaning and their social
organizations. Rather, we confront the need to negotiate this modern crisis of
representation, which puts at risk psychic life itself. As she says in A Meditation, a Political Act, an Art of Living, quoting Rimbaud, it is necessary to be
absolutely modern! Kristeva finds psychoanalysis and aesthetics to be privileged sites that reveal and work through this crisis, and thereby provide models for thinking through the social and political problematic more generally.
Kristeva herself has called attention to the tension between her object and
approach, on the one hand, and social and political discourses, on the other, and
has insisted on its importance for modern societies. Just after 9/11, in a
broad-reach essay entitled Intimit voile, intimate viole, Kristeva claims that
the social and political scene of modern societies has the effect of making appear as minor both her object and the discourses she chooses to interrogate
(2001/2003, 50). And yet, she insists, those concerns would be beneficial to
legal and political judgment. In Le Dsir de Loi in La haine et le pardon (2005),
Kristeva analyzes the failure of the integration of law and desire that besets
modern civilizations from a psychoanalytic perspective. She diagnoses the new
malady of civilization as the loss of what she calls the symbolic value of law:
I imagine that this value of Law in psychoanalysis leaves jurists perplexed. It
seems to me, however, that beyond the microcosm of psychoanalysis, it is not

S. K. Keltner

without interest to the social field itself that is, she continues, if we do not
want Law to remain a dead letter. The dead letter of law, she claims, is
deeply rooted in the life of the City, the experience of [the analysand], and in
the much sought after speech of just authority (2005, 344). Psychoanalysis
draws our attention to a problematic of law and politics that remains unaccounted for in contemporary social and political discourses. Kristevas thought,
we may conclude, is political in the sense that she diagnoses the failure of political discourses in modern societies and seeks those moments in which the
crises afflicting modern subjectivity are revealed and worked through. In The
Future of Revolt she claims that the interrogation of those moments is essential
to the future of politics (1998c, 11; 2002, 223).
The question of politics, and its failures, in Kristevas work requires that
we remain attentive to the manner in which her chosen discourses (psychoanalysis and aesthetics) and her chosen object domain (singular psychic life)
foster a distance that is essentially critical. In the opening of her first book on the
cultureor lack thereofof revolt, The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt, Kristeva
claims that the political remains the horizon of the work, but that she will approach things from a bit of a distance (1996, 5; 2000, 1). Indeed, Kristevas approach to the concept of revolt as a concept that is not inherently political insists
on a perspective that casts the question of political revolt as seemingly peripheral to her task. Such a position on revolution was established as early as her
1974 Revolution in Poetic Language in which she argued that revolution no
longer takes place in the sociopolitical domain, but rather in modern poetic language. However, this distance must be clarified as strategic. For example, in
Strangers to Ourselves, a book on the stakes of otherness in growing multinational and international societies, Kristeva defends her interrogation of arts
and letters as constituting a necessary distance from the commonplace, for the
sake of the question of politics, in this case that of the Western nation-states negotiation of otherness.
People will object . . . there is no point in pouring over the archives of
thought and art in order to find the answers to a problem that is, when
all is said and done, very practical, one might say even commonplace.
And yet, do we have any other recourse against the commonplace and
its brutality except to take our distance by plunging into itbut in our
mindsconfronting itbut indirectly? Facing the problem of the foreigner, the discourses, difficulties, or even the deadlocks of our predecessors do not only make up a history; they constitute a cultural
distance that is to be preserved and developed, a distance on the basis
of which one might temper and modify the simplistic attitudes of rejection or indifference, as well as the arbitrary or utilitarian decisions
that today regulate relationships between strangers. (1988, 151152;
1991, 104; translation altered; emphasis mine)


Kristevas approach establishes a reflective and creative distance for the sake of
ensuring that we not lose sight of the need to rehabilitate psychic space in modern societies, and she insists that the interrogation and promotion of singular
psychic life functions as a guarantee against cultural and political homogenization. Kristevas concept of revolt culture, for instance, tracks a form of revolt
that is not, properly speaking, political revolt, but which she thinks is essential
to the formation of a critical disposition, which also marks a distance from and
against the political and cultural homogenization of the society of the spectacle. For Kristeva, to foster reflective and creative distance from the spectacle
opens the possibility of the emergence of new cultural and political horizons.
The present collection seeks to provide a sustained interrogation of this complicated problematic from a variety of perspectives and across the various contexts and moments that constitute Kristevas present oeuvre.

Two Statements by Kristeva

Part 1 of this collection includes two never before translated pieces by Kristeva.
The first, A Meditation, a Political Act, an Art of Living (2005) is the text of
a speech delivered to the University of Paris VII Denis Diderot in May 2005.
The symposium celebrated her reception of the prestigious Holberg Prize in
the fall of 2004, which was established by the Norwegian government as the
equivalent of the Nobel Prize in the human and social sciences. This essay contains Kristevas most recent, public reflections on the contemporary social and
political import of psychoanalysis and the modern artwork. Kristeva addresses
first the recognition of psychoanalysis, which distinguishes it in the human
and social sciences, and, second, the significance of her own personal history and identitya European citizen of French nationality, Bulgarian origin, and American adoptionin becoming the first laureate of the prize. A
revised version of the piece has recently appeared as the opening chapter of her
most recent collection of essays, La haine et le pardon.
The context of Kristevas reflections here is an overarching concern for the
contemporary collapse of what she calls places of thinking. Kristeva argues that
psychoanalysis and literature are two experiences of language that constitute
journeys of return to oneself; that is, they initiate a self-interrogation constitutive
of interiority and relations to others. The experiences of psychoanalysis and literature are politically salient because they point toward new articulations of freedom, on the one hand, and new forms of sociopolitical binding for late modern
societies, on the other. Kristeva characterizes the criticism of psychoanalysis and
art as the inability to ground the unifying link that motivates fundamental sociopolitical binding. In defense of psychoanalysis and the artwork, she says: Their
respective contributions to the complication of the humanism of Knowledge is
not understood, in its pre- and transpolitical significance, as capable of founding
this unifying link, which lacks a political, secular rationality. Such is nevertheless

S. K. Keltner

the hypothesis . . . that I would like to defend. Kristeva contextualizes these

experiences of language within the failures of two authoritiesmodern secular
humanism and religionand marks their recasting of the social bond with the
term partager.Partager has its closest English equivalent in to share, but in its
double sense: in the sense of having a connection, but also in the sense of dividing, as in sharing out. The essay argues that literature and psychoanalysis constitute an ethical and philosophical horizon of a revision of the subject itself and
the concept of freedom that accompanies it. Kristeva outlines two distinct models of freedom: one that is traditionally suited to American capitalism and another that is reinforced and clarified by the radical experiences de partage de
limpartageable and is conditioned by the experiences of writing and psychoanalysis. In this context, Kristeva addresses some of the most pressing social and
political issues of our time: the relationship between religion and politics, capitalism, fundamentalism, media, technology, the loss of language to articulate modern experience, university politics, obligation, law, right, sex and sexuality, nature
and culture, and biology and the social. Finally, Kristevas own personal history and
identity is significant for its crossing of national, cultural, and political borders
and marks the distinction of a cosmopolitan citizen and an intellectual who
affords insight into the sociopolitical problematic that she diagnoses.
The second piece by Kristeva, Decollations, is the translation of a chapter from Visions capitales (1998a)the catalog of a museum exhibit that Kristeva organized in the spring and summer of 1998 as part of the Carte Blanche
program initiated by the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Louvre. In
the preface to the catalog Kristeva asks whether we are inevitably slaves of the
image and suggests that there is another possibility of our relation to the image:
that of confronting an experience of the sacred. For Kristeva the image is perhaps the last link we have with the sacred: with the terror that provokes death
and sacrifice, with the serenity that follows from the pact of identification between sacrificed and sacrificing, and with the joy of representation indissociable
from sacrifice, the only possible crossing (1998a, 11). Privileged within this
aim to uncover what Kristeva takes to be one of the last remaining experiences
of the sacred is the act of beheading or decollation. The exhibit includes an
array of historical images of beheadings and confronts the difficult task of examining violence by and against women, including reactions against sexist oppression. The exhibit, and this chapter in particular, is significant for Kristeva
scholarship in that it renders concrete her prior analyses of the position of
women in relation to death and violence, not only as the victims of violence,
but also as the bearers of violence and death in the cultural imaginary (cf. Powers of Horror, Black Sun, and Strangers to Ourselves). Kristeva insists that the
image, particularly the image of decollation, allows us to confront the libidinal
impact of the mother, both the loss of her and her threat to us. The artistic
image of decollation negotiates two types of anxiety: first, the anxiety over the
loss of the mother and its corollary fear of the mother as all-powerful; second,


the anxiety, for men, of the threat of castration and its corollary fear of the
castrated mother. The image accommodates unconscious anxiety by sublimating the death drive. Kristevas return to the act of decollation addresses the historical development of our relationship to violence, which culminates in an
image culture that has become complacent in its manner of seeing settled
horror, increasingly conformist, pretentious, theatrical, mummified. The image
may function to settle horror, but it also carries within it the possibility of its
experience and transformation.

The Image and the Violence of the Spectacle

In posing the question of her exhibit, Visions capitales, in terms of the significance of the image as an experience that opposes enslavement to it by negotiating the destructive element of the drive, Kristeva offers a counterpossibility for
the image in a society dominated by, what she calls following Guy Debord, the
society of the spectacle. The chapters in part 2 examine Kristevas analyses of the
crisis of representation and the subsequent collapse of psychic space by the spectacles colonization of the psyche. Further, each offers an account of the image
that challenges the violence of image culture and draws primarily from her three
books that carry the subtitle The Powers and Limits of PsychoanalysisThe
Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt, Intimate Revolt, and, more recently, La haine et le
pardon. The significance of those analyses is examined in relation to the image
in film, photography, the media, and Kristevas own fictional writings.
Kelly Olivers chapter, Meaning against Death, outlines the social and political stakes of the violence of the spectacle. She draws on Kristevas insistence
on the dead letter of Law from La haine et le pardon and her insistence in Visions capitales that the image can sublimate the death drive to examine the violent fate of the crisis of representation that Kristevas work tracks. Oliver claims
that what is at stake here is the question of meaning itself, particularly the meaning of acts of violence that saturate image culture and fuel the society of the spectacle. Kristeva claims in La haine et le pardon that the failure of the integration
of Law in desire finds tragic expression today in the sexually exploitative drama
of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. She insists that the the young people of Fort
Ashby are not exceptions, but rather the banal subjects of the banal planetary
village (2005, 346). Oliver follows through on Kristevas psychoanalytic account
that the new malady of our civilization lies in the disintegration of prohibition
and enjoyment. The failure is not reducible to a weakening of prohibition, but
rather what Oliver calls the colonization of the psyche by the economy of the
spectacle and the heightened forms of technological policing, which put at risk
the possibilities of the intimate production of meaning. The result of the disintegration is hatred without forgiveness. That is, the result is the free reign of violent impulses and indulgences or the purification of abjection due to the lack
of our capacity to fore-give meaning to desire. According to Oliver, It is as if the

S. K. Keltner

subject occupies an abyss between law and desire and therefore takes refuge from
violent repression through regression. Such is the reason why the prison guards
of Abu Ghraib defend themselves in all innocence as just having fun. Oliver
claims that they occupy a time prior to responsibility, which she explores through
a theory of perverse regression to an infantile enjoyment of sadomasochistic
pleasure without guilt. Kristeva herself claims in the conclusion to her Le Dsir
de Loi, The desire of the other is diverted by a manic jouissance that is fed by
the sexual victimization of others. There is, she continues, an urgent necessity
to remedy the psychosis that today separates the desire for Law from the desire for
the other (2005, 348). Thus, the disintegration of law and desire in the new malady of civilization has as its consequence the disintegration of social and ethical
bonds, giving rise to hatred as the form the subject/other border takes. Oliver
links her analysis of perverse regression to vulnerability as the narcissistic wound
that constitutes the speaking being. The lack of forgiveness that besets our anxieties over vulnerability is essentially linked to the absence of discourses that emphasize a passion for life. In this context Oliver examines the images of violence
in art, cinema, and media and delineates the images of female suicide bombers
and images of women as bearers of sexualized violence, like those of Lynndie
England, as amorous disasters.
Frances Restuccia is also concerned to emphasize the absence of forgiveness as an act that bestows meaning to suffering in the context of image culture.
Kristevas Intimate Revolt and the Thought Specular: Encountering the (Mulholland) Drive chronicles Kristevas account of intimate revoltconstituted
by intimacy, time, forgiveness, and revoltto contextualize the import of Kristevas account of fantasy and the cinematic image. Acknowledging that Kristeva
is not known as a film theorist, Restuccia explicates the significance of Kristevas
work on the cinematic image for film analysis as well as the significance of the
filmic image for Kristevas search for a rehabilitated revolt culture in which affectivity is interrogated and expressed by the imaginary, and which subsequently
challenges the emptiness of the society of the spectacle in which psychic life is
in danger of being lost. The thought specular represents a cinema that challenges the specular robotization of subjectivity. This other cinema fulfills Kristevas fourfold requirement of intimate revolt: intimacy, time, forgiveness, and
image. Cinema is capable of thinking the specular by distancing us from it.
Restuccia examines David Lynchs Mulholland Drive as exemplary of Kristevas
thought specular. Restuccia says that insofar as Lynchs film represents fantasys paralyzing takeover of the psyche, it also enables the spectator to free
herself or himself from fantasy to establish a critical distance and, thereby, both
self-relation and relation to the spectacle. Through a play on the psychoanalytic notion of drive in Mulholland Drive, Restuccia offers a psychoanalytic
account of the film that privileges Lynchs film as an accomplishment of that
other cinema Kristeva praises: a filmic image and an image of film that reinscribes subjectivitys intimate depths within the specular image.


John Lechte also engages Kristevas relationship to film theory. Julia Kristeva
and the Trajectory of the Image examines her account of the cinematic image,
her treatment of Sartres mental image, and their relationship to the role of
Debords society of the spectacle in Kristevas work. Lechte provocatively situates
her thought in relationship to Deleuzes cinematic work on the image to explicate
the significance of Kristevas analysis of the image as a dynamic force in the formation of subjectivity. He claims that Kristevas approach to the image opens a
level of thinking that is not reducible to a traditional psychoanalytic account and
puts her thought in relation to Deleuzes inauguration of a cinematic turn in contemporary analyses of the image. Lechte examines Kristevas relationship to Sartres
mental image to demonstrate what is unique in Kristevas thought on the image:
that it historically tracks an ontological shift in our conception of the relationship
between the image and reality. He claims that two conceptions of reality are at
stake: one that is virtual and as such is not real (the psychic image that gives rise
to fantasy), and another that has come to be real despite being virtual (media images). Further, because Kristeva follows Sartres linking of the image to nothingness, it challenges the thingliness of the image as diagnosed by Debord and instead
emphasizes an articulation of psychic space that is irreducible to the traditional
subject/object dualism of other psychoanalytic accounts. Kristevas psychoanalytic
semiology instead demonstrates the synthetic process of subjectivity formed in and
through images. The image as the dynamic framework of a synthetic process ultimately draws Kristevas work in close proximity to Deleuzes own account of the
image in his film books.
Robyn Ferrells The Darkroom of the Soul also emphasizes the importance of the image for Kristevas account of modern subjectivity and the media
construction of reality. She takes as her starting point Kristevas claim in New
Maladies of the Soul that [m]odern man is losing his soul, but he does not know
it, for the psychic apparatus is what registers representations and their meaningful values for the subject. Unfortunately, that darkroom needs repair (1995,
8). Ferrell explores Kristevas description of the darkroom of the soul in the
context of press photography to gauge the significance of Kristevas psychoanalytic semiotics for articulating contemporary psychic life as shaped by the dominance of the image. Ferrell claims that photography, though it is distinguished
from the cinematic image in its representation of reality, can be understood as
a visible language grounded in the photograph as utterance. The relation to reality that is assumed in our way of seeing the press photograph reduces the photograph to a repetition of reality. However, press photography harbors a paradox
in which the striving for neutral realism is undermined. Following Barthes, Ferrell describes the photographic image as mythical; that is, the photograph carries out a signification that makes meaning possible. With the press photograph,
faith in the reality of the image underwrites the vision of the image. Ferrell links
the mythic photographic image to Kristevas account of the sacred and the production of meaning. The darkroom, Ferrell argues, is a succinct analog of the


S. K. Keltner

psychoanalytic account of subjectivity insofar as the photographic processand

even more so in the inclusion of the darkroom in digital cameraspresents reality and the production of that reality. Though the image is deceptive in that
it is underwritten by belief in its faithfulness to reality, the image of the darkroom makes visible the production of a meaningful narrative.
Like the preceding authors, Maria Margaronis concern is with the sociohistorical status of the image in modern societies. She provocatively traces the
failures and possibilities of the image through Kristevas relationship to Byzantium in both her literary and her theoretical texts. Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic
Journeys: From Byzantium to the Phantom of Europe and the End of the
World chronicles the allegorical mode of Kristevas form of detective narration,
in general, and the iconomy of the image in Kristevas latest detective novel, Murder in Byzantium, in particular. Margaroni follows what she calls Kristevas precarious leap into Byzantium as an historical and conceptual space for addressing
political concerns over the nation and its future, image culture, the fate of psychic life, and the possibilities of conceptualizing freedom. Kristeva finds in the
iconomy of Byzantium, Margaroni argues, a culture of images, but one that
restores to the image a critical economy of seeing against the ever-growing
society of the spectacle. Utilizing an allegorical mode of writing, Kristevas novel
brings to the fore the opposition of two competing principles of freedom that are
complicated by the figure of Byzantium. Byzantine iconography marks an economy of the image that is irreducible to the spectacle and instead leaves its mark
as a trace or inscription of what remains hidden. As such, it denotes, Margaroni
argues, a passage from the invisible to the visible that inscribes heterogeneity in
the symbol. Byzantium, the figure of a lost, archaic origin and other of Europe,
allows Kristeva to think the history and, simultaneously, a future anterior of
Europe. Margaroni situates Kristevas phantom Europe within the broader
imaginary of both discourses on Byzantium and those on that of a future Europe.
In so doing, she outlines the benefits and the limits of Kristevas, as well as
others, topos of Byzantium as a desirable, impossible Europe.

Intimacy and the Loss of Politics

Part 3 approaches the difficult question of what it means to bring Kristevas
approach to intimate, singular psychic life through psychoanalysis and aesthetics into dialogue with social and political philosophy. Each of the chapters in this
section delineates Kristevas political thought according to her relation to the
loss of politics in the modern world.
Sara Beardsworths Loves Lost Labors: Subjectivity, Art, and Politics
traces the destructive element of the drive in contemporary societies back to a
loss of symbolic resources that could adequately negotiate the vulnerability of
the speaking being as the fragile border between affect and symbol. Beardsworth
distinguishes between what she elaborated in her Julia Kristeva: Psychoanalysis



and Modernity as the loss of loss and what she calls here the loss of the lost.
Beardsworth argues that Kristevas thought of artistic sublimation turns
Hegelian negativity into a dynamic of loss that is revealed in and through the
Freudian account of subjectivity and that to clarify what politics might mean for
Kristeva, she must thematize the sublimatory dynamic of the artwork.
Beardsworth distinguishes between the psychoanalytic and aesthetic positions
that Kristeva adopts along the lines of her distinction between the intimate and
the public. Whereas psychoanalysis interrogates what is intimate, art makes itself public. While the two cannot be rigidly distinguished, Kristevas politics
nevertheless requires that we take into account the aesthetic dimension, particularly its negativity, as exemplary. Beardsworth argues that the deepest moment
of Kristevas thought is that of loss. The loss of loss articulates the condition
of the modern subject in conditions of modern nihilism; that is, Beardsworth
says, in conditions where historical being is blocked. It marks our inability to
confront and work through loss, which is the effect of the failure of politics in
the secular aftermath of religious authority. The loss of loss signals the failure
of negativity to provide form and meaning to the affectivity of semiotic/
symbolic collapse. The dynamic of loss is not simply one element of subjective
process, but, according to Beardsworth, presents loves lost labors, where love
marks the positive dynamic of subjectivity missing in modern societies. For
Kristeva, Beadsworth argues, Freudian psychoanalysis brings this vision into
view. Within this problematic Beardsworth analyzes the significance of the figure of the maternal feminine in Western cultures as what has been lost. This she
calls the loss of the lost, and it is in the artwork that the maternal feminine
often functions to negotiate Western cultures relationship to loss.
Lisa Walshs Symptomatic Reading: Kristeva on Duras also returns to
Kristevas diagnosis of modern culture as melancholic and her privileging of the
artwork as capable of working through loss. Walsh focuses explicitly on Kristevas readings of Duras in Black Sun and in La haine et le pardon, and she confronts the controversial status of Kristevas reading of Durasnamely,
that Durass work cannot be considered to be literature as such. Kristevas claim
that Durass work is not literature raises questions regarding what literature is
for Kristeva and, in relation to our concerns in this volume, its relation to current social and political realities. Walsh questions Kristevas claim that Durass
work cannot be considered literature as such and situates Kristevas reading of
Duras within Duras scholarship. She defends Duras against Kristevas claim
while at the same time she seeks to delineate the function of literature for Kristeva in modern societies. Both readings take place around the question of the
value and work of artistic sublimation within what Walsh calls, following Duras,
la chambre noir of literatures object domain. Walsh situates her return to Duras
against Kristeva within Kristevas 2003 preface to the Chinese edition of Powers of Horror. In it Kristeva describes how literature can be both a form of terrorism and its antidote. Walsh emphasizes this distinction between what Walsh


S. K. Keltner

calls authentic literature, a form of political therapy, and literature that

participates in violence and destruction. Whereas Kristeva continuously privileges avant-garde literature as an exemplary accomplishment within the cultural failure of semiotic/symbolic disintegration, Durass work represents a
noncathartic melancholia that, Kristeva warns, is potentially dangerous to her
readers. Walsh argues, on the contrary, that Durass work as the exploration of
la chambre noir might become a singular, and as such political and ethical, haven
for an increasingly victimizing and victimized population which would allow
for an intersubjective connection as an essential production of meaning itself.
S. K. Keltners What Is Intimacy? also recalls Kristevas readings of Duras
as representative of a modern failure. She situates Kristevas reading of Duras in
relationship to Freudian psychoanalysis, Arendtian political phenomenology, and
Heideggerean ontology to track the genealogy of Kristevas analysis of the modern constitution of intimacy, in which Duras plays a central role. Keltner argues
that Kristevas emphasis on the term intimacy from the mid-1990s to the present should be contextualized within her analyses of intimacy in the 1980s in
Powers of Horror, Black Sun, and Strangers to Ourselves. The survey of the concept
of intimacy in Kristevas oeuvre reveals a significant relationship to both Arendtian and identity politics, which Kristeva is generally seen to warn against, as well
as opens a reading of the significance of the emergence of Freudian psychoanalysis as conditioned by a nationalist conception of intimacy.
Cecelia Sjholms chapter, Fear of Intimacy? Psychoanalysis and the Resistance to Commodification, argues that the significance of Kristevas reclaiming of the concept of intimacythe object of the psychoanalytic, aesthetic, and
philosophical practicesis to be sought in a resistance to commodification. Kristeva links intimacy to sensorial experience as a necessary moment of singular
psychic life that protects against the commodification of the psyche in consumer
culture. However, as Sjholm shows, Kristevas trajectory is unique: Looking at
philosophy and psychoanalysis, anything connected with the concept of intimacy
is usually discarded as unreliable, corruptible, and full of disguises and lures.
Sjholm analyzes Kristevas insistence on intimacy in relationship to the more
popular psychoanalytic and philosophical warning against the concept in the
work of Lacan, Kant, Habermas, Adorno, and Arendt. Sjholm returns intimacy
to the Enlightenment, critical theory, and Arendtian concern for public space
and political community. She demonstrates that the intimate as a space of emotions, feelings, and sexualityas constituted by the bourgeois novelis not a
subjective depth that transcends social and political space, but is rather a cultural
product constructed in the historical development of bourgeois public space.
Critical theory demonstrates that intimacy as emotion, feeling, or desire is susceptible to commodification and, even further, as Arendt has shown, threatens
public life itself. Though psychoanalytic practice would seem to affirm intimacy
insofar as it physically occupies intimate, private spaces in practice, analytic theory distances itself from intimacy. Sjholm argues that the emphasis on Oedi-



pus aligns psychoanalytic theory with universality and law. Any concern for
intimacy as the domain of emotion, feeling, and desire is subordinate to law; and
psychoanalysis, like critical theory and Arendtian political phenomenology, insists that a resistance to the discourses of intimacy is simultaneously a resistance
to the commodification of the unconscious. Sjholm demonstrates that for Kristeva intimacy reconfigures the soul/body dichotomy and is the domain in which
sensations are linked to signification. Rather than being that which is susceptible to commodification, intimacy is precisely that which protects against the colonization of singular psychic life. Kristevas reclaiming of intimacy is to be seen,
Sjholm argues, as a response to philosophic and psychoanalytic devaluations of
intimacy and is an act that resists the very universalization and law that those discourses have banked on. For Kristeva, public or political community may very
well depend on it.
Emily Zakins Humanism, the Rights of Man, and the Nation-State examines the relationship between Arendt and Kristeva. She links Arendt and
Kristevas political thought to the question of the politicals modern legitimation crisis and argues that for Kristeva the political is that which must be interminably worked through. Zakin situates her reading of Kristeva and politics
in the context of Slavoj ieks recent inversion of Dostoyevskys famous claim
about the death of God in The Brothers Karamazov. In the New York Times
(March 12, 2006), iek claims: If God exists . . . everything . . . is permitted.
iek here marks what Zakin calls the legitimation crisis of modernitys replacement of religious authority with secular authority and its fateful realization
in the resurrection of God in politics necessitated by the crisis. Zakin addresses
two points that iek raises as the context for her reflections on Hannah Arendt
and Julia Kristeva: first, the crisis of European political structures and, second,
the loss of all transcendent values and any ultimate ground of law. For Zakin,
iek can aid in evaluating the significance of Arendt and Kristevas work insofar as he insists that our political being is constituted in our relations to others in the world and that the public space of appearance may allow us to rethink
the question of political legitimacy. Zakin does not pursue these issues in ieks
own thought, but takes his insights into the crisis of legitimacy, as well as those
of Foucault and Lefort, as the clue to negotiating Arendt and Kristevas significance. She concludes that Kristevas psychoanalytic supplements Arendtian
political phenomenology.
Jeff Edmonds chapter, Kristevas Uncanny Revolution: Imagining the
Meaning of Politics, examines Kristevas relationship to the political as an uneasy
one and links the question of politics in Kristeva to an interminable working
through. In spite of her various and multiple contributions to social and political problems, Kristevas more direct claims about the political express ambivalence. Edmonds explains the significance of Kristevas claim that politics is
ultimately enigmatic as evidence for its importance. He argues that Kristevas
refusal to directly answer questions concerning the political as such is not a


S. K. Keltner

rejection of politics, but of the simplistic and fetishistic repetition of the

political as a criterion for thinking. The persistence of the question of politics
reveals a deeper problem: its inability to represent and give meaning to human experience. Edmonds argues that Kristevas distance from the political is precisely
an attempt to reinvigorate political discourse by insisting on the necessity of linking it to experience and imagination. He argues that Kristevas work is neither
apolitical nor directly political, but occupies a marginal position that allows for a
critique of contemporary political fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is characterized as a purely symbolic bond that is not governed by concrete, material ties,
but rather by fantasy and a logic of exclusion that cements the social-symbolic
bond. Kristevas political work seeks to disrupt fundamentalisms and reopen the
question of political solidarity on new terrain. Edmonds argues that Kristeva provides a notion of solidarity based not on the mediation of the father, but on what
he calls an active working through of the loss of that authority. This working
through of the loss of the ground of authority becomes the political task that the
imaginary must bear. Edmonds concludes that Kristevas ambivalent relationship
to the political is strategic insofar as the refusal to answer the question What is
the political? calls on the imaginary for ceaseless interpretation.
Idit Alphandarys chapter, Religion and the Rights of Man in Julia Kristevas Work, concludes the volume by examining the correlation between religious and psychoanalytic subjectivity in Kristevas work through attention to
the relationship between language and desire. Drawing on the seminal texts of
the 1980s and Kristevas epistolary exchange with Catherine Clment in The
Feminine and the Sacred, Alphandary analyzes the conditions of meaningful experiences in our narrative capacities. She takes as her point of departure Kristevas claim in In the Beginning was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith (1985/1987a)
that the structure of the unconscious and the structure of monotheism can be
related according to a primary narcissistic wound around which symbolic capacities are acquired, specifically in relation to Kristevas rehabilitation of the
maternal function in psychoanalysis. Alphandary provocatively situates this
comparison in relation to the Rights of Man and argues that Kristevas analysis of the power of religious narrative illuminates the significance of the role
and need for narrative in secular life.

Beardsworth, Sara. 2004. Julia Kristeva: Psychoanalysis and Modernity. New York:
State University of New York Press.
Kristeva, Julia. 1973/1995. Bataille, Experience and Practice. On Bataille: Critical Essays. Ed. and trans. Leslie Anne Boldt-Irons. Albany: State University of New York Press.
. 1974. La rvolution du langage potique: lavant-garde la fin du XIXe
sicle. Lautramont et Mallarm. Paris: Seuil.



. 1980. Pouvoirs de lhorreur: essai sur labjection. Paris: Seuil.

. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez.
New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1984. Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Margaret Waller. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 1985. Au commencement tait lamour: psychanalyse et foi. Paris: Hachette.
. 1987a. In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith. Trans.
Arthur Goldhammer. New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1987b. Soleil noir, dpression et mlancolie. Paris: Gallimard.
. 1988. trangers nous-mmes. Paris: Librairie Arthme Fayard.
. 1989. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez.
New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1990. La Nation et le Verbe. Lettre ouverte Harlem Dsir. Paris: Editions Rivages.
. 1991. Strangers to Ourselves. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 1993. The Nation and the Word. Nations without Nationalism. Trans.
Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1995. New Maladies of the Soul. Trans. Ross Guberman. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 1996. Sense et non-sens de la rvolte: pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse
I. Paris: Librairie Arthme Fayard.
. 1997. La rvolte intime: pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse II. Paris:
Librairie Arthme Fayard.
. 1998a. Visions capitales. Paris: Runion des Muses Nationaux.
. 1998b. Dialogue with Julia Kristeva. Parallax, 4 (3): 516.
. 1998c. Lavenir dune rvolte. Paris: Calmann-Lvy.
. 2000. The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt: The Powers and Limits of
Psychoanalysis, vol. 1. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York: Columbia
University Press.
. 2002. Nous Deux or a (Hi)story of Intertextuality. Romanic Review
( JanuaryMarch).
. 2001/2003. Intimit voile, intimit viole. Chroniques du temps sensible, Premire dition (28 novembre; mercredi 7 heures 55 [20012002]).
Paris: ditions de lAube.
. 2005. La haine et le pardon: pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse III. Paris:
Librairie Arthme Fayard.

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A Meditation, a Political Act,
an Art of Living

Julia Kristeva
Translated by S. K. Keltner

It is with emotion that I first address myself to each of those who have honored
me with their contribution.1 Of course, I will not comment on what I heard as
so many offerings of intelligence and complicity, offerings which will not fail to
nourish my research in the future. Neither will I respond to the implicit or explicit questions that each contribution posed. Well beyond the narcissistic pleasure I felt in listening to you, I have been overwhelmed and amused by this
woman with multiple faces that your praise knew how to surprise and take hold
of in the atypical person that I amit is at least what one says to me in order
to be nice to me. In truth, I had not even suspected the existence of this woman
under the atypical and cumbersome gravity from which, it seems to me, I will
never undo myself, whatever may be the voyages that transport me in the multitude of spaces, cities, disciplines, and languages.
Is it an immoderate ambition, or a specifically feminine relationship to
timewhich would retain especially profusion and blossomingthat makes
me receive your interventions as so many openings and not conclusions? Openings of questions and of projects that you have given me the honor to read in
my writings and my actions, which testify to your ingenuity as intellectuals, and
trace for me new courses of research and of debate.
I will hold myself to two of these courses, which are:
After this day, what sense to give the creation by the Norwegian Government of the prestigious Holberg Prize which comes to fill, magnificently,


Julia Kristeva

in fact the forgetting of the human and social sciences in the Nobel
prize list?
To what chance of my personal history do I owe the good fortune
and honor, no less surprising, of being the first laureate, me, the European citizen, of French nationality, of Bulgarian origin and of American adoption?
I. The response to the first questionwhich bears on the distinction, by
the Holberg Prize, of the human and social sciences, with an explicit mention
of psychoanalysisimplies to my sense a preliminary interrogation: what power
[pouvoir] do the human sciences have today?
Contrary to what they would like to make us believe, the collision of religions is in fact only a superficial phenomenon. The problem of the beginning
of the third millennium is not the war of religions, but the weakness and the
emptiness that henceforth separates those who want to know that God is unconscious, and those who prefer to not know it, in order better to enjoy the spectacle
announcing that He exists. The globalized media supports, with all of its imaginary and financial economy, this second preference: to want to know nothing in
order better to enjoy the virtual. In other words: to enjoy seeing promises, and to
be content with promises of goods, guaranteed by the Promise of a superior Good.
This situation, because of the globalization of the denial that is consubstantial
to it, is without precedent in the history of humanity. Saturated by enterprises
of seductions and deceptions, our cathodic civilization is revealed to be favorable to the belief. And it is why it has favored the melting pot of religions.
Catholicismto my eyes the most aesthetic of all religionsin its genius, has
perfectly understood this new phase of History. Consequently, and successfully,
which we know, it comes to propose its candidacy to a magistre well deserved
over all other beliefs.2 The recent theological and political triumph of the Vatican is only the beginning of this process destined to get worse.
I recall you to the preliminary question: what can the human sciences do,
which, to go against the current of this wave, insist on wanting to know? Must
they be suffocated between the dust of asbestos and the fossil rules of the nineteenth century which solidified the borders between the disciplines? Must they
perish in the confused battles of a chase for university careers where they are confined to the management of specialized and bloodless discourse? Must they be lost
in the meanderings of so powerful techniques that they have no chance of appealing to the dormant souls of a generation without language and without writing,
who must be content with promises alone of improbable and underpaid posts?
This perspective, which I caricature with difficulty, leads the most hurried to abandon us in order to hurry into the doors of the Star Academy, neo-candidates for
neo-roles in a media neo-universality. While the others, the dullest, are made the
studious archivists of an antimodern nostalgia, who in passing go so far as to
include Roland Barthes himself in their mortal, inevitably mortal, ennui.

A Meditation, a Political Act, an Art of Living


To both I say: wake up, light up, reread Rimbaud: It is necessary to be

absolutely modern! But how is this possible? And Where is this possible? At
the University? That is a new one!
Nietzsche and Heidegger have warned us: modern man suffers the absence of a sensible and suprasensible world with the power to obligate. This annihilation of divine authority, and with it of all other authority, state or political,
does not lead necessarily to nihilism. But how to know it today without being
lulled to sleep by a strictly rationalist humanism or a romantic spirituality?
I claim that the alternative to rising religiosity, as to its inverse, which is narrow-minded nihilism, already and precisely comes from these places of thinking
that we test, not to occupy, but to make life. Which we? We who are in this
room, in the light of the Holberg Prize, with our accomplices from work in the
Hexagon3 and abroad, we for whom the stowing in the vast continent of that
which one calls, to be quick, the human and social sciences, is essentially due
to our implication in literature and psychoanalysis.
I have named here two experiences of language that damage the metaphysical pair reason versus faith, around which scholasticism was formerly constituted,
and which was recently updated by the dialogue between a postmodern philosopher and a cardinal on the way to becoming pope.
After having noted that rationalist humanism had failed in the totalitarianism of the twentieth century, and having announced that it would fail in the
economic and biological automation that threatens the human species in the
twenty-first century, the two interlocutors agreed to announce that our modern
democracies are completely lost [dboussoles] by dint of being deprived of a superior reliable authority, alone capable of regulating the wild course of freedom. This convergence of the philosopher and the theologian implies that the
return to faith is essential as the sole and unique recourse, suitable to impose a
moral stability facing the risks of freedom. In other words, since constitutional
democracies have need of normative presuppositions in order to found rational right, and the secular State does not have at its disposal a unifying bond
(Bckenfrde), it would be essential to constitute a conservative consciousness
that is nourished by faith (Habermas), or that may be a correlation between reason and faith (Ratzinger).
In counterpoint to this hypothesis, one may think that we are confronted right
now, in advanced democracies in particular, by prepolitical or transpolitical experiences that make obsolete all appeal to normative consciousness and to the reason/revelation pair, since they are heading for a radical reform of humanism
stemming from the Aufklrung4 without recourse to the irrational. It is precisely at
this sensitive point of modernity that the literary experiencewith the theoretical thought from which it is inseparableand the Freudian discovery of the unconscious is situated. Their respective contributions to the complication of the
humanism of Knowledge is not understood, in its pre- and transpolitical significance, as capable of founding this unifying bond, which lacks a secular, political


Julia Kristeva

rationality. Such is nevertheless the hypothesisan alternative to the concert of

Bckenfrde/Habermas/Ratzingerthat I would like to defend.
Those who are exposed to the literary and psychoanalytic experience, or
are simply attentive to their stakesas we who are hereknow that the opposition reason/faith or norm/freedom is more tenable if the speaking being that I
am is no longer thought as dependent on a suprasensible world and even less on
a sensible world with the power to obligate. They also know that this I that
speaks is unveiled to itself insofar as it is constructed in a vulnerable bond with
a strange object, or an ec-static other, an ab-jet: the sexual thing (others will say:
the object of sexual drive of which the carrier wave is the death drive). This
vulnerable bond to the sexual thing and in iton which the social or sacred
bond is propped upis no different from the heterogeneous bondbiology
and senseon which our languages and our discourses depend, which as it turns
out modifies, and which, conversely, modifies the sexual bond itself.
In this apprehension of the human adventure opened by literature and psychoanalysis, literature and art do not constitute an aesthetic decor, no more than
philosophy or psychoanalysis claim to provide salvation. But each of these experiences, in their differences, is offered as the laboratory of new forms of humanism. To understand and accompany the speaking subject in its bond to the
sexual thing gives us a chance to face up to the new barbarities of automation,
free of recourse to the safeguards of infantilizing conservatism, and of the shortsighted idealism of banalizing and mortifying rationalism.
Nevertheless, if the adventure that I sketch, to the listening of literature
and the human sciences of the twentieth century, suggests a revision and even
a radical reform of humanism, the consequences would only be, to paraphrase
a word of Sartre, cruel and long-term.
Cruel, because they unveil to us a humanity endowed with an extravagant,
amoral freedom, which respects only the singularity of the vulnerable beings
that we are, in the crossroads of biology and sense, and whose exceptional realizationsthose of great writers, artists, philosophers, et ceteracall us continuously to mobilize our own genius, which is no different than the ability, it
might be any, to be surpassed in thinking. There is no other means to escape the
banality of evil, which threatens the bondamorous, familial, religious, or
politicalthan to oppose it with the capacity of the speaking being, bound by
the sexual thing to its biological destiny, to put in question all identity proper
sexual, national, economic, cultural, et ceterain other words, to widen the
powers of thought. Only in this ethical and philosophical horizon of a revision
of the conception of the subject itself, of the human, can these experiences that
impassion us at the University, well named Denis-Diderot, [sic] be concretized:
I speak for example of the creation of the Institute of Contemporary Thought,
which seeks to carry out a revision of the disciplines in the confluence of
biology-law-psychoanalysis-semiology-literary theory.
That is to say that no authority, obligation, or instance would know how

A Meditation, a Political Act, an Art of Living


for the long term to aggravate this putting in question that we know henceforth
to be inherent in the desire of men and women, just as in their thought, itself
understood as sublimation of their desire in creativity. If such is the case, we
measure, with literature and psychoanalysis, and their constitutive crises that
mark the culture of the twentieth century, the risks of thought and of life that
bring on the human adventure. But it is also with literature and psychoanalysis
that our understanding is opened, with amoralism and what lies beyond it, so
that the risk of the anthropological bond (sexual and linguistic) equally comprises limits and regulations in the sharing [partage]5 between singularities.
I employ here the word sharing [partage] in the strong sense of to share
[partager]: to take part in particularity beyond the separation that imposes our
destiny on us, to participate without forgetting that each is its own part [chaucun est part],6 in order to recognize its unsharable part [sa part impartageable], irreducible even to the irreparable, and inassimilable in any saving
community. The writer and analyst make this sharing of the unsharable [partage
de impartageable] in a bond always recommencing the everyday experience; it
leads them to a radical strangeness made of solitude and solicitude. I am not satisfied by any preexisting doxa, but am created indefinitely, infinitely, in the succession of radical reformulations and in the adjustment of the meeting of desires.
You understand, that which I designate as a humanism attentive to the
speaking being in its indivisible bond to the sexual thing leads us to an experience of risky freedom that it returns us to affirm. It is a question of freedom as
sharable [partageable] singularity.
If it suddenly appears, in counterpoint, in the conjunction between the
religiosity and the nihilism of the planetary era, this model of freedom no less
finds its sources in an ancient tradition. I even claim that it is not only essential
to European culture, but that it constitutes today the specific contribution, susceptible to opening the spectacular impasses of a globalization in search of faith.
In order to situate it better in the history of thought, let us return briefly
to this foundation of modern rationalism that are The Critique of Pure Reason
(1781) and The Critique of Practical Reason (1789). We are in the century of
Ludvig Holberg. Kant defines freedom not negatively as an absence of constraint, but positively as a possibility of autocommencement. Identifiying
freedom in this way with the initiative of Selbst, of Self or of Me [Moi], the
philosopher opens the way to an apology of enterprising7 subjectivity, if you
permit me this personal reading of his cosmological thought. Simultaneously,
however, Kant does not fail to subordinate the freedom of enterprising Reason,
whether it is pure or practical, to a Cause. Divine or moral cause controls in the
last instance free initiative, and from this makes entrepreneurial freedom participate in the same logic of cause and effect, but remains protected, untouchable, inaccessible to the desire of thinking.
I would extrapolate by saying that in a society more and more dominated
by technique, freedom thus conceived progressively becomes a capacity to adapt


Julia Kristeva

to a cause always exterior to the self, to the speak-being [parltre]8 and to

its sexual thing. Nonetheless, and little by little this productivist causality becomes less and less moral, and more and more economic, to the point that it
reaches its proper saturation, it brings the necessity of a support through its
symmetrical guarantee that is the moral and/or spiritual causality. In this order
of thought, which favors Protestantism (I make allusion to the bonds between
capitalism and Protestantism brought to the fore by Max Weber), freedom appears as a freedom to adapt itself to the logic of causes and effects: to the logic
of production, of science, and of economy, itself supported by the interdicts of
moral reason. The logic of globalization and that of liberalism are the outcome
of this freedom, in which you are free . . . enclosing you in the process of
causes-effects in search of goods, and/or of the supreme Good. The supreme
cause (God) and the technical cause (Dollar) end up appearing, under the spotlight of a technical globalization eager for belief, as the two variants, in solidarity and copresent, that sustain the functioning of our freedoms within this logic,
which one could call the instrumentalization of the speaking being.
I do not deny the magnitude or the benefits of this freedom of adaptation,
which culminates in calculative-thinking and in science. I think that it is a capital moment of the development of humanity acceding to the technique and to
the automation of the species. American civilization is better adapted to this
freedom. Europe assumes it, because it invented it and practices it, in its own
way. I say only that this freedom is not the only one.
There is another model of freedom. It appears in the Greek world, at the
heart of philosophy, with the pre-Socratics, and is developed by the intermediary of Socratic dialogue. Without being subordinated to a cause, but without ignoring ittransversal therefore to the categories of cause-effect concatenation
that are in themselves the premises of scientific and moral reasonthis fundamental freedom resides in the being of the speech that is opened up. In desiring, it
gives itself, and in presenting itself thus as other to itself and to the other, freedom is freed. This liberation of the being of speech in the encounter between
the one and the other was brought to the fore in the discussion Heidegger undertook with the philosophy of Kant (1930 seminar, published under the title
The Essence of Human Freedom). It is a question of inscribing freedom in the
essence of the speech of man as the immanence of infinite questioning, before
and although freedom is thus fixed in the enchainment of causes and effects, and
in their mastery that will be no less itself submissive to infinite interrogation.
Fear nothing, I will not go further in this very schematic reading of the
two models of freedom that I have related back to Kant and Heidegger. What
interests me today is to insist on the horizon of emptiness that divides the modern world into belief and knowledge, under the connotations of this second
model of freedom. It is the writer, working in the identity of the national linguistic code as well as in the fantasies that build a cultural tradition, in order to
preserve it and to modulate it, who is the privileged holder of it. Holberg him-

A Meditation, a Political Act, an Art of Living


self did not find a more efficient solution to the barbarities of his time than to
make himself the Scandinavian Molire, in order to make fun of the enthusiasms and the language, in the enthusiasm of the maternal language itself. And
I do not forget the libertine, his contemporary, defying the proprieties of social
causes-effects in order to make appear and to formulate his dissident desire: he
has no equivalent in the militant of any sexual community, but rather and paradoxically in the desire of life, including sexual, which the most vulnerable and
the most excluded people claim as a political right. I think, naturally and therefore, of the transference and countertransference of the analytic experience, where
to take part in the unsharable [part limpartageable] of the other gives me, at
last, a chance to think, which is no different from thinking from the place of the
other. The writer, the libertine, the analysand/analyst: some figures that it is
very necessary to call revolutionaries (from the Sanskrit +vel, unveiling [dvoilement], reversal [retournement]), which I understand as the only tenable sense
today of this word, the one who inscribes the privileges of the singular person
in the bond, in order to reinterrogate conventions. In the last page written before her death, Hannah Arendt dreamed of an optimal political bond, which it
seems to her must be the equivalent of the bond instituted by the exchange of
aesthetic judgments: taste in lieu and place of the tribunal. This concern for
sharable [partageable] singularity in a bond stimulating creativities, knowing
how to reconcile laughter and taste, is it not already at the foundation of Knowledge? The Rights of man, and the motto of the French Revolution, Liberty,
Equality, Fraternity, which radically reinforced the advances of English habeas
corpus, before the Terror destroyed the ambitions of it by the erection of a
supreme Being by obligations and/or by maliciousness, came to legitimate the
tyranny of the masses?
We are the inheritors of this second model of freedom, reinforced and clarified by the radical experiences of the sharing of the unsharable [de partage de
limpartageable] which are the experience of writing and, in another way, of the
psychoanalytic adventure. Would we be able to deepen them and synthesize
them in order, not to fill in, but to interrogate the emptiness that separates belief and knowledge, and which dangerously opens [creuse] the crisis of the
planetary era? Such is the question that imposes itself on us, by the grace and
the gravity of this extraordinary gesture of a government that has revived the
memory of Baron Holberg and the European eighteenth century, in order to extract us from the academic routine, and to make us recapture confidence in the
risks of thought, facing the fantasies of the certainties of salvation.
II. It remains for me to speak to you about what led me to the reflection
that I have just submitted to you in conclusion to your homage to my research,
without explaining to you in detail my course, or summarizing my books to
youyou have generously made it through this day, and I had the chance to risk
myself, on the occasion of the colloquium at Bergen, the native city of Holberg,


Julia Kristeva

which gathered together last December the speakers of five nationalities. I will
make three confessions to you, filtered through the remarks of two great French
writers, to which I have for a long time devoted my work. These words of
Proust, first: Ideas are the successors of griefs. I hear these words reverberate,
this evening, with my history as an exile and as a woman, but also with the conflict of civilizations that our world traverses today. It is without end that we ask
ourselves how it is possible that griefs do not lead to melancholy and to death,
but to this strange enigma that is the life of the spirit. It is without end, and it
is fortunate.
Next, this declaration of Colette: Being reborn has never been above my
forces. Is it an exorbitant pretension, or a capacity, rather feminine, of eternal
return, of blossoming more than of adaptation, of renaissance, of renewal? And
if yes, by what condition?
Finally, this motto of the heroine in my last novel, Murder in Byzantium,
Stphanie Delacour: I travel myself. You may notice that she expresses herself
by neologisms, like Julia Kristeva at her beginnings. And since this journalist is
a cultivated woman, to say I travel myself is, in fact, her way of summarizing a
fundamental axis of our European culture: from Saint Augustine, who recognized only one fatherland, that of traveling, precisely: In via, in patria, to Freud,
who specified: There where it was I must become. In other words, for the heroine who resembles me, the traversal of bordersgeographic, between disciplines
and constituted discoursesis only possible if the man or the woman who travels succeeds in displacing their own interior borders: I travel myself. From this
sole condition ideas succeed griefs, and being reborn is never above our forces.
You see that the key to my nomadism, to my interrogation of consecrated
knowledge, is no different from psychoanalysis understood and practiced as a
journey that reconstitutes psychic identity itself. And, I repeat, I am very happy
to note that the Holberg Prize has expressly distinguished the Freudian discovery among the human and social sciences.
More than two centuries later, I salute therefore Ludvig Holberg who inspired in the Jury the idea of making me the first laureate of the prestigious
Prize that carries his name. It is thanks to him that we gather together today. I
thank you again for your patience and for your friendship, which I have felt in
so strong and close all day long. Please accept all of my profound gratitude.

I would like to thank Yvonne Stricker for her invaluable comments and suggestions on this translation. All of the following notes are mine. Translator
1. The following text is the speech that Kristeva gave to the University of
Paris VII Denis Diderot on May 10, 2005. A symposium was organized to celebrate her reception in the fall of 2004 of the prestigious Holberg Prize.

A Meditation, a Political Act, an Art of Living


2. Le magistre is a third year degree, taken after completing two years at

university. It is equivalent to a masters degree.
3. France.
4. Enlightenment.
5. The term partager has several senses that imply connecting and several that imply division. It is as if the English to share had both of its senses:
to have the same as as in I share your view or I share your pain or to share
a meal, as well as the sense of to share out or to divide up and divvy out; to
allot. The primary senses of the French term are to dismember, divide into
pieces; to give someone a part of something; to participate in something at the
same time as someone else or to sympathize with; to be in solidarity with; (an
old or literary sense) to give someone what they deserve; to be alloted; to divide,
to fragment; to be divided (i.e., split in deciding something); to divide a society
or people into opposed or even hostile groups (i.e., a society divided on an issue).
Some senses are about sharing where two parties participate together in one
same thing and some of them are about one thing being divided or shared out,
you might say, into two parts. Further, partage has a very strong sense of allotment; it is the legal term for the division of goods that takes place among owners, especially in inheritance.
6. Literally, each is on his own.
7. Entreprenant(e) has the connotation of being (sexually) forward and is
also etymologically linked to entrepreneuriale (entrepreneurial).
8. The term usually translated speaking being in Kristevas work is
ltre parlant.

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Julia Kristeva
Translated by Caroline Arruda

John the Baptist, prefigurer par excellence, lends his image to the representation
of the invisible par excellence: the passage/transition.1
In the future, the representation is ready to accommodate the mythic and
biblical memory of decollations. There exists, for better or worse, a history of decapitation in different civilizations that we complete through reconstruction.2
Texts, myths, fantasies detail a thousand and one variants of decapitated heads.
The significance of their history and their local color becomes the echo of the
tormented vision of the artist, who seizes and revives them, each time in an increasingly modern fashion, in the graphic gash or in the crimson hue of the
work. The representational artist relies primarily on those texts that are assumed
to be familiar and in which an interpretation is implicitly recommended to the
viewer, but which are interpreted in an increasingly liberal fashion, realized in
the drawing, in the strong sense of the word illustrated. In this back and forth
between past and present, text and image, which constitutes the ruse of the Illustration, the representation of our pitiable excesses is liberated from guilt: the
represented carnage satiates the more or less repressed or dominated violence of
individuals and nations. That having been done, this genre of representations secretly imposes a new metaphysics, which could potentially be an antimetaphysics. It is necessary to scrutinize the sacrificial limits of visibility itself with
the tools of illustration, and to revisit the economy of transfigurationan
alchemy where the representation emerges from mourning, from renunciation,
from castration, from death. There is a beyond [au-del] of death, says artistic
experience, there exists a resurrection: it is nothing other than the life of the


Julia Kristeva

trace, the elegance of a deed, the grace or brutality of colors, when they dare to
display the threshold of the human psyche. There, decapitation is a privileged
space. Exultation, shout for joy!
Luca Cambiaso (b Moneglia, 1527/d Madrid, 1585, Mercury Beheading Argus,
c. 1560s, Muse du Louvre, Paris)3 seizes on a nervous trait, an implacable parsimony, a Mercury preparing to decapitate Argus. He knew without a doubt that
Argus or Argos, the prince of Argos, son of Medea, had one hundred eyes and
went by the name of the Argus Panoptes, the all-seeing. Mercury-Hermes, the
winged god of voyagers and merchants, lulled him to sleep with the sound of
his flute and killed him. Hera, who had been charged with guarding the cow Io,
then scattered his eyes over the peacocks tail. One hundred eyes or one hundred
heads? Max Ernst will ask much later on, although about a woman.4 The
Greco-Roman legend is, in this case, nothing more than Cambiasos drawing.
The painter transformed himself into the man of one hundred eyes. Is it Argus that
you see, supplicating at the bottom of the drawing paper, or Cambiaso himself,
who offers himself in sacrifice [supplice] to the Mercury of his fantasies, his friends?
In contrast to psychoanalysis, the aesthetic experience revisits and exhausts the
logics of the sacred.
The young David cutting off the monster Goliaths head is no longer only
a text.5 With regard to the biblical sovereign who, at a young age, delivered aid
to king Saul to defeat the Philistines and had a life of complex adventures, the
majority of painters withhold the most spectacular scene: So David prevailed
over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and
killing him; there was no sword in Davids hand. Then David ran and stood over
the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then
he cut off his head with it.6 The Hebrew texts polysemy, the meanderings of
past and future history, which associate David with the musical arts, a passion for
love and political acumen, are, in many artists paintings, cinemascopically frozen
on the cleansing nature of power. Donning the magnitude of a Greco-Roman
sculpture, Martin van Heemskercks David (b Heemskerck, 1498/d Haarlem,
1574, David and Goliath, 1555, Muse du Louvre, Paris) has long forgotten his
infantile fragility and brandishes his immense, bare sword over the impotent
body of a defeated Goliath. This masterful example of Mannerism adeptly transfers signs, memories, ideas from one register to another, from one history to another, from solemnity to eroticism. We are at the antipodes of the compassion
aroused by John the Baptist even while considering the Baptist to prefigure Gods
peace: Salome does not stop herself from soliciting the interested applause of
those who discreetly appreciate the cutting act. The history of the Jewish people
came to restore decollations power of salvation, in reality and fantasy alike. In the
future, the meaning of the mortal scene can be inverted, the killing justified.
More than Miserablism: the artist, like the viewer/spectator, is on the side of the
victor. The right to behead is recognized: the just cause justifies all excess, a righteous return of the repressed. One will never say by how much the interpretation



of the biblical text was permitted to exceed the hypocrisy of a certain kind of
embellished Christianity and to render accessible a meditation, literary as much
as pictoral, on libratory violence. Personal violence, violence of the young, violence of the exiled and the oppressed. A release from the sustained humiliations,
the injustices inflicted on them, the daily killings.
Next to David is the impetuous Judith beheading Holofernes, which fascinates us the most; Judith rehabilitates the image of a warrior femininity, castrating, merciless. Salome, although responsible for the death of the predecessor to
Jesus, is not unable, as we will see, to attract some admiration, particularly during periods of religious crisis. But Judith the liberator, intransigent in her fight
against the Assyrian general, assumes all the glory that the unconscious owes to
the all-powerful mother. A mother whose medusan head we dread only because
we know that she may take our own; that which does not prevent us, in the guise
of vengeance, to imagine her without her own. The fantasy of the mother, who
is dreaded because she is castrated, inverses itself in the apotheosis of the manhunter [la femme de tete],7 who does more than castratewho decapitates the
most pitiless man: revenge against the tyranny of fathers, against a devouring
and mortified femininity. Judith is the positive of Gorgon, her magnificent and
triumphant version: It was the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar,
who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh.8 Holofernes, general
in chief of the Assyrian army, pillages the Jewish towns and villages, taking possession of the water sources and the springs. Revolted by the oppression, Judith,
true daughter of Israel, wife of Manasseh, beautiful and lovely to behold,9 decides to take action. She says her prayer: Please, please, God of my father, [. . .]
Make my deceitful10 words bring wound and bruise on those who have planned
cruel things against your covenant, and against your sacred house, and against
Mount Zion, and against the house your children possess.11 Having infiltrated
Holoferness camp through trickery on banquet day, Judith was left alone in the
tent, with Holofernes stretched out on his bed, for he was dead drunk.12 She
went up to the bedpost near Holoferness head, and took down his sword that
hung there. She came close to his bed, took hold of the hair of his head, and
said, Give me strength today, O Lord God of Israel! Then she struck his neck
twice and with all her might cut off his head. Next she rolled his body off the bed
and pulled down the canopy from the posts. Soon afterward she went out and
gave Holoferness head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag. Then the two
of them went out together, as they were accustomed to for prayer.13 In addition
to the Bible implying Judiths seductionDoes not Holofernes succumb first
to the charms of this beautiful woman?it also suggests a savage dimension
unchecked by the murder that justified the plea for Israels survival. From then
on, the warring act obtained a sacred value: opening not an indeterminate
beyond, but the political and vital durability of a people.
Freud takes up the story of Judith by way of Hebbels tragedy Judith and
Holofernes,14 which gave him the opportunity to approach a writer for whom


Julia Kristeva

the paternal complex could have advocated empathy for women and rendered
Judith as a virgin. Not only does defloration, Freud advances, attach woman to
man, it also unleashes an archaic reaction of hostility toward him. As a result,
decapitation, which is a symbolic substitute for castration, appears as an act of
vengeance against defloration.15
Although the biblical text makes no mention of Judiths virginity, it does not
fail to sexualize the relationship between Judith and the Assyrian general, moreover rendering the woman the initiator of the seduction. It does not stop until the
act of penetration and even defloration are alive in the female neurotic as rape, if
not killing, and provoke a desire for vengeance in the feminine unconscious. This
indisputable given in clinical analysis should be confirmed by the fact that man
experiences an intense fear of castration during the sexual act. The anxiety of losing his organ while penetrating the vagina, aggravated by the rupture of the hymen,
is reinforced by possible gestation and the potential birth: would woman not capture the males penis to become pregnant all alone? If woman can live her life as
a violated and avenging virgin, ready to decapitate, man for his part experiences
himself, phantasmagorically, as castrated-decapitated by the mother who takes his
organ and does not return it except in the form of the childs head-body. Moreover,
when a woman reaches motherhood, the maternal vocation only provisionally appeases his castration anxiety. For those who do not give birth, the production of an
oeuvreand better yet of a visual object [objet voir]comes to fulfill this threat.
Artemisia Gentileschi (b Rome, 1593/d Naples, 1652/3) marvelously revealed this
aspect of the feminine uvre, which consists in combating the rapists phallic
power, not to mention the deflowered receivers passivity, in the manner of the
day . . . through a painting. The most spectacular of these realizations is precisely
the painting, not of the scene of the rape that Artemisia herself would come to
endure, but inversely that of the decapitation of a man by the legendary Judith
( Judith Beheading Holofernes, 161112, Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples). In revenge, no form of paternity shelters man from this anxiety
since the child, and particularly the male child, revives the dread of castration and
killing. Thus Freud is unjustified in emphasizing the violated womans unconscious
vengeance, which transforms her into a head-cutter. But it goes without saying
that this is mans fear of venturing into this originary valley and his malaise in the
face of the [female] parents power, which imposes on the masculine fantasy the
image, at once dangerous and thus exciting, of a castrating woman who does not
hesitate to sacrifice . . . the essential organ [lorgane capital].
Rembrandt, who knew to decapitate Saint John the Baptist, also dedicated
his drawing pencil to Judith (Rembrandt van Rijn, b Leiden, 1606/d Amsterdam, 1669, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, c. 1628-1635, Muse du
Louvre, Paris). For this masterly decollation, he left only a whirl of traces above
the headless cadaver that is difficult to recognize. The economy of traces nevertheless reconstructs the resolute postures of the two women: Judith stretching out her left arm as though to draw her victim aside, the old maidservant



charged with obscuring the trophy. Bartholomeus Spranger (b Antwerp, 1546/d

Prague, before Sept. 27, 1611, Judith and Holofernes, ?1606-1607, Muse du
Louvre, Paris) adds white highlights with his feverish, brown-inked quill to
render visible the trembling of the cut flesh. Cristofano Allori (b Florence,
1577/d Florence, 1621) is interested, above all else, in the grip of this masterful woman: Study for a sleeve and a closed fist holding a lock of hair (c. 1613, Muse
du Louvre, Paris) was intended for his painting Judith and Holofernes (we are
familiar with many versions: Florence, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti; Paris,
Collection Pourtals), where Judith is rendered as the painters mistress, the
beautiful Mazzafirra. Study for the head of Holofernes (c. 1613, Muse du Louvre, Paris), in which we recognize the head of the painter, is also a preparatory
sketch for the painting Judith and Holofernes (1613) in the Galleria Palatina in
the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. To the Naturalists Judith the butcher is opposed
a victimizing and sacrificial self-portrait: the emasculated painter offers his frustration and his resignation to his impassible executioner. In both studies, the
pastel adds an air of grace to the curved drawing style, where the savage feminine, the interrupted/suspended pleasure of the castrated man, and the artists
vengeance, which renders his sadomasochistic drama visible, are combined.
Bernardino Cavallino (?)16 (b Naples, bapt. 25 Aug 1616/d Naples, ?1656,
Judiths Servant, 17th cen., Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt) is one of
those rare painters who prefer the maidservant: is this because she collects the
head and he likes to feel his/her/their [ses] hands around the cut member?
Even more popular, Raffaellino del Garbo (b Florence, ?1466/d Florence, 1524,
Judith, last quarter 15th cen./first quarter 16th cen., Muse du Louvre, Paris)
composes a Botticellian, but nevertheless decisive, Judith: with a juvenile tenderness, she contemplates the head of an elderly Holofernes, vexed because he
allowed himself to be brought to a brutal end by such innocence. A small painting attributed to Correggio17 (Allegri, Antonio [called Correggio], b Correggio,
?1489/d Correggio, 1534), Judith and her Servant, around 1510, Muse des
Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg), tightly composed and imposing due to the force of
nocturnal gravity, portrays the two women shoving the beheaded chief into a bag
by the lugubrious light of a torch that illuminates the maidservants monstrous
face. In order to believe that when a woman reaches to place her hand on a
mans principle organ, it is necessary to fear witchcraft and other spells.
Veronese, by his own lights, sees the servant as black, next to a blond and royal
Judith (Veronese, Paolo, b Verona, 1528/d Venice, 1588, Judith and Holofernes,
after 1581, Muse des Beaux-Arts, Caen).
At some distance from the primordial [capitale] act, Delilah is satisfied with
cutting Samsons hair to deprive him of the force that his hair possesses and to deliver him to the Philistines. As an attenuated variant of decapitation, this humiliating act secretly retains the dread and pleasure of castration, just as it does for
her, the one who anticipated the killing. Delilah appears as a younger and pejorative version of Judith, who precedes her and who finds herself corrected in her.


Julia Kristeva

A Philistine, an enemy of the Jewish people, she dares to attack the celebrated
judge of the Hebrews (the twelfth century B.C.E.) who was the soul of the resistance against the Philistines. Finally after she had nagged him with her words
day after day, and pestered him, he was tired to death. So he told her his whole
secret [. . .] If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would
become weak, and be like anyone else [. . .] She let him fall asleep on her lap; and
she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head [. . .] So the
Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to
Gaza.18 The story makes it clear to us that the judge, as he succumbed to the seductress charms, lost divine protection. It is, however, nothing but a passing trial,
for Yahweh is seized by pity for him. Samson retrieves his hair and his power and
succeeds in destroying the edifice that sheltered the Philistine princes, as well as
their people, as they gathered together for a ceremony. Then Samson said, Let
me die with the Philistines. He strained with all his might; and the house fell.19
Rembrandt does not detest the triumph of his heretical Delilah, who flees,
with scissors in one hand and the locks of the judges hair in the other, while
Samson is left entangled in an inextricable mle of arms and legs (The Blinding of Samson,20 1636, Stdelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main).
More modern and already expressionist, the Swedish sculptor Johan Tobias
Sergel (b Stockholm 1740/d Stockholm, 1814, Samson and Delilah, 1776, Muse
du Louvre, Paris) renders the subject in brown ink and blood-red, suggesting a
lascivious embrace more than just the simple brutality of the pernicious Philistine. The Rococo and Mannerist torsos come to anxietys aid: no, it is not castration, protests Sergel who, upon his parents death, falls into an intense and
sudden melancholy and, twenty years later, creates Samson and Delilah during
the same period as his famous series Hypochondria. This friend of Fssli was, like
many of those who inspired the theme of decollation, a dark prince of melancholy, which he tried to combat by paying homage to revisited ancient art and
by tentatively eroticizing his sacrifices.
But the feminine avenger is not the only one to seduce artists. Samson also
takes on followers, such as Philippe-Laurent Roland (b Pont--Marc, 1746/
d Paris, 1816, Samson, 1783, Muse du Louvre, Paris), who sculpts a bust of a
red Samson, apparently coming to regain his hair: could we not admire a man
who loses, but also regains, his virility in order to better die for his cause!
One has difficulty juxtaposing a woman who abandoned herself to decapitation to this series of decapitating womenin chronological order, Delilah, Judith, and Salome. Still, the Bible relates the story of Jezebel who loses her head.
The daughter of the king of Tyre, wife of Ahab, mother of Athalie, whom
Racine would come to celebrate, this idolatrous queen erected a temple to Baal
and favored absolutism in conjunction with the corruption of justice. Gustave
Dor (b Strasbourg, 1832/d Paris, 1883) left us one of the few representations
of her ( Jehus Companions Finding the Remains of Jezebel, 1866, Bibliothque
Nationale de France, Paris). Jehu, receiving Gods mission to destroy the house



of his master Ahab, is charged with punishing the many whorehouses and
sorceries of [ Jorams] mother Jezebel.21 Jezebel, a sorceress and witch as much
as the daughter of a king, deserves to be eaten by dogs: Jezebel heard of it; she
painted her eyes, and adored her head, and looked out of the window [. . .] Jehu
entered the gate [. . .] Two or three eunuchs looks out at him. He said, Throw
her down. So they threw her down; some of her blood spattered on the wall and
on the horses, which trampled on her [. . .] But when they went to bury her, they
found no more than the skull and the feet and palms of her hands.22
Though rare, this reminder of the feminine skull evokes for us the prehistorical cranial rites, about which at least one hypothesis maintains that they
were performed more frequently on female subjects (Skull of Young Woman Covered with Plaster, c. 70006000 B.C.E., National Museum, Damascus)23 and the
terrifying Medusas. For better or for worse, our ancestors appear to be concerned first and foremost with womans head: the Venus of Willendorf or
Brassempouys young woman are there to bear witness to it. Of course, more
than one queen has been decapitated: I recall Anne Boleyn, Marie Stuart,
Marie-Antoinette; you can surely think of others. It is always true that, as we
approach modern times, men become increasingly interested in decollation.
Castration obligates them to be! What could one truly cut off of a woman? one
might ask oneself. Unless we accept that the scarcity of female decapitations
expresses a fundamental repression, the more difficult it is to admit the following: one aims at the mothers head [on vise la tte], she is the primordial [capitale] vision, and her essential and libidinal impact is so strong that it too
deserves to be fundamentally repressed.
The evidence of masculine phallic power hides another type of power, which
is not identical to the first: it is the dependence on the maternal protospace,
which is prior to the representation. At the end of his life, Freud ultimately advances that the feminine constitutes, for the two sexes, the more principle form
of repression.24 The castration fantasy that women are assumed to harbor and the
castration fantasy feared by men manifest themselves as constructions of deferred action (Nachtrglich) [aprs coup] of the depressive position that these fantasies allow to form and of which they make use. In the same way, the Image
recasts and elaborates, in the visible and in following its historical development,
events inscribed and hidden in the past.25 Thus, during the genital and symbolic
maturation of the speaking subject, the castration fantasy reclaims the catastrophic impotence of childhood and gives it a new meaning, affixing it to the
visible male organ. In opposition to the fear of death, the terror of castration is,
however, eroticizable, playable [ jouable]. It is not the obstinate survival of a
threatened body, says the castration fantasy, it is only a question of phallic power:
that which is lacking in woman and which can be taken from man, if he is punished by a father or an all-powerful mother. Nevertheless, in the face of the
terrifying risk of castration, the subject, from this moment on, has at his disposal
the possibilities present in his eroticism and his language that he did not have


Julia Kristeva

during the period of his infantile impotence. Seduction and representation come
to defend against the fear of death and mourning, and catastrophic melancholy
can be combated by the pleasures of sadomasochistic perversity.
Beginning with the initial manipulations of the skull, sexual excitement recuperates the horror, and masturbatory pleasure transforms the horrible relic
into a fetish. But it is truly graphic and pictoral representation, through the
multiplication of motifs of decollation and their masterful treatments, that render perfectly explicit two anxieties underlying the movement of the visible: the
ancient anxiety of losing the mother that endures until impotence and death
with its corollary of the all-powerful mother, and mans castration anxiety with
its corollary of the castrated woman. The excessive splendors of pictoral decollations betray this unconscious double logic that drives us to delimit the visible
itself, insofar as it is a sublime defense against these two anxieties.
Starting with the era that will be that of humanism, the representation of
decollation eroticizes itself because it draws entirely from ancient sources, from
them or against them. The works pulsate with sexual pleasure rather than wilting in the face of the consecration of death. Sacrificial terror and seduction cohabitate in the work, the latter permitting desecration by insinuating castration;
a blasphemous perversity establishes itself there, the artist and the viewer taking turns playing the parts of the wound and the knife. A genre/gender26
emerges and constitutes itself, one that the fatal [capitale] wound absorbs in an
abundance of depths and colorsby embellishing it to the point of banality.
Yet within this same thematic, graphic worksby the intrinsic sobriety of their
technique and, without a doubt, by virtue of the ascetic character of draftsmen
themselvesintroduce an economy that is denser, quasi iconic, generally stimulating, but also at times complacent. We are far from the sacred taboos of past
eras. Just as it is interesting to cut, it is also flagrant, entertaining. . . . And since
political life is full of massacres of all types, it is necessary to unite the historical or contemporary subjects with this manner of seeing settled horror, increasingly conformist, pretentious, theatrical, mummified.
In 1809, Vivant Denon, general director of the Napoleonic museums, orders Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson (b Montargis, 1767/d Paris, 1824)
to produce a work to glorify the crushing defeat of the revolt of Cairo. The artist
found nothing better suited to immortalize the national armys heroism than to
dangle, on the sullen Egyptians swords, the heads . . . of the brave French soldiers, disguised as Italian Christs for the moment of their decapitation (Study
for the Revolt of Cairo, c. 1810, Muse de lAvallonnais, Avallon).
Henri Regnaults (b Paris, 1843/d Buzenval, 1871) Standing Moor, Arms Raised
(c. 1870, Muse du Louvre, Paris) represents the insolence of the executioner who
will reappear in Execution Without Trial under the Moorish Kings of Granada (1870,
Muse dOrsay, Paris): the drawing represents this feature more incisively than it
would come to be, gesticulating, in the painting. The word game betrays the same
insolence: the standing Moor [le Maure debout], the upright death [mort debout], of



the end/extremity [de-bout], two ends/extremities [deux bouts]. . . . Mallarm should

have broken a melancholic and complicit smile in light of the drawing of his friend
the painter, who, like him, should have been able to write that the destruction was
his [sic: my] Beatrice.27 Did not Regnault confide in him in the following letter:
I dont know if it is due to the in-depth study of art, this language so rich and infinite, but I have an aversion to the everyday language of ordinary people [. . .]
I am, I believe, in a period of great impotence. You have without a doubt gone
through this as well.28 Shortly after this, he was hit by an enemy bullet, January
19, 1871. Mallarm seems to think that death alone, be it even of a dear friend,
brings us closer to that exaltation which makes possible the eternal Work: I am not
truly sad to think that Henri [Regnault] sacrificed himself for France, and the possibility that it would be no longer. His death was purer. There would come to be
more Eternity than History in this unique tragedy.29 Artists depression finds
itself confirmed by an epoch of war and violent social conflicts, but does it reveal
the end of this apocalyptic era or, on the contrary, does it reinforce it? Did
not Regnault go so far as to write that decoration is the true goal of painting?
Decollationthe decoration of an irreparable crisis?
In reality, decollation has difficulty in detaching that which is attached
[decoller], so the spectacle comes to satiate instead. All of the ancient gods are,
moreover, completely unknown to you. Their implausible adventures are over your
head. You have enough to consider in your own dreams and nightmares, many
about yourself, about the present. Fine! I suppose that, for Solario, Allori, Drer,
Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and the others, their severed heads were already nothing more than inscriptions and images [ figures]. And that the artists projected
their moral sentiments onto them, that they carved into them their own slashes,
cuts, castrations, and wounds of all forms to acquire, in the in-between of figuration, a little bit of meaning, some distance, an appearance, some sort of liberty. You
see, a drawing of a severed head is detached from its myth and model. Where is
the blood? Not a scarlet trace, not the slightest flow, not even a spurt. The lines,
curved or angular, smooth or rough, create a shadow, isolating [librent] a void: you
can envision the tormented suffering here, assuaged there. But the carnage is actually absorbed in the blackness of the sketch [du trait], which examines [traite]
violence economically, an economic economy, by which I mean iconic. Without
exaggerating or being cruel, you are at a distance, protected from cannibals, terrorists. Frankly, if there is an image, it is projected and projects. This Saint John
the Baptist, is he of the time of Herod, of the Renaissance or of your dream from
yesterday? Moreover, is Saint John, or Solario himself, as he would like to see
himself on his deathbed, serene, almost happy, in this vision?30 This vision of his
works? Of those that he did not make? Of the Baptist himself? Of that which the
Precursor proclaims? Of that which not even one proclamation can ever proclaimthe indeterminable duration, the timeless? Of the wounds from which he
suffered, that he inflicted on himself, and that he seized on one last time in the
drawing of Saint John the Baptists severed head?


Julia Kristeva

You too are happy, thank God, you have never been wounded, no one has
ever cut off your head. Clearly. You are like me: a human being that speaks,
more or less without an end or audience, who understands sorrow, who is rarely
in agreement, fearing the worst, moving forward, recoiling, groping. When you
fall asleep, at times with difficulty, you barricade yourself in complete blackness.
Dreamless, the old Freud cannot help us. In flashes, your small mistakes, the
grave traumas of that day return to you as though in a movie trailer, in blood red
or in black and white. You take revenge on your employer, your parents, your
partner, your children; you cut them in any way you can, you are afraid of them,
you laugh at them, you cannot go on any longer. No? No, you are a woman, a
female stranger, a male stranger, you are ill, handicapped, insane. No, a star, an
exceptional being, or perhaps the opposite: a mortal being, just like everyone
else? No one sees you as you are, we benefit from your difference to settle accounts, your own or those of others; we permit ourselves with you that which
we never permitted with others, male or female, but you let it be, otherwise it
is too complicated: perhaps it is nothing but a deferred part [partie remise], you
are going to take your revenge, invert the situation, immersing yourself, for example, in a detective thriller, in dreams, in speaking with your psychoanalyst, in
strolling through this exposition.31
It is prohibited to kill, says the God of the Bible, but this moral law does not
become possible except on the condition of the recognition that the cut [la coupure]
is structurally necessary: some prefer to say that it32 is the work of God. It is clearly
God who, at the beginning, did nothing besides separate: Bereshit33: In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.34 The separation of sky and earth,
of man and woman, of body and soul, unconscious/preconscious/conscious. . . .
At once formed, interiorized, the cut can be called a prohibition, that which is
imposed to be transgressed: no one wants it, the body revolts against the spirit and
the spirit against the body, man against woman or woman against man, et cetera.
I contemplate it, this sacred slash [entaille], I am afraid of it or I playfully enjoy it,
I submit myself to its terror or I defy it. But if I decide to ignore it, it will overtake
me, from within or without; my organs will begin to bleed; I am sick; my actions
are toward death;35 I feel persecuted.36
I know that you no longer read, but you watch television and the savage
massacres committed by the ayatollahs and other Pol Pots, the barbarians in
Rwanda or Algeria. It is not absent here, especially today. At home, it is the
issue of survival, of anachronisms, of the return of the repressed, of flares all too
good for the suburbs [les banlieues] that are classified as explosive, and the
pathology of the police blotter and accident reports.37
You see things for what they are: the fear of death is not necessarily a fear of
murder. I follow you, even there. When I imagine a betrayal, such as the disloyalty
of a confidante, a lovers infidelity, a childs illness, that I experience as though they
were acts of mortal violence, as if each time my head has been cut off, this is not
the nothingness that accompanies me more or less in the long run. No, I cry out



against the evil that is inflicted on me by another. Death defeats me, it nullifies me.
Violence, itself, is a possession: the hold that an active pleasure has on a victimized
object, it depends on my passive pleasure. If I refuse to be a victim, I begin by revealing the destruction of which I am the object, and I take the liberty to say it. You
have made the choice to be minimalist, to say as little as possible about it? One day
you will return inevitably to the most severe pain. You will choose paroxysms, you
will select images of those with their throats slit who are your predecessors, you will
represent as victims those who have sensed your intentions. You reverse the roles,
you will be a victim no longer, you will accuse, you will hope to wound and, why
not, to kill when it is your turn to do so.
Could sadomasochism be the secret of the unconscious? Freud is not far
from this very conclusion when he assigns a logic of drives [une logique pulsionnelle] to the unconscious and when he describes these drives as reversible:
active/passive, Eros/Thanatos. And then Proust! I have not spoken of the Baron
de Charlus who loved to be whipped in the brothel. One need only look closely
at one of the descriptions of the so-called charming Proustian women to see
what is ultimately there in those dead heads, the heads of Medusa. Miss Sacripant holding a large, round hat on her knee, a surprising simulacrum, doubling
her own recently coiffed head that she could thus hold in her hand, like a severed head, what an idea! And Albertine, whose hair is a living beast hollowed
out by valleys, hemmed in by heart-shaped curls, bristling gorgonian locks, those
of moonlit trees, lank and pale, and who, prefiguring her approaching death
in her sleep, is displayed in her bed as a decapitated corpse: It was as though
[. . .] the head alone was emerging from the tomb [. . .]. This head had been surprised by sleep almost upside down, the hair disheveled.38 Even Proust, like so
many others, was an expert in sadomasochism.
I care for my muse imaginaire, and I invite you to look upward to contemplate
the looped projections. They juxtapose the mosaics in San Marco in Venice that
depict the beheading of Saint John the Baptist (anonymous, Beheading of Saint
John the Evangelist, cir. 12th cen., Basilica di San Marco, Venice) and two great
artists: the irascible Caravaggio (Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, b Milan or
Caravaggio, 1571/d Porto Ercola, 1610) and the tenacious Artemisia Gentileschi.
The nomadic painter, lover of severed heads, denied himself neither Judith
nor Saint John nor Isaac. I prefer the macabre humor of his David and Goliath
(16091610, Galleria Borghese, Rome). Robust, sculpted, the young David with
his golden skin gives the sideways glance of a young Adonis, whereas the unstable
head [le chef branlant]39 of the sinister giant, entrusted to the future kings distracted hands, displays in all its simplicity the characteristics of the artist himself:
a criminal face borrowed for the moment from the accessory storehouse of the
commedia dellarte. The king does not look at the severed head, no one looks at a
severed head, not even the amateur art viewers, the voyeurs like you and me. Do
you believe that there would be something there to see? David makes you see that
there is not. Decollation, which is frequently represented, signs on the margin of


Julia Kristeva

the terminus of the visible. It is the end of the show, ladies and gentlemen, move
on! There is nothing left to see! Or rather there is nothing except that which is to
be seen, better, to be heard. Now open your ears, if they are not too sensitive. The
depths of horror that cannot be seen; that are to be heard, perhaps. Return the
palettes, and to good hearing, good-bye! Unless this sadomasochistic intimacy, relentlessly profane and Caravagesque, may be the last modern temple? One that
endures in the fetish sex shops, the raves and other locales, on which to meditate
after an eyeful.
Artemisia, the most famous woman painter whose masterpiece is a decollation ( Judith Beheading Holofernes, 161112, Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples), is not far from thinking this! There was not a single feminist of
the Belle Epoque of the seventies who did not scrutinize the details of the carnage before applauding Artemisias talents and Judiths feat. The story begins with
a scandal that was, it appears, the rape of Artemisia by a painter in her fathers atelier: one named Tassi who, denounced too late by the victims father, was imprisoned until the lovers reconciled, quite mysteriously, just as the trial was picking up
steam. The problematic affair40 of which it was a part: master and disciple, father
and daughter, violator and violated, who violates who? Artemisia, was she a whore,
a victim/a plaything [jouet] or a genius? All of these at the same time? Does it matter? What matters is that she painted like no other woman that came before or after
her, and that she painted not just anything: she painted a violated man beautifully
and, even better, beheaded by her own hand. Brilliant, Artemisia! Lets look at the
scene: two women pounce on the sleeping figure of the Assyrian general. The servant with her bored expression and a fierce Judith, floating in her brocade dress. A
rich, crimson velvet envelops the mans splayed thighs, in contrast to the disordered snarl of their six arms that, next to the head, perpetrate an interminable violation indeed. With all her weight, the servant immobilizes the victim, while a
violent movement carries Judith to the right-hand margin of the painting: with
her right hand, the sovereign plunges a sword into the offered throat, with her left
hand she renders the male head [la tte male] powerless on the bed. Not a trace of
horror on the murderess face. Only her bodys rigid reserve, moving away from
the spurting stream of blood, reveals some disgust. Her face, on the other hand, reflects the concentration of a mathematician, biologist, or surgeon who, in the act,
already savors her victory. That of absolute knowledge? Of the people of Israel?
Of woman over man? Artemisias Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1630s,
Royal Collection, Windsor) depicts a full-bodied woman who turns her face away
from the viewer and discreetly shows herself in three-quarter view: she imposes
on the focal point of our gaze only a robust right arm, its hand forcefully armed
with a paintbrush. More powerful than Judiths arm as it holds the knife, this protodwarf s short and muscular arm reveals the complete absence of narcissism, a
spirit completely transformed into work. Artemisias head is in her hand, she is
nothing more than the source of her arm, she moves toward the painting that we
do not see, the painting is itself a decollation.41



Did you believe that you knew these images? Salome and John the Baptist?
This Caravaggio? This Artemisia? Did you imagine that they formed our ancestors cinemascope, a phantasmagoria that marks, the weightiness of typographic impressions? Look at them again, at the economy of drawing that you
learned to read while observing the graphic works collected here. The spectacle erases itself, bringing back pains gash, the stroke [le trait].42

[Trans.] The word dcollation, which means to remove a persons head and derives from the Latin decollatio, is related to the French verb dcoller (1368)
and the noun dcollement (1635). While dcollation refers specifically to the removal of the head, dcollement, or the action of detaching, refers to the separation of an organ from those anatomical regions to which it is normally
attached. (See Dcollation, Le Petit Robert: Dictionnaire Alphabtique and
Analogique de La Langue Franaise [Paris: Socit Du Nouveau Littr, 1971]).
This term is also related to dcollet, which refers to clothing that is low-cut
and to the area from (although often including) the base of the neck to (but
not including) the breasts, and dcollage, which refers both to an airplanes
takeoff and to the simple act of unsticking. The ambiguity of the double meaning of dcollation as beheading and detachment is clearly useful for Kristevas
claim that decapitation is at once both an act of vengenance for the oppressed,
particularly women, and a placeholder for castration.
This essay comprises one chapter of an exhibition catalog entitled Visions capitales authored by Kristeva as a companion to an exhibition that she curated at
the Muse du Louvre. The exhibition was part of the Carte Blanche series, in
which the Department of Prints and Drawings invites numerous famous intellectuals, writers, and filmmakers to curate exhibitions that sought to bring contemporary philosophical and literary perspectives to bear on older forms of
artistic expression. This series involves inviting guests to curate exhibitions for
which they have carte blanche with regard to the theme, works chosen, and so
on. The exhibition took place in the Hall Napolon, April 27July 27, 1998.
1. [Trans.] Jean-Baptiste, prfigurateur par excellence, prte sa figure la
figuration de linvisible par excellence: le passage. In the original, you can see
that Kristeva intends a play on words between prfigurateur, figure, and figuration, all of which contain the root figure, which can be translated as
image, face, bust, visage, and illustration, among others.
2. Cf. P.-H Stahl, Histoire de la decapitation (Paris: PUF, 1986).
3. [Trans.] Given the nature of this publication, the images included in
the original publication of this chapter in Visions capitales are not included in this
translation. To compensate for this omission, I have included the relevant art


Julia Kristeva

historical information for the images included in the chapter as well as other
relevant information on the work (e.g., date, artists biographical information,
etc.) not included in the original. All parenthetical art historical information
should be considered to be my addition.
4. Cf. [The chapter in Visions capitales entitled] Le visage et lexprience
des limites, p. 147 (the looped video #2 [included in the exhibition]) and La
Lune est belle [in Max Ernst, The Hundred-Headless Woman, trans. Dorothea
Tanning (New York: Braziller, 1981)].
5. Cf. I Samuel XVI, XVII, etc.; II Samuel V, VI, VII, etc.
6. I Samuel XVI, 5052 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with
Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, new rev. std. ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991]).
7. [Trans.] La femme de tte can also signify an intellectual woman or
sexually promiscuous woman.
8. Judith I, 1 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocryphal/
Deuterocanonical Books, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, new rev.
std. ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991]).
9. [Trans.] Judith VIII, 7 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with
Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, new rev. std. ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991]).
10. [Trans.] In the French translation cited by Kristeva, Judith asks god to
give her the words of a seductress or seductive words: Donne-moi un langage
11. Judith IX, 1213 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocryphal/
Deuterocanonical Books, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, new rev.
std. ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991]).
12. Judith XIII, 2 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocryphal/
Deuterocanonical Books, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, new rev.
std. ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991]).
13. Judith XIII, 610 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocryphal/
Deuterocanonical Books, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, new rev.
std. ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991]).
14. Friedrich Hebbel (18131863) writes Judith in 1839. The play would
be subsequently parodied by Nestroy [ Johann Nestroy, 18011862] under the
title of Judith and Holofernes.
15. Sigmund Freud, The Taboo of Virginity (Contributions to the Psychology of Love III [1918 (1917)], 208, trans. Angela Richards, in The Standard
Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. XI (1910): Five
Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Leonardo da Vinci, and Other Works, ed. James Strachey
in collaboration with Anna Freud and assisted by Alix Strachey and Alan Tyson
(London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1957); 191-208.
16. [Trans.] Kristeva uses a question mark here to highlight that this particular work has only recently been attributed to Cavallino (cf. Jan Simanes



exposition catalog Neapolitanische Barockzeichnungen in der graphischen Sammlung

des Hessischen Landesmuseums Darmstadt [Darmstadt: Hessisches Museum, 1994])
and was originally attributed to Massimo Stanzione (b ?Orta di Atella, ?1585/d
?Naples, ?1656).
17. According to certain specialists, this would have been Correggios, as
well as Italian paintings, first nighttime painting where one can see Mantegnas
strong influence.
18. Judges XVI, 1821 (The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with
Apocrypha, ed. M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, and James R. Mueller
[New York: Oxford University Press, 1992]).
19. Judges XVI, 30 (The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with
Apocrypha, ed. M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, and James R. Mueller
[New York: Oxford University Press, 1992]).
20. [Trans.] In French, this work is entitled Delilahs Triumph.
21. II Kings IX, 22 (The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with
Apocrypha, ed. M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, and James R. Mueller
[New York: Oxford University Press, 1992]).
22. II Kings IX, 3035 (The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with
Apocrypha ed. M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, and James R. Mueller
[New York: Oxford University Press, 1992]).
23. [Trans.] Kristeva cites an image that depicts a skull considered to be
representative of an important group of skulls from the Levantine Neolithic.
They are unique insofar as their features were modeled or recreated with plaster
prior to burial, a practice uncommon at the time. Although the skulls contained
in the collection of the National Museum in Damascus (i.e., the one in the image
that Kristeva cites) are part of the Tell Ramad skulls found in Tell Ramad,
Syria, the skulls to which Kristeva refers in her description in the chapter entitled Le crane: culte et art in Visions capitales are, apparently, part of the group
of skulls found in Jericho. The latter group is uniquely defined by the shells used
in place of the eyes, while the eyes of the skulls from Tell Ramad were modeled
with grayish plaster. An exemplar of the group of skulls that Kristeva describes
in this chapter can be found at the British Museum, London (accession number
AF127414) (Denise Schmant-Besserat, The Modeled Skull, in Ain Ghazal,
Excavation Reports, Vol. I: Symbols at Ain Ghazal ed. Denise Schmant-Besserat
and published under the direction of Gary O. Rollefson and Zeidan Kafafi
[Berlin: Ex Oriente, Freie Universitt, forthcoming]. Middle East Network Information Center, University of TexasAustin. <
ghazal/>). Apparently, the National Museum in Damascus does not own any of
the skulls found in Jericho. To this end, it is clear that although the image included in the original publication of Visions capitales displays a skull owned by the
National Museum in Damascus whose eyes were modeled with gray plaster,
Kristeva intends the reader to consider the group of skulls found in Jericho
(i.e., those for which shells were used to recreate the eyes).


Julia Kristeva

24. Sigmund Freud, Analysis Terminable and Interminable, The Standard

Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. XXIII
(19371939), trans. and ed. James Strachey in collaboration with Anna Freud
(London: Hogath Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1991 [1964]). It is
necessary to understand by [the term] feminine both the womans castration
fantasy and its ancient osmosis of maternal container/contents [le contenant maternal] to which Freud compares the Minoan-Mycenaean civilization previous to
the notoriety of classical Greece. Cf. also Sigmund Freud, Female Sexuality, The
Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. XXI
(19271931), trans. and ed. James Strachey in collaboration with Anna Freud
(London: Hogath Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1991 [1961]).
25. Cf. Figura [in Erich Auerbach, Scenes from the Drama of European
Literature, trans. unknown (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984
[1938])] and [the chapter entitled] Prophtie en acte, pp. 71-80 [in Visions
26. [Trans.] In French, the word genre can mean both genre in the sense
of a group of objects, artistic pieces, and the like, that share a characteristic in
common as well as gender in the sense of the gender of a noun.
27. [Trans.] Kristeva cites a statement made by Mallarm in a letter to
Eugne Lefbure in which he writes, La destruction fut ma Batrice (emphasis added) (see Stphane Mallarm: Correspondance (18621871), ed. Henri
Mendor [Paris: Gallimard, 1959]; 246).
28. Cf. Henri Cazalis, Henri Regnault, Sa Vie, Son Oeuvre, ed. Alphone
Lemerre (Paris: J. Claye, 1872), pp. 89. [Trans. This quotation is my translation.]
29. Cf. Mallarm, letter to Cazalis on April 23, 1871 (see Stphane Mallarm: Correspondance (18621871), ed. Henri Mendor [Paris: Gallimard, 1959],
246). [Trans. This quotation is my translation.]
30. [Trans.] Kristeva is referring here to Andrea Solarios (b Milan
c. 1465/d before 8 Aug 1524) Head of Saint John the Baptist (1507, Muse du
Louvre, Paris).
31. [Trans.] Cf. second unnumbered paragraph at beginning of this
Notes section.
32. [Trans.] It refers to la coupure and is thus represented as elle or she.
33. [Trans.] In Hebrew, this term means in the beginning. Kristeva
renders the term as Berechit, as is common in Francophone writings
(see Bereshit, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John
Bowker [Oxford University Press, 2000]. Oxford Reference Online, Oxford
University Press.)
34. Genesis I, 1 (The Westminster Study Edition of The Holy Bible, ed.
W. L. Jenkins [Chicago: Lakeside Press, 1948]).
35. [Trans.] [M]es actes sont mis mort.
36. [Trans.] This is the first point in the essay that Kristeva highlights that
the first-person voice she has adopted is neither a gendered voice nor her own.



She signals this fact by including both the masculine and the feminine form of
the adjective persecuted, which she writes as follows: perscut(e).
37. [Trans.] Kristeva uses the term faits divers, which, according to the
Dictionnaire de lAcadamie Franaise, pertains specifically to the journalistic practice of grouping and describing the days incidents, including accidents, crimes,
and so on (see Faits divers, Dictionnaire de lAcadmie Franaise, tome 1, 9th ed
[Paris: ditions Fayard, 1994], <>). The
only equivalent term in English is police blotter, which, although it does not
often cover accidents, does group the crimes of the day in a similarly pathological way to the faits divers.
38. Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, Vol. V: The Captive, trans. C. K. Scott
Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, rev. D. J. Enright (London: Folio Society, 1992),
60, 337. Cf. R. Coudert, Du feminine dans A la recherche du temps perdu de Marcel
Proust, p. 180 and ff., 425 ([published] doctoral dissertation, University of Paris
VII-Denis-Diderot, 1997, Lille: Atelier national de reproduction des thses de
Lille, 2004).
39. [Trans.] I have inserted quotation marks around head to underscore
Kristevas use of the word chef to describe Goliaths head, thereby playing on
the figurative use of the term head (e.g., the head of state, the head of a company) and the metaphorical sense of the term director or boss when used to
describe a persons head as the source of her rational capabilities and thus the
director of her will.
40. [Trans.] Lest we are tempted to interpret Kristevas use of affair to
signify only those of the amorous sort, it is important to remember that, in
French, laffaire can also mean trial, object of a judicial debate (my translation) (Affaire, Le Robert Micro: dictionnaire dapprentissage de la langue franaise
[Paris: Dictionnaries Le Robert, 1998]).
41. Cf. Mieke Bal, Headhunting: Judith on the Cutting Edge of Knowledge, in A Feminist Companion to Esther, Judith and Susanna: The Feminine
Companion to the Bible, 7, ed. Athalya Brenner (1995), 253285.
42. [Trans.] Le spectacle sefface, reviennent lentaille de la douleur, le trait.

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Meaning against Death

Kelly Oliver

In her latest book, Hate and Forgiveness, Julia Kristeva suggests that what she calls
the drama of Abu Ghraib tragically reveals that our civilization not only fails to
produce [an] integration of the symbolic Law in the deep strata of [the psyche] that
governs sexual pleasure, but that maybe, it [also] aggravates the disintegration of
Law and desire (2005a, 346). She says that it is not the army or such and such administration that has failed, but rather it is the integration of the symbolic Law in
the psychic apparatus that has failed. This failure is not the result of a lapse in law
or the weakening of prohibitions; on the contrary, it is a result of the pervasiveness
of surveillance and punitive technologies in all aspects of life. The result is hatred
without forgiveness. Rather than fore-give meaning to make affects intelligible
and thereby livable, symbolic Law is reduced to regulation and management techniques that police without giving form to desire. Kristeva claims that the so-called
black sheep of Abu Ghraib, the few bad apples, are not exceptional but average inhabitants of the globalized planet of humanoids trained by reality shows and the
Internet (346). This exploded rush toward disinhibitied satisfaction operates as
the counterpoint to the Puritan code, that she identifies with a ferocious repression, which robotizes the functions of the new world order. This ferocious repression is manifest in policing technologies and professional hyperproductivity,
both of which emphasize efficiency in an economy of calculable risks and profits
over meaning. On the other side of law become the science of management are ever
more violent forms of entertainment: spectacles, scandals, and sexcapades. It is the
cleavage between law and desire, between word and affect, between the symbolic
and the body, that according to Kristeva can produce teenage torturers who abuse
prisoners seemingly in all innocenceas they claim at their trialsjust for fun.


Kelly Oliver

Kristeva diagnoses what she calls this new malady of civilization as a

failure to integrate the symbolic Law into the psychic apparatus (2005, 347; all
translations from La haine et le pardon are my own). Ten years ago, in New Maladies of the Soul, she described these maladies of the soul as failures of representation caused by a split between word and affect (meaning and being) which
is intensified by media culture with its saturation of images (2002, 207,
443444). The world of symbols has become disconnected from our affective or
psychic lives; the result is an inability to represent (and thereby live) our emotional lives outside of the economy of spectacle. Expressions of affect and
emotion take the form of violent images or outrageous confessions of sexual exploits. Our psychic lives are overrun with images of sex and violence on television, at the movies, or on the Internet, while the idealized romance and everyday
lives of movie stars become our prosthetic fantasies. Imagination, creativity, and
sublimation are what are at stake in the colonization of our fantasy lives with
media images. Indeed, according to Kristeva, the possibility of creativity, imagination, and representation are impeded by the standardized expressions of mass
media. She predicts
if drugs do not take over your life, your wounds are healed with images, and before you can speak about your states of the soul, you drown
them in the world of mass media. The image has an extraordinary
power to harness your anxieties and desires, to take on their intensity
and to suspend their meaning. It works by itself. As a result, the psychic life of modern individuals wavers between somatic symptoms
(getting sick and going to the hospital) and the visual depiction of their
desires (daydreaming in front of the TV). In such a situation, psychic
life is blocked, inhibited, and destroyed. (2002, 207)
Media images become substitute selves, substitute affects, that impede rather
than facilitate the transfer of bodily drives and affects into signification. Images, seemingly transparent, substitute for questioning and interpreting the
meaning of the body and therefore of life. The psyche or soul itself hangs in
the balance.
In her earliest work, Kristeva makes the presentation of the means of production of meaning and value the primary criteria for what she calls the revolution in poetic language. The transformative possibilities of revolutionary
language, or what in her later work she calls intimate revolt depends on making questioning-interpreting and the process of questioning-interpreting explicit.
Ultimately, what must be called into question and constantly reassessed are the
unconscious forces that lay behind our actions, particularly our pleasure in violence. Through representation accompanied by critical hermeneutics, we can give
meaning to our violent impulses that may help us avoid acting on them. In Kristevas words, insofar as jouissance is thought/written/represented, it traverses evil,

Meaning against Death


and thereby it is perhaps the most profound manner of avoiding the radical evil
that would be the stopping of representation and questioning (2002, 443).
When continued questioning is the heart of representation, it is a form of
translation through which meaning is given to being as the gift that bestows humanity. But this constant translation requires time and energy, scare commodities in todays global economy, where questioning is considered inefficient, a
poor use of time; and interpretation is a waste of resources unless it results in
profits recognized by the value hierarchies of global capitalism. As Kristeva says
the conditions of modern liveswith the primacy of technology, image, speed,
and so forth, inducing stress and depressionhave a tendency to reduce psychical space and to abolish the faculty of representation. Psychical curiosity
yields before the exigencies of so-called efficiency (2002, 444). Because it takes
time and energy and its profits are not immediately grasped, this type of curiosity is not marketable in the new world order. Within this order, meaning becomes a commodity like any other that is valuable only if it can be marketed,
distributed, and sold at a profit. The fungibility of meaning, however, places it
within an economy of exchange that levels its values for life, which Kristeva
calls the par-don of interpretation, which cannot be calculated.
For within the economy of exchange, substitution can never move beyond
fetishism; there the dynamic and poetic operations of metaphorical substitution
are reduced to products or things. Consumer culture proliferates the empty desire
for products that create their own needs and only ever lead to partial, incomplete,
and therefore short-lived satisfactions. The rich are idolized for their wealth and
property, individuals with things. Individuals themselves become fungible. And
monetary value stands in for ethical value. But these objects that we crave cannot
touch the more profound longing for meaningful lives that comes not through a
hunger for consumer goods but rather through a passion for life. Unlike hunger,
passion cannot be temporarily satisfied. Unlike the thirst for wealth and things,
passion has no object; it is not defined in terms of possession and calculations. Passion gives more energy than it takes, in excess of calculations and exchange value.
Passion for life is what we risk losing when we reduce freedom to the free market
and peace to a leveling universalism that subjects the planet to our norms.
Kristeva insists that the new maladies of the soul are not the result of a
breakdown or abolition of prohibition but rather the disintegration of prohibition. Following Lacan, she describes the two sides of the Law as prohibition on
the one side and the command to enjoy on the other. With violent prohibition
comes violent transgression. Kristeva extends (and limits) this Lacanian insight
in relation to the culture of the spectacle in which extreme forms of both prohibition and promiscuity are marketable. Abu Ghraib is a symptom of what
she calls this new malady of civilization insofar as violent sadomasochistic
abuses are performed and even photographed in all innocence as just having
fun. Desire takes a detour through a manic jouissance that nourishes itself on
the sexual victimization of others (2005a, 348).


Kelly Oliver

Regression or Just Having Fun

It is as if the subject occupies an abyss between law and desire and therefore
takes refuge from violent repression through regression. Rather than integrate
prohibitions and inhibit violent drive force, these subjects cordon off prohibitions and keep them separate from their sexual and emotional lives where they
retreat into polymorphous perversion without guilt. They/we retreat to a presubjective and preobjective psychic dynamic that Kristeva associates with abjection; they play with and eroticize the in-between, the ambiguous, the lack of
boundaries to protect themselves from falling into abjection. It is not exactly that
these innocent subjects dont know the difference between right and wrong,
but that by eroticizing the abject, they purify it and thereby purify themselves.
Their perverse desire for abjection becomes a defense against contamination;
and fear of contaminationphobiamotivates their perversion. So, rather than
integrate the symbolic Law with its prohibitions and command for pleasure,
they live in-between in the space of the cleavage between these two aspects of
the law. This cleavage or split renders the symbolic Law ineffective in setting up
symbolic substitutes for violent drives. Strong prohibition leads to phobia, which
in turn leads to perversion as a protection against that which is most feared because it is most prohibited. Phobia of others is negotiated by eroticizing what
is seen as their abjection and making them victims of sexual abuse. The disintegration of the symbolic Law leaves us with innocent parties who, within the
psychic logic of perversion, escape guilt by regressing to a time before guilt, a
time before proper subjects who take proper objects, which is to say a time before responsibility. These innocent subjects dwell, even wallow, in abjection
with the perverts guiltless glee. They become the cheerleaders of abjection for
whom sadomasochistic violence toward themselves and others becomes the prerequisite for a good party.
Think of the 2005 Hollywood blockbuster movie Mr. & Mrs. Smithwhich
generated more off-screen heat in the tabloids than on. There, Brad Pitt and
Angelina Jolie play a couple, John and Jane Smith, whose marriage has lost its
spark after only five or six years and who rekindle their passion by beating,
shooting, and cutting each other. The film begins with the couple in therapy reluctant to answer questions about their lackluster marriage, especially about their
sex life. In the course of the film we learn that unbeknownst to each other, both
are accomplished assassins working for competing companies. They sleepwalk
through their marriage and everyday lives together like automatons; while their
violent killing sprees are executed as manic moments in their otherwise empty
lives. The few words they exchange are passionlessuntil they receive orders
from their respective companies to kill each other. Unlike the failed couples therapy mockingly shown at the beginning and end of the film, their brutality toward
each other enflames their desires and reinitiates sex and conversation, both of
which revolve around violence. Neither loses sleep over their killing sprees; Jane

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brags that she has lost feeling in three of her fingers and it seems that, outside
of their violent mania, neither of them feel much of anything, even for each other.
They have become killing machines who abuse others as automatically as they
brush their teeth or eat dinner. Their violence is so mechanical that when ordered
they turn it on each other without a second thought. And it is their automatic
violence that apparently saves them from their robotic marriage.
Watching this glorification of sadomasochism and sexual violence, I was reminded of Abu Ghraib, where sexual torture by young military personnel was
used to enhance their sex lives: for example, one soldier gave another pictures
of prisoners forced to simulate sex acts as a birthday present; and pictures of sex
between soldiers were interspersed with the torture photographs. The idea that
abusing others is a form of sexual arousal seems to move easily between the
everyday fare of sexual violence and the violent sex of Hollywood films and Internet porn and the shocking photographs from Abu Ghraib. Why is one
shocking and the other banal? Is it simply that one is real and the other is fantasy? Is it because, as Freud says, the uncanny effect of the real is more powerful than artifice? The relation between reality and fantasy is precisely the
dangerous terrain of human habitation, filled as it is with hair-triggered land
mines, images both virtual and real.
We might diagnose these abysmal individuals as part of an abysmal culture
in which regression is a defense against repression. If the proper or socially acceptable is circumscribed by repression of violent and aggressive impulses, then
regression to an infantile state prior to that repression circumvents the gap between reality and pleasure set up by repression. In this way, the regressed subject
does not have to wait for a substitute or delayed satisfaction la the reality principle in the face of the pleasure principle. Rather, the regressed subject reverts to
an unrestrained pleasure principle within his or her emotional life even while
acknowledging a harsh disciplinary structure in other aspects of life. In this way,
reality and pleasure are segregated and compartmentalized; and the more harsh
the superego, the easier it is to give way to polymorphous perversity. Individuals
and culture can simultaneously foster conservative mores, sexual promiscuity, and
sadomasochistic violence. We can engage in the rhetoric of tolerance and global
freedom while our military uses sex, loud music, and dogs as torture strategies as
part of what is openly called the occupation of Iraq.
A theory of regression may be useful in articulating the difference between
perversion and sublimation, which in turn may help us think through the function and effect of the photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib as opposed to other
kinds of photographs or representations, including a film like Mr. & Mrs. Smith
or works of art that represent violence. A theory of regression, howeverlike
psychoanalytic theory in generalmust be supplemented with some form of
sociopolitical analysis of the function of the rhetoric of innocence and ignorance and their valorization within our culture, where we idolize Forrest Gump
and demand that the complexities of life be described in shelf after shelf of


Kelly Oliver

manuals for dummies. We need to delve more deeply into our love of dumb
and dumber than I can in this context; but for now lets see what psychoanalysis has to tell us about regression.
In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud argues that small children
are without shame, disgust and morality and therefore do not repress their
instincts of scopophilia, exhibitionism and cruelty, which manifest themselves
as satisfaction in exposing their bodies, curiosity to see other peoples genitals, cruelty towards animals and playmates, and make children eager spectators of the processes of micturition and defaecation (1989, 268269). When
repression of these instincts sets in, they must find alternative outlets for these
urges in either sublimation or neurosis, which often manifests as somatic symptoms. There is an integral link between repression and sublimation that is
breached in the regressive formation of perversion. Prohibitions that are recognized in one aspect of life are foreclosed from other aspects, particularly when
it comes to sexual pleasure. As we have seen, Kristeva maintains that prohibitions or the symbolic paternal law is not integrated into psychic life; it exists
but can be compartmentalized through the depressive mania of the regressed
pervert. On the one side, the prohibition is strong but it is cut off from any affective significance; it is empty of any real threat insofar as the subject experiences the law as separated from his or her pleasures. The law appears as
mechanical regulation, management and surveillance designed to maximize efficiency and control but without touching the humanity of meaningful relations with self or others. The law has become nothing more than the rules of
engagement manipulated to establish control over others rather than social relations with them. The military, with its chain of command, disciplinary regimens, and discourse of containment, harshly and mechanically administered,
fuels the containment of discipline itself against the regressive pleasure of infantile perversion. Rather than give meaning to the body by translating semiotic bodily drive force into language, rather than give form to polymorphous
desires and thereby discharge them into the safety net of the symbolic, which
is a prerequisite for relations with ourselves and others, law as mere rules of engagement and containment force the disintegration of bodily pleasure and
thereby prevents meaningful relationships.

Hate as a Defense against Vulnerability

In Hate and Forgiveness, Kristeva raises the question how to inscribe in the conception of the human itselfand, consequently in philosophy and political
practicethe constitutive part played by destructivity, vulnerability, disequilibrium
which are integral to the identity of the human species and the singularity of the
speaking subject? (2005a, 115). She has dealt with destructivity throughout her
work, especially in Powers of Horror in which she describes the negotiation with the
abject as a stage in the process of becoming a subject by excluding that which

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threatens the borders of proper identity. Starting with her earliest work, she insists
on the role of negativity in psychic life. And, in Revolution in Poetic Language, she
calls negativity the fourth term of the dialectic; negativity is the driving force of psychic life. In Intimate Revolt, she maintains that it is questioning that transforms
negativity into something other than merely negation or negation of negation;
through endless questioning, negativity is transformed from a destructive or merely
discriminatory force that separates self and other, inside and outside, and becomes
the positive force of creativity and the nourishing of psychic space (2002, 226).
The negativity of drive force becomes the positive force of signification through
repetition and response from the other; it becomes the sublimation of drive force
into language. In regression, however, not yet even a discriminatory force, negativity
remains a destructive force. Successfully negotiating and renegotiating abjection
sets up the precarious border between self and other; but when the subject remains stuck at the level of abjection, confusion between self and other can be both
threatening to the extreme of phobia and arousing to the extreme of perversion. It
is the polymorphous perversion of this regressed state that can lead to sexual pleasure in violating others. Eroticizing the abject becomes a form of purification that
protects the abysmal subject from contamination from its phobic object/other.
In Powers of Horror it is the uncanny effect of the other who becomes the
catalyst for the return of repressed othernessthe abjectin the self that provokes hatred and loathing, which in turn either can lead to acting out against
others or to sublimating the experience of uncanny otherness through representation. In La haine et le pardon, the uncanny effect of the other is specifically
associated with vulnerability. Kristeva claims that along with liberty, equality,
and fraternity, vulnerability is a fourth term that we inherit from Enlightenment humanism (2005a, 115). Speaking of the handicapped, and extending her
analysis to racism, classism, and religious persecution, Kristeva once again reminds us of the narcissistic wound that constitutes humanity as a scar at the
suture of being and meaning. It is our position in-between that makes us vulnerable, and also free. Precisely that which makes us human and opens up a
world of meaning, makes us vulnerable. For as Kristeva says, psychic life is an
infinite quest for meaning, a bios transversal of zo, a biography with and for
others (2005a, 115). The uncanny encounter with another, then, puts us face
to face with our own vulnerability with and for others. And, it is the fear and
denial of our own vulnerability that causes us to hate and exploit the vulnerability of others. To repeat Kristevas question, how can we acknowledge that to
be human is to be vulnerable? In other words, how can we accept our own vulnerability without violently projecting it onto others whom we oppress and torture or alternatively civilized and protected?
For Kristeva these questions point to the need for psychoanalysis, or interpretation more generally: We integrate our own violent impulses into our psychic lives in productive ways by interpreting them. Kristeva maintains that in
this postmodern time of clashes of religions, which are times of war without


Kelly Oliver

end, psychoanalytic interpretation is useful in revealing the multifaceted destiny

of hate which makes and unmakes the human species . . . that psychic life needs
in order to continue to live with its own hatred and loathing (2005a, 373). The
idea is that by interpreting our hatred and loathing as a response to our own vulnerability, we gain the distance necessary to prevent ourselves from acting on
them. We turn our fear and loathing into words so that we can live with them
and with others.
But interpretation operates as a counterbalance to real world violence only
when it is also sublimatory, which is to say, when it effectively discharges drive
energy into symbolswhen it converts being into meaning and affect into representation. Moreover, this sublimatory interpretation should also be the source
of a jouissance that takes us beyond the realm of finite sensuous pleasures and
puts us in touch with the realm of infinite meaning or what Kristeva might call
psychic rebirth. This joy in playing with words gives meaning to being as a
type of par-don for violent drives, now expressed in words rather than in actions. This analytic jouissance sublimates the death drive by replacing the ecstasy of interpretation for the manic pursuit of satisfaction on the other side of
depression, where pleasure gives way to joy.
The distinction between pleasure and joy is central to separating perversion
from sublimation. And walking the line between perversion and sublimation
may allow us to begin to discern degrees of difference between the photographs
from Abu Ghraib, the Hollywood film Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Goyas Disasters of
War series, Picassos Guernica, or Susan Sontags Regarding the Pain of Others, to
name just a few examples. The guiding, perhaps intractable, question is, How
do we distinguish between sublimatory or creative forms of representation and
those that merely repeat or even perpetuate violence? Kristeva claims that artistic production can sublimate the death drive and thereby prevent killing; but
how do we delineate differences between types of artistic production in relation
to their sublimatory value. While Kristeva insists on the necessity of artistic
creativity as a protection against death, she condemns media culture or the culture of the spectacle for flattening psychic space by closing down sublimation.
Can television and other forms of media sublimate in the same way that high
art can? Is Kristevas preference for high art and criticism of popular media
merely elitism? At stake here is the effect and function of representations of
violence that saturate media images and fuel the culture of the spectacle.
In Visions capitales, the book that accompanied the Louvre exhibit on severed heads in the history of art curated by Kristeva in 1998, she repeatedly suggests that artistic representations of decapitation are sublimatory means of
negotiating anxieties over castration and death, what following her latest work
we could call anxieties over vulnerability. The threat of decapitation has long
been connected with the threat of castration. And given various philosophies of
the significance of the face, particularly that of Emmanuel Levinas, it is reasonable to think that in an important sense the face and the head are the most vul-

Meaning against Death


nerable parts of the human body; or at least insofar as they are associated with
language, thought and ethics, as well as kissing and looking, they signal what we
take to be essential characteristics of humanity, including, perhaps especially, vulnerability in relation to others. In Visions capitales, Kristeva suggests that artists
paint and sculpt severed heads to mitigate anxieties over vulnerability as an alternative to projecting and abjecting it onto others. Here and throughout her
work, she argues that representations of violence can prevent real violence; echoing Lacan, she maintains that what is effaced in the imaginary and the symbolic
risks returning at the level of the real. Analyzing images of beheadings from the
French Revolution, she concludes that perhaps the figures of decapitation and
severed heads can be seen as an intimate form of resistance to what she calls the
democracy of the guillotine. She says above all, if art is a transfiguration, it has
political consequences (1998, 110; all translations of Visions capitales are my own
in consultation with a translation by Sarah Hansen). This sentiment could not
be more relevant today as we witness gruesome beheadings in videotaped spectacles that could be diagnosed as a refusal to examine the role of fantasy in constructions of reality, where the inability to represent sacrifice leads to real sacrifice,
and where reality itself has become a commodity.
What is the difference between Caravaggios painting of beheading in David
and Goliath and recent videotapes of beheadings in Iraq? This question itself may
be shocking because the difference could not be more obvious: one is art while
the other is making a spectacle of gruesome murder. But given psychoanalysis
insistence on the role of fantasy in perceptions of reality, can the difference be
simply that between artifice and reality? If artificial death abolishes the uncanny
effect of real death, does this imply that the more realistic the representation the
more uncanny it becomes? What about artists such as August Raffet or Gericault, whom Kristeva discusses, and who used real severed heads and accident
victims as their models (cf. Kristeva 1998)? And what of the artifice involved in
the ritualistic staging and recording of the beheadings in Iraq? What of the staging involved in using green hoods and stacking prisoners in a pyramid for the
camera at Abu Ghraib or standing a hooded prisoner on a box, arms outstretched
attached to wires, reminiscent of crucifixion? Where is the border between artifice and reality? Navigating that border is precisely what is threatened by the
contemporary fascination with reality television and live Internet Webcams. Yes,
Freud is right that the uncanny effect of the real is more powerful than artifice;
but does the need for greater degrees of reality in violence and sexual victimization of others become perverse when representation becomes a form of acting
out? Perhaps degrees of perversion can only be measured in terms of the suffering of its objects. Perhaps as reality itself becomes commodified and fetishized,
we crave more extreme forms of bodily experience. Think of the prominence of
masochistic practices popular with cutters who ritualistically cut themselves to
feel something, or kids who play the hanging game to cut off their air supply.
They seem to want something more real. In addition, surveillance technologies


Kelly Oliver

produced to serve regulatory and disciplinary power, as Foucault might say, also
produce desires for more voyeuristic and exhibitionist sexual practices using cameras, video recorders, telephones, and the Internet. And military technologies
designed to facilitate surveillance and containment are now used to disseminate
images of real live bodies in action that cannot be contained. Reality is no longer
something we live but something we crave.

The F Word
In her discussions of freedom and peace in La haine et le pardon, Kristeva suggests more allusive measures of the balance between perversion and sublimation, delineations intended to prevent sadomasochistic violence that leads to
suffering. She argues that global capitalism has appropriated one version of freedom from the Enlightenment and has mistakenly taken its legacy to be abstract
universalism; following Kant, this prominent version of freedom is not negatively conceived as the absence of constraint but as the possibility of selfbeginning that opens the way for the enterprising individual and self-initiatives
(2005b, 29). This is the freedom of the free market, which, Kristeva says, culminates in the logic of globalization and of the unrestrained free-market. The
Supreme Cause (God) and the Technical Cause (the Dollar) are its two coexisting variants which guarantee the functioning of our freedom within this
logic of instrumentalism (30). She acknowledges that this form of freedom
is the foundation for human rights, the French notion of Liberty-EqualityFraternity, and the English Habeas Corpus (31). Yet, this notion of freedom as
equation in which every individual is equal to every other leads to something
like the free-market exchange of individuals in a calculus that offers only formal freedom and empty equality. Freedom becomes defined in terms of
economies and markets; and governments liberate through occupation to open
up new markets and free new consumers with little regard for cultural differences that might undermine the universalization of this fungible freedom. Technology becomes the great equalizer through which all individuals are reduced
to this lowest common denominator; its brokers are paying lip service to respect for cultural differences even as they exchange some freedoms for others in
the name of the F word: Freedom with a capital F.
It is noteworthy that President George W. Bush introduced the phrase
women of coveran analog to women of colorin relation to the freedom to
shop. In a speech before the State Department shortly after September 11, 2001,
Bush told stories of Christian and Jewish women alike helping women of cover,
Arab-American women, go shop because they were afraid to leave their home
and in a news conference a week later he again invoked the religious unity of America epitomized in women getting together to shop: In many cities when Christian
and Jewish women learned that Muslim women, women of cover, were afraid of
going out of their homes alone . . . they went shopping with them . . . an act that

Meaning against Death


shows the world the true nature of America, suggesting that the true nature of
America is the freedom to shop for women of all faiths (Saffire 2001, 22).
Perhaps it is telling that Bushs 2004 inaugural address, which repeats the
rhetoric of womens freedom, appeared on next to a Victorias Secret
advertisement with a provocative photo of a bikini-clad modelwith pursed lips
looking seductively at the camerathat reads Create your perfect bikini . . . suit
yourself, any way you like. As I argue elsewhere (Oliver 2007), freedom becomes
womens freedom, which becomes womens sexual freedom, which becomes the
commodification of womens sexuality reduced to the right to choose any bikini.
While Kristeva reminds us that other civilizations have other visions of
human freedom, she is concerned with a second version of freedom that reemerges
from the Western tradition as a counterbalance to universalized individualism: this
second kind of freedom is very different from the kind of calculating logic that
leads to unbridled consumerism; it is a conception that is evident in the
Speech-Being in the Presencing of the Self to the Other (2005b, 30). In other
words, this freedom comes through language, or more accurately meaning, from the
Other now negotiated by a singular self. This singularity is at odds with individualism insofar as it cannot be reduced to a common denominator in the name of
equality. Indeed, neither meaning nor singularity can be fixed within an economy
of calculation; they are fluid processes that engender the products and individuals
of the free market as leftovers whose cause-and-effect logic effaces the very
processes through which they arise. Both meaning and singularity are imbued with
unconscious dynamics that may be manipulated by the market but that always exceed it. This second kind of freedom is not concerned with maximizing relations
through efficient technologies of marketing, management, and surveillance, but
rather with meaningful relationships. Freedom as the quest for meaning is an ongoing project. Kristeva calls it an aspiration . . . driven by a real concern for uniqueness and fragility of each and every human life, including those of the poor, the
disabled, the retired, and those who rely on social benefits. It also requires special
attention to sexual and ethnic differences, to men and women considered in their
unique intimacy rather than as simple groups of consumers (31).
Acknowledging the link between freedom and vulnerability moves us further
from conceiving of freedom as the absence of prohibition to conceiving of freedom
as the absence of sacrifice. Freedom is not anything goes but everyone stays, not
no-thing is excluded but no one is excluded. In Visions capitales, Kristeva suggests that artistic representation expresses a freedom that resides not in the
effacement of prohibitions, but in the renouncement of the chain/gear of sacrifices (lengrenage des sacrifices), which moves us beyond loss to a joy that loses sacrificial complacency/indulgence itself (la complaisance sacrificielle elle-mme) (1998,
152). Transcending the sacrificial economy requires moving beyond identities based
on the exclusion of others toward inclusion and interaction enabled by questioning and representing what it means to be an individual, an American, a
human, and so on. This reversal of perversion with its fear and loathing of the


Kelly Oliver

other requires overcoming the economy of abjection through the processes of

sublimation. Moving beyond the abjection and exclusion of others that results in
phobic and perverse identities and relations, sublimation enabled by representation
translates violent impulses into creative life force. Sublimated jouissance replaces
violence toward self and others; representations of sacrifice and human vulnerability
replace literal sacrifice, which is to say that sacrifice is itself sacrificed to creativity
and this sacrifice of sacrifice is definitive of humanity.

Amorous Disasters
Instead of engaging in rites of sacrifice that return sacrifice to an imaginary or
symbolic realm, fundamentalists act out their violent fantasies in the real world,
which, as Kristeva warns, leads the members of one religion to sacrifice the
members of another, along with themselves (cf. 2002, 428). We continue to witness this sacrificial violence taken to the extreme with suicide bombers who sacrifice themselves to kill others. Kristeva claims that the triumph of the culture
of death, disguised behind an appeasement (une pacification) promised beyond,
reaches its height in the figure of the kamikaze: the shahida (2005a, 431). She
suggests that the cleavage between zo and bios is most violently realized in the
destructive acts of women suicide bombers. She explains that women have been
relegated to the realm of procreation or being (zo) and been denied access to
representation (bios). Yet, insofar as they are sent off to sacrifice and martyrdom in imitation of the warlike man and possessor of power, they are killing
in the name of principles that have excluded them; the representatives (never
representing) of life are sent to kill. This is to say that the very culture that
reduces them to the bearers of life now makes them the bearers of death.
But as Kristeva describes it, the situation of these women is much more
complex. It is not just that they come to represent a contradiction between being
and meaning but also they find themselves occupying a no-mans-land between
one culture and another, between one set of prohibitions and another, such that
martyrdom becomes the only way to reach paradise (2005a, 90). Kristeva
proposes that these women occupy two incompatible universes of family and
school, which results in a double personality or a psychic cleavage that renders them politically vulnerable (2005a, 89-90). Relying on Barbara Victors
portraits of recent shahidas, Kristeva argues that most of them are young women
who are brilliant students and who have integrated modern knowledge and
mores (90). But their surrounding environment, especially their families, are
hostile to this aspect of their personalities. Condemned by their intimates, and
guilty of their difference, depression resulting from their exclusion leads to a
desperate hope that they can regain standing in their community by martyring
themselves (90). Here Kristevas analysis is reminiscent of Gayatri Spivaks
discussion of the paradoxical position of subaltern women, caught between
a modern world in terms of which their traditions seemingly render them

Meaning against Death


passive objects and traditions that seemingly make them agents, but only of
their own suicide.
Kristeva calls the lives of these women amorous disasterspregnancy outside of marriage, sterility, desire for phallic equality with man (2005a, 431);
they are shunned and shamed by their families for their breach of traditional values, particularly as they center around marriage and children (womens role as
procreator). Kristeva goes so far as to say that fundamentalism dedicates those
women it wants to rid itself of to idealization and the sacred cult, for the
amorous life of these women, with their intolerable and inassimilable novelties,
marks the incapacity of the religious word to pacify the ambivalent bonds of
free individuals, emancipated of archaic prohibitions but deprived of new justifications for their lives. Undesirable women are sacrificed to traditional law
as their last attempt at redemption. Their difference can only be forgiven
through their sacrifice as a form of purification ritual. But this notion of forgiveness is merely the flip side of vengeance; it is a perversion that idolizes sacrifice and killing. We could say that forgiveness is precisely what these women
lack; that the lack of forgiveness leads to depression and suicide (cf. Oliver
2004). Analytic forgiveness comes through interpretation that gives meaning to
life as a gift, par-don. This alternative notion of forgiveness operates outside of
the economy of vengeance or judgment to offer a rebirth within representation outside of sacrifice (which is to say within the sacrifice of sacrifice). Forgiveness offers a renegotiation with the law such that meaning supports
individuality, or more precisely singularity, rather than prohibiting it.
While the enlisted women whose photographs have been associated with
war in Iraq may not be amorous disasters, they are poor women who typically
join the military to avoid the poverty that can lead to various sorts of amorous disasters. Think of Lynndie England, pregnant by Abu Ghraib ringleader Charles
Graner (who later married another soldier indicted for abuse, Megan Ambuhl) at
the time she was charged with the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Englands story could
be one of amorous disaster. With her baby son in her arms at her trial, she was
bitter about Graners marriage to Ambuhl. And it was Graners testimony that
undermined her defense and led to the retrial in which she was convicted. In an
article entitled Behind Failed Abu Ghraib Plea, A Tangle of Bonds and Betrayals, journalist Kate Zernike described the soap operalike scene: In a military
courtroom in Texas last week was a spectacle worthy of As the World Turns:
Pfc. Lynndie R. England, the defendant, holding her 7-month-old baby; the imprisoned father, Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr., giving testimony that ruined what
lawyers said was her best shot at Leniency; and waiting outside, another defendant from the notorious abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Megan M. Ambuhl,
who had recently wed Private Granera marriage Private England learned about
only days before (Zernike 2005).
Kristevas discussion of amorous disasters is embedded in her delineation of
two pillars of peace that she finds in Kants Perpetual Peace: first, that of


Kelly Oliver

universalityall men are equal and all must be saved. Second is the principle of
protection of human life, sustained by the love of the life of each (lamour de la vie
de chacun) (2005a, 424). She insists that although we are far from achieving
economic justice for all, it is the second pillar and not the first that is in the most
danger today: Yet whatever the weaknesses, the efforts for realizing social, economic, and political justice have never in the history of humanity been as considerable and widespread. But it is the second pillar of the imaginary of peace that
seems to me today to suffer most gravely: The love of life eludes us; there is no
longer a discourse for it (2005, 424-425). It is not just economic, racial, and religious inequalities that prevent peace, but also the lack of a discourse of the love
of life, of passion for life. The culture of death fosters war over peace because we
are losing the ability to imagine the meaning of life and thereby ways to embrace it. Life as amorous disaster is a result of women liberated from traditional
roles that reduced the meaning of their lives to procreation, but without being
able to create new justifications for life. Even as women and others gain the negative freedom from prohibitions, how do they gain the positive freedom to create the meaning of their lives anew? What does their unique biological difference
mean outside of a discourse that reduces them to procreation? How can their
singularity be sublimated into creative forms of representation that give meaning to their uniqueness beyond an economy of perversion that relegates difference to the realm of abjection through phobia or eroticization?
How can the cleavage between zo and bios, between biological life and recounted life, between being and meaning, be repaired? When diagnosing the
disintegration of the paternal law in relation to emotional life, Kristeva suggests
that it is a matter of integration. But doesnt integration imply once again freedom as calculus, a culture or globe made whole through the integration of its
parts? Perhaps we should conceive of the relationship between different elements
as an interaction instead of integration. Kristeva suggests as much in her discussion of rights for the handicapped when she says I distrust the term integration
of the handicapped: it feels like charity towards those who dont have the same
rights of others. I prefer interaction which expresses politics becoming ethics, by
extending the political pact up to the frontiers of life (2005a, 102). In this regard, we should be mindful of at least two senses of integration: on the one
hand, the mathematical process of finding the solution of a differential equation
or producing behavior compatible with ones environment or, on the other hand,
opening society or culture to all without erasing their differences.
What is lacking or threatened by modern forms of perverse regression is
not merely the integration of law into psychic life but any interaction between
pleasure and jouissance. Bodily pleasures at the level of being are cut off from joy
enabled by the realm of meaning. Jouissance is reduced to pleasures unto death
because pleasure is cut adrift from meaning. Rather than inscribe being with
meaning, or give form or structure to bodily affects and drives, symbolic Law is
reduced to techniques designed to manage, regulate, and spy to more efficiently

Meaning against Death


contain. Within this military-industrial consumer culture, we mess around in

the abject space between images and reality to the point of a perverse regression
to infantile pleasures in sadomasochistic violence toward ourselves and others.
The only way to imagine sexual fulfillment and satisfaction with life is through
possession and violence. When, like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, we can only imagine
pleasure as brutalized bruised and bleeding bodies, perverse pleasure replaces
passion for life.

Freud, Sigmund. 1989. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. In The Freud
Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York: Norton.
Kristeva, Julia. 1998. Visions capitales. Paris: Runion des Muses Nationaux.
. 2002. The Portable Kristeva. Ed. Kelly Oliver. New York: Columbia
University Press.
. 2005a. La haine et le pardon. Paris: Librairie Arthme Fayard.
. 2005b. Thinking about Liberty in Dark Times. The Holberg Prize
Seminar, 2004. Bergen, Norway: Holberg Publications. This lecture,
delivered in English, is also the first chapter of La haine et le pardon
(2005), in French as Penser la libert en temps de dstresse.
Oliver, Kelly. 2004. The Colonization of Psychic Space: Toward a Psychoanalytic
Social Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
. 2007. Women as Weapons of War. New York: Columbia University Press.
Saffire, William. 2001. Coordinates: The New Location Locution. The New
York Times Magazine, October 28, p. 22.
Zernike, Kate. 2005. Behind Failed Abu Ghraib Plea, A Tale of Betrayal. New
York Times, May 10, pp. A1, A14.

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Kristevas Intimate
Revolt and the Thought Specular:
Encountering the (Mulholland) Drive

Frances L. Restuccia

Happiness depends on intimacy. At least that is the premise of Julia Kristevas

new work on intimate revolt. But intimacy is under a grave threatthat of extinction. The background of this current crisis involves a certain moral and aesthetic dimension of Western culture, which used to be an essential component
of European culture . . . fashioned by doubt and critique, having become, in
Kristevas estimation, seriously attenuated, marginalized, rendered a decorative alibi [merely] tolerated by the society of the spectacle (2002, 4). Posing an
insidious challenge to intimacy and consequently to psychic life itself, entertainment, performance, and show culture has taken center stage in the West
and, worsealong with the uniformity produced by the market, the media, and
the Internetseems currently poised to robotize the entire world via globalization. The conditions of modern lives, Kristeva worries,
with the primacy of technology, image, speed, and so forth, inducing
stress and depressionhave a tendency to reduce psychical space and
to abolish the faculty of representation. Psychical curiosity yields before the exigencies of so-called efficiency; the unquestionable advances
of the neurosciences are then ideologically valorized and advocated as
antidotes to psychical maladies. Gradually, these maladies are denied
as such and reduced to their biological substrata, a neurological deficiency. (2002, 11)


Frances L. Restuccia

Through prayer, dialogue, art, and analysis, we therefore must seek the
great infinitesimal emancipation: restarting ourselves unceasingly (2002, 223).
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Kristevas newest work is its attempt to
square intimacy with political life.
Kristeva elaborates her notion of intimate revolt in two recent volumes
The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt (2000) and Intimate Revolt: The Powers and
Limits of Psychoanalysis (2002). The first five chapters of the latter volume lay out
Kristevas emphasis on four constituents of her concept of intimate revolt: intimacy, time, forgiveness, and image. While she italicizes the role of art (painting, sculpture, music) and in particular literature in this revoltwhich she notes
is a synonym of dignity as well as our mysticism (2002, 4)the fifth chapter, Fantasy and Cinema, focuses on film. A psychoanalyst, psychoanalytic
theorist, professor, and novelist, Kristeva is unnotorious as a film theorist.
Nonetheless, that is the genre to which she devotes an entire, quite powerful,
and intricately theoretical chapter of Intimate Revolt; film is, after all, a semiotic art form in which one would expect intimate revolt to thrive.
For one thing intimate revolt entails sensory experience, a primary alternative, in Kristevas mind, to our spectacular and robotizing society. Revolt likewise necessitates jouissance, which is to Kristeva indispensable for the life of the
psyche and therefore to the faculty of representation and questioning that specifies the human being (2002, 7). Texts that incite such a revolt are even said to
offer the extreme experience of psychosis; the reader or viewer must come up
against a psychical reality that endangers consciousness, exposing him or her
to the pulse of being (9). The reader or viewer experiences an erasure of subject/object borders, an assault of the drive (9).
Kristevas idea here is founded on the Heideggerian assumption that Being
itself is wrought by nothingness (2002, 8). Modern philosophy and psychoanalysis attain a border region of the speaking being that is psychosis. To Kristeva, in a parallel fashion, artistic revolt too achieves non-sense, by unfolding
meaning to the point of sensations and drives, finding its pulse in a realm that
is no longer symbolic but semiotic. Primarily visual, cinema has great potential to participate in this process of moving to the psychotic dark mass of human
being, of disseminating meaning among sensations and drives, of escorting the
viewer/subject into hazardous regions in which unity is annihilated (10).
Kristeva conceptualizes both art and psychoanalysis, then, as potentially active
agents in an interrogation into Nothingness and negativity. Freud, she explains,
regarded the symbol and thought themselves as a sort of negativity, that is, as an
unbinding proper to the drive, the death drive (2002, 9). Kristeva posits the
question of under what conditions the death drive transforms into symbolizing
negativity (9). Such a transformation occurs when thought or writing in revolt
finds a representation for a confrontation with the unity of law, being, and the
self (10), a jouissance-producing process. Thought, written, or represented jouissance traverses evilevil being, to Kristeva, an unsymbolized death drive.

Kristevas Intimate Revolt and the Thought Specular


Revolt cuts into banality and thus transpires through a caesura, where
timelessness intersects with time. Such an atemporality is necessary given Kristevas sense of the reason behind psychopathological symptoms and structures:
the contemporary subjects inability to integrate the atemporal. Making this
case from her position as a clinician, Kristeva asks, Is it not the Zeitlos that
causes the obsessional to stumble, as he strives fruitlessly to possess the immeasurable by measuring it? And isnt it again the Zeitlos that messes up the
melancholic, insofar as he or she suffers from fixation on a past that refuses to
enter time? And, finally: Isnt it on the Zeitlos that the paranoiac runs aground,
vying with an eternity that subjugates him? (2002, 41). The Freudian concept
of the Zeitlos points to an unconscious time, a time of death, which is tantamount to the time of the drive. Kristeva locates in Freud the notion of death as
a temporality heterogeneous to linear time. She bases her central idea of the
importance of not subtracting thanatology from, but incorporating it in, the
logic of the living (32) on Freuds opening up of every human manifestation
(act, speech, symptom) beyond consciousness, toward unconscious, prepsychical, somatic, physical continuity (32). In general, what Kristeva is underlining
here is the value of encountering death in a way that enriches rather than upsets lifes course, times flight forward (32). However revolt is accomplished,
what is required is access to timelessness or the Zeitlos, the atemporality of the
drive and the death drive, which characterizes the unconscious (12). Timelessness transports us to the boundaries of thought, enabling us to revisit or
perhaps visit our intimate depths, our places of suffering (12).
In turn, forgiveness, nonjudgmental meaning, is bestowed on such suffering.
Forgiveness is not in Kristeva quite what we conventionally construe it to be; it
is instead this ascribing of meaning to suffering, which arms us against the intrusion of the superficial spectacle. Kristeva conceptualizes forgiveness as beyond compassion, as a nonjudgmental gift, an act that interprets the meaning of
suffering. Insofar as any film, or work of art for that matter, fills in the meaning
of suffering, it would participate in such forgiveness. Ill-being, to Kristeva, results
from a lack of meaning. Forgiving oneself through an analyst or an aesthetic object, making sense in these ways of troubling senselessness, injecting it with
meaning, leads to well-being. Psychoanalytic revolt occurs through the analysts
par-don (par meaning through; and don gift), which reunites with affect
through the metaphorical and metonymical rifts of discourse (2002, 26). This
process of making meaning is not one of intellectualizing, fully comprehending,
or certainly mastering but of actualizing preverbal meanings, instinctual impulses and affectswhat Kristeva is now famous for calling the semiotic (19).
Such actualizations draw out complex and intraverbal experiences, drain out the
dark mass of the unconscious, and siphon it into the signifying light of day.
For Kristeva, this is the role of the imaginary. Death is inscribed as an instinctual force within life and consciousness in the register of the imaginary.
Through the imaginary the psyche is repositioned between time and the timeless;


Frances L. Restuccia

it finds its proper place at that intersection. Kristeva promotes activities that freeze
the psychical process so that it no longer flows, that locate a dead time, and that
accept repressed drives, activities that then insert nonlife into lifewhich is a
simple but fair description of Kristevas notion of working-through. Kristeva conceives of the imaginary conjoining of the linear and the indestructible as a state
of graceand I would say a sacred actthat brings with it exactly what one
might expect would accompany such a state, jouissance. And she points out, at
the end of a section on working-through, that the status graciae transits through
the specular (2002, 38).
What Kristeva labels the register of interiority includes neither nonsensorialized perceptions nor thoughts but images (2002, 46). It is the domain of
images wherein we find the intimacy that will guarantee psychic life. It is therefore especially in fantasy that intimacy is represented. Kristevas imaginary appears in all its logicand riskwhen introduced through fantasy, which, since
it contains, albeit distortedly, the reality of desire, testifies to psychical reality.
Kristeva treats all fantasies as reflective of unconscious fantasy and regards literature and art as the favored places for the formulation of fantasies (66). She
assumes that the very formulating of fantasies as well as commenting on them
produces jouissance, which can preclude the horror of their enactment.
Kristeva anticipates that her reader will respond to her focus on fantasy by
remarking on the veritable paradise of fantasy that we inhabit today thanks to
images in the media. But to Kristeva nothing is less certain than the notion
that our culture produces beneficial fantasies, stimulates us to formulate them,
and as a result turns us into creators of the imaginary (2002, 67). Our society of
the spectacle allows neither analysis of fantasy nor even their formation. Indeed,
we are inundated with images; but they fail to liberate us. Their stereotypical
quality shuts down our ability to imagine our own imagery, to generate our own
imaginary scenarios (67). Such a reining-in, and even obliteration of, the phantasmatic faculty help produce instead our contemporary maladies of the soul.
Regardless of the abundance of images surrounding us, we have in the place of
fantasy melancholia, paranoia, perversion, hysteria, obsessional neurosis, phobia.
Phantasmatic representation needs to be constructed, in fact, so that these new
maladies of the soul may be engaged through a subsequent analysis of fantasy. We
are phantasmatically impoverished, if not vacuous; and the reduction, if not abolition, of such a faculty threatens to wipe out inner depth itself. Which is why art,
literature, and cinema are essentialas allies of psychoanalysisin providing
the spaces in which the phantasmatic faculty can be exercised.
Cinema then can lean in one of two directions. It can preclude or crush
fantasy insofar as it is stereotypical. Or since the visible is the port of registry
of drives, their synthesis beneath language, cinema as an apotheosis of the
visible [can offer] itself to the plethoric deployment of fantasies (2002, 69).
Film has been contaminated by unimaginary images; as an art form, it has been
diverted from its psychically rich potential. But Kristeva singles out what she

Kristevas Intimate Revolt and the Thought Specular


calls an other cinema that serves as a kind of condensed and meditative mode
of writing (69).
Standing in for fantasy, this thought specular, as Kristeva also calls itwhen
it is great art, as exemplified by Eisenstein, Hitchcock, Godard, Bresson,
Pasolinipierces us in the place of the drives (2002, 69). We are saturated with cinematic images that shut down fantasy even as ironically it is the visible that accedes to a primary and fragile synthesis of drives, to a more supple, less controlled,
riskier representability of instinctual dramas, the games of Eros and Thanatos
(69). Not at all images-information, the cinema of Godard consists of signals
captured, cut up, and arranged in such a way that the phantasmatic thought of the
writer-director can be made out and invites you first to locate your own fantasies
and then to hollow them out (74). It is the voyeur, after all, as Kristeva mentions,
who makes a symptom of his first articulation of drives, taking pleasure in the
sadomasochism of an autoerotic, incestuous osmosis with an object from which
he is not really detached (69), just as film in the form of the thought specular absorbs the material of the drive. Supporting her idea of the psychoanalytic power of
cinema, Kristeva writes that it is the gaze that can provoke an initial specular synthesis at the borders of the sadomasochistic drive (70).
At the crossroads between consciousness and the unconscious, film that
explores the specular triggers fantasy. It has the capacity to graft fantasy onto the
audience, in a way similar to Kristevas grafting of fantasy onto her patient Didier by requesting that he read novels. The fantasy must be constructed, and
this is the potential function of the cinematic thought specular. The sexual drive
has to coagulate as fantasy for it to be analyzed; and this is where art comes in,
militating against Kristevas banality of evil, an unrepresented drive or impoverished fantasy.
The specular is, to Kristeva, the most advanced medium for the inscription of the drive, although what we actually perceive on the screen falls short of
being what fascinates us, for the drive is manifested at the intersection of objects on the screen and the fantasy formation that emerges as we experience the
film. The thought specular seizes us where the specular bears the trace of the
nonrepresented drive. Such a bearing occurs through the lekton, an expressible
that transforms a flat image into a symptom. Tones, rhythms, colors, figures,
various semiotic elements, are associated with the raw image, effecting a primary
seizure of drives. Certain films are able to grab, so to speak, the drive of the
viewer within the filmic material and to formulate it phantasmatically within the
specular arrangement of the film, thus annexing the drive to representation.
But cinema goes further than revealing our fantasies, our psychical lives; it
thinks the specular, in a manner that is of course itself specular. That is, it employs the visible at the same time as it provides protection from it. Whereas the
society of the spectacle produces evil, as it leaves the drive naked, that is, unrepresented, unaccessed, and uncompensated for, the thought specular showcases the sadomasochistic repressed of the society of the spectacle (2002, 79)


Frances L. Restuccia

but avoids redoubling the evil by finally distancing us. Kristeva appreciates camera movement, as in Godard, that holds the spectatorwhile immersed in fantasyat a distance from fascination (80). In this way sadomasochism can be
provisionally at home in cinema until it is demystified. Kristeva calls for a debanalization of evil, a deauthorizing of perversion, a demystificationa gap, a
wedge driven through fetishism, that is, intimacy in revolt. She does not regard
our time as one of great art; but it is nevertheless capable of producing aesthetic
antidotes to the society of the spectacle.
Such an antidote, like analytical discourse, would put the self into question, which for Kristeva is tantamount to castration, the realization of a lack,
an uncertainty, and the endless refraction that constitutes psychical splitting. It
is the eternal return of these psychic phenomena that places us in the timelessness of the unconscious (2002, 236237) and thereby eventually enables
the restructuring of the subject in a rebirth, psychical suppleness, remobilized
drives, new creativities (237). Kristevas intimate revolt is anathema to
fetishism insofar as it entails thanatology, the embracing of Nothingness. Kristeva poses the rhetorical question of how many Didiers exist in suffering without even considering the possibility of the verbal representation of the malaise
in which they lock themselves and those close to them? (128). To Kristeva,
[t]his is when the freedom and negativity proper to psychological representation may become mired in fetish. The problem may be generalized: again, she
asks, Is this the end of a civilization of questioning and freedom? (129), implying that to question and consequently to attain freedom (on both the individual and social levels) is to embrace negativity so as not to be buried in the
quagmire of fetishism.
Given that the thought specular engages an interiority Kristeva wishes to
rehabilitate that depends on accessing ones preverbal psychic history and is intricately, intimately tied to ones singularity, it is difficult to exemplify its specific operations. But I want to examine a filmDavid Lynchs Mulholland Drive
(2001)that demonstrates Kristevas idea of the thought specular insofar as it
deploys the specular to challenge fetishism. Being about fantasys paralyzing
takeover of the psyche, Mulholland Drive would also seem to have the capacity
to enable a viewer to free (or work toward freeing) himself or herself from the
illusion of a fantasy that puts one in a strangleholdby presenting the Nothing that has the power to unloosen the fixation.
In Intimate Revolt, Kristeva distinguishes between noble, indispensable
fantasy that serves desire and the ignoble spectacular imaginary that currently
assaults us (2002, 180). Sometimes the trouble appears to be that the spectacular imaginary keeps us mired in fantasy. It offers an opaque reality without
arranging the escape hatch of clarity. Kristeva prefers representations of fantasy
that are self-conscious to those that are stereotypically protective, numbing.
Self-conscious fantasyto which Kristeva ascribes a thetic valuestabilizes the
subject and can serve as a source of survival and rebirth, bringing to life the

Kristevas Intimate Revolt and the Thought Specular


metabolized-negativized drive in indefinite, infinite psychical life (180).1 David

Lynchs Mulholland Drive (pun now intended) is such a self-conscious representation of fantasy, one that foregrounds Kristevas thesis of the value of (an enlivening death) fantasy in slicing through (a debilitating love) fantasy. Mulholland
Drive demonstrates how fantasy itself can offer an escape hatch.
Fantasy, then, can bring one to the negativity that desire is based on, or it
can plug lack, thus serving as a fetish. An articulation of Kristevas thought specular, Lynchs Mulholland Drive puts on display and in turn contests such
fetishism. Ultimately rendering a universal abyss at the heart of things, Mulholland Drive is an antifetishism film that gives its spectators the opportunity
to encounter a certain inarticulable absence, compatible with Freuds Zeitlos, to
which site they are brought through a story about the potential effectiveness of
fantasy in traversing fantasy.
More specifically: Mulholland Drive unveils the gap between a supposed
object of desire and the objet a, or cause of desire, that renders that object alluring; the film in this way seems cognizant of the Nothing on which love is
founded. Lynch demonstrates Lacans conception of the only conceivable idea
of the object, that of the object as cause of desire, of that which is lacking, a lack
that is situated in the Real. [A]nd the little we know about the real, Lacan
elaborates in The Four Fundamental Concepts, shows its antinomy to all verisimilitude (1973/1981, ix). Lynch, I am suggesting, is faithful to this Real antinomy.
At the same time, as a metafilm, a film preoccupied with matters of film
and the film industry, Mulholland Drive reveals the illusory nature of film itself.
Hence an analogy takes shape, one Godard already insinuated in Contempt
between cinema and loveperhaps intimating the reason cinema is enthralled
with this subject. In revealing the void on which love and film are predicated,
Mulholland Drive doubly attempts to explode the fetishistic ideas of the
verisimilitude of film as well as the fantasy of the fulfillment or satisfaction of
love. Lynchs film offers a full disclosure about cinema (that it is not full!), puncturing the fetishism of film in the Metzian sense; it does so via a complex narrative about a love affair, offering the revelation that absence founds them both.2
Mulholland Drives exposure of loves underlying aporia hinges on the films
two-part structure. Roughly the first two-thirds of Mulholland Drive can be
considered Dianes fantasy of a successful relationship with Camilla, and the
last one-third as the preceding actual story of a failed sexual relation that explains the rationale of the fantasy.3 Dianes desire is not only dissatisfied in the
way that all desire is dissatisfiedsince to desire is by definition to seek/lack satisfactionbut Dianes already intense desire was abruptly terminated at its apex.
She has been left in a traumatized state, fixated fetishistically on a lost object of
love, to which her psyche insists on clinging. Lynch is impressively astute at
capturing a lovers urge to kill a beloved who tortures her with desire that gets
expressed simultaneously along with an edict against it. In the last one-third of
the film, Diane has an hallucinatory memory of herself in an erotic pose with


Frances L. Restuccia

Camilla, as Camilla expresses to her, You drive me wild, yet immediately

follows that incitement to Dianes desire with her decision that they should
not do this anymore. Devastated, Diane feels compelled to expunge Camilla
from the face of the earth; she hires a hit man to do so. Diane knows she must
expel Camilla: she reiterates this murderous impulse in her fantasy (produced
after the hit man has done the job) in Bettys Hollywood audition as well as in
her practice audition, which she enacts with Rita(the figure Camilla becomes
in Dianes fantasy). In both, Betty asserts to her partner, Ill kill you. Ill kill us
both, reiterating insistently that the love object must be removed.
Dianes fantasy on the whole, however, offers a less literal and more psychoanalytic approach to canceling the love object, given that it works to extinguish Dianes cathexis of Camilla, which requires that the fantasy engage the
Real or the Nothing of Dianes desire. In focusing on a fantasy that Diane needs
to experience to rid herself of her fetishistic fixation, Mulholland Drive is about
what Kristevas thought specular is meant to do: project a fantasy that enables
one to overcome a malady of the soul. Insofar as the film operates this way for
the viewer, it may function as the thought specular in the service of intimate revolt at the same time as it is about the very process of the thought specular.
Mulholland Drive is comprised of three ontological levels: fantasy and reality, as I have said, and the Nothing/Real. Something horrific suffuses this
film. The Nothing/Real is represented as monstrous: through the monstrous
figure behind Winkies caf; through the creepy, ominous Louise who arrives at
Bettys aunts door and proclaims forebodingly that someone is in trouble;
through the corpse that Betty and Rita traumatically encounter in Dianes apartment; and perhaps through the ghastly tiny elderly couple. Dianes fantasy includes a young, terrified man who visits Winkies with someone who could be
in the position of his therapist since the young man explains to him that they
are there because he has had two dreams that took place at this coffee shop.
The young man at Winkies, whom I will call the analysand for the sake of identification, was frightened in his dreams as was his therapist, frightening the
young man even more. Why? Because there is a man in back who is doing it.
The analysand can perceive him through the wall; that is, in his dream he can
observe his (the Gorgons?) face. The therapist suggests that the analysand has
been drawn to Winkies to discover if the man doing it is actually out there.
They take a peek. The monster emerges, terrifying the analysand, it seems, to
literal deatha preview of the films situating itself in the place of the gaze and
of its fuller illustration of Kristevas notion that horror is the quintessential
specular (2002, 77). Film that rises to the level of the fascinating thought specular seizes us through fear, at the place of the gaze. This is its magic (73).
Betty and Rita later sit in what appears to be the same Winkies for coffee,
establishing a skewed parallel between Betty and the analysand and Rita and the
monster. In yet a third Winkies scene, we have Diane meeting with the hit man,
ordering the extinction of her object of desire, so that the following chain of

Kristevas Intimate Revolt and the Thought Specular


associations forms on the side of the monster: the monster, Rita, and then death
or an extinguished Camilla. If we accept that the monster is in the register of the
Nothing/Real, this chain enables us to observe Dianes fantasy as an encounter
with the Nothing/Real of Dianes desire as that monster is identified with Rita,
the fantasys stand-in for Camilla, as a way of sucking Rita/Camilla into the
Void. The corpse that Betty and Rita discover in Dianes apartment is taken by
the two young women in the first place to be Rita, or at least someone mistaken
by the murderer as Rita. (The body is laid out on the bed in a way reminiscent
of how Rita lay on the aunts bed in an early scene, on her side with her legs
stacked up.) Upon giving us a close-up of the dead person, the camera reveals a
monstrous face, so that again Rita is linked to the monster. Rita is the monster
in that she (as the stand-in for Camilla) has captured Bettys/Dianes desire; but
refusing to fulfill it in real life, Camilla as a result fixes Diane in an utterly miserable position. Diane needs to rectify this situation; as Coco (Bettys busybody
landlady and neighbor) admonishes in the fantasy, If there is trouble, get rid of
it! Camilla is Dianes trouble, and in real life (in the film) she gets rid of it literally. Her fantasy, however, offers another, albeit belated but more psychoanalytic, efficacious suggestion about how to detach from a love object.
Prior to such an extrication, Betty and Rita (in the fantasy) begin to merge.
When they attempt by phone to reach Diane Selwyn, Betty comments that it is
strange calling yourself; but at this moment it is not clear who is calling Diane
or herself because it is not clear which one of them is Diane. Rita eventually
dons the white wig, causing her to resemble Betty physically. And the fantasy in
general is about their merging in love, so that we grasp that the idea of love here
is of a subject locating her missing piece (no wonder Rita is puzzled over who she
is). Im in love with you, Betty repeats to Rita emphatically and erotically. The
bed scene of their making love is what we might call a Lacanian Love encounter,
where the subject in love (Betty/Diane) momentarily coalesces with her beloved
or experiences the illusion of the temporary cessation of the sexual relation not
being written (on the penultimate page of Encore, Lacan explains that something
[may be] encountered . . . which momentarily gives the illusion that the sexual
relationship stops not being writtenan illusion that something is not only articulated but inscribed, . . . by which, for a whilea time during which things are
suspendedwhat would constitute the sexual relationship finds its trace and its
miragelike path in the being who speaks [1975/1998, 145]). Is loveas psychoanalysis claims with an audacity that is all the more incredible as all of its experience runs counter to that very notion, and as it demonstrates the contraryis
love about making one (faire un)? Is Eros a tension toward the One? (5), Lacan
asks, simultaneously positing Oneness as the lovers goal and casting a cynical
psychoanalytic eye on its possibility.
Given that this attempted union occurs in the fantasy segment of the film,
Mulholland Drive seems to know that the missing piece can never actually be
annexed. Being a constitutive lack of the subject, such a piece, upon being


Frances L. Restuccia

embraced, would threaten subjectivity, induce psychosis. Upon being psychically clung to in this way, fetishizedthat is, taken to plug the lack in the
subjectsuch a piece would jam up the subject. [D]esire merely leads us to
aim at the gap (Lacan 1998, 5). The subject lacks, but it lacks Nothing. Mulholland Drive likewise seems keenly aware that those subjects who believe they
come close to consummating their desire, upon being cut off in the midst, would
wish to kill what they take to be the missing piece with which they nearly coalesced, for it would be agony to have that missing piece of oneself walk away,
with/as a potential portion of oneself. Instead, especially in such cases of unrequited love, the missing piece, or missing emptinesssince the objet a or cause
of ones desire is only a structural absence, the residue of ones splitting off from
the original Otherneeds to be pried loose in the lovers psyche from the contingent object that only appears to house the objet a. That ones cause of desire
actually inheres in ones ostensible object of desire is a psychic illusion. It is this
illusion, not the object, that must be destroyed, especially when the object flees,
leaving in its wake an all-consuming psychic residue. This is psychoanalytic
logic as well as, I am suggesting, the logic of the film.4
Mulholland Drive demonstrates that Diane needs to relinquish her psychic
grip on Camilla, that Camilla is merely a contingent object. At Club Silencio,
Rita and Betty attentively observe all sorts of paradigmatic fissures. One would
assume that here, at the Club, there would be a band, but No hay banda. There
is music, but it is recorded. The emcee proclaims the theme: It is an illusion.
The singer belting out Roy Orbisons Crying herself wails over a lost love,
helping us link the splitting that the scene effectsbetween what appears to be
true and the reality (No hay banda)with a certain psychic/emotional detachment that Diane needs to undergo. The singer collapses onto the stage, but
her singing eerily prevails.
The voice, one of the four forms of the objet a in Lacans Four Fundamental Concepts, persists without embodiment. Lynch peels the voice from the singer
in a way that could be read as a kind of surgical procedure on the drive as it inheres in the voice, carving it away from a particular body/subject. The collapsed
singer reveals that the voice, or objet a, the cause of Dianes desire, is located
someplace else besides the body of the singer, or the body of Camillathat
Diane loves Camilla for something more. And at this moment, the fantasy
that she is that excess is crumbling, as McGowan explains: The structure of
fantasy breaks down when the subject confronts the total emptiness of the objet
petit a, which is what occurs as Rebekah Del Rios song continues after she has
fainted. . . . Betty looks down in her purse and sees a blue box, which represents
the point of exit from the fantasy world (2004, 83). The camera dramatically
zooms in on that boxdark blueness pervades the screen. Herein lies the crisis moment of the film, the pivotal point at which unconscious confrontation
with the drive, the death drive, timelessness (the Zeitlos)psychosisenables
an exit, away from (Dianes) fetishizing a love object (Camilla).

Kristevas Intimate Revolt and the Thought Specular


The operations of Kristevas thought specular are at this stage foregrounded

as part of the diegesis, which presents the breakdown of a fantasy insofar as it
is predicated on an object mistaken for object a. Betty shakes as she observes all
the stage effects that indicate illusion, especially the singer as she physically
withdraws from her song, because Betty/Diane sensesand is experiencing
the Nothingness of the cause of her desire. But perhaps the horror that Bettys
brittle shaking indicates is not due entirely to a confrontation with the ineluctable lostness of the lost object, but also to the fact that it is, practically
speaking, too late for Diane. She has failed to heed Kristevas warning about
the necessity of engaging a liberating fantasy to avoid the actual enactment of
a destructive fantasy. That is: Dianes fantasy, produced after the hit man has enacted the murder commissioned by Diane (we know that this is the time sequence for one thing because Rita shows up in the fantasy with a pile of money
that Diane presumably paid to the hit man to have Camilla killed), unveils to
her the logic of love as fantasy (that it pursues an objet a, a cause of desire, a
missing piece, rather than a particular person). Having exposed love as illusion,
Dianes fantasy points belatedly to the possibility of puncturing a fantasy that
makes one miserable, that gets stuck at the level of the necessarily false object
by encountering and loosening the drive that set it in motion.
Lynch redoubles this theme of the illusion of love by planting it within and
intertwining it with the context of Hollywood, fulfilling Kristevas desideratum
that the thought specular be self-awareas a way of distancing the spectator
from the film itself as fantasy. Rita (Camillas avatar in Dianes fantasy) whimsically names herself after Rita Hayworth depicted on a poster for Gilda. All the
flamboyant camera shots that deliberately lead the way to horrorcreepily
down the hall to Rita in the shower, down the steps to the monster behind
Winkies, and perhaps most suspensefully to the monstrous corpse in bed
scream out that we are watching a psycho-horror movie. Reflecting the illusory
condition of love, where one pretends to be the object cause of the lovers desire, giving in a sense what one lacks (one of Lacans dominant definitions of
love), Betty (Davis?) in the fantasy sequence cleverly remarks to Rita that, in
checking out with the police if an accident indeed happened on Mulholland
Drive, they can pretend they are someone else, just as in the movies. Within
the context of Dianes fantasy, or dream, about a sexual relation with Camilla (in
the guise of Rita), Betty designates Hollywood and specifically her aunts Los
Angeles apartment, as a dreamplace, referring to her dream of making her
debut in Hollywood. Again in imitation of Contempt, the last word of Mulholland Drive ironically is Silencio, which points not simply to the absence at
the core of the love fantasy the film encloses but also, la Christian Metz, to
the absence on which the film/film is founded. Just as Camilla (not Rita!) is the
illusion of Dianes love, Mulholland Drive, while signifying unaccustomed perceptual wealth, is (to quote Metz on film in general) stamped with unreality
to an unusual degree, and from the very outset. Like all cinema, Mulholland


Frances L. Restuccia

Drive, as Mulholland Drive itself discloses, drums up all perception, but to

switch it immediately over into its own absence, which is nonetheless the only
signifier present (1982, 45). Such a defetishizing exposure of the film enhances
Mulholland Drives status as thought specular, insofar as it precludes any pretense
of its subject matter actually being there, thus removing the spectator from its
fascination. It is, in other words, insofar as Mulholland Drive reflects on its status as a Metzian imaginary signifier that it can serve as Kristevas imaginary
register, where death is inscribed within consciousness.
By exposing the chasm at the heart of love and film, Lynchs film doubly
undermines fetishism: the phantasmatic form that plugs the lack of love with
an object as well as the fetishism of filmic verisimilitude. Mulholland Drive drags
the fetishism of love as well as of film itselfinsofar as it projects itself as
presentdown to its vacuous base, to a blue box, unmistakably an escape
hatch, signifying Nothing. Targeting a primary generator of the glittery images
of the society of the spectacle, Hollywood itself, Lynchs film grants the spectator psychic life, intimacy, through an especially sensuous cinematographical
encounter with images of interiority that collapse in the end in a way that catalyzes a new start. Facing the skewed relation of the object of desire and the object a, an abyss, Freuds Zeitlos, the Real, at the level of the unconscious, within
this savvy and sophisticated example of Kristevas thought specular, the spectator is prompted to exit through the blue box, that is, to extricate himself or herself from psychic fixations, or at least to work through them, to enter eventually
into a new psychic space. Mulholland Drive as the thought specular has the potential, I am suggesting, to imbricate itself with the spectators own suffering
and, through such attachment (a way of pulling the spectators trauma into
semiotic representation), to offer forgiveness, that is, the transformation of the
spectators pain into meaning.
By transfiguring the spectators own psychic trouble into fantasy, images,
signification, through a journey to the end of the night, Mulholland Drive does
its part in arming the spectator against the contemporary robotization process.
By bringing the spectator into relation with his or her unconscious, by luring the
spectator into the abyss, into hazardous regions wherein unity is annihilated
(Kristeva 2002, 10), which in the case of this particular film is shown to found
love and film, Mulholland Drive restores psychic depth, or at least takes a step toward its restoration. While this may seem like a private matter, films that fit
Kristevas category of the thought specular possess the potential to inject death,
the unconscious, the unseen into consciousness and turn back the tide of the dehumanization of societyeven to militate against biopower. After all, as Foucault
elaborates in Society Must Be Defended, with the predominance of the power of
social regularization, death is gradually disqualified. Death has become, Foucault
reminds us, something to be hidden away (2003, 247). Foucaults spooky assertion that Power no longer recognizes death (248) provides a further rationale behind Kristevas perspective that contemporary society needs to reintegrate

Kristevas Intimate Revolt and the Thought Specular


thanatology into the logic of the livingto stave off the new episteme she
appears to be diagnosing in which the psychically complex subject has vanished
and robots rule.

1. As Maria Margaroni explains, in Julia Kristeva: Live Theory, the thetic
phase refers to a break that paves the way for signification; it is both a rupture
(the emergent subjects separation from the semiotic chora) and a link, the subjects identification with the signifier that is necessary for the taking up of positons in the signifying realm (2004, 1415).
2. Such a dual theme perhaps should come as no surprise from the director of a previous film with a fetish as its title: Blue Velvet.
3. Todd McGowan puts it this way: The second part of Mulholland Drive
is structured around the incessant dissatisfaction of desire as Diane (Naomi
Watts)and the spectatorare denied any experience of Camilla (Laura Elena
Harring), Dianes love object. By contrast, in the first part Diane, appearing as
Betty, can enjoy the object (2004, 67).
4. I invoke my understanding of Lacans idea of love because Mulholland
Drive appears to subscribe to it; I do not mean to imply that Kristevas (distinct)
conception of love is reflected in the film. Mulholland Drive, in other words, fulfills Kristevas notion of the thought specular through its presentation of a
fetishistic fantasy of love that its representation of Lacans conception of love as
illusion has the capacity to puncture. For Lacan and Kristevas different theories
of the subject, see Maria Margaroni, who observes a more drastic split between
the Lacanian subject and his or her lack than in Kristevas subjects split condition, produced by the internal eruption of semiotic motility (2004, 26). However, see also Joan Copjecs Imagine Theres No Woman (2002) for an idea of the
Lacanian subject as well as of Lacanian love that approaches if not overlaps with
Margaronis sense of Kristeva.

Copjec, Joan. 2002. Imagine Theres No Woman. Boston, MA: MIT Press.
Foucault, Michel. 2003. Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collge de
France, 197576. Trans. David Macey. New York: Picador.
Heidegger, Martin. 1929. What is Metaphysics? Trans. David Farrell Krell.
Kristeva, Julia. 2000. The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt. Trans. Jeanine Herman.
New York: Columbia University Press.
. 2002. Intimate Revolt: The Powers and Limits of Psychoanalysis. Trans.
Jeanine Herman. New York: Columbia University Press.


Frances L. Restuccia

Lacan, Jacques. 1973/1981. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis.

Ed. Jacques Alain-Miller. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton.
. 1975/1998. Encore: 19721973: On Feminine Sexuality/The Limits of
Love and Knowledge. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Bruce Fink. New
York: Norton.
Margaroni, Maria, and John Lechte. 2004. Julia Kristeva: Live Theory. London:
McGowan, Todd. 2004. Lost on Mulholland Drive: Navigating David Lynchs
Panegyric to Hollywood. Cinema Journal 43 (2): 6789.
Metz, Christian. 1982. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema.
Trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred
Guzzetti. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Mulholland Drive. 2001. Dir. David Lynch. Universal Studios.

Julia Kristeva and the
Trajectory of the Image

John Lechte

Given Julia Kristevas interest in the visual and plastic arts, as well as in the
imaginary, it is perhaps surprising that very little has been said or written about
her theoretical stance here.1 When it comes to the image as such the silence is
even more deafening.2 A partial explanation for this might be that her writing on
painting and cinema often appears to be incidental to other theoretical and critical tasks. This cannot be said, however, of the treatment of the cinema image
and, through her analysis of Sartres phenomenology, of the mental image. In any
case, I suggest that by paying close attention to Kristevas approach to the image
one begins to see another level open up in her work, one that, despite her terminology, is less in keeping with orthodox psychoanalysis and more in keeping with
the cinematic turn inaugurated by Gilles Deleuze (1986; 1989). Indeed, it is instructive to begin with a short detour comparing aspects of the thought of the
two thinkers on the image, before moving on to consider Kristevas theory of the
cinema image, the mental image as proposed by Sartre3all against the backdrop of the image in Guy Debords theory of the society of the spectacle (1994).
The latter turns the image into a thing with serious consequences, the analyst
argues, for the very viability of psychic space.

Society and the Cinema Image in Kristeva and Deleuze

The two thinkersJulia Kristeva and Gilles Deleuzein their work on cinema
can, I suggest, be equated. However, it is true that Kristeva, coming from a


John Lechte

particular psychoanalytic orientation, does seem to go with a subject-object

dualism. Her terminology, as we shall see, of the specular, fantasm, and, finally, seduction would place her squarely on the side of subjectivity as reflected
on the screen, if not beyond the screen. There is no denying the difference between a Bergsonian approach to the image (highlighted by Deleuze) and Kristevas notions, such as the semiotic as a rhythmical space (time emerges here).
On the other hand, her use, like Deleuze, of the Stoic concept of lekton (the
saying, the expressing, or description that gives itself as such) brings her
closer to Deleuze, who described the difference between description and its
object in Italian neorealist cinema as being indiscernible. Moreover, a certain
type of cinema (cf. Hitchcock and Godard), for Kristeva, is essentially linked to
thinking, as it is also for Deleuze. Horror movies become a way of thinking the
specularwhich would be a thinking of an aspect of the material semiotic.
For Kristeva, then, thought is linked to affect through the image. Her approach is thus very different, and much more innovative, than the application
to film of a highly analytical and intellectualist Lacanian framework, as is found
in iek (1991) or Rocchio (1999).
Writing on cinema and the image has recently become part of a concern
with the image in history and thought, a concern driven by Kristevas return
to Debords critique of the society of the spectacle, a society wedded to the
reality of appearances and to appearance as reality, and where one is literally
drowning in media images made into things (la choisification) (from television and
elsewhere) (Kristeva 1995, 710; 1996a, 1524, 114115; 1997, 118, 125127,
233236, 256258). The spectacle stifles revolt, not only ideologically, so that
image-clichs and image-stereotypes dominate, but psychically, too, because,
being standardized, the bevy of images inhibits imaginary formations, such as
fantasy and the self as difference.
Kristevas commitment to critique might be thought to place her at odds
with Deleuze. The case changes substantially, though, when mediation, rather
than media, is made the focus of attention. For mediation, following the insights of Bergson, is on the side of perception, objectification and, subsequently,
on the side of a photographic view of reality, a view that privileges space over
time and memory. To put it bluntly: a mediatized society (a society of mediation) would suppress the insights made possible by cinema as the vehicle of time
and movement. It would suppress an experience of time and memory, and thus
of a certain subjectivity. In the beginning, we are told, there was a Big Bang. But
in the very beginning, the photographic view says, there was stillness: timelessness, without movement. The stillness of the photographic image becomes a
metaphor for the very beginning.
To the extent that Kristeva understands the image qua image as a form of
unreality (or irreality) in the manner of Sartre, and as the basis of fantasy production she is at odds with Deleuze. For Deleuze rejects any rigid dualism of
fantasy and reality in favor of the view that fantasy and subjectivity flow over

Julia Kristeva and the Trajectory of the Image


into realityor at least into the actual (this is Deleuzes surrealism). Instead,
there is a reality of subjectivity as there is, after Bergson, a reality of consciousness, in the sense that consciousness is something (Deleuze 1986, 6061).
But Deleuze primarily points an accusing finger at the image-clich, not at
the image as such. Kristeva makes the same distinction. For the images we are
flooded with by the media are stereotypical, standardized. These are not the
images of fantasy (imbued with unrealityvirtual images) but ones that have
become thinglike (simulacra) and which inhibit the receivers capacity to fantasize, to associate and to engage in interpretation. People with their heads cut
off no longer signify violence. This is what Didier, Kristevas analysand, demonstrates in his incapacity to see, or to feel, the obvious force of what he has done
in his art (Kristeva 1995, 1011, 1920). More generally, the society of the
spectacle damages the subjects psychic space, a symptom of which is the emasculation of interiority, and hence of the capacity to have a vibrant fantasy life.
Externality rules, an externality of uniformity and standardization. We now
leave the spectacle in abeyance and, in what follows, examine Kristevas specific
approach to the cinema image.

Seduction and the Specular

The image I see has nothing to do with the specular which fascinates me
such is the point of departure in both Kristevas most recent writing on the cinema in 1997 (118149) and in her piece, first published in 1975, entitled
Ellipse sur la frayeur et la sduction spculaire (Ellipsis on Fright and the
Seduction of the Specular) (collected in 1977, 373382). What seduces is neither the meaning of the image nor its symbolism as revealed by semiology, but
its materiality: its noises (the older sense of frayeur means the noise that gives
a fright), its pulsations, somatic waves, colour waves (ondes), rhythms, tones
(373). I am, then, dragged into the image, willy-nilly, without knowing it; no
question of being coaxed, tempted, or consciously seduced. Rather, I can actually live out the aggression and anxieties that constitute the underbelly of the
specular, while seduction would be underpinned by the drives. In any case, even
if we stuck with Lacans mirror stage, we should recall that there it was a question of an imago (something that has effects in the subject) more than narcissism. With imago we come closer to the Kristevan semiotic. In this sense, I
am in the semioticI inhabit it (cf. Merleau-Ponty)more than the semiotic is in me. The Platonic khora, as we know, generates the semiotic, which becomes a rhythmical space, a space we inhabit as humans. This is a musicalized
and thus timeful space.4
The specular is also a sign that exceeds the borders of the signified. It is,
moreover, a visual sign which calls to the fantasm because it carries an excess
of visual traces, traces irrelevant to the identification of objects because they are
chronologically, and logically, anterior to the famous mirror stage (Kristeva


John Lechte

1977, 374). Parenthetically, it is notable that, for Deleuze, mirrors are a key
example of the virtual image, which is interior to the time-image. Here, mirrors
evoke the oscillation between the virtual and the actual but do not evoke the
imaginary because it is not possible to be external to images. More of this later.
For Kristeva, the sign that evokes the fantasm appears in its own right. It
is not a purveyor of information about the object. Such signs emerge in the
shower scene in Hitchcocks Psycho where behind the curtain the shadow appears and then the hand with the dagger raised in silhouette. The signified of
this image is fear. Fearaffectis thus this excess of signification, a signification that ceases to be one in any formal sense. For I am in the picture in the
shower scene. The cinema image ceases to be a medium and becomes an immediate experiencea transsubstantial experience perhaps if we were to take
our cue from Kristevas reading of Proust (1996b).
Again, the signs of the semiotic give over to lektonic traces. Lekton refers
to that dimension of the sign as an expressible, or a sayable, which is more
than what is represented or symbolized, the dimension that exceeds signification. Eisensteins films are illuminated by this notion, which draws attention to
the process of signification before it shows what is indicated. And so the organization of space, the placement of objects, the calculated intervention of
each reply could all be added to the rhythm of images, a rhythm intensified by
Eisensteins version of montage.5 The lektonic dimension leads to an experience
of images in the process of signification. The signified is secondary to this. The
lektonic dimension of khora is the rhythm of the space. Analytically, rhythm is
the subjective dimension of objective space. Kristevas point, though, is that
space cannot emerge as such outside its rhythmical or subjective aspect. We
cannot know real (as opposed to abstract) space except as an experience. Time,
by implication, is also an experience of time. Time is subjective. It is tied to involuntary memory (not memory as habit). On this, Kristeva, Deleuze, and Bergson all concur.
Kristeva, in her 1975 essay, also makes the point that cinema is the specular thought (le spculaire pens)a thinking of the specular so that the specular
and thought become intertwined. It is not just a question here of what an image
represents. The specular is the semiotic (displacements, condensations, tones,
rhythms, vibrating colors, figures of all sorts) as excess in relation to the signified; images that become an expressing in their own right, as provided for by
the stoic lekton.
Closely linked to the specular and thought is the horror movie la Hitchcock, where [r]epresented horror is the specular par excellence (Kristeva 1977,
377). This means that horror is in the image as sign (a horror image), and in the
subjects relation to it (because it is a question of a fantasmatic domain) and not
in what is signified. There is a spatial dimension of the object equivalent to perception, while the subject is essentially in time. Time would be the semiotic itself, provided we understand time monumentally, and not chronologically.6

Julia Kristeva and the Trajectory of the Image


To this point, Kristeva seems to give equal weight to both the cinema image
and to subjectivity. At the level of the specular, the cinema imagein the genre
of the horror films in particularwould have an immediacy that makes the
concept of representation a very rough instrument. In her later work of 1997,
the emphasis changes. The fantasm begins to take on a life of its own. And psychoanalysis would render the fantasm conscious, integrating it into an interpretative story, a story generated by associations. Through interpretation (which
means through working with fantasy), the symptom can be dissolved. Although
the earlier insight regarding lektonic traces is woven into the later work, we also
have another psychoanalytic angle on the fantasm and its importance for the
subjects psychic life. So, does Kristevas approach actually deepen our insight
into the cinema image as such? A certain progress in producing insights into the
nature of the cinema image was made in the earlier work; but now this image
is allowed to slip away into the labyrinth of details on the fantasm as a fact of
subjectivity. In the chapter, Fantasme et cinema in La rvolte intime (1997), little is learned about cinema that was not learned from the 1975 article. And this
is because the author is bound up in the debate about the society of the spectacle and its effects on individual psyches. Cinema here seems to be part of the
problem, not part of the solution. Nevertheless, Kristeva also says in this piece
that the specular transforms the drive into desire, and aggressivity into seduction (1997, 134). The specular now becomes a displaced form of the unconscious foundation of the psychic apparatus. Cinema thus reveals something
about the current nature of the psyche. The specular thought is about an excess
of subjectivity rather than about the basis of an insight into cinema and filmmaking. The cinema is distant, not immediate, in the life of the subject.
Even so, this is only part of the story. For the lekton is still there, as is the
semiotic in Eisenstein and Godard. The potential is there, in effect, for expanding our understanding/experience of cinema; it is now a matter of working through this. But what, in relation to cinema, is the society of the spectacle
all about? A look at Debords theory in more detail will allow us to begin to
understand the force of Kristevas position concerning the image.

The Spectacle as the Sign of an Ontological Shift?

The image is fundamental in Guy Debords theory of the society of the spectacle where the spectacle is defined as a social relation among people, mediated
by images (Debord 1994, para. 4). As with Rousseau, the festival for Debord
would overcome the opacity normally encountered in every representation as a
form of mediation. Festival reveals the truth that representation, as a virtual reality, keeps in the dark. With the critique of the spectacle, however, the issue is
no longer about truth as the real being hidden by representation; it is about representation as the virtual image not just taking the place of the real, but becoming real itself (becoming a thing). If Rousseaus question is epistemological,


John Lechte

in the sense that the subject is presented with a distorted version of the object,
in the more recent case, the claim is that there is no longer any object other than
forms of representation: we therefore could be dealing with an ontological shift
that signals the end of the dominance of the Platonic age based in appearance
and reality, reality and image.
So the image is central. The spectacle is a Weltanchauung which has become actual, materially translated (Debord 1994, para. 5). Debord speaks in
certain passages as though mediation evokes something immediate. But the
tone changes, and we find that the spectacle is not a supplement to the real
world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society (para. 6). Society itself is unreal. Or rather, this is a society in which the
difference between real and unreal is no longer relevant. Therefore, One cannot abstractly contrast the spectacle to actual social activity: such a division is
itself divided. The spectacle which inverts the real is in fact produced. Lived reality is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle . . . reality rises
up within the spectacle and the spectacle is real (para. 8). And in a key passage,
Debord affirms that [c]onsidered in its own terms, the spectacle is affirmation
of appearance and affirmation of all human life, namely social life as mere appearance (para. 10). There is nothing hidden in the social form that is the spectacle: that which appears is good, and that which is good appears (para. 12).
The spectacle is also inextricably tied to the commodity as fetishistic (one commodity refers only to another and so on, ad infinitum) and as pure appearance.
For this reason, Debord says that the commodity is the spectacle par excellence.
When Kristeva comes to read Sartre in light of the society of the spectacle, the uniqueness of her position begins to show through. Indeed, two conceptions of reality are now at stake: one that is virtual and as such is not real (the
psychic image that gives rise to fantasy), and another that has come to be real
despite being virtual (media images). The best way to bring out this distinction
is to look at aspects of Sartres text, LImaginaire (1940/1986) and at Kristevas
response to it in La rvolte intime (1997, 303-334).

The Sartrian Image as a Critique of the

Spectacular Image
Sartre is more interested in what an image is itself and less in how images play
themselves out in social reality. Thus, the image, Sartre declares at an early stage
in LImaginaire, is not another reality; it is not a simulacrum; it is not an object
in its own right, but is a nothingness (nant). To assume that the image is a simulacrum is to commit the error of the illusion of immanence (illusion dimmanence) (1986, 17). This is the key point, the point that Kristeva finds the most
intriguing and important in LImaginaire, and she is, in La rvolte intime, willing
to endorse Sartres position even though the philosopher is skeptical of any theory of the unconscious. For Kristeva, the image as nothingness confirms her view

Julia Kristeva and the Trajectory of the Image


that the image cannot be a thing, even though technologies of the image turn it
into one by refusing its unreality (1997, 319320). Sartre argues, then, that there
may be an image of reality (of the thing, object, individual, etc.), but there is no
reality of the image. Again, Kristeva agrees because, similarly, there is no reality
of fantasy. To make fantasy into a reality is to make it a thing, just as the society
of the spectacle makes media images things and denies an original. And so, the
image is not a different version of the object, neither should an image be confused
with a perception. In a perception of the Parthenon one will be able to distinguish
the number of columns and will probably be interested in making this distinction. In an image of the Parthenon, on the other hand, the number of columns
is quite irrelevant; for in this case the columnness of columns is the important
and interesting thing as far as the image qua image is concerned.7
The imaging consciousness, then, is not a perception. The latter is analogical,
being formed from sense data deriving from objects in external reality. It is thus the
basis of a thetic consciousness, or a consciousness founded on the subject-object relation. An image, by contrast, is a nonthetic consciousness, a consciousness without an object. Once again, this accords with Kristevas view of a genuinely
fantasmatic object. With regard to an image, careful distinctions need to be made
when dealing with various forms of representation. A photograph thus has two
aspects as far as its image is concerned. One aspect is the photograph as physical
object; the other is the photograph as image. With a painting, things are similar:
there is a clear distinction between the physical object of a perception and an image.
The perception of the physical object that has been assigned the task of representing it is quite different from the imaging consciousness. And this implies that
the image qua imageor imaging consciousnessis indifferent to the physical
form of representation. The image, then, transcends its incarnation. This means,
too, that an image has a specific relation to presence, such that when, as Sartre puts
it in the very opening lines of LImaginaire, an image of a friend is produced in the
mind, it is the friend who is the object of consciousness, not the image. An image
is not, then, some kind of container within which a content (presence of a friend)
is housed. On the contrary, the image qua image, is the presence of the friend in
consciousness. Or, rather, the image is the consciousness as such of the friend, or
of what is imaged. Whether this image appears immediately in the mind as a memory, or in a representation makes no difference to the imaging consciousness. The
imaged is always an object of an imaging consciousness, not a representation; for,
to repeat, the imaged is consciousness of what is imaged. By way of illustration,
Sartre refers to the portrait of Charles VIII:
It is him that we see, not the painting, and yet we present him as not
being there: we have reached him by the image, by the intermediary of the painting. We now see that the relation that consciousness
presents in the imaging attitude, between the portrait and the original
is literally magical. (1986, 53)


John Lechte

Charles VIII is there through the image, even though to be there entails
not being there in person. Even though Charles VIII is not there in person, the
imaging consciousness brings him thereinto presence. Through the image,
one is able to say at one and the same time, Charles VIII is both down there
in the past and here (1986, 53). Presence as image is the nonpresence as reality, as object. In the imaging consciousness, the portrait as a series of brush
strokes does not exist; there is instead only the image as the presence of the
king. In perception, only the portrait exists as physical object in the world, and
the king is absent. Sartres thesis aims to show how important it is that perception and image not be confused.
To think the image of a painting is not to think it as a painted image. In a
painting of Pierre, says Sartre, Pierre is not thought as the image of the painting; the painting is not an image of Pierre. Pierre appears as absent. Through a
similar logic an image as an imitation is not an analogon of what is imitated; the
imitation, in other words, is not a separate, objective entity. Thus, the imitation
of Maurice Chevalier does not produce a separate image in the mind that may
then be compared with the imitated singer. Rather, the imitation is made by
signs given by the imitator and these signs evoke Maurice Chevalier himself. In
short, the imitator is Maurice Chevalier. As such, imitation evokes, according
to Sartre, the possessed of primitive dances rituals (1986, 64).
Such is further support for Kristevas approach to the extent that for her,
too, an image is not itself a thing, but a way in which psychic space is articulated.
There is no psychic space, on the one hand, and images, on the other.
Thus a visual sign in general is an evocation. As such, Sartres argument implies, it brings what is envisaged into presence. An evocation qua evocation is
thus entirely transparent. The sign of a man brings the man into presence as an
image. It matters little whether this sign is conventionalized or whether it is
iconic; the effect is the same; namely, to put consciousness in touch with what
is evoked independently of the evocation. In short, evocation is a way of being
in imagination; such a capacity is necessary in order that arts such as theater
and fiction can work successfully as theater and as fiction; for it has to be possible to engage in make-believe (and to extricate oneself from it), and this, Kristeva implies, is what is becoming more difficult in the society of the spectacle.
Truly imaginary reading, then, is not first a reading of the words, then
a transporting of the reader into an imaginary world. Reading fiction in the
Sartrian mode is not to be made aware of style, or of sentence formation. On
the contrary, to read fiction is to be transported (metaphorized?) into another
world; it is to be in another world. A knowledge of the fictive world does not
derive either from the meaning of words, or from what words signify. No
amount of effort is likely to make a world arise out of office, third floor,
building, suburb (1986, 129). A very different effect ensues, however, when
one reads in Sartres example that he hastily descended the three floors of the
building (129130). Here, words cease to be signifiers and become the

Julia Kristeva and the Trajectory of the Image


intended thing itself. In this formulation, the words evoke a world and are
effaced in the evocation.
In Sartres version of the phenomenological concept of intentionality, the
object of affect is in consciousness. Thus joy is the joy of something, just as hate
is the hatred of something. But this, Sartre says, is also the consciousness of
something. In other words, affectivity is affective consciousnessnot in the reflexive or intellectualist sense of consciousness in which a metalanguage would
be opened up, but in the sense that consciousness is the access to the affect, or
emotion, as affect. Or again, consciousness is the affective investment in an object such that the union of consciousness and a lived relation to the object are
one and the same thing. In sum: Consciousness is always transparent to itself;
it must therefore be at one and the same time entirely knowledge and entirely
affectivity (1986, 143.). For the Sartrian, there is no affectivity in itself any
more than there is consciousness in itself or an image in itself. Language, too,
has no existence in itself outside a meaning immediately evoked. There is no reality of affectivity, consciousness, or words. Instead, there is intentionality: consciousness of something. Might there not be word-images, however? Sartre
responds quite definitely by saying that words are not images; for when a word
becomes an image it ceases to be a sign (word) (166).
Although Kristeva leaves to one side the issue of evocation in her reading
of Sartre, it is clear that an evocation (or more strongly, an incantation) fits in
with the Kristevan theory of psychic space as constituted by the fantasy of an
internal life. The question is, How does one control the limits of fantasy so that
they do not topple over into hallucination? The idea that, as iconic, the content
of the image is present is an illusion. When does the image pass itself off as
something real and actual when it is not? When I see Walter Benjamin through
Adamis line drawing evoking his glasses (Adami 1973, 45)when Benjamin
is present as imageit is less that Benjamin exists and more that his presence
does not depend on the technical virtuosity of the representation. In effect, the
representation disappears into the image. This is what is at stakenot Benjamins real or unreal existence. Benjamins existence would be an issue were the
question a technical one of realism and representation, in which case, the drawing could be compared with the known, or existing object of the representation. Here, there is a reality of the representation where existence is at stake.
With the image, on the other hand, there is no such duality, as we have seen.
Rather, the image is presence (of the thing or entity).
Ironically, perhaps, an image is the inkblot or, more profoundly, the image
is present in a Turner painting much more than in Holbein. Modern painting
la Rothko is, in this sense, a profound study of the image. For it is only with
Rothko that we see that indistinctness does not entail a perception of the canvas, or of the paint as such. An image, then, is not an imitation of perception.
A superrealist painting does not put us in touch with the object; it is not transparent, however clear and focused it might be. For like all realism, it is an


John Lechte

imitation of perception and calls on the spectator to marvel at the virtuosity of

technique. The image, by contrast, is born of the subtlest evocation; often by an
evocation that is barely one.
The image is thus very much on the side of the ephemeral and no doubt
of the idealist side of things. But ideal, too, is ephemeral like the image and is
destined to disappear with the spectacle. Thus, Kristeva says that under the
domination of the spectacle the consciousness of the object as an ideality disappears (1997, 315). Ideality and the image mean, in the example given by
Sartre (1986, 133), that the words a beautiful woman evoke the image of
beauty, an image that is not reducible to a real body as object. Words evoke the
body, which becomes the canvas through which the image of beauty appears. Or
again, form and volumeshape, density, and sizeis simply the medium of
the body itself, a body that does not exist in perception but only in image. This
presence of the body in image, Sartre calls the imagination:
The act of imagination . . . is a magical act. It is an incantation destined
to make appear the object one is thinking about, the thing one desires,
such that one can take possession of it. There is in this act always
something imperious and child-like. (1986, 239; emphasis added)
A similar sentiment can be found in Barthes speaking on photography
Barthes, as we know, having dedicated Camera Lucida to Sartre. What Sartre
and Barthes call the magical function of the imaginary is not the same as the
image as a virtual reality that Kristeva fears (cf. Kristeva 1997, 234)the image
as thing, as simulacrumbut evokes the essentially double character of the
imaginary in the sense of both-and: both self and other, one and the many,
being and nonbeing, word and meaning, death and life, and so on.
As an incantation, the image in the imaginary function defies the existential level of perception. The latter always implies the division of subject and object, whereas no such division is implied at the level of the imaginary. Incantation,
in short, is the transcendence of the subject-object relation. The image-object is
a nonreal object (an objet irrel [Sartre 1986, 249, and passim]).

Immediacy and the Image

An important issue that remains to be discussed is whether the image is irrevocably tied to representation. I suggest that the underlying logic of Kristevas work is
to break with such a notion. Like language in the Freudian tradition, the image has
always had effects before being the external vehicle of an internal, or otherwise invisible, reality. Kristeva herself confirms as much in Tales of Love when she says
that the subject is not simply an inside facing the referential outside (1987, 274).
But in any case, we only have to recall again that the famous Lacanian mirror image

Julia Kristeva and the Trajectory of the Image


is an imago for the child, having an impact on emotional development, before it

is a mimetic object, or a representation. The imago contributes to the instantiation
of the subject. The subject, we recall from the opening pages of Tales of Love, is
an open system, which means that it is open to change and modification in light
of new experiences, particularly the experience of love. Before that, of course,
Kristeva had spoken of the subject-in-process (on trial), and of the subject as
a work-in-progress, so that the emphasis is on the subject as always being in formation, not already formed, or posited, as (a certain version of ) phenomenology
had implied. It is this process of continuous formation that makes the subject
a singularity.
If the overall logic of Kristevas oeuvre is to give precedence to immediate
effectseffects that instantiatethis is because the immediacy of process and
of acts, as is said in Tales of Love (1987, 274), takes precedence over static representations. Immediacy is also linked to the image as fantasm, so that the image
is differently articulated in Kristevas work relative to that of most others, with
the possible exception of Deleuze. We need to look at the place of immediacy
in more detail.
First, the immediate for Kristeva is brought out in her work on love as
metaphor and transference, where it refers to primary identification, whereas the
mediate is linked to the symbolic order. Desire is metonymic (displacement),
while love is metaphoric. Metaphor enables a crystallization of fantasy (1987,
30). Now, we have just seen that fantasy will be the key element in the analysis
of the image, so that metaphor (= immediacy), fantasy, and image come to form
a series of key terms.
Second, a poetics of the semiotic as immediacy would be very different
from a poetics based on a model in the symbolic, precisely because the symbolic is the sphere of mediation. Such an aesthetics will be constitutive rather
than constituted, inventive rather than given, based in the synthetic punctum
(the immediate sting of a detail) of the image, rather than in the narrative
studium of analysis (Barthes).
Even when Kristeva interpreted color in Giotto in her early work, it was always a matter of the immediacy of the drives evoked by color as the void of figuration (1984, 231). Color decenters the ego, since it is not a matter of
representation produced analytically, nor is it a matter of the precedence over the
image of narrative, as produced by the symbolic (1984a, 215).
Third, although an image cannot be reduced to color, it is clear that part of
the immediacy of the drive dimension of color spills over into an appreciation
of the power of the nonclich image. An image, strictly speaking, is irreducible
to the narrative system, even if it also supports this system in cinema. Once the
drive dimension is brought to bear on the image, the latter ceases to be a
straightforward object of thought; for it is also a condition of the possibility of
thought. The mistake has been to move too readily into analyzing images as
though they were based in representation. Perhaps Kristevas approach to the


John Lechte

image through the idea of the society of the spectacle also implies that the image
is a representation that evokes a narrative, but this is not in keeping with the
originality of Kristevas contribution to the theme once the semiotic (drives) is
brought into the frame.

Virtual and the Actual of the Image

For his part, Deleuze defines the crystal image (recall Kristevas crystallization)
as one in which the actual and virtual images intersect; this is what Kristeva
would call the imaginary. The movement-image (for example, in Westerns and
action films) is an actual image, in which time is virtual (it does not appear as
such). This means that time is indirectly present in the movement-image. The
virtual element would constitute the imaginary dimension, if Deleuze believed
in it; but he does not. The crystal image brings together the actual and the virtual in one image: The imaginary is the crystal-image. Its the key factor in
modern cinema (Deleuze 1995, 67). Now, a virtual image is not an object, much
less a signifier; indeed, it is a nothingnessthe very definition Sartre, and so
Kristeva, give to the image as purely imaginary. As virtual, time cannot appear
in an actual image (a movement-image), much less be reduced to time as a present moment. However, a crystal image provides for time to become actual, and
for actual images to become virtual. Such is the challenge for the imaginary; for
the nothingness of the image as fantasy nevertheless has an actuality, which
means that it can be conceived of, if not perceived. An actual image in a mirror
entails a virtual image of the one whose reflection it is. Or if the latter is also actual, then the virtual image is the image of the two actual images. But this virtual image itself could become actual, and so on, ad infinitum.
Time, here, refers to the nonlinear, nonchronological time of Bergsonian
duration, where the series of nows gives way to something outside representation, outside consciousness. For Deleuze, true durational time is cinematographic, whereas the timeor more precisely, the spaceof fixed, frozen
moments is photographic. Subjectivity and virtuality are enveloped in cinematographic time, while objectivity and perception are related, but external, to
time as spatialization, as the frozen moment. This is the version of time that
is missed in the image clich (Kristevas standardized image, turned into a
thing); for attention is directed exclusively at what the image represents, which
is to say, at the level at which it is an object for perception. Both Kristeva and
Deleuze head in the same direction here, although, it is true, Kristeva maintains a psychoanalytic stance that Deleuze rejects. Nevertheless, as I have suggested elsewhere (see Lechte 2003), the kind of psychoanalytic framework
Kristeva works with is ultimately heterodox in its emphasis on the subject as a
subject-in-process, a work-in-progress, an open system, a singularity. In each of
these characterizations of the subject, is it not clear that time is durational,
therefore virtual, but open to becoming actual before returning to virtuality?

Julia Kristeva and the Trajectory of the Image


This is Deleuzes cinematic time writ large. Analytical time (the series of nows
or present moments) gives way to the synthetic time of the cinema. What is
the significance of the term, synthetic here? Before concluding, let me offer a
brief outline of the synthetic in relation to Kristevas idea of subjectivity.

The Synthetic and the Poetic

By synthetic is to be understood, creative and instantiating processes, as
opposed to analytical, which attempts to establish the nature of things as already given. Synthetic also evokes complexity theory in which the emphasis is
on emergent processes.
Katherine Hayles, who, as one of the first to map the research developments
in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life, has used certain insights from this
area to interpret literary texts, and points out that complexity is founded on
emergence, or a capacity to evolve, and this is a synthetic process (1999, 243).
By comparison, Artificial Intelligence aims to replicate and thus imitate human
intelligence once and for all. It takes a firmly analytical approach (238239).
With regard to the cinema image, a synthetic perspective ignores the usual
analytical strictures concerning the certainty of plot development, chronology,
and characterization. It is as though interest were in the contingency and chance
events of the real, much like some surrealist works.
Deleuzes philosophy of the cinema image emphasizes a synthetic approach,
and is, despite appearances, close to Kristeva on this theme. Deleuze opposes a
phenomenological approach to the cinema image, one based in natural perception where movement is still related to poses (1986, 57), or is related to shots,
as with photographs that freeze the moment. For the philosopher, movement
in cinema is not an illusion, it is real.
From a synthetic perspective, subjectivity is defined as the self-formative activity of a subject composed of both vital drives and symbolic capacities. If elements of personality exist from the very beginning of life, these are subject to
transformation in life, particularly in experiences related to love and art. Subjectivity is not reducible to perception because perception is spatial and freezes
things in poses. Perception is spatial and analytical.8 Subjectivity is rather synthetic, in time, in movement and duration, in flux, in process, to evoke Kristeva. In sum, subjectivity is synthetic.
Time as experienced in subjectivity, especially memory, is duration as outlined by Bergson (1993, 212213). For its part, memory constitutes time, not
the reverse. Time is not the minutes that pass in perception, but the duration
that is produced by events themselves, and within which subjects are caught up.
As cinema is the art form uniquely based in time, cinema images produce
events, memory, and subjectivity. The cinema image articulates time and becomes the form of times incarnation as memory, just as photography is the
articulation of space and perception.


John Lechte

Semiotic as Synthesis
Kristevas theory of the semiotic (1984b, 13106) can be thus understood as a
synthetic and creative process based in affect. It brings her work in touch with
Deleuzes. To understand the cinema image in-depth is to see it as a dynamic
force in the formation of subjectivity. The semiotic, as we have seen, is a
drive-based notion, composed of energy charges. This is very close to what
Deleuze calls the image to the extent that the semiotic, as a nonconceptual, synthetic feature, is not a representation. Kristeva describes the semiotic as having
its basis in the Greek khora, which is, she says: a nonexpressive totality formed
by the drives and their stases. It is constituted by movements and their
ephemeral stases (1984b, 25). It is not a position or positioning of any kind. The
relevance of the semiotic is difficult to grasp if one presupposes that the cinema
image takes place in mediated reality reliant on perception, while the semiotic
khora might be assumed to be based in a real body. However, it is precisely the
fluidity of the passage between khora and image that is proposed. The khora is
the energy flow simultaneously present in both body and image. The body is
constituted in its exposure to images: that is, it is formed in and through images.
In Emir Kusturicas Black Cat White (1998), much of the impact of the film
would be lost if attention was directed solely to the narrativesuch as it is. Instead, expressions on lined faces, the gold teeth, the flamboyant clothing, the
elaborately decorated vehicles, the sounds of gravelly voices, and so forth, make
the film what it is and contribute to the constitution, semiotically, of the subjectivity of the protagonists and spectators. The semiotic thus instantiates the
characters; they are not already there, as symbolic cutouts. This is precisely the
effect of synthetic processes.

Out of the discussion in this chapter, the key point that is reiterated is that subjectivity as related to the image is neither essentially photographic nor symbolic,
but derives from the dynamic processes of time and the semiotic drives. And
these are most clearly evident in cinema. Perception, based in space and the eternal pose of photography, connects with the symbolic order, which is analytical,
while the semiotic, giving rise to the rhythms of time, connects with cinema.
But even Sartre in his deliberations of the image is careful to separate perception from subjectivity as such, while perception is linked to objectivity. In
short, for Sartre, the image is essentially subjective, even if it also has to parade
in phenomenological guise as consciousness.
If Kristevas approach to the image is via the notion of the fantasm as articulated by psychoanalysis, it is also true that her approach, in keeping with
Sartres, preserves the virtual character of the image as a nothingness, Kristevas
fear being that this virtuality will be turned into a simulacrum in the media

Julia Kristeva and the Trajectory of the Image


barrage of the society of the spectacle. Although Deleuze is uninterested in the

imaginary as a producer of images, the distinction between virtual and actual is
sustained, and the virtual image retains its status of virtuality, even if it becomes
difficult to distinguish between virtual and actual in the crystal image.
Finally, once time and its image ceases to be reduced to perception, to the
photographic and to the symbolic as essentially analyticalthat is, once time
ceases to be spatializedit must be grasped through the dynamic framework of
synthetic processes characteristic of an open system, the subject-in-process, the
subject-as-a-work-in-progress, and as a singularitythat is, through time-based
processes. This insight, common to both the work of Kristeva and Deleuze, can
then serve as the basis for creative and original research on time in the future.

1. This does not mean of course that the term image is not evoked in writings about Kristeva. Just the opposite: compare images of melancholy, the image
of the female body, images of gender, and so forth. It rather means that the theoretical impetus related to Kristevas approach to the image is rarely addressed.
2. See, however, Lechte (1990a, 1990b, 1995) for examples using Kristevas theoretical frame in studies of the image.
3. Speaking of the mental image, it is notable that Mark Hansen, in his
critique of Deleuzes philosophy of cinema, argues that the time-image, for
which Deleuze has become best known, is limited because it is situated within
a purely mental space, which is in fact that of the brain as receptacle of the cinema inscription (cf. the brain is the screen) (2004, 593). He then argues that
recent developments of cognitive science have refuted such a passive view of
the mental image/brain. Without being able to develop this point in this chapter, it is worthwhile keeping it in mind as we discuss the relations between Kristeva, Sartre, and Deleuze on the (mental) image.
4. Even though it does not exactly accord with the traditional way of interpreting khora, it must now be envisaged that it has to do with time even more
than space; for to spatialize it implies linking it to both perception and the symbolic, whereas Kristevas trajectory, as we know, is to give it a definite semiotic
flavor that is at the antipodes of the symbolic. Moreover, we note that for Lacan,
perception is linked to the symbolic through the lack of castration represented
by objet petit athat is, perception in itself is never entirely satisfying, so the
subject is induced to go beyond it. Interestingly, Lacan makes this point most
strongly in his analysis of seeing and the look in relation to the painted image
in particular and to images in general (1964, 65109).
5. Here, we should recall that a key aspect of Jean Mitrys discussion (1999)
of Eisensteins work (as well as that of other filmmakers) is in terms of rhythm
and montage. The rhythm of a film, for Mitry, approximates the underlying
temporal ordering of the films articulation, especially in relation to the way


John Lechte

action is presented. Mitry, without knowing it, thus alludes to the Kristevan
notion of the semiotic khora.
6. Nietzsche and, after him, Kristeva define monumental time as the time
of the eternal recurrence of the fundamental rhythms of nature and society (including the biorhythms of the human species) (see Kristeva 1986).
7. For a commentary on this, see Casey (1981, 139168). For Casey, it
seems problematic to attempt to separate perception from imaginary without
falling for the illusion of immanence.
8. This point may need revision in light of recent developments in cognitive science, but still has significant purchase (see Hansen 2004, 593 n. 10).

Adami, V. 1973. Derrire le miroir. Paris: Adrien Maeght.
Bergson, H. 1993. Matire et mmoire: Essai sur la relation du corps lesprit. Paris:
Quadrige/Presses Universitaires de France.
Black Cat White. 1998. Dir. Emir Kusturica. USA Films.
Casey, Edward S. 1981. Sartre on Imagination, in Paul Arthur Schilp, ed.,
The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. In The Library of Living Philosophers, vol. 16, 139-168. LaSalle, IL: Open Court.
Debord, G. 1994. The Society of the Spectacle. Trans. Donald Nicholson Smith.
New York: Zone Books.
Deleuze, G. 1986. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson
and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert
Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
. 1995. Negotiations, 1972-1990. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York:
Columbia University Press.
Hansen, Mark. 2004. The Time of Affect, or Bearing Witness to Life. Critical
Inquiry 30 (Spring), 584626.
Hayles, N. K. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics,
Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kristeva, Julia. 1977. Ellipse sur la frayeur et la sduction spculaire. Polylogue.
Paris: Seuil.
. 1984a. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art.
Trans. Thomas S. Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez. Oxford,
UK: Blackwell.
. 1984b. Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Margaret Waller. New
York : Columbia University Press.
. 1986. Womens Time. The Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. Oxford,
UK: Blackwell, 188193.
. 1987. Tales of Love. Trans. L. S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.

Julia Kristeva and the Trajectory of the Image


. 1995. New Maladies of the Soul. Trans. Ross Guberman. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 1996a. Sens et non-sens de la rvolte: Pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse
I, Paris: Fayard.
. 1996b. Time and Sense: Proust and the Experience of Literature. Trans.
Ross Guberman. New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1997. La rvolte intime: Pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse II. Paris:
Lacan, J. 1964. Quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychoanalyse. Paris: Seuil.
Lechte, J. 1990a. Art, Love and Melancholy in the Work of Julia Kristeva. In
Abjection, Melancholia and Love: The Work of Julia Kristeva. Ed. John
Fletcher and Andrew Benjamin. London: Routledge, 24-41.
. 1990b. Kristeva and Holbein, Artist of Melancholy. British Journal of
Aesthetics 30 (4): 342350.
. 1995. Translating Abstraction. Journal of Philosophy and the Visual Arts
. 2003. Love, Life, Complexity and the Flesh in Kristevas Writing Experience. In The Kristeva Critical Reader. Ed. J. Lechte and M. Zournazi. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 185-201.
Mitry, J. 1999. Cinematic Rhythm. The Aesthetics and Psychology of Cinema.
Trans. Christopher King. London: Indiana University Press, 104-109.
Rocchio, R. F. 1999. Cinema of Anxiety: A Psychoanalysis of Italian Neorealism.
Austin: University of Texas Press.
Sartre, J.-P. 1940/1986. LImaginaire. Paris: Gallimard.
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Culture. Cambridge, MA : MIT Press.

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The Darkroom of the Soul

Robyn Ferrell

There are few other contemporary theorists who allow an understanding

of meaning in both its aspects, of sign and subjectivity. Julia Kristevas psychoanalytic semiotics can bring out what is at stake in certain aesthetic questions,
and provide a vehicle for linking these with political questions that may animate
their production.
In New Maladies of the Soul, Kristeva writes, Modern man is losing his
soul, but he does not know it, for the psychic apparatus is what registers representations and their meaningful values for the subject. Unfortunately, that darkroom needs repair (1995, 8).
I want to explore this darkroom of the soul in the context of the ubiquitous images of press photography. I want to do so to bring out the sophistication
of Kristevas semiotics for understanding the deep structure of our timean era
colonized by the image, and cultivating a subjectivity formed to fit.

Barthes saw in the temporality of photography a new space-time category spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority, the photograph
being an illogical conjunction of the here-now and there-then. Photography shows us a prior reality, and even if it does give us an impression of ideality, it is never experienced as purely illusory: it is a document
of a reality from which we are sheltered. (Kristeva 1989, 315)
Photography can be distinguished then from cinema, Kristeva notes, because of
their different ways of grasping reality; cinema is not presented as an evocation


Robyn Ferrell

of a past reality, but as a fiction the subject is in the process of living. The possibility of cinema as a visible language implicitly emerges from her discussion, since
the conjunction of images allows for the analogy with syntax and narrative in
written texts. The isolated image (or photograph) is an utterance; when arranged
with others, it produces a narration (1989, 316).
This suggests that photography too can be visible language, since it can be
thought of as an utterance. The analysis of the photograph as embodying two
moments, the here-now with the there-then, is already constituted by this impossibility, in the direction of fiction. Yet, its putative relation to reality somehow
seems to cut short its development into a discourse. It is as if our susceptibility
for the realism of the photograph entails that it be interpreted reductively.
The privilege of the press photograph is, as Barthes has argued, to suggest
a reality unmediated by representation. Naturally, this is a feint, for however realistic it appears, the photograph remains an image. What is the content of
the photographic message? What does the photograph transmit? By definition,
the scene itself, the literal reality (1981, 196).
In order to move from the reality to its photograph it is in no way necessary to divide up this reality into units and to constitute these units
as signs. . . . Certainly the image is not the reality but at least it is its
perfect analogon and it is exactly this analogical perfection which, to
common sense, defines the photograph. (1981, 196)
In particular, the press photograph professes to be a mechanical analogue
of reality. In other analogical reproductionsdrawing, painting, cinema,
theaterthe style comes as a supplementary message in these genres, Barthes
argues. Whereas:
In front of a photograph, the feel of denotation or, if one prefers, of
analogical plenitude, is so great that the description of a photograph
is literally impossible: . . . to describe is thus not simply to be imprecise or incomplete, it is to change structures, to signify something different from what is shown. (1981, 197198)
This leads to the formulation of the paradox of photography, which is a
structural and ethical paradox: [w]hen one wants to be neutral, objective,
one strives to copy reality meticulously, as though the analogical were a factor
of resistance against the investment of values (such at least is the definition of
aesthetic realism) (1981, 199).
Barthes goes on to consider the ways in which these appearances are
deceptive; the press photograph does connote which we can infer from our
knowledge that it has been chosen composed constructed and treated according to professional, aesthetic, or ideological norms, likewise it is read,

The Darkroom of the Soul


connected more or less consciously by the public that consumes it to a

traditional stock of signs (1981, 198).
A potent example is the press picture taken of the moment of death, the
first execution of a woman on death row, and published in a newspaper of the
time (reprinted in Kobr and Brill 2004). While the commentary freely admits to
the artifice, even the cunning, of its capturethe camera on the leg and so on is
detailed in the captionthis is the more to mobilize its uncanny realism, the truth
of its depiction. The photojournalist steals the real from under the noses of those
who censor it. Ironically, the methods of its production are more clearly seen in
this photograph than in many others because the blurring, produced by its method
of photographing, alerts us to the possibility of trick photography. Barthess ethical paradox is foreshadowed in many aspects of this photo: the illegality of it, the
sensationalism of the death, and the attendant anxiety about capital punishment.
It is as well to remember that the connotation of the photograph is
neither natural nor artificial but historical, or, if it be preferred,
cultural. Its signs are gestures, attitudes, expressions, colors, or effects,
endowed with certain meanings by virtue of the practice of a certain
society: the link between signifier and signified remains, if not unmotivated, at least entirely historical. (1981, 206)
This allows Barthes to rejoin his general conviction that [s]ignification is
the dialectical movement which resolves the contradiction between cultural and
natural man (1981, 206). He writes:
This purely denotative status of the photograph, the perfection and
plenitude of its analogy, in short its objectivity, has every chance of
being mythical. (1981, 198; emphasis added)
By mythical he means carrying the structure of signification that makes meaning possible at all. The faith in the reality of the photograph is a cultural underpinning, supporting the intelligibility of contemporary first-world sign-systems.

If the photograph is mythical in this structuralist sense, photojournalism would
nevertheless be regarded in common sense as the antithesis of the sacred. But this
is surely the point. The conviction that reality is not a question of faith but of
empirically tested knowledge is, ironically, the article of faith.
Kristevas explicit interpretations of the sacred draw it into this generic
question for realism. The sacred, as announced by Kristeva in her beautiful epistolary exchange with Catherine Clment, The Feminine and the Sacred, is variously life bearing meaning (2001, 14); the mystery of the emergence of


Robyn Ferrell

meaning (and its celebration) (13); the impossible and nevertheless sustained
connection between life and meaning (14), which Kristevareading Arendt at
the time, she admitsdistinguishes from the technocratic life without questions, the totalitarianism that seeks destruction of life, and the zoos that would
leave life in the realm of the naturally instrumental.
The sacred thereby occupies an intense place in Kristevas scheme for understanding the production of meaning. The sacred is not the semiotic, nor the
choric, but the possibility of retrojecting these out of the necessary acts of meaning in which we live our embodiment, including our soul. She reminds us of the
Lacanian parable of how meaning is produced from out of life, that is, out of the
drives of the body, the sacred as a sacrifice, the one that inscribes language in
the body, meaning in life by means of a cut, a prohibition on a desire, [a] prohibition on murder and incest, it is experienced by the soma as an act of violence (2001, 15).
To read the press photograph according to this function of the sacred would
be to read it as revealing and even celebrating the event of life bearing meaning. I can think of no better illustration paradoxically than the dark evocations
of photojournalism from worlds at war.
Such a line of thought might clarify the inherent religiosity felt to be invested in the famous image of the twin towers burning on September 11, 2001.
With its iconography of crucifixion, and the surrounding rhetoric of the axis of
evil and the sanctity of American life, a reality sprung out of the image of apocalyptic change: the world will never be the same.
In more ways than many, this media event raises knowingness of the production of the real through images; for example, many have remarked on how
this photo (and the video of the same events) are like a disaster movie, and one
feels assured, given the accident of its spectacular capture, that armed with foreknowledge, the terrorists arranged their own footage in case this photo opportunity was somehow missed.
The myth of the separation of reality and image is paradoxically so strong
that most viewers have no trouble identifying the press photograph as a depiction of what happened. We do so without awareness of its metaphysical origin,
and invariably without skepticism as to its reference. It is as it purports to be.
But aliveness to this mythical meaning structuring our view might come from
considering the myths of others.
For example, in the iconography of the Central Desert painting of indigenous Australian artists, the sacred meanings of the world are both displayed
and encrypted. Eric Michaels, a passionate advocate for the Aboriginal artists
of the Central Desert, has written, These paintings make the claim that the
landscape does speak and that it speaks directly to the initiated, and explains not
only its own occurrence, but the order of the world (1987, 143).
Despite the time he has spent in the desert with the painters, Michaels admits he has trouble accepting the claim of the paintings in reality. The press

The Darkroom of the Soul


photograph might prove his way into it, since it makes precisely the same claim;
that reality speaks directly to the initiated in the photographic images, explaining its own occurrence and the order of the world. For example, in the photographs of 9/11, we see not only the burning skyscrapers, which we accept as
factual and not simulated, as they would be in a movie sequence, and we also see
a sequence of images that codes the event as cataclysmic, in the manner of that
genre. We see sacrilege, we see historical forces at work, in the transmission of
pixels to a screen or dots to a page.
Such is the action also accorded to the icon in Byzantine art, which brings
the devotee into direct communication with the sacred. This is dismissed today
as superstition. Like other examples of instrumental thought, the belief in the
reference of the photograph betrays its own religiosity, not only as a record of
the real, but also as a fundamentalism that believes it is the only possible one.

The psyche is an apparatus, Kristeva tells us, one that registers representations
and their meaningful values for the subject. The psychic apparatus is akin to a
darkroom, as a process by which sensory data can be produced as meaningful
signs. Kristeva follows Freud here in depicting the psyche as a mechanism to be
understood, asking, How does it work?
Freud, in the essay on the mystic writing pad (1925), wrestled with the
model of such an apparatus; what mechanism could both receive fresh registrations while still maintaining a record of previous impressions? He found a simple illustration in the case of the childs toy, the Wunderblock that records an
impression on the waxed paper cover and also on the wax tablet beneath.
But Kristevas analogy has the benefit of technological advance; the psyche
can now be thought of as a darkroom, that seclusion in which the photographer
develops and processes the film on which has already been recorded, by the action of the camera, an impression of light. Just as the photographer influences
the resulting image by varying a multitude of elements in the process (the aperture, the film speed, the developer, the enlarger), so the psyche produces meaning in images by subjecting it to the structures of desire.
The analogy works even more strictly with the advent of digital photography: the camera is now an apparatus that can include the darkroom, as the psyche embodies the registration and interpretation of images. And the light is
now recorded using not the analog techniques of film but the digital binaries of
the pixel. Since meaning, too, can be understood on that binary model (in the
structuralist tradition, at least), the process of photography is today an even
more perfect analogy for the psychical, producing its meaningful values by
contrasting a mark merely with what it is not.
The common factor, in both Freuds example of the Wunderblock and Kristevas of the darkroom, is to conceive of the psyche as a space of representations,


Robyn Ferrell

and to infer from the sense impression a mind that is populated with images.
Indeed, it also may be to infer from the habit of projection a thoroughly produced image complete with aesthetic and ethical value.
The photograph is a good analog for the thought or other mental representation, because it includes in its instance a presentation of reality along with
evidence of its production, for those who care to investigate it. In effect, it is the
assumed access to realitythrough the sensesthat makes these representations believable.
And in both cases, the psyche and the camera, the problem of interpretation
(or the subjective) is disguised by this realist tendency, that is, the credibility of
our own feelings and thoughts along with the credibility of the scene in the photograph. We are convinced of the truth of some things (facts) just as we believe
the photograph records the reality of those things it depicts. This faith we have
in some imagesfaith we are obliged to have, in order to join the lifeworld
belies the production of meaningful values that upholds their veracity.
The image is deceptive, in this sense, through and through. If we stop there,
content with the image as representing the real, then we accept this laminate of
desire as fact. In effect, we prefer our internal reality over the outer world, a
working definition of psychosis. Yet this presupposes that desire and reality can
be prised apart.
Neither Kristeva nor Lacan, who in this she follows, allow that it can. The
ego, through whose lens all thought is refracted, is located beside itself, in the
field of the Other. For Freud, all thought was representation; this was its function in effect, to represent the force of the impulse/drive, experienced in the
body as affect, in the forum of the mind where it might become subject to the
possibility of satisfaction. In Instincts and Their Vicissitudes, for example, he describes an instinct as the demand made on the mind for work by the body as a
result of its connection with it (see in Ferrell 1996, chap. 2). The drive engenders an affective connection in the production of a representation.
Photography could be viewed like other genres that claim verisimilitude
the biography or the autobiography. But it is also a peculiarly virulent kind of
narrative-myth; one that represents desire as always already accomplished. In
this respect it is like the dream, profiting from the choric satisfaction of the hallucination. Engaging Freuds semiotics of the dream-text, whose primary
process thinking allowed for a genre unlike conscious rational speech but full
of meaning and motivation, Kristeva refers us to the interpretation of dreams
in both Revolution in Poetic Language (1984) and in Language: The Unknown
(1989) as a pivotal analysis bringing formal language into the drama of the
speaking subject.
The trick of the photographfor example, of Barthess here-now in the wake
of his mothers death holding the there-then of her living in her photograph (see
1981, 6566)is that it always carries its referent with itself (5), even though
this is an impossibility. It can thereby deny contradiction without being psychotic.

The Darkroom of the Soul


Realism is a genre, since it is a species of representation. And like all genres, it
describes a desire. The separation of the reality from its image is a peculiarly European metaphysical commitment, one that more precisely separates the subject
from its objects in the image.
Technological thinking begins in metaphysics, as a style of thought in
which the subject is opposed to its object, and ends with the generalizing of the
subjects purposes to the means/ends thinking of instrumental rationality. Indeed, the image is arguably a potent psychic technology for thinking the world
in terms of its technological potential, that is, as means to ends. By this I mean,
it is the image that can direct representation toward desire, express in the object a desire accomplished, in the most crude Freudian terms of wish fulfillment.
Kristeva writes, The rapture of the hallucination originates in the absence of
boundaries between pleasure and reality, between truth and falsehood.
But at the same time, and perhaps because of this, in European philosophy
the image is spared the rigor of the concept. The image is spared for the affect
without which we cannot think, even though it is sacrificed to thought at a certain point in the logic of instrumental rationality. The image retains the color
of this sacrifice, and remains the receptacle of it, of all that I am drawn to and
connected with, despite my putative separation from my objects.
This explains perhaps why images, and aesthetic appreciation in general, are
so sacred to the European, and why today they emerge as the obvious intellectually respectable way to spiritualitythe modern bourgeois urban subject desires
to know something about art, going to galleries, collecting, and so forth. The
epiphany of Western abstraction would be the imageless imagethe Rothko
painting, for examplethat asserts only a logic of sensation.
Kristeva writes in several places of the mystery of life and meaning that is
joined in the sacred, but new maladies of the soul emerge in her diagnosis of
the modern scene:
The body conquers the invisible territory of the soul. . . . You are overwhelmed with images, They carry you away, they replace you, you are
dreaming. (1995, 8)
Pleasure and reality principles become permanently collapsed. This change
in the psychical order could be momentous enough to be a new form of subjectivity, where the question shifts from To be or not to be? to To take a pill
or to talk? Kristeva discerns the body, or at least a particular secularism in neuroscience and biology, to have called into question the function of the psychic
apparatus: Why have a soul?
This ambivalence about a certain primacy of the body is important,
because it highlights that the psychoanalytic drive was never mere body, but


Robyn Ferrell

always a concept designed to activate the relationship between body and mind.
The drive is the bodys representative, to be found in, but not confined to, psychical representation.
If drugs do not take over your life, your wounds are healed with images, and before you can speak about your states of the soul, you drown
them in the world of mass media. (1995, 8)
This dysphoric representation of the image seems to contrast with the role I
have outlined above for the image as a site of the sacred, but this is complicated
by what Kristeva understands by the production of meaning.
The image is not confined to the semiotic, nor to the chora, of Kristevas
theorizing. For, as she says, any utterance that signifies is a product of both semiotic and symbolic modalities (1984, 24), a process that is, she tells us, necessarily dialectical. And the image is no less a sign than the written word, in the
terms of the science of semiotics. Thus the photograph might suggest a signifying practice that could go beyond narrative, metalanguage, or contemplation to become a text (99). Kristeva already grants this status to the visible
language of painting, quoting Meyer Shapiro.
But what of those places where Kristeva appears to dismiss the photograph
as a mere ideological salve? Before you can speak about your states of the soul,
you drown them in the world of mass media, she writes. Does she miss the
potency of the photography image as text in favor of the literary prejudice toward articulate conscious thought? In a case study of an artist suffering from this
new kind of narcissistic disorder she observes in New Maladies of the Soul, the
patient finds a cure in the articulation of analysis, a relief that his expressions in
collage have not brought him (1995, 25). What does the former have that the
latter lacks?
Perhaps the answer is, it has the thetic. Subject-formation comes about,
as she describes in Revolution in Poetic Language, in the double bind of the subject distinguished and separated from its objects in the thetic, a structural reflexivity which at the same time displaces into the symbolic the material of its
desires (1984, 43). This is to suggest that the analytic cure seeks a differentiation
by the subject of its position as subject, from the drives and the objects deriving it.

The representations of photojournalism are generically ubiquitous and forceful.
This genre is often marked by trauma and violence. Photojournalists use their
images to arrest the attention of a knowing viewer bombarded with a constant
stream of images all soliciting affects of some sort. But the distinction between
the representation and its historical event can slip from a reliable grasp, as atrocity and the tendentiousness of its image become more firmly glued together.

The Darkroom of the Soul


War correspondents have traded on the trauma of the battle to achieve their
effect of bringing events from elsewhere to the attention of the reading/viewing
public. Sometimes this enterprise is undertaken explicitly to bring to recognition
the injustice being done in a part of the world we dont witness. Kevin Carters
photograph of the child and the vulture from Sudan is a case in point. In the photograph, a small child squats exhausted and starving in the dust in the foreground
of the picture while a vulture watches and waits behind. (This picture can be
viewed at
It contains an importantly ambivalent relation to horror and trauma, since it depicts nothing in the present, except the menace of the near future. It is what we
bring from our own knowledge of the worldwhat will happen nextthat sickens us in this terrifying image. It won Carter the 1994 Pulitzer Prize.
This photograph operates to cultivate the loss of something previously unmissed: the Sudanese other, in the aftermath of European colonialism in Africa.
This is an event that exceeds representation for the Western subject, who nevertheless must come to mourn it if there is to be justice.
The strength of its success in creating an affect for a representation of an
event might be measured in the prestige of the Pulitzer, but also in Carters own
anguished suicide following the award of the prize. It is clear this photograph became potentially a type of experience for viewers. This photograph makes graphic
the place of affects, and thereby of the body, in the production of information.
Among the accolades came criticism for the culture of the photojournalist,
for whom representation became more of an imperative than reality: The man
adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering might just as well
be a predator, another vulture on the scene, as the St Petersburg (FL) Times put
it. The ethical dilemma arises from an essential connotative property of the
photograph that is strangely obscuredthe photographer, the body at the scene.
The claim to reference and thereby, to reality, is underwritten by a body of
human capacities and sensibilities.
However, that body is not quite on the scene, and certainly not in the same
way as the little child is on the scene. The photographers equivocation, perhaps his judgment, that he could do more for the situation by photographing it
than by saving the child, is unforgivable not only because of its seeming lack of
humanity, but for what it questions about photographic verisimilitude.
By invoking the photographer, the image puts into question its own brute
reality. This causes a disturbance in the epistemological frame that establishes
the authority of the photograph. That frame grounds the superstition behind
the press photograph as an objective record. Now the access to the real is too direct for comfort. For there to have been revealed a photographer, with ethical
choices beyond recording, makes all viewers of the scene complicit in the travesty it represents.
The belief in the reality of the scene, that it really happened, undermines
belief in its photographic objectivity. And this happens at the same time as the


Robyn Ferrell

sacred function of the press photograph demonstrates its objectivity as a natural

consequence of its reality. This is a genuinely iconoclastic moment.

Do we have, then, in this analysis of the darkroom of the soul a more sophisticated version of the so-called primitive anxiety that the photograph will capture
your soul? Is the photograph, with its verisimilitude and its ubiquity taken together, capable of producing a new subjectivity threatened with fragility in discerning the difference between images? The juxtaposition of elements in my
discussionthe sacred, the image, the photograph, the psychical apparatus
has endeavored to sketch how Kristevas metapsychology of the production of
meaning opens up a discussion of contemporary subjectivity.
This allows me to ask, finally, of Carters photograph: What soul-body
does the image of the little Sudanese child pay testament to? If her life ended
there, then what in this new psychic order was its value, and what was owed to
her and all the millions of others who are obscured as just so many bodies on
the global scene?
We need to chart the ethical dimension of this world that collapses the
image and the body into self-evident realities. As Kristeva intimates, we need to
know this for our own self -preservation, as much as for the good of our souls.

Barthes, Roland. 1981. Camera Lucida. New York: Hill and Wang.
Ferrell, Robyn. 1996. Passion in Theory. New York: Routledge.
Freud, Sigmund. 1925. A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad. The Standard
Edition. Ed. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19:227232.
Kobr, Ken, and Betsy Brill. 2004. Photojournalism: The Professionals Approach,
5th ed. Ed. Betsy Brill. Boston, MA: Focal Press.
Kristeva, Julia. 1984. Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez.
New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1989. Language: The Unknown. Trans. Anne M. Menke. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 1995. New Maladies of the Soul. Trans. Ross Guberman. New York:
Columbia University Press.
Kristeva, Julia, and Catherine Clment. 2001. The Feminine and the Sacred.
Trans. Jane Marie Todd. New York: Columbia University Press.
Michaels, Eric. 1987. Afterword in Warlukurlungu Artists Association,
Kuruwarri: Yuendumu Doors. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic Journeys:
From Byzantium to the Phantom of
Europe and the End of the World

Maria Margaroni

Fatal Attractions
In her latest detective novel (Meurtre Byzance 2004) Julia Kristeva opens the
figure of a chiasmus at the heart of which a series of encounters take place that,
as the novel develops, assume the nature of a fatality.1 Very early on in the novel,
Sebastian Chrest-Jones (a contemporary historian of migration who falls in love
with the Byzantine princess Anne Comnne) explains the theory of nonseparability, as expounded by a colleague of his, a quantum physicist. It was
enough, he tells us, for two objects to cross paths once to remain inseparable
for eternity. For ever. Even when in all appearances they seemed absolutely separated in time or space (2004, 41). According to Sebastian, this theory that
postulates the possibility of a chiasmatic crossing of paths across temporal or
spatial distance can provide the key to a life in excess of life (une sur-vie) and
to an absolute time that is outside and yet a supplement to ours (41).
Meurtre Byzance attempts to lend substance to this other dimension of
time in the context of which otherwise distant or separate entities are experienced simultaneously: en meme temps (2004, 57). As the narrator explains, in
this temporal simultaneity there are no more boundaries (57). As a result, the
eleventh and the twenty-first centuries converge whereas a number of invented
and real spaces (that is, Kristevas fictional Santa-Barbara, Byzantium, the
United States, Europe, Constantinople, Paris and Puy-en-Valais in France, and


Maria Margaroni

Boyana and Plovdiv in Bulgaria) find themselves subjected to a law of attractions that promises to keep their fates entangled for eternity. This law of attractions, as I have called it, is no other than allegory, Kristevas favorite fictional
mode, characterized (as Walter Benjamin argues in The Origin of German Tragic
Drama) by a melancholic attitude towards history and the past.2 As Benjamin
emphasizes, allegorical melancholia does not point to the emotional condition
of the poet or his public but constitutes, instead, a concrete historical response
to the remoteness and irreversibility of the past, the decay of human life, the ruination (or ruin-strewn movement) of history itself (1977, 139). According to
Benjamin, an appreciation of the transience of things . . . is one of the strongest
impulses of allegory (223). Behind this appreciation, however, lies a concern
with rescuing the transient; in other words, a desire to redeem what is dead or
dying in and for the present.3 Hence, what Benjamin traces at the heart of the
allegorical worknamely, the tigers leap into the past that suspends the historical continuumbrings the past in a chiasmatic dialogue with the present
and reinscribes both into larger hermeneutic syntagmas (1968, 261).
In this chapter, I want to follow Kristeva in her precarious leap into Byzantium. This leap, it needs to be noted, is not a return to or a quest for the real, historical topos of Byzantium. For Kristeva, as for Benjamin, the past exists in its
inscriptions in the present, that is, in its material ruins (the historical and religious sites that carry the memory of Byzantium or the Crusades) and its textual
remainders. My Byzantium is within its booksan imaginary chronicle,
Stephanie Delacour, the female protagonist of the novel, confesses. She goes on
to ask, [H]as it ever existed otherwise? (2004, 149). What is, then, at stake in
Kristevas leap is not the recovery of any historical truth about Byzantium but our
hermeneutic relation to its (material or textual) ruins. It is no wonder, in this light,
that Stephanie (a detective-cum-journalist) is the primary figure in the novel of
the Benjaminian melancholic allegorist who, as Benjamin insists, is a tireless investigator and thinker, one who is committed equally to the fragile world of creatures and to the attainment of knowledge (1977, 152). In fact, it is this double
commitment that brings together Benjamins notion of allegory and Kristevas
detective fiction for, like the former, the latter focuses on the suffering and decay
of the organicbare life or flesh. As in allegory4 so in detective fiction the human
body acquires significance only as corpse and murder (which features prominently
in the title of Kristevas novel) becomes emblematic for what Benjamin calls the
Passion (understood as suffering and anxiety) of [the creaturely] world (166).
What is more, both Benjaminian allegory and detective fiction (as Kristeva practices it) have a redemptive function for they aim at capturing a moment of creaturely hope in the contemplation of hopelessness (Gilloch 2002, 85). This
redemptive hope relates as much to what in Benjamin gives allegory its distinct
critical value as to what in Kristeva accounts for the optimism of the detective
genre, namely, their shared belief in questioning, hermeneutic analysis, contemplation, or to put it differently the inner life of the mind (Gilloch 2002, 79).5

Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic Journeys


As I propose to demonstrate in what follows, Kristevas textual journey to

Byzantium needs to be understood in the context of this redemptive desire that
erupts as the theorists unique historical response to the passion of our post-9/11
world. Her investment in Byzantium as the privileged site of this desire and
pole of a series of fatal attractions is particularly significant, for both as a historical and a conceptual space, Byzantium is currently moving to the forefront
of political debatenot only because it has traditionally functioned as the repressed other of old Occidental Europe but, more importantly, because it is increasingly being invoked as an alternative to the U.S. global imperium and a
potential heading for a new multicultural Europe. In his 1992 discussion of the
possible futures of a United Europe, philosopher Jacques Derrida raises the following questions:
From what state of exhaustion must these young old-Europeans who
we are set out again, re-embark? Must they re-begin? Or must they
depart from Europe, separate themselves from an old Europe? Or else
depart again, set out toward a Europe that does not yet exist? Or else
re-embark in order to return to a Europe of origins that would then
need to be restored, rediscovered, or re-constituted during a great celebration of re-union? (1992, 78)
In Meurtre Byzance Byzantium functions both as a restored Europe of
origins and as the imaginary topos of a Europe that does not yet exist. Thus,
what begins as a melancholic homecoming (in Sebastians quest for his forgotten roots in Bulgaria and a subjective as well as communal legacy) ends up releasing the unheimlich within the home, namely, temporal and spatial distance,
foreignness, exile, psychic alienation. This is, of course, consistent with the dialectical nature of allegory that, as we have seen, seeks hope in the irreversible
process of decay and returns to the past only to remind us of the irrevocability
of all origin. Caught in the chiasmus traced by these inverse gestures, how are
we to understand the heading of todays Europe, as Kristeva envisions it? And
how can we escape the discourse of crisis that has historically dominated our
debates around Europe?

The Crisis of Europe and the End of the World

In Wim Wenderss 1991 film Until the End of the World (also unfolding in an allegorical en mme temps) an old exhausted Europe is coming to acknowledge its
finitude and the spreading dis-ease at the heart of its heart, namely, Paris. At the
beginning of the film the two Paris-based protagonists, Claire Tourneur and her
partner Gene Fitzpatrick, are found unable to overcome their own personal emotional blocks and the deadlocks of their relationship. It is only when, in one of her
aimless journeys, Claire accidentally crosses Sam Farbers path (an American


Maria Margaroni

hunted by the U.S. government for stealing a high-tech camera invented by his
father) that a series of fatal attractions is initiated and all the three characters lives
(along with those of the people they meet on the way) changefor eternity.
The question Wenders ventures to raise from the site of an ailing Europe
(a Europe bombarded by a global network of images and threatened by a
U.S.-directed imminent catastrophe) relates to the possibility of conceptualizing a communitya universal community, no doubt, though one invested in
what Gene reclaims as a distinctly European legacy, that is, what he calls the
magic, healing power of words, which, at the end of the film, he uses to cure
Claire of the disease of images. It is primarily the sharing of words that keeps
the different characters in the film inseparablescattered though they are
around the globe.
In The Other Heading, his essay on Europe, Derrida draws on Edmund
Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Paul Valry, among others, to demonstrate that
the crisis of Europe has consistently been interpreted as the crisis of spirit
(1992, 32). It is not surprising, therefore, that every time a spiritual/cultural crisis is diagnosed (as in Wenderss film) the question of Europe and of its exemplarity as a conceptual and political space is raised. It is in this light that we
need to understand Kristevas own growing preoccupation with a European culture of revolt, characterized by a commitment to critique and a faith in the
medium of the word. Since 1991 when Le vieil homme et les loups, her first detective novel, was published, the globe-scape Kristeva is painting and against the
backdrop of which she sets her fictional as well as psychoanalytic and academic
pursuits is, admittedly, bleak. She uses Guy Debords term Society of the Spectacle as a convenient shorthand for the Western globe-aspiring village where
exchange is the only value remaining, where intimacy is stifled, murder becomes
the supreme event, authority is confounded with totalitarianism, and community gets reduced to interactivity. In her detective fiction this society of postmodern barbarians is translated into the allegorical topos of (aptly named)
Santa-Barbara, a fictional country standing for a United States that is divorced
from its own internal tensions and typified in the conceptual abstraction of a
huge screen, behind which, as Stephanie notes in Meurtre Byzance, there is
nothing but crime (2004, 135).
Kristevas obsessive and (perhaps, uncritical) use of Debords term6 has done
little to improve her reputationespecially in view of the emergence of Visual
Culture as the new fashionable academic field of studies. Yet, if Kristeva, like
Wenders, warns us against the disease of images, this is only to raise questions
that one would expect to find at the heart of the new discipline. Thus, if, as the
theorists of the field argue, our only access to global capitalism is through the
flatness of its images, then how should we redefine (and, indeed, reinvent)
the act of seeing? And when does the seeing restore to the flatness of the image
the historicity and complexity that are indispensable for both an aesthetics and
a politics of the visual? According to Kristeva, it is precisely such questions that

Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic Journeys


the society of the spectacle prevents us from asking for, as she demonstrates
in her reading of Jean-Paul Sartres LImaginaire in her Intimate Revolt, what the
spectacle denies is the nihilating power of images, that is, their critical function
with regard to reality. It is not a matter of demonizing the universe of images,
she writes.
But it is a matter of assessing the deviations when commercial control
of this omnipresent imaginary-spectacle and its attendant diminishing
or weakening of verbal culture end up erasing the annihilating vector
in favor of illusion: I get drunk on the images; I no longer perceive it
as a fatally liberating, annihilating image; I cling instead to its so-called
reality; I believe in it. More than imaginary: the imaginary is realized.
Or, rather: if everything is imaginary, the imaginary is dead, along with
my margin of freedom. (2002b, 128)
the freedom, precisely, to lie, invent and remain incredulous in the face of an
unsatisfactory or oppressive reality.
These are, in fact, the symptoms of the disease of images as Gene, the storyteller, witnesses them in Until the End of the World. When Sams father invents
a device that can record and project on a screen a persons dreams, all the characters get addicted to their own internal fantasies and, as Gene puts it, get lost
in the labyrinth of [their] own soul. It is this uncritical immersion into fantasy
that constitutes for Kristeva the common denominator of what she calls the
new maladies of the soul (1995, 9). According to her, the postmodern consumer of the society of the spectacle . . . has run out of imagination (10). Inundated with images (2002b, 67), she or he has lost the ability to symbolize his
or her unbearable traumas and fantasies (1995, 9); in other words, she or he
has lost belief in the communal art that is also paradoxically the most intimate,
namely, storytelling. In her discussion of Didier, a patient who she considers
the symbolic emblem of contemporary man (1995, 10), Kristeva writes: He
disposed of . . . stories as if they were lifeless objects or sterilized waste products
(11). The dilemma, then, we are currently facing is how to remain in idolatry
(as she puts it) despite our suspicion toward the mediatized golden calf and
while preserving our faith in the divine thunder of the word, which, Kristeva
notes, explodes imageless (2002b, 78). As I will suggest, if Kristeva attempts
a tigers leap into the past, this is because she finds in the textual topos of
Byzantium a culture that is centred on images but that refuses to take seeing as
natural: But the eyes, ah, the eyes, here is the key to Byzantium! Stephanie reminds us in Meurtre Byzance.7 So many battles around the visible and the invisible, the desirability or non desirability of producing images (2004, 204).
What is more, Byzantium introduces another economy of seeing where the
image is also a written sign (a graphein) and where, as a result, seeing does not
stifle critique but opens up a hermeneutic space for the production of what she


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calls a logos of the soul (1995, 26). Finally, because it brings together the visible and the tangible, this new economy of seeing renders possible a community
that aspires to universality but whose pulse, as we will see, no longer beats at the
heart of the heart of Europe.

The Clash of Civilizations

Theorists of allegory have repeatedly pointed to the centrality in allegorical narratives of a confrontation between warring principles, semantic oppositions
personified (McHale 1989, 142). In this light, Kristevas preference for the allegorical mode may throw into relief a Manichean pattern in her thinking that
only recently has begun to take serious political dimensions. In her 1997 address
to a majority of U.S. scholars in New York, Kristeva did not hesitate to express
her concern about the raging polemic, as she put it, between two distinct models of civilization, a polemic that, according to her, was made clearer after the
fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (2002a, 261). As she explains, what is at stake in
this polemic is the necessity and/or possibility of an intersection between two
conceptions of freedom that Western democracies have had the privilege of
constructing (262). On the one hand, there is the Kantian understanding of
freedom as the freedom to take action (i.e., to self-begin) within a logical
pre-established order.8 This is, then, freedom defined as adaptation for it denotes the ability to adapt to a cause that is always exterior to the self and that
is now, as she emphasizes, less and less a moral cause and more and more an
economic one (262). Kristeva sees this distinct type of freedom, which (as Max
Weber has shown) is promoted within the tradition of Protestantism, as the
conceptual basis not only of Western liberalism but also of the logic behind the
phenomenon of globalization we are currently witnessing. It is for this reason
that she comes to argue that American civilization is best suited to it (262).
On the other hand, there is what we can call the Continental version of
freedom, one that has its origins in Heideggers rereading of Kant, the Greek
philosophical tradition and the legacy of the French Revolution. In contrast to the
freedom-as-adaptation model, this conceptualization of freedom favors being,
and especially singular being, versus economic or scientific necessity (2002a, 264).
It draws on the strengths of Catholicism as much as European socialism and is
animated by a concern for human life in its most fragile singularity [. . .]
as well as a concern regarding sexual and ethnic differences in their specific intimacy and not only in their role as consumers (264). What is more, it is the product of a distinctly European articulation of philosophy (as the permanent
putting-into-question [264]) and is paradigmatically realized in the psychoanalytic experience of transference/countertransference that privileges the revelation
of the self in the presence of the other through the given word (2002d, 236).
It is because this other freedom is currently endangered, carried away as we
are on this earth, by the maelstrom of thought-as-calculation and consumerism

Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic Journeys


(2002a, 264), that Kristeva identifies herself with her journalist-heroine, assuming
the task of serving as Europes special envoy in the United States to advocate the
need to espouse an attitude of Europhilia: [I]f Europe did not exist, she tells her
audience in the U.S. address, we would have to invent it. It is in the interest of our
plural freedom, and it is also in the interest of America (2002a, 268). One can
hardly miss in these words the repetition of a gesture that, as Derrida has demonstrated, has historically produced a Europe that is no other than the idea of
Europe, a Platonic eidos, a phantom conjured by a dreaming Europe in its sleep
(Naas 1992, xix). This is a gesture that posits Europe as the good example, [. . .] the
Telos of all historicity, the universal heading for all the nations or peoples of the
world (xxvi). Can we preserve it [the legacy of Europe] for all mankind? Kristeva asks, not hesitating to assume the complicity of her interlocutors in what she
admits is more an aspiration than an established project (2002a, 264).
The problem with the logic of exemplarity,9 of course, is that once you start
dividing the universal (once you start subtracting from it what is more itself
than itself ) you can never end. Thus, the moment Europe is taken out of the
universal (exempted from it as its prime example) a series of fatal attractions
(and subtractions) follow, for Europe is in its turn divided and finds its unique
realization in France, while France itself rests the head of its heading in Paris
and Paris finds its heart beating in the Louvre and Notre Dame. In The Other
Heading, Derrida exposes the working of this logic from the early twentieth
century to the present, reminding us that a renewed politics for todays Europe
cannot but begin in the question(ing) of the example. For Kristeva, however,
there is no doubt that France belongs to the avant-garde of a world community
that, she notes, may not always be sufficiently appreciative or grateful:
They built Notre Dame, the Louvre, conquered Europe and a large
part of the globe, and then went back home, because they prefer a
pleasure that goes hand in hand with reality. But because they also prefer pleasure to reality, they continue to think of themselves as masters
of the world or at least as a great power. And the world, irritated, condescending, fascinated, seems ready to follow them. To follow us.
(2002c, 247248)
In this light, it is no wonder that, as a novelist, Kristeva comes to privilege
allegory, for it is only in what Benjamin calls the petrified, primordial landscape
of an allegorical narrative that Paris can appear so luminous (1977, 166). And it
is only in such context that a dark antagonist to it can be posited, one serving as
a projection screen where an ongoing history of colonial practices and imperialist aspirations (both too French, very European) is masked behind the performative repudiation of the United States as the principle of all Evil. In Welcome
to the Desert of the Real!, Slavoj iek is quick to remind us what is at stake. Perhaps, he suggests, the refusal of Americanization in France, shared by many


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Leftists and Rightist nationalists, is . . . ultimately the refusal to accept the fact
that France itself is losing its hegemonic role in Europe (2002, 121). In Meurtre
Byzance, Kristevas protagonist admits that Byzantium has not lasted, France
herself is on the verge of eclipse. This is how it goes. What remains for us is to
leave traces (2004, 147). And it is, indeed, such traces (melancholic ruins of an
all-too-present past) that haunt Kristevas allegories. Despite her repeated acknowledgment of a deep affinity with Santa-Barbara, Stephanie Delacour always finds refuge in these ruins, which she places at the heart of what she calls
the logical landscape of Paris (2002c, 247).10 Though a foreigner (as she never
ceases to remind us) and a traveler by nature, Stephanie knows where home is and
she consistently goes back to itat the end of every novel when the enigma of
the crime is at last solved and order (temporarily) restored. In The Love of Another Language Kristeva confesses that she, like her heroine, love[s] returning
to France. [. . .] Every millimeter of landscape seems reflective; being here is immediately logical. The delicate young elm trees, the well-pruned gardens, the filtered marshes exist alongside people who are because they think (2002c, 247).
It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that it was a French politician
(namely, Franois Mitterand) who, in an attempt to make sense of the new heading of Europe, talked of a homecoming (Derrida 1992, 8). Interestingly, in
Meurtre Byzance, crisis breaks out when a humiliated Chinese immigrant decides to set the house on fire, targeting, through a series of murders, the
dwelling of the state itself. The threat of an imminent fire at the heart(h) pervades the novel and reaches a climax when Stephanie (safely back in Paris)
dreams that the Louvre itself is burning due to a terrorist attack. Needless to say,
the novel ends with the reassurance that the Louvre will never collapse for, as
Inspector Rilsky reminds us, detective fiction is an optimistic genre (2004, 380).
Unless one brings back in play the allegorical law of attractions. The Louvre will
never collapse, Stephanie tells us, inasmuch as we are in Byzantium (380).
Can you already feel the palpitations of the heart?

A Europe Not at Home with Itself

Byzantium erupts as a utopian topos of atemporal serenity in the very battleground where Kristevas opposing principles (i.e., Santa-Barbara and Paris, the
new empire of the spectacle and the old Europe of glorious ruins) meet and
clash. It serves as a site of attraction for all the main characters in Meurtre
Byzance (including the Chinese serial killer) who, at the end of the novel, find
themselves crossing paths at the Puy-en-Valais Cathedral, the historical basis of
the first Crusade. Byzantium complicates Kristevas allegorical confrontation
between the old and the new, Europe and the United States, word and image,
for it introduces the memory of an origin beyond the old, exposes the existence
of a Europe other than luminous Paris, and, as Ive already mentioned, hints at
an economy of seeing that is not opposed to an economy of reading.

Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic Journeys


Until recently, the status of Byzantium in European historiography was

dubious. Any reference to it was either hasty or dismissive: a thousand years of political existence and cultural production treated as an unfortunate interval between
the glory that was Greece (a glory shared by its successor, Rome) and a Europe
of the Renaissance. Especially since the Enlightenment, Byzantium became synonymous with decadence; it became the sign for a period of intellectual sterility,
obscurantism, excessive attention to artifice, and a bureaucratic system of administration. More importantly, it was (subtly but consistently) orientalized and was,
as a consequence, associated with physical and spiritual laziness, exoticism, uncontrollable passion.11 According to Marie-France Auzepy, even though the Europeans know what separates the Byzantine empire from the Ottoman empire
which conquered it, they have the tendency nevertheless, because the two empires have occupied the same geographical location, to dissolve them both into the
same oriental space (2003, 7). Needless to say, such an attitude is less the product of historiographic blindness than political expediency, for it enabled the Western Europeans to complete the operation they initiated in 1204 with the conquest
of Constantinople by the Crusaders, eliminating all traces of a legitimate Oriental Christian Empire. As Panayiotis Agapitos suggests, it helped Western Europeans to place the origins of the European states in the Latin Middle Ages, . . .
and also to claim the heritage of ancient Greek civilization through Rome and the
Renaissance, even if the immediate knowledge of Greek language and culture
came to the West through the Byzantines (1993, 238).
Byzantium, then, has functioned as the repressed, denied Other (in distinction to the infidel Muslim as the obvious enemy, the acknowledged Other)
of a Europe heading obstinately toward the West. This is why in Meurtre
Byzance it is invoked as a lost origin,12 one, however, that once retrieved does
not promise the self truth or completion but opens a hole at its very heart. Kristevas concern with leading our hands back to this hole and helping us feel it
needs to be appreciated not only in the context of current political developments (i.e., the Balkan Wars, the expansion of the European Union to parts
of Eastern Europe, the accession of a divided Cyprus, the open question of
Turkey) but also in light of Derridas injunction to imagine a Europe that would
no longer be identical to itself (2004, 9).
In Europe Divided: Politics, Ethics, Religion, a paper originally presented
in 1998 as an address to the Rencontres Internationales de Genve, Kristeva attempts to think the existing tensions within Europe beyond an oppositional
model that pits us against them. The task she sets herself in this paper is that
of reclaiming the Orthodox European tradition and opening the two conceptions
of freedom that (a year earlier in her U.S. address) she saw as antagonistic to a
third conception, one put forward by Nicodemus the Hagiorite in Philocalia
(a collection of texts on the prayer of the heart). In contrast to the Protestant
understanding of freedom as adaptation to an external cause and to the Catholic
privileging of freedom as revaluation of the singular, the freedom based on


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Philocalia and cultivated in the context of the Orthodox tradition is inextricable

from the relinquishment of the self. Whereas in Catholicism community remains the object of critique and in contrast to Protestantism, which understands
it as the product of an externally imposed cause, the Orthodox tradition opens
the space for a mystical union, a passionate fusion in silence with what defies the
intellect and escapes the gaze. According to Kristeva, this view of freedom that
recognizes the integral, superindividual, and communal character of a person
is epitomized in Byzantine iconography, which cannot be approached through
a Western theory of mimesis (2000, 152). As she emphasizes, an icon is neither
a spectacle nor a representation. It is, instead, an inscription, a sensible trace of
what cannot be experienced directly and can only be deciphered (154). Every
image is declarative and indicative of something hidden, writes the iconophile
St. John the Damascene, . . . inasmuch as a man has no direct knowledge of the
invisible (his soul being covered by a body), or of the future or of things that are
severed and distant from him in space, being as he is circumscribed by place and
time, the image has been invented for the sake of guiding knowledge and manifesting publicly that which is concealed (quoted by Mango 1986, 171). This is
why he insisted that whoever refuses the image, refuses incarnation (quoted by
Kristeva 1998b, 60), for the Byzantine icon needs to be understood as the economy of a passage, the process of a transcorporation between the visible and the invisible. What is more, the icon does not appeal to the gaze alone but engages
our entire affectivity (Kristeva 2000, 154). On his visit to Boyana in Meurtre
Byzance, Sebastian is seduced by another way of seeing, which leads his eyes to
the interior and the beyond (2004, 270). [F]or these people in Boyana, he
thinks, the image was a skhesis, a relation of intimacy, an affective tonality
shared by the model and his image, the Father and the Son, the Form and the
formless, the corporeal and the incorporeal (270). It is no wonder, in this light,
that Kristeva traces in the distinct economy of the icon the possibility of recovering the logic of a community that the spectacle-inundated West appears to
have lost. This is a community that is brought about by the rethinking of freedom as an autocommencement . . . with the other (159; emphasis added) and
that is based on a sensory, ineffable communion; an active relation of tenderness
(katanyxis) that does not judge but welcomes (148).13
It is this iconomy (as I prefer to call it) that contaminates Sebastian, the
Santa-Barbarian, and sets him in pursuit of an alternative beginning. As
Stephanie realizes, his quest for another world-outside-this-world was in reality a quest for a reconciliation between East and West. Despite the hatred in the
world around him (2004, 162), Sebastian succeeds in realizing his dream by
imagining a Crusade of love rather than conquest, a fatal crossing of paths between Anne Comnne, the belated Greek of Orthodox Empire (191), and
Ebrard de Pagan, his assumed ancestor and Latin barbarian. Though their passion was never spoken (for theirs was a communion experienced in silence), Sebastian dies convinced that the fleeting moment of their embrace lasts forever.

Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic Journeys


Facing the murals of Boyana, Sebastian thinks of the desirable, the impossible
Europe, which does not imagine how much she is integrated in an imaginary
broken open by abstruse, gracious, paths to fecundate her, perversely, without
her knowing it, even less acknowledging it (272).
Meurtre Byzance is Kristevas contribution to this imaginary, setting out
to reclaim the lost origin of a Europe that still needs to be fecundatedeven
against its will. My Byzantium, Stephanie confesses, is a question of time, the
very question that time poses itself when it refuses to choose between two
spaces, two dogmas, two crises, two identities, two continents, two religions,
two sexes, two stratagems. Byzantium leaves the questionas well as time
open (2004, 149). Byzantium, then, is invoked as Europes future anterior
(149). It becomes the signifier of a history that has shaped Europe (that continues to shape it) and simultaneously (en meme temps) a future heading, a promise and pledge for it.14 This is where the allegorists melancholic contemplation
of corpses and ruins becomes animated by a redemptive hope for the opening
of a third path between Ben Laden and Sharon, Al-Qaida and George Bush
(279). Though this hope is consistently betrayed in the current formation of a
United Europes actual identity and politics, it has nevertheless informed the
creation of what Etienne Balibar calls a phantom Europe, which is still in
need of blood for nourishment, and which we do not know whether to exorcise or to bring to life (89). For a lot of our most vibrant thinkers today (such
as the late Edward Said, Jean Baudrillard, Slavoj iek, and Balibar himself ) the
vision of a phantom Europe posited as the vanishing mediator15 between the
world of wealth and the world of poverty (or between military force and moral
justice) remains both a challenge and a commitment that the emerging actual
Europe will be called to make. This is how iek articulates this commitment:
The true opposition today, he writes,
is not the one between the First World and the Third World, but the
one between the whole of the First and Third World (the American
global empire and its colonies) and the remaining Second World
(Europe). [. . .] It is easy for the American multiculturalist global Empire to integrate premodern local traditionsthe foreign body which
it effectively cannot assimilate is the European modernity. Jihad and
McWorld are the two sides of the same coin, Jihad is already McJihad.
(2002, 146)
This is why, he insists, [t]he Left should unashamedly appropriate the slogan
of a unified Europe as a counterweight to Americanized globalism (2002, 145).
In Kristevas allegorical narrative, where Europe and Byzantium share the
same contagious existence (2004, 149), this is, interestingly, the realization
with which Anne Comnne confronts Ebrard at that fleeting moment of their
fatal encounter. War has become sacred for you, she tells him, as it is the


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djihad for the muslims. What is then the difference between your barons who
invade our lands, menace our capital under the pretext of liberating Jerusalem . . .
and these Antichrists? (209). If Anne, this female intellectual, mourner and militant, singular and universal, inconsolable and proud, incommensurable (147), is
the soul of both Sebastians and Kristevas Byzantium, this is because she hints at
the existence of a Church which opposed the holy war of the Church (220), thus
proposing a third path between two equally dangerous fundamentalisms (270).
But, asks Stephanie, would one be capable, [. . .] here, now, a million years later,
of reenacting Annes gesture that contaminates Ebrard, leads him to abandon the
Crusades and changes his life forever (141)?16
This is, in fact, the true tigers leap that Kristeva proposes for us in Meurtre
Byzance. At the end of the novel Stephanie, the traveler from the luminous
heart and Rilsky, the enlightened (Santa-)Barbarian, get ready to continue
Sebastians Crusade of love by reinscribing their time within the fleeting moment of Anne and Ebrards embrace. They doubt, but they do not imagine our
silence, Stephanie tells Rilsky (2004, 380).17

Conclusion: The Humiliated Have No Eyes . . .

In Meurtre Byzance, Kristeva invites us to see through Annes eyes turned
upon our own world (2004, 192). What we see through these new eyes (192)
is the vision of a desirable, an impossible Europe (272). Yet, as we learn to
embrace this vision (as one embraces an icon), we may risk blinding ourselves
to the Europe of the humiliated who, Stephanie reminds us,18 have no gaze
(204). Indeed, in the novel, it seems that the Byzantines eyes that can reach
the invisible have their chiasmatic counterpart in a blind(ed) gaze. This is, needless to say, the gaze of Wuxian, the Chinese immigrant purificator who, like
Sebastian, is in flight from the contemporary world but whose line of flight is
presented as the symmetrical inverse of the historians flee to Byzantium. In her
detective-cum-allegorists attempt to offer a hermeneutic analysis of the case
under investigation, Stephanie throws into relief the opposition between the
two characters: Whereas Wuxian is the new Man who lacks interiority (356),
Sebastian (lost, as he is, in a timeless time) is all interiority. While Sebastian is
the man of memory who, in rewriting the story of Anne and the Crusades, is
ready to begin anew, Wuxian is the nihilist who seeks to reduce both past and
present to an overpowering surge of nausea (235).19 Whereas Sebastian opens
the space of home to the memory of lost ancestors (367), Wuxian (as his name
suggests in Chinese, 248) sets the house on fire. While Sebastian, in his search
of an idealized father, abjects the material body of the mother, Wuxian revolts
against the State and paternal law in a desperate attempt to retrieve his twin female side.20 Finally, whereas the eyes of the Byzantine visionary are turned toward an invisible light, Wuxians gaze consumes itself behind what is no longer
light but purifying fire.

Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic Journeys


It might be tempting (following Stephanies account) to understand

Sebastians return to and revision of our Byzantine past as the antidote to Wuxians self-destructive blindness. This is what Stephanie openly suggests when
she comes to distill the two characters fatal crossing of paths at the
Puy-en-Valais cathedral in the moment of Sebastians crying. Talking to the
psychoanalyst Estelle Pankow, she emphasizes that crying marks the threshold
to a subjects rebirth: Tears, she says, are already life (2004, 371). Yet, if we
agree with Stephanie, we risk losing sight of another blinded gaze, one that is
no longer the symmetrical inverse of Sebastians inward-turned eyes but their
very possibility. This is the gaze of Fa Chang, Wuxians twin sister and Sebastians lover, who he murders and blinds, frightened that her pregnancy will put
an end to his utopian quest. As Stephanie herself understands, Sebastians Anne,
the ideal woman, pure spirit (2004, 370), can only be brought back to life
at the expense of the maternal corporeality of Fa, just as the celestial jewel that
Sebastian looks for in his chasing of butterflies can only be arrested when the
animal is killedwhich he enjoys doing by crushing under his fingers
the unique human organ of these migrants: namely, their head marked by
exophtalmic eyes (44).
Is the passion of the animal, then, the remainder of the process of transcorporation from the visible to the invisible epitomized in the icon? Is this the
blind spot of Sebastians dream of Byzantium that contaminates Stephanies
and (through her) our own existence? In what I consider a powerful moment in
the novel, critical of this dream, Marie (a Bulgarian peasant and Annes despised grandmother) remembers her Bulgarian compatriots, the soldiers of
Samuel, who Emperor Basil II blinded in 1014 to mark their defeat and humiliation. Their (and Maries) vacant stare serves as a counterpart to Annes
penetrating eyes, which, as Marie tells us, can devour you (2004, 204). How
does this vacant stare inform the vision that Annes eyes share with us? And is
the passion behind this stare the blood that is missing to bring to life Kristevas
phantom Europeas new as it is impossible?
But this is where Kristeva the allegorist (melancholic in the face of a suffering that cannot be redeemed) meets Kristeva the ironist who, as Stephanie
reminds us, is not a scoffer but an atheist who has a sense of limits (2004, 358,
373). It is this atheism that saves Stephanie from uncritically losing herself into
Sebastians palace of memory (361) and that keeps Rilsky (despite his deep
sense of an affinity between them) on the opposite pole to Wuxian, the purificator, who calls himself lInfini. It is also this atheism, in my view, that renders
both Kristevas Byzantium and her Europe impossible. Their impossibility,
however, should not be understood as the mark of their ideality, but as the inevitable and necessary product of the concrete historical limits within which
these textual/conceptual topoi are invoked. As we have seen, some of these limits concern our act of seeing and serve to remind us that, if an integrated Europe remains impossible, this is because of our own blindness to the humiliated


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within its heavily policed borders. As I have also suggested in the course of my
analysis, more limits are posited by Kristevas avowed allegiance to her adopted
mother country. Indeed, in Meurtre Byzance, the series of attractions that move
the allegorical plot and shape an alternative fate for Europe risk being subsumed
under what remains the privileged union in the novel, namely, that between
Stephanie, the porous but incurable lover of Paris, and Rilsky, the estranged inhabitant of Santa-Barbara. What is more, despite Stephanies insistence that
[t]oday Byzantium is of no place (because, as we have seen, it is a future anterior: it already has and, simultaneously, not yet taken place), there are times in
her narrative when the imaginary topos of Byzantium merges with that of contemporary France: She was the West turned Oriental, the most advanced of the
countries of the East, the most sophisticated of the countries of the West, like
France today. And she goes on to ask, Too Frenchies, these Byzantines? Too
Byzantine, these Frenchies? (147).
Perhaps it is time to return to Stephanies reassuring words at the end of the
novel: The Louvre will never collapse inasmuch as we are in Byzantium (2004,
380). The problem is that, both as a geographical and a textual space, Byzantium is the powerful attractor of interpretations and links that neither Stephanie
nor Kristeva are prepared to take account of. One of these links, that opens only
to be left loose, can be found in chapter 3, part 2 of the novel. The title of the
chapter is Is Communism a Descendant of Byzantium? (101). Though the
question is not pursued beyond a fleeting reference to Dostoyevski and the relation between orthodoxy and nihilism, the very opening of the question is significant because it draws attention to those spaces within the narrative where the
law of attractions slackens and fails to work; where the thought of a contagious
relation between distant or separate entities unfolds only to be pushed back and
where the figure of the chiasmus remains incomplete, denied of the crossing at
its heart. Indeed, it is worth asking why in her desire to reclaim the other Europe (the Europe of the East), Kristeva remains reticent about this Europes
distinct ideological legacy and our postwar experience of division into enemy
blocs, the product of which, as Balibar is right to remind us, is precisely our
contemporary imaginary of a United Europe (90).21 It is also worth asking why
the project of European integration in her work is reinterpreted as the task of
federat[ing] the diverse currents of Christianity that, for the most part, share
spirituality in Europe (2000, 159)an interpretation, admittedly, that risks reviving the term Christendom, which was the official name for the geographical and political space that became known as Europe only after William of
Orange.22 Hence, the urgency of the warning issued by byzantinologist Averil
Cameron: The defence of the history of Byzantium as a part of the history of
Europe is a just cause, he argues, at least inasmuch as it does not obscure the
equally important connection between Byzantium and the Orient, including
what we now call the Middle East (2003, 237). Yet, if (as Cameron suggests)
Byzantium is a signifier that calls to mind sites as different as Athens, Rome,

Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic Journeys


Constantinople, Boyana, and (a now divided) Jerusalem, the question of Europe

(a Europe that reclaims the heritage of Byzantium) cannot be limited to the
necessity and/or possibility of healing the schism among the Protestant,
Catholic, and Orthodox traditions, but needs to open in the direction of the
new communitys relations to what, as Derrida puts it, is not, never was and
never will be Europe (1992, 77). Such a future heading for Europe will undoubtedly complicate the homecoming Mitterand envisioned, for as the current
president of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac, has recently admitted in his
address to the Turkish prime minister, we are all, the children of Byzantium.23

I am grateful to my byzantinologist colleagues Panayiotis Agapitos and Stavroula
Constantinou for their invaluable help and feedback. All translations from the
original are mine.
1. Kristeva consciously writes within the genre of detective fiction, both
problematizing and investing in its conventions. For her, the detectives investigation resembles the work of the psychoanalyst because it keeps the possibility
of questioning alive and comforts the subject, assuring him or her that one can
know (2002b, 4). Can you know where evil originates from? Stephanie Delacour, the female protagonist, asks at the end of Meurtre Byzance. To which
Inspector Rilsky answers, Detective fiction is an optimistic genre (2004, 380).
2. See Benjamin (1977, 159233).
3. See also Craig Owenss discussion of Benjaminian allegory (1984,
4. Benjamin writes, For this much is self-evident: the allegorization of
the physis can only be carried through in all its vigour in respect of the corpse.
And the characters of the Trauerspiel die, because it is only thus, as corpses, that
they can enter into the homeland of allegory (1977, 217).
5. See note 1 above.
6. Kristeva never discusses Debords The Society of the Spectacle in any detail. She is content to use the term in its now popular usage; that is, as the prevalence of standardized images which numb the critical faculties of passive
7. Stephanie is narrating Sebastians Novel of Anne Comnne.
8. I am drawing on Kristevas discussion of the two models of freedom in
her essay on Psychoanalysis and Freedom, published in Intimate Revolt
(2002d, 236).
9. The word example comes from the Latin verb eximere; that is, to subtract, to take out. See Hoad 1990, 159.
10. She uses the same designation at the end of her 1998 novel Possessions
(1998a, 211).


Maria Margaroni

11. See Agapitos (1993) and Auzepy (2003).

12. Sebastian goes back to the first Crusade and the writings of Anne Comnne in an attempt to retrace his paternal origins back to a French Crusader, Ebrard
de Pagan, who settled in Philippopolis (now known as Plovdid in Bulgaria). In the
course of his quest, however, Sebastian projects on Annes image of Byzantium his
own utopic vision of Europe. In his fictional account of Annes life, his aim is to
reimagine the Crusades as the historical inception of our contemporary project of
European Unification. This is the question that animates his homeward journey
to Bulgaria: No one talks about Philippopolis in Santa-Barbara, New York, London or Paris; this part of Europe has been shoved into the blind spot of History.
Why? (2004, 263). When she reads his Novel of Anne Comnne Stephanie admits
that she is contaminated by his Byzantine dream (283).
13. As the references to sensory experience and an affective tonality suggest, the community made possible by the icon and within the context of the
Orthodox tradition is one privileging the pre-Oedipal dual relationship and the
semiotic modality of language (2000, 143, 149).
14. In Sebastians terms, Byzantium is both the memory of Europe (the
present of [its] past) and the anticipation of Europe (the present of [its]
future) (2004, 368).
15. See Balibars essay Europe: Vanishing Mediator? (2004, 203235).
16. Sebastian and (through his writings) Stephanie see Ebrard as the advocate of a Voltairean pacificism: leave your arms aside and cultivate your garden (2004, 280). While in Boyana Sebastian wonders: Yet, isnt Ebrards style
too elitist, [. . .] too European, Byzantine even, to work? Do we need to resign,
then, to the omnipresence and omnipotence of Santa-Barbara? (280).
17. According to Rilsky, the silence of love is nothing but music, the symmetrical inverse of the silence of crime (2004, 97).
18. Stephanie here is giving the point of view of Marie, Annes Bulgarian
19. Vomiting is the dominant symptom of Wuxians psychic malady.
20. Sebastian resents his mother, Tracy Jones (a common barmaid), for
giving birth to a bastard. In this light, his murder of Fa Chang (who also presumed she could engender a son without the fathers permission) can be seen as
a matricide (2004, 370). By contrast, Wuxian, in his desperate love for his twin
sister Fa, seeks to restore the balance between his yin and his yang (355).
21. What I find interesting in this context is that in the name of Orthodox
faith Kristeva is in reality reclaiming the concept of a community based on enthusiasm and an affective, passionate investmentprecisely, as she acknowledges, what characterises communism (despite its preferred scientific profile) as
a revolutionary, ideological movement (2000, 134235).
22. See Balibar (2004, 67).
23. Discussed in Hurriyet 17-11-2004. Commenting on this statement,
historian IIber Ortayli said, I am afraid that the good-intentioned words

Julia Kristevas Chiasmatic Journeys


of Chirac are not true. Because the French and Northern Europe has [sic] no
connection with Byzantium. They are, rather, from the ones that plundered this
city in 1204. Naming the East Rome Empire as the Byzantium, is the job of
Germany of the 16th Century. Therefore, the Byzantium name is invented. See,,sid~381@tarih~2004-11-19@nvid~497
285,00.asp (accessed May 31, 2005).

Agapitos, Panayiotis. 1993. Byzantine Literature and Greek Philologists in the
Nineteenth Century. Classica et Mediaevalia: Revue Danoise de Philologie
et D Histoire. Vol. 43. Ed. Ole Thomsen. Copenhague: Librairie Museum
Tusculanum, 231260.
Auzepy, Marie-France. 2003. La Fascination de lEmpire. Byzance en Europe.
Ed. Marie-France Auzepy. Saint-Denis, France: Presses Universitaires
de Vincennes, 716.
Balibar, Etienne. 2004. We, The People of Europe: Reflections on Transnational
Citizenship. Trans. James Swenson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Benjamin, Walter. 1968. Theses on the Philosophy of History. Illuminations.
Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books,
. 1977. The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Trans. John Osborne. London: NLB.
Cameron, Averil. 2003. Byzance dans le debat sur lorientalisme. Byzance en
Europe. Ed. Marie-France Auzepy. Saint-Denis, France: Presses
Universitaires de Vincennes, 235250.
Derrida, Jacques. 1992. The Other Heading: Reflections on Todays Europe. Trans.
Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Gilloch, Graeme. 2002. Walter Benjamin: Critical Constellations. Cambridge:
Polity Press.
Hoad, T. F., ed. 1990. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins. London:
Kristeva, Julia. 1994. The Old Man and the Wolves. Trans. Barbara Bray. New
York: Columbia University Press. Originally published in 1991 as
Le vieil homme et les loups.
. 1995. New Maladies of the Soul. Trans. Ross Guberman. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 1998a. Possessions. Trans. Barbara Bray. New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1998b. Visions capitales. Paris: Editions de la Runion des Muses


Maria Margaroni

. 2000. Europe Divided: Politics, Ethics, Religion. Crisis of the Subject.

New York: Other Press, 112162.
. 2002a. Europhilia-Europhobia. Intimate Revolt: The Powers and Limits of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York: Columbia University Press, 255268.
. 2002b. Intimate Revolt. Intimate Revolt: The Powers and Limits of
Psychoanalysis. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1219.
. 2002c. The Love of Another Language. Intimate Revolt: The Powers
and Limits of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York:
Columbia University Press, 240254.
. 2002d. Psychoanalysis and Freedom. Intimate Revolt: The Powers and
Limits of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York: Columbia
University Press, 225239.
. 2004. Meurtre Byzance. Paris: Fayard.
Mango, Cyril. 1986. The Art of Byzantine Empire 14311453. Toronto, Ontario:
Toronto University Press.
McHale, Brian. 1989. Postmodernist Fiction. London: Routledge.
Naas, Michael B. 1992. Introduction: For Example. The Other Heading:
Reflections on Todays Europe by Jacques Derrida. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, viilix.
Owens, Craig. 1984. The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism. Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation. Ed. Brian
Wallis. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 203235.
Until the End of the World. 1991. Dir. Wim Wenders. Metrodome Distribution
iek, Slavoj. 2002. Welcome to the Desert of the Real! Five Essays on September 11
and Related Dates. London: Verso.


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Loves Lost Labors:
Subjectivity, Art, and Politics

Sara Beardsworth

This chapter argues that the essence of Western art in Kristeva is a process of
subjectivity, a life of the psyche that is, for her, still the essential value of our civilization (2006, 39). Art and literature are the work of sublimation that upholds
the life of the psyche by renewing subjectivity and meaning. The idea of art as sublimation is a vital approach to the question of what political meanings art may
have in her project. I argue here that attention to Julia Kristevas idea of artistic
sublimation reveals at its heart a productive, though not untroubled, negativity
that functions in Hegelian fashion to form and reform the possibilities for human
separateness and connections with others. Above all, in Kristevas hands Hegelian
negation has become the dynamic of loss that is revealed and unfolded from the
Freudian perspective on subjectivity. That is, Kristeva digs deeply into the
Freudian subject to find what is needed for there to be historical being in her own
sense of the formation, deformation, and reformation of a meaningful life in connection with others. A complex and nuanced dynamic of loss is central to the
process. Artistic sublimation is the form of renewal of this process that belongs to
a shareable or public domain, whereas the practice of psychoanalysis is the form
reserved to an intimate space. We will be particularly concerned here with the
artistic form, specifically its appearance in Kristevas thought as a response to the
problem of a cultural failure of loss in which subjective process comes to grief.
I claim, first, that artistic sublimation in Kristeva is the creation of forms
that recovers and gives meaning to loss. This recovery requires a confrontation
with the threat of destructive drive that is central to the dynamic of loss, and is
met only by love as the sole support of the subject in the farthest reaches of the


Sara Beardsworth

trials of loss. Artistic sublimation is therefore, above all, a process that gives
form to love and loss and, thereby, gives meaning and value to symbolic life in
connection with others. This is why one can call the life of the psyche an essential value of a civilization. Nonetheless, it is easier to grasp the thought that
art and literature bring amatory experience into symbols, giving it symbolic life
for all and thereby opening up possibilities for human separateness and connectedness, than it is to grasp the profound and paradoxical dynamic of loss.1
It is therefore my particular claim that where artistic sublimation gives form
and meaning to love, understood as the paradigm of human connectedness, we
need also to see the underlying dynamic of loss: loves lost labors.
The thought that the life of the psyche remains the essential value of our
civilization is not, of course, written on some blank slate but is, rather, developed
from Kristevas diagnosis of a condition in which historical being is blocked in
late modern societies, a blockage manifested as a crisis of meaning and values.
The subjective process that is the essence of art gains its significance only in
and through being a remedy for this blockage. While Kristevas diagnosis of the
crisis of meaning and values pertains to modernity, the blockage of subjective
process has deep roots in Western culture. The idea of artistic sublimation
means that, in her view, art and literature have the capacity to work it through.
This chapter adopts two ways of approaching Kristevas thought on loss,
which themselves provide two different perspectives on and interpretations of
the thought that there is a blockage of subjective process in Western culture. The
first section of this chapter shows, first, how the discovery and concept of the
Freudian subject both clarify the nature of the cultural failure and reveals the dynamic of loss whose movement is the overcoming of the failure. It also presents
the first of the two perspectives on the cultural blockage. In this first approach,
the failure of loss in Western cultures is at its root a failed relation to the maternal feminine that is the lost past of the subject known to psychoanalysis. The
maternal feminine is a lost past that is constitutive of the subject in its separateness and connections with others. For reasons that will become clear, I call
this cultural failing the loss of the lost. Insofar as artistic sublimation recovers the dynamic of loss and, thereby, subjective process, it appears in Kristevas
thought as a remedy for the cultural problem, opening up possibilities for human
separateness and connectedness. Where this happens, the artwork is often a figuring of the maternal feminine that works to reveal, modify, and repair the cultures failed relation to it. The first section is therefore on Kristevas conception
of the maternal feminine.
The second section takes a different perspective on the cultural blockage diagnosed by Kristeva. It suggests that grasping the dynamic of loss does not only
reveal the need for a changed individual and cultural relation to the maternal
feminine as the lost past constitutive of subjectivity. There is also a need for a
reconsideration of the meaning of the self in loss. I suggest that the renewal of
subjective process paradoxically requires going over the loss of self. As a result,

Loves Lost Labors


taking a Freudian point of view, this process runs straight into the problem of
the death drive. The death drive is the most primitive and problematic element
of negativity in Freud, whose functioning not only threatens the collapse of the
individual but also means that violence can move to the center of what subjectivity brings to the social fabric. The difficulty confronted in the second section
is therefore the violence of the drive that is triggered by the process of going over
the loss of self. To stress the point, death drive is a structural element of Kristevas dynamic of loss and cannot just be bypassed when considering the value
of the artwork and the question of its political meaning in her project. The
problem of the destructive drive must be met. Since the drive is not a substance
but a tendency in Freudian theory, it can only be met by something that can
modify the distinctive tendency to destruction. What has this ability, in Kristeva, is love. The second section shows how the dynamic of loss takes the subject to the point where destructive drive holds sway. A short concluding section
then introduces the dynamic of love and underlines the Kristevan idea of its
relation to loss at the heart of artistic sublimation.

The Lost
Kristevas extended treatment of loss and melancholy appears in Black Sun,
where she reflects from a psychoanalytic standpoint on a form of depression
that she calls a new malady of the soul, before considering selected works of
art and literature that appear as artistic sublimations of loss and melancholia.2
The thought of narcissistic depression that she forwards in this book unfolds a
melancholia with deep and blurred underpinnings that go back to a stage in individual subject formation classically formulated as the illusory omnipotence
and self-love of the immature psyche.3 Psychoanalysis calls it primary narcissism, following the lead of the Western myth of the bewitched youth who is
captivated by himself in a mirage. An intriguing statement appears early in Kristevas discussion in reference to Ovids Narcissus, to the effect that depression
is the hidden face of Narcissus (1989, 5). This occluded aspect is the counterpart
to that reflected visage, open to the youths gaze, which he mistakes for reality.
The hidden face of Narcissus is the underlying reason for narcissism understood as the necessary illusion that protects the fragile psyche. With Narcissus,
then, we come upon a form of subjectivity rooted in an element that does not
show itself and may even bear him away into death (5). With Kristeva, the idea
of the invisible melancholic and death-bearing element of subjectivity points
to the most archaic precondition of subject formation: primal loss. Narcissan
melancholy is a fundamental sadness bound up with an immemorial loss on
the basis of which a subject can come into being. It is the mute sadness belonging to the archaic loss of the mothers body. Depression is therefore the
hidden face of Narcissus because it calls back to these hidden beginnings of
subjectivity. In diagnosing narcissistic depression as a new malady of the soul,


Sara Beardsworth

Kristeva suggests further that there is something about this malady, and not
only its archaic element, that does not show itself. Even the malady is unknown
to itself. On this view, a melancholic culture would not be one undergoing losses
and nostalgically thrown back on lost objects. Rather, melancholy is a fundamental affliction of Western cultures that is typically unknown to them. Such
an affliction lies in a deep-seated cultural failure in respect of loss as such, so that
the loss remains a latent loss.
Yet what is it to speak of loss as such? Our first answer to this question is
found in Kristevas theory of the archaic mother. This theory reveals that, in her
eyes, melancholy as a phenomenon of Western culture is ultimately a failure to
attend to and negotiate the maternal feminine: the essential lost of all subjects.
Neglect of the maternal feminine is even a foundational element of Western
cultures as we know them. These claims and suggestions are illuminated by
Kristevas thought on the significance and role of the early mother in child development, a role often undetected or passed over in classical psychoanalysis.
The archaic mother is a notion distinguished from the mother as object of desire in oedipal triangulation. The former is the maternal counterpart in early
infantile experience where, in respect of psychic development, mother and child
do not yet form two independent beings. Primary narcissism, the term for this
phase of psychic development, is a structuring of subjectivity that belongs to
early infantile life where a vital corporeal attachment to the mothers body persists and nondifferentiation prevails. With Kristeva, primary narcissism is,
nonetheless, already an exposure to otherness and so a preliminary form of separateness and connectedness. In terms of subject formation, this early phase of
infantile life is comprised of a psychical working out of the exposure to otherness, one that develops in drive-based and affective responses to it. These are the
primordial and essential elements of the formation of a subject. Although there
is as yet no outside other, there is archaic relationship, marked by the absence
of symbolic acts in relation to an other and made up, instead, of an exclusively
corporeal and affective mode of responsiveness: the preverbal semiotic. From the
perspective of subject formation then, Kristevas semiotic is an undeveloped but
complex articulation of drives and affects, composing a primordial form of separateness and connectedness before separation is established along with symbolic relations or connections with others in language.
Developments in Kristevas writings in the 1980s show that archaic relationship is comprised of preverbal modes of love, loss, and abjection that are played
out where less discerning minds have seen either a merely biological exchange
between mother and child or a terrain so overlain with and, indeed, repressed by
later developments that little light can penetrate.4 It is noteworthy and important
for the current discussion that the notion of the semiotic is, inter alia, a recovery
and thinking through of what Freud called the dark continent: his term for what
remained, to him, the enigma of the feminine. That is, the theory of the archaic
mother draws out what Freud left in the shadows of his dark continent.

Loves Lost Labors


What concerns us here is the idea of primal loss that forms the core of
Kristevas thought on archaic relationship. Primal loss is the essential loss in
the prehistory of the subject that is necessary for subject formation and is constitutive of subjectivity. Loss of the archaic mother occurs as the first impact of
separateness in early infantile life. The archaic mother is therefore the paradigmatic lost object. A loss so archaic, howeverso deeply tied in with conditions
of nondifferentiationis one that belongs to conditions where no subjectobject distinction and so no object can yet have formed. Kristevas archaic maternal feminine is, then, properly speaking, simply and wholly the lost. Loss
as such, on this view, is therefore the primal loss made up of drive elements and
the mute sway of affect as distinct from an experience of deprivation or lack in
respect of objects, whether persons, ideas, or things. The affective hold that primal loss has on the emergent subjectthe fundamental sadnessmay
nonetheless be called up in the experience of subsequent losses. Her theory of
subject formation therefore seems to make the claim that all loss goes back to
preobjectal relationship, which is to say, all loss goes back to the mother.
Turning to Kristevas notion of narcissistic depression, we find that it represents a melancholic suffering beset by a silent paralysis of meaning that duplicates, otherwise and on a different level, the drive-based and affective
attachment to and loss of the early mother prior to the emergence of linguistic
capacities. To capture this thought, Kristeva says that the depressed narcissist
does not mourn an object but wanders alone with the unnamed Thing (1989,
13). Distinguishing her subject matter from the griefs whose sources are more
or less evident and locatable, and underlining the symbolic abdication that governs narcissistic depression, she writes:
I am trying to address an abyss of sorrow, a noncommunicable grief
that at times, and often on a long-term basis, lays claims upon us to
the extent of having us lose all interest in words, actions, and even life
itself. . . . Within depression, if my existence is on the verge of collapsing, its lack of meaning is not tragicit appears obvious to me,
glaring and inescapable. (1989, 3)
Kristeva recovers the term depression from its narrower psychological usage
in institutional symptomatology to return it to the broader field of human experience, culture, and reflection that psychoanalysis, from its beginnings, sought
to inhabit and make its field of inquiry. First, Freudian theory detects everywhere the same impossible mourning for the maternal object (1989, 9). Second, Kristeva links melancholy to writing: For those who are racked by
melancholia, writing about it would have meaning only if writing sprang out of
that very melancholia (3). Melancholy has taken the form of an activating sorrow in literary creation (Dostoyevsky) and appeared as the affective ground in
philosophical reflection on the nature of Being, where the philosopher meditates


Sara Beardsworth

on the meaning and lack of meaning of Being. The melancholia evoked by

Aristotle, she says, is the philosophers very ethos and an extreme state that can
be seen as the forerunner of Heideggers anguish as the Stimmung of thought
(79). Loss and melancholy have, then, played a fundamental role in Western
culture. Despite this, what is crucial is the thought that Western cultures are
afflicted by a failure in respect of a fundamental loss that has, therefore, remained a latent loss. This thought is the one linked to Kristevas inquiry into the
archaic mother, an inquiry taking place against a background of Western reflection, including psychoanalytic theory, in which the archaic mother is practically indiscernible.
The idea of this cultural failure is clarified by showing the community of two
thoughts in Kristeva. The first is the thought that an upsurge of narcissistic depression in a culture signals a crisis of meaning and value. The second is the thought
that loss of the archaic mother is a process in child development that supports the
entrance into symbolic life: when that intrepid wanderer leaves the crib to meet
the mother in the realm of representations (1989, 41). The connection between
the two runs as follows. On the one hand, the notion of a crisis in late modern societies is, in Kristevas hands, the thought that symbolic life has come to be experienced as a merely linguistic universe: a life that is necessarily symbolic (in
language) but that unfolds without meaning and value. Moreover, symbolic life is
experienced as a merely linguistic universe if the need to give form and meaning
to the nonverbal aspects of subjectivity and relationshipto the semioticis neglected. For Kristeva, language is from the start, a translation, but on a level heterogeneous to the one where affective loss, renunciation, or the break takes place.
If I did not agree to lose mother, I could neither imagine nor name her (41). Thus,
on the other hand, the process of transposing the drives and affects that reign over
preverbal relationship into symbolic life is, at the same time, the transformation of
the archaic mother into a lost past. In other words, giving symbolic form to the
drives and affects just is loss fulfilled. Kristeva calls this the negation of loss, which
is equally the entrance into symbolic life. Above all, symbolic life is loss fulfilled
only insofar as drives and affects are transposed into the realm of representations,
as a condition for its having meaning and value. To say that the realm of representations is on a level heterogeneous to the one where affective loss takes place does
not mean that symbols arise through sheer detachment from and cancellation of
corporeal and affective life. Where they are treated thus, there can be signification
in the narrow sense of the transmission of a message but no meaningful life in connection with others. Kristeva therefore links the capacity to give form and meaning to the mirage of the primal Thing with the enrichment of discourse that is
embedded in relationship to an other insofar as discourse is dialogue (41). The
hinge in the whole interconnectedness of mourning, meaning, and Mitsein is the
emergence of the archaic mother as a lost past: the lost.
Kristeva therefore has the mother play a vital role in subject formationin
civilization, she saysin more than one sense. The mother appears, first, as the

Loves Lost Labors


maternal counterpart in a preverbal experience that paves the way for the entrance
into symbolic life. Second, the archaic mother is equally the focal point of an immemorial and unnameable (impossible) loss that is essential to the constitution
of a subject as both separate and connected. In the latter role she marks the discontinuity between preverbal and symbolic life insofar as the universe of preverbal life is left behind. Yet she also marks the possibility of interactions between the
semiotic and the symbolic. The symbolic will fail if it is taken to be or is lived as
sheer detachment from the affective and corporeal elements of subjectivity that
govern preverbal life. Although these elements disappear as the form and totality of early infantile life, nonverbal dimensions of subjectivity persist and are triggered, above all, in situations of exposure to separateness, pain, and otherness.
Where these are limit situationsthat is, where there is no personal or cultural
precedent for themthe nonverbal dimensions of subjectivity will then either
come to take on new symbolic form or be deprived of it. Kristeva therefore both
analyzes unsymbolized drive and detects the renewal of the subject and meaning
that is brought about by bringing drive and affect into the life of signs. On a personal basis, this process appears, notably, where the analysand weaves sensorial
memorythe affect and drive echoesinto a narrative of self and other that lets
the subject appear afresh. More widely, the semiotic takes on symbolic form where,
for example, a culture is able to tell new love stories.
Our focus here is on how it is as the lost that the mother becomes the very
axis of the continuity and discontinuity between the semiotic and symbolic. In
other words, the lost is the very source for individual and cultural capacities
for transformations in subjectivity and meaning: for subjective process. The
thwarting of these capacities shows up in two phenomena manifested in narcissistic depression: on the one hand, the denial of the symbolic or a rejection
of symbolic life (thats meaningless); on the other hand, the suffering of its
emptiness (theres no meaning). These complaints are two sides of the same
coin. What unites them is captured in the idea that depression is the hidden face
of Narcissus. That is, in depression there occurs a fading or insufficient emergence of the lost as the axis of subjective process. Expressed individually, in depressive suffering I have lost the mother but have failed to lose her. At the
level of the culture, the crisis of meaning and value rests on the loss of the lost.
In essence, then, Kristeva has diagnosed cultural melancholy in terms of a fundamental failure to negotiate a lost past, which amounts to a cultural neglect of
the maternal feminine.
Although Kristevas thought expands on very different terrain than that of
Hegels philosophy, this diagnosis of depression is consistent with the Hegelian
inspiration that the past itself is constituted only through its cancellation and
conservation, that the present is constituted only on condition that the past is
thereby truly surpassed, and that only on condition of the conservation of the
pastthe affirmation of what one has beenmay one become something more.
In Kristeva this inspiration has become a critique of Western cultures from the


Sara Beardsworth

psychoanalytic standpoint. Western cultures are afflicted by the failure to settle

ones debt to the past. Moreover, this failure just is an abandonment of the negotiation of having belonged to the mother. This failure leaves in its wake the
abandoned Narcissus, who is, from the viewpoint of subjective process, a figure
of corporeal and affective modes of responsiveness deprived of symbolic life.
Kristeva therefore shares with others the perception that the sense of a lack of
meaning or loss of value in modernity signals its tendency to abstractedness. In
her version of this thought, abstractedness just is a tendency to treat symbolic
life as independent of or a replacement for semiotic elements in subjectivity.
These elements cannot be extinguished by symbols without cost, since they are
constitutive of them. Once it is culturally abandoned, the semiotic falls as a burden on the individual and there is an upsurge of narcissistic suffering. As the figure in relation to which psychoanalysis is currently developing its therapeutic
techniques, then, Kristevas abandoned Narcissus is a figure of modernity.
We have seen thus far that in the final analysis the suffering of the depressed
narcissist comes down to a fading or insufficient emergence of the lost. This
problem cannot of course be an exclusively modern feature of Western culture.
The relegation to darkness of the role of the maternal feminine in civilization has
been a universal feature of these cultures, which have represented the source of
civilizing process as a paternal instance, be it as God or law. The thought of narcissistic depression as a new malady of the soul nonetheless underlines the heights
of abstractedness reached in modernity. At the same time, it is equally in these
conditions that a ray of light has reached into Freuds dark continent. The notion of the dark continent and the capacity to throw a little light on it have both
appeared where developments working to repress the maternal feminine have
weakened. What has weakened is the triumph of paternal laws and the assumption that they have primacy amongor, indeed, are self-sufficient asthe supports for civilization and historical being. Indeed, it is at this juncture that
psychoanalysis can both point to the paternal prohibition on desire (for the
mother) as a pivotal moment in subject formation and find that the unsurpassed
oedipalization of the subject is a psychic phenomenon, leading to neurosis, just
where the strength and influence of paternal laws has waned owing, ultimately,
to the diminished sway in Western cultures of monotheistic religion.5
Seen from this perspective, Kristevas idea of the need for a recovery of the
maternal feminine has a historical meaning. In her thought, the recovery of the
lost enables historical being in the aftermath of the reign of paternal laws. To
understand the import of subjective process in this way is to find a place where
art and politics converge. Their convergence is revealed where Kristeva responds
to the question of what form or forms the negotiation of the maternal feminine
may take. What forms of the return of the lost show up today? In asking this,
we are seeking the ways in which the nonverbal aspects of separateness from and
connectedness with othersof love and losstake on a life that gives them a
history insofar as they find their way into symbolic life. One commentator has

Loves Lost Labors


coined a term that serves well here: the evolution of the semiotic.6 Kristevas
own concern with the evolution of the semiotic is particularly attentive to works
of art and literature, viewed as instances of the transposition of the nonverbal
into the symbolic. Many of her analyses of artworks have shown that the variants of the literary and artistic adventure in which love and loss take on form
and meaning are also those where an image or intimation of the maternal feminine, recovered as a lost past, prevails. Art and literature are the recovery of
the lost insofar as they work as sublimations of the corporeal and affective aspects of subjectivity that correspond to a confrontation with limit situations in
individual and cultural life: the unprecedented or surprising forms of exposure
to otherness and separateness, which, culturally ignored, have remained unspoken, and whose mute traces have remained locked up in the psychic microcosm
of the individual.7 In other words, art and literature are the recovery of the
lost in and through the creation of forms.
I have been suggesting, then, that artistic sublimation is a vital part of the
dynamic of loss that represents a kind of Freudian restoration of the labor of the
negative. The infantile achievement of parting from the mothersince I consent to lose her I have not lost her (the negation)is carried out in art and literature as the negation of the negation: having found her again in language, I
have, again, lost her. The negation of the negation is the recovery of the lost
in new style, new composition, surprising imagination (1989, 51). That artistic sublimation allows drive and affect to work within symbolic life and so have
the latter take on meaning and value, thereby forming and reforming the life of
nature and culture, is quite consistent with Kristevas long-held position that
any concept of history that neglects subjective process is a dead end.8 Her developed project holds out the thought that, if there is to be history, there must
be the creation of forms including the figuring of the maternal feminine. This
takes place as symbolic acts that give form and meaning to love and loss.9 What
is more, this analysis points to the possibility of a recovery and reshaping of desire and pleasure: precisely what prohibitive, paternal laws (the fundamental
form of law in Western cultures, from a Freudian viewpoint) made war upon and
had succumb to superegoic morality. Kristevas fundamental vision is not, however, one of the reassertion of desire and pleasure alone. What concerns her
more closely is the fate of what was crushed along with them and appears, in her
thought, as the source of desires own vitality in renewing subjectivity and meaning, this source being love and loss. The political meaning of this conception of
art now comes to the fore. If cultural melancholy is the mute signal and suffering of a blockage in what structures separateness and connections with others,
the movement of overcoming this blockage, in artistic sublimation, renews our
possibilities for separateness and connectedness.
The modernforlornNarcissus can now be seen as a figure of deformation in two senses. First, he or she signals the general cultural neglect of elements necessary for subject formation, which we have seen to be a neglect, in


Sara Beardsworth

toto, of the maternal feminine as our lost past. Second, the modern Narcissus
appears in the aftermath of the reign of paternal laws that have repressed the significance of the maternal feminine. Psychoanalytic theory therefore suggests
that the weakening hold of the latter has left the neglected Narcissus in an exposed condition. It equally sheds light on the risks this represents for the social
fabric, when long-neglected corporeal and affective dimensions of subjectivity,
which have been left to restricted and repetitive paths of phantasmatic formation, break through.10 One understands from Kristevas writings on narcissism
that paternal laws always functioned in part to keep Narcissus in line. Yet her
own thought on Narcissus shows him or her to be not the essential problem of
subjectivity but perilous only as a figure of neglect. The remedy for this neglect,
it seems, now requires the individual and cultural negotiation of the maternal
feminine that is our lost past. The remedy is clearly not, for Kristeva, a recovery of some maternal feminine itself, since the archaic mother is a lost past that
was never present. She can be indistinctly present, for example, and hazardously
so, as the unnamed Thing of melancholy attachment. In view of this, it is the
recovery of the lost that is needed.11 Such an undertaking might itself open
up possibilities for political experience that would not get saturated by the reactive reassertion of paternal laws in response to the exposure of the perilously
neglected Narcissus.
In sum, Kristevas treatment of the maternal feminine as our lost past has
proved to be a rich and fairly supple ground for thinking through the relation
of subjectivity, art, and politics in her project. Mention has also been made of
the significance of love in her thought, although its nature and role has not been
drawn out. Before doing so, a question must be raised about Kristevas way of
connecting culture and history to loss. Does all loss go back to the mother? Our
articulation thus far of negativity and transformation in Kristevas thought implies that it does. It therefore implies that negotiation of the maternal feminine
of individual prehistory is central to cultures task, as such, and is one that can
be carried outbeyond the psychoanalytic clinicby art and literature. The
political significance of art would therefore be found in Kristevas reminder that
social and symbolic life requires the imagination and artworks and cannot flourish if it marginalizes or nullifies them.

Loss of Self
Broadening the investigation into Kristevas thought on negativity will further
illuminate this significance of the artwork in her thought. It is possible to take
a different route through the Kristevan thought of the hidden face of Narcissus, bringing out a different answer to the question, What is loss as such? We
will find that Kristevas thought on primal loss is not exclusively a matter of the
immemorial loss of the archaic mother, so that the issue of cultural melancholy
will not come down entirely to the problem of a failed relation to the maternal

Loves Lost Labors


feminine as our lost past. Cultural melancholy can be thought of as rooted not
only in a loss of the lost but also in a loss of loss. Another of Kristevas statements on narcissistic depression provides the way into this new perspective:
My depression points to my not knowing how to loseI have perhaps been unable to find a valid compensation for loss? It follows that
any loss entails the loss of my beingand of Being itself. The depressed person is a radical, sullen atheist. (1989, 5)
The passage expresses a problem in the capacity for loss itself, what I am
calling a loss of loss. My suggestion is that the recovery of loss, on this ground,
must mean the recovery of the loss of self. Once, again, following Kristeva, it is
the Freudian perspective that allows us to think through such a claim. The passage just cited actually moves beyond Freuds essay on the subjectMourning
and Melancholiasince, in line with her focus on the primal loss that underlies successive losses, Kristeva is concerned with the idea of the loss, not of an
object (person, idea, or thing) but of Being and my being. If this thought is related to the paradigmatic loss that Kristeva employs to illuminate narcissistic depression, the loss of Being itself would find its paradigmatic form in the loss of
the archaic mother. The issue in question is how the experience of a loss of
selfmy beingis possible or could be thought to have a paradigmatic shape
in primary narcissism, where Kristevas essential loss is a condition for a subject to come into being. Her focus on the dark continent provides us with a different angle than Freuds on this issue but we will allow his reflections on
mourning and melancholia to guide us (Freud 1917).
Freud puzzled over a phenomenon that is not uncommonly manifested
when a person suffers in relation to an object-loss, that is, a loss whose object
is readily determinable: something or someone in ones life. What is displayed
in melancholy is the subjects being caught in a perplexing affective grip, as distinct from the process of mourning in which the suffering of loss is brought to
completion and the person shows herself free to make new attachments. Freud
surmised that mourning is a cumulative process of detachment of the ego from
the lost object. In the case of melancholia, no such process occurs. He concluded
that, with the melancholic, although the external object had to be given up, the
object has been preserved within through a process of identification. Given this
identification, the ego becomes a substitute-object. The problem of melancholia is that the ego is absorbed with the object of loss rather than attending to the
self that has lost. It would seem that the focus of attention would need to change
if the melancholic were to be able to begin to mourn.
We will now see what transpires if, turning to primal loss, we ourselves shift
the focus of attention from the lost object to the self that has lost. This would appear to be an anachronistic undertaking, given that the subject-object distinction
is one that cannot yet have formed in early infantile experience where corporeal


Sara Beardsworth

attachments and psychic nondifferentiation prevail. We know, however, that

Kristeva views primary narcissism as a realm in which exposure to and a struggle with otherness and separateness does occur. Primal loss would be the outset
of this exposure. It cannot therefore occur in the way that the loss of this or that
object does but must affect the entirety of the infantile condition. That is, primal loss impacts the whole. This is, indeed, the thought expressed in the idea
that narcissistic depression suffers the loss of Being itself and my being. In conclusion, what corresponds on the subjective side to the loss of the archaic
motherto the lostis the loss of self at the very point of the possible emergence of a self. The primal sense of self is the sense of a threat, an utter deprivation of what cannot yet fully be distinguished as other: the mother. For that
reason, primal loss is a threat of loss of my being. It is the impact of loss/emptiness, says Kristeva. There is of course no subject or subjectivity in any strong
sense here. We have simply shown that, from the perspective of child development, my being is, first, the shadow of despair cast on the fragile self, says Kristeva, by the loss of the essential other (1989, 5).
The attention given to the self of loss rather than the lost object has led us
to stress the thought that a self emerges out of an all-absorbing affective blow
narcissistic despairat the very beginnings of separation and exposure to otherness. I do not mean to cut this moment off, however, from the process that
accrues to it in Kristevas account owing to the development of parting sadness. This is a notion adopted from Klein, which, in Kristeva, signals the infantile consent to lose the mother and meet her again in the realm of
representations. Kristeva means to claim that mourningthe recovery of loss
can only occur through a return to the latent sadness, going to the hidden face
of Narcissus to make it feelable as a condition for the symbolic achievement of
making loss livable by finding a signifier for it. Artistic sublimation, that is, rests
on emotional trials that are more obviously the terrain of psychoanalytic experience. This does not make them merely private and individual, however. We recall that cultural melancholy is remedied by the recovery of loss that appears in
a translation that takes place on a level heterogeneous to the one where the affective renunciation takes place. Nonetheless, affective loss must occur. It is a
constitutive element in the recovery of loss that renews subjective process. What
is more, it now appears that the remedy for cultural melancholy includes the
moment, at the furthest possible point of the descent into the latent loss, of
going over the loss of self. There are few words for such an undergoing, yet it
turns up at the farthest reaches of subjective transformation. It is also the point
of greatest danger, for Kristevas thought of the affective impact that primal loss
constitutes in infantile lifethe thought of the despair that shadow parting
sadnessindicates her view that this is the point in the process of loss where
death drive lurks most forcefully. Following her theory of the early life of the
drives, the death drive makes its first and least modified appearance in the impact of primal loss. Thus, if the dynamic of lossthe negativity that drives sub-

Loves Lost Labors


jective processencompasses the moment of going over the loss of self, there
will be a triggering of the death drive.
A brief review of Freuds later theory of the drive is therefore in order.12 On
the Freudian view, the death drive is a fundamental drive, the counterpart to eros
and opposed to it as a detachment drive and a destructive tendency rather than
an attachment drive or a tendency to bind. Eros is the life drive. The two components of the drive, life and death, are, says Freud, usually found in combination where they are directed outward. That is, in relation to others there is a
mixture in subjectivity of aggressiveness and desire. Considered on its own, aggressiveness still maintains a contact with the world and others. However, if the
two components of the drive are defused, as is the case with the collapse of desire in the depressive narcissists loss of interest in life, the death drive is not
directed outward but, instead, plays itself out within the tendency to
self-destruction. The detachment tendency may fulfill itself in the depressives
plunge into suicide.
We have therefore reached the point of encountering the specifically psychoanalytic thought on negativity that turns up in Freuds later theory of the
drives. It might be said that the Freudian grasp on the destructive wave of the
drive presents the moments of collapse in Hegels labor of the negative within
historical being even more clearly than Hegels own drama of determinate negation could.13 Having seen the historical role of negativity as it appears from
Kristevas psychoanalytic standpoint, it has to be admitted that the triggering of
the death drive looks like an ineliminable if undesirable feature turning up at the
heart of the remedy for cultural melancholy itself. In other words, mourning
and melancholia are not straightforwardly distinct in Kristeva, either dynamically or conceptually. There is no question of bypassing the destructive element
should it turn up, and we have set conditions for the renewal of subjective
processthrough going over the loss of selfthat portend its appearance. It is
a question, then, of considering how going over the loss of self could be bearable, given that the self is, precisely, put out of play as the bearer of the process
and may founder in the drive. Kristeva does speak of the affect of parting sadness as the preliminary cohesion of a fragile self, yet it is also attachment to sadness that may doom the subject. If the remedy for cultural melancholy requires
that the self go over the loss of self, there must be other resources for the trial.
We will now, in conclusion, see how love can turn up as the bearer in the farthest reaches of loss, where loss of self returns.

In unfolding her conception of love Kristeva returns once again to the region
where the emergent ego suffers the impact of loss/emptiness. She draws out
further the psychoanalytic reconstruction of early infantile life, presenting a paradigmatic case of love that protects emptiness and presents a solidarity between


Sara Beardsworth

emptiness and narcissism (1987, 24). The paradigm of love appears, therefore,
in the region where the destructive drive is first activated. The reminder, however, that love in psychoanalysis is, first, narcissismself-lovewould seem to
suggest that the self protects itself against the drive by means of the self-enclosure of narcissistic relationship detected by Freud.14 Yet this does not fulfill the
meaning of Narcissus in Kristeva. She insists on an already ternary structuration that turns up in the mother-child dyad (23). Primary narcissism, the realm
of archaic attachments, contains the appearance of a loving other that is equally
the emergence of loving affect in the budding subject. Kristevas loving affect can
only be referred to separate sourceslover and belovedfrom the third-person
viewpoint, not from the perspective of early psychic development. The love in
question is the mothers gift since it is dependent on the maternal capacity
not to engulf the child but to draw into the dual relationship an intimation of
her being also elsewhere (34). The appearance of this elsewhere within dual relationship would simply be a sound on the fringe of my being, which transfers
me to the place of the Other, astray, beyond meaning, out of sight (37). That
is, loving affect in archaic relationship is a transference toward an other that is
neither the corporeal environ of the mothers body nor any determinate third
party, but rather the drawing power of an elsewhere without determinate place.
Kristeva calls it the metaphorical object, which bends the drive away from the
threatened downfall (3031). Transference love, she says, this bright and fragile idealization, acts as a consolation for loss (5). Although he could not comprehend it, Freud glimpsed these dynamics when he turned from reflection on
monotheism to behold the sun-drenched face of the young Persian god.15
We can see a double indeterminacy in the Kristevan conception of transference love: both indeterminacy as regards any position of the source of love
and indeterminacy of the object. This is crucial for her presentation of the spontaneity and mystery of love: that love, itself, is source. It is, first, source of the subject, not only constituting the nucleus of the ego in subject formation and making
of the subject something intrinsically beyond itself but also allowing for the return of borders dissolved. In this way, love can be the bearer of the trial of going
over the loss of self. Second, it is source of the object insofar as the bearing of the
subject beyond itself underlies all objects of desire. Third, it is the source of imaginary formations and of loving metaphor. The amatory experience in Kristeva is,
then, not just the path of desiring attachments but their very fount. Her loving
dynamic is taken up in the twists and turns of a Western literary adventure that
she follows from Don Juan and the troubadours to Baudelaire and Stendhal.
Having portrayed these major Western figures of loving discourse in terms of
the creation of forms that gives life and renewed meaning to transference love,
she finally avers that, behind them [t]here lies nevertheless an enigmatic area of
darkness. The unknown. Like a metaphor (1987, 340). These concluding words
to her Baudelaire chapter allude neither to repression (Freuds dark continent)
nor to mortality. They carry a reminder of loves lost labors. The loss of self

Loves Lost Labors


becomes a momentary eclipse into which the ray of light enters, guiding toward
another. And finally, the amatory experience, in all its exaggeration and bedazzlement, breaks forth within the reign of the symbol: Juliet is the Sun.

1. Thus, where Kristeva names her theoretical undertaking semiology, she
distinctly shows the equal weight of love and loss as the most fundamental elements constituting symbolic life. Semiology, concerned as it is with the zero
degree of symbolism, is unavoidably led to ponder over not only the amatory
state but its corollary as well, melancholia; at the same time it observes that if
there is no writing other than the amorous, there is no imagination that is not,
overtly or secretly, melancholy (1989, 6).
2. See Kristeva (1989). See also her New Maladies of the Soul (1995).
3. See Freud (1914).
4. Black Sun, the work on loss, is the third of the three books of the 1980s
that detail Kristevas thought on primary narcissism. The first, on abjection, is
Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982), and the second, on love, is Tales
of Love (1987).
5. See Freuds Totem and Taboo (19121913) for the distinction between
the social and psychic manifestations of paternal law. See his Moses and
Monotheism (1939) for an extended reflection that brings Freuds thought on the
oedipal structure of subjectivity into relation with the history of monotheistic
6. See Smith (1998).
7. For a developed argument that this process is a response to modern
nihilism, see Beardsworth (2004).
8. This is a central thesis of Revolution in Poetic Language (1984).
9. The thought that the historical takes place as symbolic figuring appears most powerfully in her writings of the 1980s. The idea of the need of
artistic figuring of the feminine is most emphatic in Kristevas revolt books of
the 1980s: The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt (2000) and Intimate Revolt (2002).
10. Kristevas writings do of course also show how these aspects of subjectivity and relationship have been encountered and accommodated in Western
religion and premodern art, albeit in a context in which the paternal symbolic
was the rule of social life.
11. The objection might be raised against Kristeva that this way of recovering the feminine is complicit with the vanquishing of the feminine by restricting
it to what is lost and what is past. However, in the face of this criticism, it can be
said that Kristeva makes the recovery of this form of the feminine, as the lost, a
condition for destinies for maternity and the feminine, other than traditional ones,
without either conflating the two (woman equals mother) or insisting on their severance (the feminine must be distinguished from motherhood).


Sara Beardsworth


See Freud (1920).

See Hegel (1977).
See Freud (1914).
Freud (19121913, 153), cited in Kristeva (1987, 45).

Beardsworth, Sara. 2004. Julia Kristeva: Psychoanalysis and Modernity. New York:
State University of New York Press.
Freud, Sigmund. 19121913. Totem and Taboo. The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 13. Trans. James Strachey. London:
Hogarth Press.
. 1914. On Narcissism: An Introduction. The Standard Edition of the
Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 14. Trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press.
. 1917. Mourning and Melancholia. The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 14. Trans. James Strachey. London:
Hogarth Press.
. 1920. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The Standard Edition of the Complete
Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 18. Trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press.
. 1939. Moses and Monotheism. The Standard Edition of the Complete Works
of Sigmund Freud, vol. 23. Trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press.
Hegel, G. W. F. 1977. Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A. V. Miller. Oxford, UK:
Clarendon Press.
Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S.
Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1984. Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Margaret Waller. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 1987. Tales of Love. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1989. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez.
New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1995. New Maladies of the Soul. Trans. Ross Guberman, New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 2000. The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New
York: Columbia University Press.
. 2002. Intimate Revolt. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York: Columbia
University Press.
. 2006. Lexprience littraire est-elle encore possible? Interview.
LInfini 53.
Smith, Anne-Marie. 1998. Julia Kristeva: Speaking the Unspeakable. London:
Pluto Press.

Symptomatic Reading:
Kristeva on Duras

Lisa Walsh

La vue exacte, cest la vue terroriste du monde.

Marguerite Duras

In her 2003 preface to the first Chinese edition of Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva
introduces her 1980 study of abjection in Western culture by identifying its contemporary relevance to twenty-first century Eastern thought. Referencing Chinas
postcommunist political and economic power struggles with the West, she proposes that if we are to survive this (if dialectically foreseeable) East/West collision, intellectual and cultural exchange are indispensable. Texts must be translated,
their meanings understood, if we are to establish a dialogue with, rather than simply annihilate, the historically Other half of humanity. As a long time student
of Chinese semiotics and a native Bulgarian,1 Kristeva explains, her work finds its
roots in an Eastern notion of the sacred, therefore offering her Chinese reader a
familiar structure from within which she2 might approach an otherwise utterly
strange and incomprehensible Western (non)sense of religion, and in particular,
its inevitable relationship to terrorism (2005, 466). Powers of Horror, she explains
to her Eastern reader, both poses and answers a most urgent question in our troubled post9/11 times: Is literature terrorisms accomplice or its antidote? (468).
In its Western practice at least, she responds, literature has much in common with
terrorism: notably, its roots in a national language and its structural participation
in horror (468). Real literature, however, she qualifies, transcends these petty nationalisms (we will return shortly to the question of structural horror) through
the incommensurable authors infiltration of the communal idiom: maximum


Lisa Walsh

singularisation, style is a dis-identification of both Person and Nation (469). Furthermore, she continues, Reading and teaching literature, unveiling its polyphonic logic in the face of what must be called religious monologism, is a political
therapy (469). In the modern Western tradition, she informs her Chinese reader
that real literature does indeed function as an antidote to the monotheistic terror of fundamentalist Islam and Christianity. This antidote, however, like any
good pharmakon, may be poisonous and must be handled with care.
The Eastern reader should therefore be on her guard with respect to literatures power to destroy what it heals. The artistic psyche productive of literatures polyphonic logic, she explains, maintains a necessarily intimate, and
therefore dangerous, relation to the Real, or the unmediated jouissance of the
bodily drives before and beyond symbolic meaning. Without a certain commitment to sanity on the writers part, literature, she warns, lapses into aesthetic
act; it revels in its structural participation in horror and becomes more accomplice than antidote to acts of terrorism. One must be careful, then, to avoid
the crazy writer. Thoroughly absorbed in her own crises (as are most feminine,
postmodern subjects for Kristeva), rather than sublimate the bodily experience
of the drives through some sort of textual logic, the aesthetic actor denies abjection through violence, destruction of the other (autrui) and self-destruction,
through caricature and insult, through provocation of the reader, through violations of the public and the means of expression itself, and ultimately through
destruction of the work and of the Self in suicide (2005, 470). This sort of aesthetic acting out refuses to assimilate the horror it materializes and thus finds
itself aiding and abetting the terrorist cause. Antidotally, on the other hand, literary judgment elaborates a complex language and thought system, a polyphonic logic that might contextualize symbolically the banality and
spectacularity of horror and perversion confronting us on a daily basis, thereby
helping the reader maintain her shaky symbolic bearings. Literature as judgment rather than act, she tells her Chinese reader, represents one of the only
known treatments for postcommunist, Western decadence.
Before concluding her preface with a wish that Powers of Horror might assist Eastern readers in avoiding falling victim to the collapse of the shelter of
thought currently undermining our psychic stability in the West, she reiterates this crucial distinction between literary art (judgment) and political terrorism (act). Literature involves questioning, engaging, thinking: conscious
mediation of the drives: Literature [. . .] is in its own way terror, but because it
is situated in representation and language, it is a terror that allows us better to
think about the intimate causes of terror itself. Minimal but deep, it is not the
least of antidotes against the terrorism that assails us from both within and
without (2005, 470). Aside from her own novels, unfortunately, Kristeva seems
unable to recommend any postmodern texts to the potentially wounded reader.
Indeed, contemporary fiction figures for her as a purely ego-driven aesthetic
wherein feminine writers (as exemplified by contemporary French women writ-

Symptomatic Reading


ers such as Catherine Millot) wallow in the shallow squalor of their new
maladies of the soul, their fatigue in the feminine. Kristevas contempt for
the senselessness of womens writing is nothing new. Indeed, as a post-War,
French woman writer with a distinctly political project, she has always maintained an adversarial relationship to her peers.3 Contempt, however, makes
way for terror in her violent denunciations of the literary acts of Margeurite
Duras (a frankly surprising response to an astoundingly rich body of work
uniquely engagedlike Kristevas workwith the interstices of the unconscious
and the social). Her symptomatic readings of Duras not only reveal a certain authorial anxiety of influence, but also produce a melancholic, textual resistance
that ultimately gives life to both the therapeutic ideal of literary judgment
and the singular destruction of the literary act that functions as its necessary, if
undesirable, support. Duras as literary actor terrorizes the Kristevan text, provoking a symptomatic response not readily amenable to the political therapy
of symbolic judgment.
Kristeva first analyzes Marguerite Duras and her literary project, or Duras,
in the conclusive chapter of Black Sun: Depression and Melancholy (1989), elaborating an oddly depressive closure to a study seeking to advance a theory of the
therapeutic beauty of the melancholic text. While her other analysands, Holbein,
Nerval, and especially Dostoyevsky, create sublime modernist works of art from
a melancholic position that definitionally precludes symbolic expression, Duras
represents a feminine, postmodern refusal to transcend melancholic nothingness.
As a writer, for Kristeva, this is her job, and as a citizen, this is her duty. Rather
than do the sublimatory work required to make sense, quite literally, of the overwhelming suffering induced by a disturbingly radical atheism, Duras, Kristeva
proposes, remains willfully mired in the silence of a melancholic imaginary. Caring nothing for beauty or catharsis, the social or the politicalor anything else but
her own passion for that matter, Duras seeks only to contaminate readers with
the affective horrors of her chaotic and grief-stricken inner world; she wants us
to feel her pain. And this, for Kristeva, even twenty years later as we will see, represents a historically and politically distressing literary anomaly that must be
revealed, judged, and ultimately denounced.
In the theoretical introduction to Black Sun, Kristeva presents us with a
working clinical definition of melancholy: I shall call melancholia the institutional symptomology of inhibition and asymbolia that becomes established now
and then or chronically in a person, alternating more often than not with the
so-called manic phase of exaltation (1987, 18; 1999, 9). Grounding her interpretation in the works of Freud, Klein, and Green, Kristevas focus on silence as
key diagnostic moment posits asymbolia qua symptom as pathological cause
and effect: the analysand cannot make sense because she is melancholic, and
she is melancholic because she cannot make sense. As in her other works, Kristevas preoccupation here is with borderline states, those uniquely human, psychic structures wherein the inherent contradictions and confusions of a


Lisa Walsh

difficultly social animal find both experience and expression: love, abjection,
foreignness, genius, literature, and melancholy, all allow the analyst to investigate these ever-shifting, and for Kristeva psychically and politically constitutive,
boundaries or borderlands (tats limites) between nature and culture, affect and
reason, real and symbolic (in Lacanian terms).4 Without this constant repetition of a foundational instability and negativity in the subjects psychic negotiation of her embodiment, and its consequent affirmation and alienation in and
through the symbolic, homo sapiens would cease to exist; like the melancholic,
he would stop making sense. Signification, then, makes possible our survival of
these inevitable, uncomfortable moments in and of these borderlands by endowing them with meaning. Language allows for the expression of these encounters with the real by lending them the stability of signs, thereby bringing
the animal body, safely domesticated, into the social domain. The Law, she insists, must supersede radical freedom via the completion of the revolutionary
turn, the inauguration of the next thetic phase.5 Better by far to have stayed
where we were than to have gone too far in the direction of the semiotic confusion and meaninglessness of the real. The revolution must make sense. And
this is precisely Kristevas problem with Duras. She refuses to make the thetic
break that might make political sense and/or aesthetic beauty of her desperate
inhabitation of the melancholic borderlands. She is sick and contagious and,
unlike Dostoyevsky, utterly incapable of forgiveness, sublimation, transcendenceinconsolable, incurable, and, most of all, scary.
In this opening section of Black Sun, Kristeva establishes the relationship
between literary creation and the semiotic-symbolic movement of language.
Literature ideally completes the signifying revolution, touching on the affective depths of the speaking subject and then transcribing this experience into
signs and symbols both constitutive of and, especially in poetry, constituted by
these semiotic borderlands. This sublimatory movement is curative, then, of
both the psyche and the socialeven, and perhaps especially, in the case of
melancholy where language had become impossible. She writes, Literary creation is that adventure of the body and signs that bears witness to the affect
to sadness as imprint of separation and beginning of the symbols sway; to joy
as imprint [marque] of the triumph that settles me in the universe of artifice
and symbol, which I try to harmonize in the best possible way with my experience of reality (1987, 3233; 1989, 22). In other words, literature reenacts the
material rupture of the thetic moment, allowing the reader, settled in the universe of artifice and symbol, to experience the jouissance (painful and/or joyous) of moving a bit too far in the semiotic direction of the real. She continues,
The semiotic and symbolic become the communicable imprints of an affective reality, perceptible to the reader (I like this book because it conveys [communique] sadness, anguish, or joy) and yet dominated, set aside, vanquished
(1987, 33; 1989, 22; emphasis added). In other words, I like (jaime) this book
because I am reminded that as a rational, speaking subjectlike the writer

Symptomatic Reading


I can make sense of, and therefore conquer and control, the emotions I am
able to understand from a safe, mediated distance. I hate that book because the
writer has failed to translate her jouissance into the signs and symbols that would
allow me to maintain my stable position in the social; I feel her pain. Duras
makes me sick. The authorial I, of course, stands in here for the universal
reader. Kristevas singular reader, howeverespecially a narcissistic or melancholic onemight justifiably respond, But what about me? What if I like,
even love, my sadness and joy free of mediation, domination, and subordination? For Kristeva, this Durassian reader (in both senses of the possessive), as
we will see, a loving and a hating reader, cannot be a political reader. Her experience is radically cut off from its social and historical contexts.
For Kristeva, of course, asymbolia equals asocial equals apolitical. The authentic, meaningful literary text, on the other hand, maintains the ascendancy
of the Husserlian transcendental ego; it transposes the silence and agitations
of its creative inception:
the work of art that insures the rebirth of its author and its reader or
viewer is one that succeeds in integrating the artificial language it puts
forward (new style, new composition, surprising imagination) and the
unnamed agitations [mois] of an omnipotent self that ordinary social
and linguistic usage always leave somewhat orphaned or plunged into
mourning. Hence such a fiction, if it isnt an antidepressant, is at least
a survival, a resurrection. (1987, 62; 1989, 51; emphasis added)
The curative work of art, again, brings into the artificiality of language and
communication those forgotten (by the individual subject) and ignored (by the
collective social) preoedipal traces, mois, thereby allowing the omnipotent orphan to mourn her lost maternal object by attaching signs and symbols to her
traces, and then to be born again, rise from the dead6via the transcendence
of the thetic break.
How does the melancholic, defined by her asymbolia and failure to mourn,
manage to create a work of art if she is caught in a death embrace with her lost
object, the maternal Thing? Sublimation, in a word. Unfortunately though,
some artists sublimate and others do not.7 In the case of Black Sun, the other depressive artists produce magnificent beauty from the depths of their suffering
to cure themselves and otherswhereas Duras only reproduces and spreads her
own suffering. Duras, Kristeva argues, does not sublimate because she refuses
to abandon the melancholic position, to stop loving-hating the maternal Thing,
to complete the revolution and make the thetic break, enter into the social, communicate. Describing melancholics, Kristeva writes that everything has gone
by [rvolu], they seem to say, but I am faithful to those bygone days [ce rvolu],
I am nailed down to them, no revolution is possible, there is no future (1987,
71; 1989, 60; ellipses in original ).8 And Kristevas revolution waits for no one.


Lisa Walsh

Before delving more deeply into the specificities of Kristevas readings of

Duras, as well as a few of my own, I would like briefly to revisit Kristevas theorization of melancholic subjectivity as borderlands, as object of philosophical
fascination. The dialectical movement across and within her texts (both fiction
and nonfiction) from (1) an identifiable contact with the realagain, poetry,
love, abjectionand a passionate attachment to its destabilizing effects on the
symbolic and the social, which effects follow from the semiotic imbalance that
tips the subject over into the borderlands, almost beyond the reach of the symbolic and the logos to (2) a violent negation of that which lies beyond these borderlands (the real), what remains inaccessible to the artificiality of signs and
symbols, foreign to humanity and the social contract, rabidly insane, dangerous,
and finally to (3) an even more passionate embrace of the symbolic reinstatement of the thetic phase that incorporates the wildness and beauty of the unbridled drives, as both affected by and affective of the omnipotent self and
his sociosymbolic universe, and brings them back into the triumphant safety
and repose of artifice and symbols.9 The melancholic on this model remains
stuck in the asymbolic, imaginary space-time of the second stage, until, that is,
psychoanalysis or sublimation provokes anew the thetic break.
Duras, like Kristeva, uses the darkroom, la chambre noire, to metaphorize
an experience of radical psychic interiority, the space-time of this orchestration of loss.10 And while Duras may not create photo-graphy in her darkroomshe most definitely does not write with lightshe does produce
graphos, pages and pages over some fifty years, which would seem to indicate
many thetic moments. In a recent work on Duras and politics, Dominique
Denes identifies the importance of the notion of the darkroom in understanding the relationship between writing and politics in and for Duras
Her [Durass] problematic of writing has caused her to adopt a singular posture and position, best synthesized by the original concept of
the darkroom [la chambre noire]. This concept is polysemic: notably,
a room for writing or reading, the darkroom would seem to be the
closed, impermeable place par excellence, a sort of dwelling place [logement] in oneself, a shadow, where everything goes, where the integrality of lived experience amasses, piles up, oriented toward the
interior darkness of being and creation, if the darkroom werent also for
Duras a place of interface and osmosis from which the solitary writer
observes and returns to others and the world. (2005, 89)11
Within the solitary silence of the darkroom, via the writing process that always already assumes a reading other, Duras claims to write from within the
cryptic darkness of melancholic asymbolia, to make sense, to speak to others, to
attain to a relationship with the outside. Whereas Kristeva argues that rebirth,

Symptomatic Reading


resurrection, the transcendent thetic breakcontact with the world beyond the
narcissism of the tombis necessary to literary production, Duras insists that
while she writes from a space of darkness, she remains fully aware, if terrified,
of the light and life outside.
In the interview just cited, a postface and response to the screenplay of
Durass 1977 film Le Camion, Duras explains her understanding of the
chambre noire as writing and reading room. Discussing the writing/reading of the
film, Duras explains the reasoning behind its contrived setting, a nondescript
room where the two characters, writer and reader, discuss the film quite literally in process; this chambre noire spatially re-presents, she explains, in
mise-en-abyme, the identical (identique), unreachable space of writing; it visually replicates for the spectator the relationship between reader and writer
(and text!). On screen, the reader (actor Grard Dpardieu) materially occupies
the chambre noire; he sits alongside the writer in the darknesswith the text.
Duras theorizes:
The film was made in a closed room, that is, curtains drawn, electric
lights on, in the dark that is. I wouldnt have ever thought . . . or at
least, only now is this reflection coming to me . . . I wouldnt have ever
thought it possible to read in the light of day. I dont know, perhaps one
always reads in the dark; the place where one speaks, I call this the
darkroom [la chambre noire]. I say: reading room or darkroom. It seems
to me that there would be a dispersion of the reach of language in a
daytime place [un lieu de jour]. Reading comes out of darkness, out of
the night. Even if one reads in broad daylight, outside, night is created
around the book. (1977, 103; ellipses in original)12
Yet while she may not have previously reflected on the universal reach of
the films visual metaphor, she did indeed say (though within the context of
this film, she did write it first) reading room. The preceding screenplay confirms that the dark room as cinematic setting functions as both image and
metaphor of the intensity and obscurity of this quite literal reading room:
A dark enclosed place. The curtains are drawn. The lights are on. Carpet.
Mirrors. Its a place of rest. Through the white curtains, the light of day. A
round table in the center of the place. Two people are there, seated at this
table: Grard Dpardieu and Marguerite Duras. On the table, manuscripts.
The story (histoire) of the film is thus read. They will read this story. The
exterior of the place will only be seen once night has fallen. Throughout the
film the dcor will change, but inside the same place. It will be objects: tables, lamps, that change places. But the light will remain identical. The way
of reading as well, pages in hand. This place can be called: CHAMBRE
NOIRE, or reading room. (1977, 1011)


Lisa Walsh

According to the screenplay, the two characters now read aloud the text
describing what will be (and is being) projected onto the screen (and has already been inscribed on paper). Duras, playing the writer, speaks the vast majority of the words while her reader punctuates the writing-reading with
questions and, less frequently, comments. Crucially here though, although reading takes place within the chambre noire, the solitary space of writer-reader, an
outside preexists the reading room, both on blank page and on screen. What sort
of outside? An industrial zone, the ugly injustice of the postcolonial, French
banlieue: Lateral travelling shot. Construction sites. Empty lots. Shanty towns
(1977, 10). She envisioned, she says, those volatilecurrently riotousbadlands inhabited by immigrants, on the margins of the social.
Some sixteen years later, just before her death, Duras returned for the last
time to the notion of the chambre noire as space of writing and reading, distinct
but not dissociable. In a 1993 essay on her writerly vocation, crire, Duras
describes the desperate solitude of the chambre noire, the radical atheism that for
her make writing possible, even necessary. Writing, for Duras, is hell:
Finding oneself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost complete
solitude and discovering that only writing will save you. To be with no
subject for a book, no idea for a book, is to find oneself, rediscover oneself, face to face with [devant] a book. An immense emptiness. An
eventual book. Face to face with nothingness. Face to face as a naked,
living writing, as terrible, terrible to overcome. (1993 20)13
There is always, however, despite this solitude, the eventual reader whom
the writer precedes at the bottom of this hole, a reader who shadows this
writer-book face-off. She may not recognize it at the time (a truncated time as
Kristeva argues), but deep down she knows it: otherwise its not a real book, or
literature in Kristevan terms (Duras 1993, 23). Writing for Duras, and consequently reading (both authors agree that the two are structurally inseparable),
is to confront the void left by the absence of beliefreligious, aesthetic, philosophical, politicalto be open to the meaningless suffering taking place outside,
to speak, and at times even to scream, from this inescapably silent space-time
of writing-reading. Duras does, however, I would argue, believe in writing, but
at the same time, unlike Kristeva, knows and accepts that she will never grasp
the meaning of this unknown:
You cant write without bodily strength. You have to be stronger than
yourself to approach writing, you have to be stronger than what you
write. Its a funny thing, yes. Its not only writing, whats written, its
also the screams of animals in the night, everyones screams, yours and
mine, dogs screams. Its the hopeless, massive vulgarity of society. Suffering is also Christ and Moses and the pharaohs and all of the Jews,

Symptomatic Reading


and all of the Jewish children, and its also the most violent kind of
happiness. Still, I believe that (Toujours, je crois a). (Duras 1993, 24;
emphasis added)
Duras believes this suffering, these animal screams, and it is from and to this
timeless space that she inscribes them, and that the reader is inscribed by them.
Can such a hopeless and painful project bear political weight? Get by without
offering any redemption or consolation? Kristeva thinks not.
In the final chapter of Black Sun, The Malady of Grief (La maladie de la
douleur14): Duras, Kristeva contends that Durass irrational devotion to suffering (la douleur) produces an eerie depressive silence that figures as not only crazy,
but also politically irresponsible, if not suspect. In brief, Duras has made the
political far too personal, which, contrary to the inverse feminist call to action
the personal is political!produces a decidedly asocial textual effect.15 In
broad terms, Kristeva reads Durass morbid love affair with the beyond of the
real as not only politically useless, but also psychically dangerous, arguing:
Durass books should not be put into the hands of sensitive readers (1987,
235; 1989 227). Michel de Certeau concurs, warning, Dont lose sight of the
fact that there is always a risk of losing oneself, not being able to get out, remaining there, fixed, just as one remains mute in the face of a fascinating encounter (emphasis added).16 Similarly, in a first interview with Duras in 1974,
Xavire Gauthier explains her own reading experience to the author: I know
that, when I read your books, it puts me in a very . . . , very heavy [ fort] state,
and Im uneasy and its very difficult to speak or do anything after reading them.
I dont know if its fear, but its truly a dangerous state to enter into (Duras and
Gauthier 1974, 14).17 Duras responds, All the same, there are still people who
read them [ca], so thats what should be paid attention to. I pass into another
domain, there. Because, when I started not to be able to avoid those books,18 I
thought there wouldnt be any readers. You see the danger, its immense, asylum-like. And then, the books found readers . . . and men (17). How, Gauthierpositioning herself in this text as a feministasks, do these men
respond? According to Duras, The word ill comes back in every letter. [. . .]
Im ill from reading you (17). And indeed, an impressive array of her contemporary readers and menLacan, Bataille, Blanchot, Deleuzeconfirm a sense
of bodily anguish in the face of this writing, an irrational fear that perhaps the
reading room has no exit.
Kristeva, however, a generation younger and not a man, turns a far harsher
diagnostic gaze on the Durassian text.19 Black Suns final chapter contrasts Revolution in Poetic Languages celebration of modernitys music in Letters with the
nihilistic illogic and silence of Durass postmodern melancholic text. So,
whereas a Mallarm poem might instigate a decidedly progressive, historical
shift in the social structures of material production and reproduction, the diseased Durassian text only silences her reader in a static, if not regressive, wave


Lisa Walsh

of suffering, a meaningless disease of death, or maladie de la mort. This

post-Holocaust text, Kristeva adds, refuses to perform its aesthetic work of emotional purification, willfully fails to participate in the policed affairs of the
State.20 Durass artistic irresponsibility lies in her inability to provide her contemporary reader some much-needed emotional release: Lacking recovery or
God, having neither value nor beauty other than illness itself seized at the place
of rupture, never has art had so little cathartic potential (Kristeva 1987, 235;
1989, 228). If, following Lacans reading of Aristotelian catharsis, as an aesthetically mediated release of damaging emotions (at both the individual and
collective levels), and in particular fear and pity,21 then perhaps Kristeva has
something here, at least in terms of beauty. Perhaps Durassian art does position
the reader at an uncannily ugly psychic breaking point. It is, however, precisely
when Duras not only fails to relieve, but even violently provokes, the readers fear
and pity that her texts, to my mind, become most valuable, most singularly
likely to inhabit an aggressively politicaland ethicalfunction.
For Kristeva, however, Durass uncannily solitary descents into madness,
not to mention alcoholism, cannot mean anything. The depth and intensity of
authorial anguish are indeed potentially terrifying, but this distinguishes them
as neither cathartic nor otherwise socially significant. Just dangerous. And to all
the wrong people. Suffering, on Kristevas readingand suffering is the melancholics life bloodskirts the political and ethically positions history as internalized lost cause: In the view of an ethic and an aesthetic concerned with
suffering, the mocked private domain gains a solemn dignity that depreciates
the public domain while allocating to history the imposing responsibility for
having triggered the malady of death (1987, 243; 1989, 235). History is loosed
from its symbolic bearings: Durass melancholy is . . . like an explosion in history. Private suffering absorbs political horror into the subjects psychic microcosm (1987, 242; 1989, 234). The personal, again, has improperly subsumed the
political. Duras, refusing the cathartic possibilities of purification, insists instead on a reproductive falling back into the seductive jouissance of the silences
and screams of the real.
Anne Juranville, also an analyst and professor of literature, disagrees with
Kristevas clinical diagnosis, arguing that Duras is too depressed to be melancholic, but does agree that the melancholic subject, and in particular the feminine one, maintains an immediate, traumatic relation to the real qua maternal
Thing. This nostalgic denial of individuation, as for Kristeva, positions the
melancholic beyond the pale of symbolic intervention, unable to access in any
way the historical reality of the social: Stupefied, horrified, [the melancholic]
fixes himself in an inhuman zone beyond death where, lacking the least symbolic recourse, he is condemned to remain eternally and passively concentrated
on this gaping wound that he himself is (1993, 54). Juranville unlike Kristeva,
however, implies that although the melancholic may indeed be incurableas
exemplified by Virginia Woolf, her melancholic heroineshe does have her

Symptomatic Reading


moments of lucidity. Juranville, moreover, theorizes an ethical, if not quite

social, expression of melancholic knowledge, arguing that through the melancholic experience of the ontological void, a traversing of the mirror that shatters the certainties of the ordinary world and betrays it as a simulacrum, [the
melancholic] is able to open the space of ethics as an act of unveiling being
(althia) in its primordial tear (116). Juranville, like Kristeva, denies the melancholic access to historical time. For Lacan, however (and this is the formers
theoretical bent), this tragic act (as opposed to state), though it does indeed
entail a certain rupture in chronological, historical time, does not wrench the
subject from her historical bearings. The drives, or the semiotic on Kristevas
theorization, are always already historical, even historicizing. Lacan explains,
[R]ememorization, historicization, is coextensive with the functioning of the
drives in what we call the human psyche. This is also where destruction is registered, enters into the register of experience.22 And here, I think, lie not only
the ethical but also the political possibilities (tentative emphasis here on a great
deal of risk and lucktuch) of the melancholics pathological (logic of pathos)
retreat from reality. Despite Kristevas attempts at extolling the virtues of a
melancholic position, these possibilities are obscured by Kristevas politics of
writing and reading (Restuccia 2005, 201).
In 1998, some ten years after Black Sun, Kristeva published a second essay on
Duras (two years after Durass death). The essays title, Une trangre (a [female] foreigner, stranger, outsider) establishes an immediate intratextual and
intertextual identification of Kristeva and Duras. Explaining the title to the
reader, Kristeva explains that she and Duras share a certain state of exile as writers born outside the French nation and language who write in French; Duras grew
up in Vietnam speaking French at home and Vietnamese outside the home, Kristeva in Bulgaria, speaking Bulgarian in the home and French at school she explains (see Kristeva 2005, 502503). Both women moved to France at the age of
majority and became French writers, writers, however, whose most primitive,
formative experiences took place in other languages as well, languages belonging
to cultures where an intensity of suffering finds expression, where translation is
therefore impossible. Both women are profoundly foreign, outsiders who write
in France, who write in French: [A]t the heart of the same language [French],
they speak another language. Translating the sensible time of a foreign country
childhood, passion, other people, other voicesinto a host idiom comes back to
a transubstantiation of the suffering of exile, translation, and writing as common
destiny (en un mme destin) (503).23 In an even more personal vein, she continues, [W]e were savage accomplices because we were burned by a suffering that
doesnt square with French rhetoric. . . . Melancholy isnt French (502). In the next
portrait, this one of Roland Barthes, author of La Chambre claire (1980), Kristeva explains the formative impact of Barthess 1970 essay, Ltrangre, on her
intellectual project in diagnosing her early work as displaying a fertile strangeness, a strangeness she recognized and learned to cultivate rather than repress


Lisa Walsh

(522; original date of publication 2002). Barthess writing, she explains, allowed
her to identify herself as a foreigner and also as an accepted member of the French
intelligentsia: He opened . . . the jealously guarded signs of the French Temple
of Letters (511). Kristeva recognizes herself in The Stranger. And in Duras she
reconizes A Stranger, of like kind.
Kristevas 1998 essay begins, nonetheless, on a note of decidedly negative
identification, if not sheer antagonism. The introductory passage is fascinating:
Can one really like (aimer)whats called liking (aimer)Duras? Im
intoxicated by her [it] ( jen suis sole), but since I prefer the suffering
of clarity to the illness of alcohol, I turn to her novels with the symbiotic, precautionary ripping apart that my most catastrophic patients
provoke in me. . . . She didnt hate it that I termed witchcraft her
complicity with maternal hatred, with the anguish that replaces desire
in depressed women, with that nothingness that scintillates between
two women, that ties them ombilically to each other and floods the
basement (inonde le sous-sol ) of endogenous feminine homosexuality.
While Durass groupies (les groupies de Duras) chastised me for not recognizing her artistic virtuosity [in Black Sun], she saw my diagnosis as
more of an homage. Of course she didnt care if her art was capable of
catharsis since she only wanted to contaminate the reader [groupie?]
with her passion to death (sa passion mort), her passion for death.
(501502; ellipsis in original)
Can one really like Duras? Kristeva responds that she (qua I ) does not like
her darkness, her alcoholism, her catastrophes, or her illness because she, as analyst and reader, prefers clarity and caution. She reads Duras as a seductive and
fatal analysand from whom she must violently rip herself, and then, after a brief
elliptic pause, she turns to Durass response. Duras, she explains, did not get defensive about the Black Sun essay; she did not hate being associated with witchcraft, hatred, angst, depression, homosexuality; she read the diagnosis as
appreciation not insult. And indeed, a brief encounter with Durass work, her biographies, and her critics quickly confirms that her values and concerns do differ
substantially from Kristevas, as do her aesthetics and politics. Setting aside for
now the obvious problems with Kristevas theory of female homosexuality here as
asocial and abyssal, her labeling of Durass readers as groupies is telling not only
because it implies a certain cheapening of the literary value of her novels (which
as we will see are not, any longer, for Kristeva, literature), but again firmly instantiates the reading experience imposed by Duras as unmediated by the symbolic:
the groupie seeks sexual contact with her idol, not enlightenmentthough oddly
enough, these groupies are apparently concerned with artistic virtuosity.
Duras, she argues, could not care less whether her novels were art. Nor
whether they had any social value at all. Her only intention, and it is unclear here

Symptomatic Reading


as to whether this is a conscious or unconscious intention (it cannot be desire

since Duras is incapable), is to make other people ill with her suffering. Duras
at this point no longer represents the woman and her oeuvre, and indeed they
are incredibly difficult for critics, and even La Duras herself, to differentiate.24
As reader of Kristeva, her respondent and analysand, Durass words are now
explicit and knowable. We, readers of Kristeva (and presumably of Duras), do
know that Duras would certainly not have minded being accused of writing
books full of suffering and darkness. We also know that she would not have
minded that her novels were not interpreted as cathartic in either cause or effect. But, in the end, we know that Duras cared deeply about the value of her
writing, and of all writing. What she lacked, for Kristeva, was and is another
kind of belief, the belief that the writing could and would transform suffering,
bring the melancholic out of her solitude, her violent relationship with loss, into
the clarity of rational thought. Duras, however, claims that writing is not
writing if it is not done alone in the dark, in a state of radical disbelief, where
everything is thrown into doubt (1993, 21).25 At the end of a writing career
spanning the latter half of the twentieth century, an ugly time for literature
Kristeva exclaims (2005, 508), Duras concludes that all she can ever know about
why or how she writes is this absolute doubt out of which it flows. Duras writes:
And this doubt grows around you. This doubt is alone, it is the doubt
of solitude. It is born of it, of solitude. At least the word can be named.
I think a lot of people couldnt bear what Im saying here; they would
run away. Perhaps thats why everyone isnt a writer. Yes. Thats it.
Thats the difference. Thats the truth. Nothing else. Doubt is writing. Thus, it is also the writer. And with the writer, everyone writes.
Weve always known that. (1993, 22)
Kristeva not only runs away; she rips herself away from this truth, this radical atheism weve always known to be both possible and potentially fatal, murderous or suicidal. Durass reader, Kristeva would agree, does indeed write with
her in this unmediated, symbiotic relationship with the text, in the chambre
noire. But this, on her reading, is the last thing we need in an age determined
by religious terror and hatred. What we do need is forgiveness: the forgiveness
of psychoanalytic listening whereby the analyst gives-for (par-donne) the
analysand the symbolic attachmentswords and imagesnecessary to become
reborn in a socially meaningful way and the forgiveness of literature whereby
[w]riting causes affect to slip into effect: actus purus Saint Thomas would say.
It conveys affects and does not repress them, it suggests for them a sublimatory
outcome, it transposes them for another in a threefold, imaginary, and symbolic
bond. Because it is forgiveness, writing is transformation, transposition, translation (1989, 217, 226). The literary act, just and loving, collects sadness and
purifies it, renders it sublime, divine, beautiful. Dostoyevsky, for Kristeva,


Lisa Walsh

following Aquinass dictates regarding justice and human forgiveness, gives his
reader the Christian gift of forgiveness. An orthodox Christian like Kristeva, he
experiences the intense suffering of the melancholic and then selflessly transcends his own lack, his own wounds; he believes.26
Kristeva prefaces her conclusive answer to the question of whether Duras
is literature with a final assertion as to the historical function of literature
in these troubled times of wars, crisis, television, and therapy: literature is
becoming the rival, how superior often, of the clinic (2005, 508). And in
this most recent collection, consistently situating the speaking subject in a post
9/11 nightmare of perversity and insanity, both analysis and literary meaning-making are more crucial than ever if we are to heal the alarmingly increasing
numbers of the walking wounded, and even, I would argue, the walking dead.
In the books central essay, Hatred and Forgiveness: Or from Abjection to Paranoia, the author posits a talking cure for the terrorists political ills, for the new
maladies of the soul. She concludes the essay:
In these post-modern times of clashes of religions, times of endless
wars, it is not useless to remember that psychoanalytic interpretation,
by revealing the many-sided destiny of hatred that makes and
unmakes the human race, puts itself forward as the ultimate lucidity
of this for-giveness (ce par-don) that psychic life needs to continue
simply to live, without in the process completely ceasing to hate.
(2005, 373)
Again, Kristeva asserts the superior value of psychoanalysis as a historically
necessary moment in the unfolding of humanitys understanding of itself.
Analysis and literature allow us momentarily to have it both ways: the clarity
of reason and the confusion of madness. We can have our hate and understand
it too.
Returning one last time to Duras, A Stranger, Kristeva concludes (once
and for all?) that no, contrary to her earlier interpretation in Black Sun, Duras
is not literature: One cannot really like Duras. She describes the vocation of
the Durassian text:
to expose madness in the light of reason. Neither to understand it nor
dissimulate it. Simply to render in its nudity her enormous pain,
without complaint, as if singing about it. I went mad in a state of
pure reason.27 The novel as a madness in a state of pure reason? No,
a stranger to literature, this apocalypse is certainly not made to be liked.
It is only there to interrupt sleep, the time that remains. (2005, 508)
What, then, is the socially and psychically responsible novel on Kristevas
reading? And why, I wonder, is Durass rational representation of madness not

Symptomatic Reading


a novel? Kristevas answer here is pure negation: NO. This cannot be literature,
especially at this historical moment when we need literature to rescue us, the
walking wounded, the walking dead, from the senselessness of our suffering.
The last thing we need is more sleepless nights.
Duras, unlike Kristeva, does not write detective stories. She does write
about true crime at its most intimate and immediate, reenacts our fascination
with the transcendent familiarity of the fait divers, especially the crime of passion. In both journalistic pieces (of which two collected volumes have been published, aptly titled Outside to indicate an explicit engagement with the political)
and novels, most exceptionally Moderato cantabile, she explores the criminality
and desperation of domestic familiarity and symbolic meaninglessness. We read
the event within the timeless context of its banality and repetition: Jealous wife
shoots philandering husband. No cunning serial killer with a metaphysical
score to settle, just the everyday violence of love and hatred that, when it encounters the real and its jouissance, would pull us into the melancholic abyss,
and ultimately a Godless death, were it not for our sheer good luck. Our good
luck in still being alive, not killing or being killed. There is, in other words, no
cure for a certain Durassian violenceeither murderous or suicidal. This does
not, however, mean that she does not recognize and express political suffering.
To the contrary, she not only sets many of her novels in highly politicized sites
of colonial and postcolonial conflict, she also put her body on the line and her
novels on hold to engage with many of the twentieth centurys struggles for
freedom and justice. Her actions, if at times rather extreme, often bordered on
the heroic. Why, then, does Kristeva call this woman/text(s) apolitical? Her
novels socially useless? A distinct conservatism, it would seem, prevails in Kristevas dialectical model of signification, a conservatism grounded in a fear that
forecloses a certain textual intimacy and immediacy. Her rejection, abjection,
of Duras, like her abjection of the maternal body in Powers of Horror (1980), reveals an underlying, albeit well hidden, aversion to a truly radical revolution
that failed to live up to its name.
Durass texts may not be for everyone, though their popularity would seem
to attest to a substantial and discerning, and yes often oddly attached, readership. Though I would agree that Duras does subject her reader to an unbearable experience of unmitigated suffering and loss, I would also argue that the
radical solitude of this chambre noire might become a singular, and as such political and ethical, haven for an increasingly victimizing and vicitmized population. An aesthetics and politics grounded in and expressive of the silences and
screams of the intimacy and immediacy of psychic suffering allows for the subject, both writer and reader, to make an intersubjective connection through language whose meaning requires no other meaning than this moment of
connection itself, as solitary repetition of those moments of love and hate that
draw the melancholic out of her sorrow, even into mania, for at least the time
necessary to write a novelor to read a novel. This solitary communion


Lisa Walsh

reaffirms a call to a revolution that would not consist to a return to the same,
because the same is too painful for too many people, both rationally and irrationally. The unthinkable suffering that accompanies globalized capitalism simply does not and cannot, and hopefully never will, make sense.

1. Kristeva neglects to mention her Maoist affiliations potential impact
on her relationship to the Eastern reader.
2. The feminine pronoun here is most definitely mine. Kristevas reader
is a universally masculine reader, and she does conceive sexual difference in
China as fundamentally at odds with Western elaborations of gender. See
Kristeva (1974a).
3. While Kristevas work has incited much debate within the feminist
community, in part because of her predilection for modernist, male writers, she
did publish three major works on feminine genius: Colette, Hannah Arendt,
and Melanie Klein.
4. Significantly though, of course, Lacan denies the existence of the
5. In her 1974 Revolution in Poetic Language, Kristeva develops a dialectical model of signification whereby the subject moves from a position of symbolic meaning to its semiotic negation via the drives to a sublation as thetic
moment wherein the subject reaffirms the symbolic position. This circular
structure constitutes the quite literal revolution.
6. The Christian overtones here again emphasize Kristevas insistent attachment to the salutary function of belief. As a true melancholic on Kristevas
definition, Duras believes in nothing; she is a radical atheist, and this makes
her crazy and dangerous.
7. Fortunately, these others have recourse to the other curative option:
8. The function of time in this process is well worthy of consideration
here. The melancholic cannot share sociohistorical temporality, and this, of
course, has some interesting political consequences.
9. Sara Beardsworth provides an impressive analysis of the Kristevan dialectic in From Revolution to Revolt Culture (2005).
10. Durass fiction has been uniquely celebrated and investigated by the
French psychoanalytic community (and to a lesser extent the feminist community). From Lacans famous Homage to Marguerite Duras to a slew of books
and articles on her life and works (not to mention several television and documentary film interviews) to a recent issue of the Israeli Lacanian journal dedicated to one of her novels, Le ravissement de Lol. V. Stein (Almanac 2005), the
analytic community (aside from Kristeva!) regard Durass texts as containing
an invaluable if unspeakable knowledge of the unconscious, a knowledge of

Symptomatic Reading


which Duras herself is necessarily unaware. Lacan (2000) writes: Marguerite

Duras seems to know, without me, what I teach.
11. All translations from this text are mine.
12. All translations from this text are mine.
13. All translations from this text are mine.
14. La Douleur is the title of Durass 1984 novel that takes the form of a
journal written by the narrator-author while waiting for her husband to return
from the Nazi concentration camps. The journal chronicles the narrators suffering through absence and imagination and then the further suffering upon
the husbands unbearable, uncanny return. This suffering is born of the narrators love for her husband and equally, if disturbingly, her irrational hatred of all
Germans and Charles de Gaulle. This is a novel about the political stakes of
human suffering, of love and hatred, of jouissance and the real.
15. Curious in light of Durass notorious claim in her first television interview (1988) that individual engagements with both Nazi and Stalinist ideologies should be read as easily understandable, if highly desperate, attempts to
find political solutions to personal problems. Apostrophes, 1988.
16. Cited in Udris (1988, 4).
17. All translations from this text are mine.
18. She is referring here to those novels written after and including her
most celebrated work, The Ravishing of Lol Stein (1966), an unfortunate translation of the French title, Le ravissement de Lol. V. Stein (1964). Her previous
novels maintain a certain attachment to the Realist tradition of Balzac and become increasingly less concerned with telling stories (individual, familial, social, political) and more concerned with expressing what she knows of her inner
experience (in the sense of Bataille).
19. At this point, Kristeva has assessed critically the politics of literary production in several earlier works, most influentially within the context of the disruptive subjectivation of poeticized desire in Rvolution du langage potique
(1974), the exclusionary dynamics of material abjection in Pouvoirs de lhorreur
(1980), and the incorporative transference of narcissistic love in Histoires damour
(1983). Kelly Oliver argues that Kristevas works can be read as an oscillation
between an emphasis on separation and rejection on the one hand and an emphasis on identification and incorporation (2004, 54).
20. Juliet Flower MacCannell argues that for Kristeva art is over in the
modern worldart, that is, as it used to function in the exemplary case, the
Aristotelian mediation of reason and unreason, the cathartic (1994, 89).
21. Lacan emphasizes that our knowledge of Aristotles thoughts on
catharsis is seriously obscured by the loss of what appears to be his most major
work on the subject (1986, esp. 285289).
22. Cited in Hassoun (1997, 1617).
23. She does not, however, remark on the significant political difference
between these two situations.


Lisa Walsh

24. Michel David (2005) terms this conflation of life and art Durass
uvre-vie (work-life).
25. Everything but her child, Duras specifies.
26. Kristeva has always maintained an explicit dialogue with Christianity,
and in particular its East-West schism. In her most recent novel, Murder in
Byzantium (2004), orthodox Christianity becomes a metaphor for the current
wars of religion. Indeed, she insists on the meaning of this metaphor in interviews about the novel.
27. Here Kristeva cites Durass LAmant (1984).

Almanac of Psychoanalysis III: The Logical Time of Ravishment. 2005. Israeli
Group of the European School of Psychoanalysis. Rehovot, Israel: Weizmann Institute of Science.
Beardsworth, Sara. 2005. From Revolution to Revolt Culture. Revolt, Affect,
Collectivity. Ed. Tina Chanter and Ewa Pnowska Ziarek. Albany: State
University of New York Press.
David, Michel. 2005. Le ravissement de Marguerite Duras. Paris: LHarmattan.
Denes, Dominique. 2005. Marguerite Duras: Ecriture et politque. Paris: LHarmattan.
Duras, Marguerite. 1964. Le ravissement de Lol. V. Stein. Paris: Gallimard.
. 1966. The Ravishing of Lol Stein. Trans. Richard Seaver. New York:
. 1977. Le camion, suivi de Entretien avec Michelle Porte. Paris: Editions
de Minuit.
. 1984. Lamant. Paris: Editions de Minuit.
. 1993. crire. Gallimard.
Duras, Margeurite, and Xavire Gauthier. 1974. Les Parleuses. Paris: ditions
de Minuit.
Hassoun, Jacques. 1997. La cruaut mlancolique. Paris: Flammarion.
Juranville, Anne. 1993. La femme et la mlancolie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de
Kristeva, Julia. 1974a. Des Chinoises. Paris: Des Femmes.
. 1974b. Rvolution du langage potique. Paris: Seuil.
. 1980. Pouvoirs de lhorreur: Essai sur labjection. Paris: Seuil.
. 1983. Histoires damour. Paris: Donol.
. 1987. Soleil noir: depression et mlancolie. Paris: Seuil.
. 1989. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez.
New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1993. Les Nouvelles Maladies de lme. Paris: Fayard.
. 1999. Le Gnie feminine, tome premier: Hannah Arendt. Paris: Fayard.
. 2000. Le Gnie feminine, tome II: Melanie Klein. Paris: Fayard.

Symptomatic Reading


. 2002. Le Gnie feminine, tome III: Colette. Paris: Fayard.

. 2004. Meurtre Byzance. Paris: Fayard.
. 2005. La haine et le pardon: Pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse III. Paris:
Lacan, Jacques. 1986. Le sminaire, livre vii, Lthique de la psychanalyse. Paris:
. 2000. Autres crits. Paris: Seuil.
MacCannell, Juliette Flower. 1994. The Hysterics Guide to the Future Female Subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Oliver, Kelly. 2004. The Crisis of Meaning. The Kristeva Critical Reader. Ed.
John Lechte and Mary Zournazi. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press.
Restuccia, Frances L. 2005. Black and Blue: Kielowskis Melancholia Revolt,
Affect, Collectivity. Ed. Tina Chanter and Ewa Ponowska Ziarek.
Albany: State University of New York Press.
Udris, Raynelle. 1988. Welcome Unreason: A Study of Madness in the Novels of
Marguerite Duras. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

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What Is Intimacy?

S. K. Keltner

The term intimacy or the intimate (lintimit) as singular psychic life is first
presented as the object of a book-length thought with the publication of Julia
Kristevas second book on the concept of revolt, Intimate Revolt (1997, 2002b).
It has remained noticeably present since. Her biographical trilogy, Female Genius: Life, Madness, WordsHannah Arendt, Melanie Klein, Colette (1999, 2001a;
2000a, 2001c; 2002a, 2004), her fictional detective novels, her broad-reach political writings appearing in, for instance, the popular France Culture over the
past several years, and most recently her newest collection of essays, La haine et
le pardon (2005), all make use of the term. Though the term comes to more emphatically and directly mark what has remained Kristevas chosen objectdomain, her choice of this term in particular is not new to this period of her
writing. The term first appears at least as early as her first major work of the
1980s, Powers of Horror (1980, 1982), and gains significance throughout the
1980s and into the early 1990s. In Powers of Horror Kristeva articulates abjection in terms of an intimate/public distinction in which abjection marks the
threshold of intimate suffering and public horror. In Tales of Love (1983, 1987b)
intimacy signals Stendhals integration of love into politics. In Black Sun (1987a,
1989) Kristeva returns to the intimate/public distinction articulated in Powers
of Horror to further analyze the constitution of modern intimacy through the
work of Marguerite Duras. In Strangers to Ourselves (1988, 1991), the intimate
describes the culmination of the classical logic of the nation-state in nineteenth-century German nationalism, the quest of Romanticism, and Freuds
recasting of otherness within. Throughout the 1980s Kristeva describes certain
writings as intimist, but her use of the term exceeds its meaning in the history


S. K. Keltner

of artas, for example, when she refers to Freudian psychoanalysis as intimist

(1988, 268; 1991, 181). In Time and Sense (1994, 1996b)many of the insights
of which are integrated into Kristevas books on revoltProust and Freud represent an experience of rehabilitated intimacy. Nevertheless, if it is clear that
the terms presence is long-standing, Kristevas choice of it and its meaning is
not so transparent.
The term significantly recalls the political phenomenology of Hannah
Arendt, whose name and whose political concepts also punctuate Kristevas texts
at least as far back as the 1980s and grows in significance, like the intimate,
throughout Kristevas oeuvre, ultimately culminating in the biography, Hannah
Arendt. Kristeva confirms Arendts long-standing influence on her own work in
the conclusion to the biographical trilogy entitled Is There a Feminine Genius? (2002a, 2004), but she marks one of her essential differences from Arendt
precisely in terms of intimacy. Among Arendts limitations lies a lack of attention to psychic life and intimacy, which she considers to be hybrid relics of
subjectivism and the loss of transcendence (1999, 261; 2001a, 162). Nevertheless, she often recalls Arendts political phenomenology throughout her elaboration of the concept of intimacy. For example, in Black Sun, Arendts name and
Arendts methodological concepts accompany Kristevas analysis of intimacy as
it is articulated in the work of Marguerite Duras, and which she has recently
called, in La haine et le pardon, ravaged intimacy (2005, 502); Kristevas work
on the intimate of revolt, as well as her biography on Arendtwhich airs an understanding of intimacy that would have appeared foreign, if not maddening, to
Arendt herselfdefends the intimate, on the one hand, and psychoanalysis and
the artwork, on the other, against Arendtian dismissals; and, just after 9/11 in
November 2001, in an article published as part of her ongoing column in France
Culture, Intimit voile, intimit viole, Kristeva mimics Arendts now-famous
formulation of authority from What Is Authority? by articulating the significance of intimacy in the modern world not according to what it is, but according to what it was (Arendt 1961/1993, 91; Kristeva 2001b/2003, 51).
Kristeva, thus, often points toward Arendts work as the context in which her
articulation of the modern constitution of intimacy unfolds. Arendts genetic
phenomenological account is thereby significant for its illumination of how
Kristevas thinking of intimacy, as well as her use of psychoanalysis and aesthetics to illuminate it, is to be related to political thinking more generally.

Intimacy and the Event of Natality

For Arendt, the intimate is a modern Western phenomenon. It signals the historical transformation of subjective interiority, once sheltered and protected by
the private realm (1958/1998, 69), into a mass phenomenon of loneliness (59)
constituted by the rebellion, withdrawal, or flight from the social, also a
modern phenomenon, into the innermost regions of subjectivity. Arendt dates

What Is Intimacy?


the discovery of intimacy to the period of Rousseauthe first articulate

explorer and to an extent even theorist of intimacy (39)and, following him,
to Romanticism. With the rise of the social, which abolishes the distinction between the private and the public, intimacy becomes the only site into which
one can withdraw. Intimacy, like the private before it, is marked by a necessary
hiddenness, but, she argues, it is an unreliable substitute (70). One of the essential differences between the private and the intimate lies in the latters inability to be located in the world. Arendt emphasizes intimacy as an innermost
region without a place: The intimacy of the heart, unlike the private household,
has no objective tangible place in the world, nor can the society against which
it protests and asserts itself be localized with the same certainty as the public
space (39). The intimate and the social are, for Arendt, subjective modes of existence, and the uncertain and shadowy kind of existence that is the intimate
remains ultimately incommunicable: pain, for example, cannot assume an appearance at all, and love is killed, or rather extinguished, the moment it is displayed in public (51). Any light that illuminates the intimate in language is
borrowed from the public and can never adequately mirror the intimate, which
remains hidden. Being riveted to the intimacy of the hidden or to the chatter
of social conformism is the effect of the modern loss of the private/public distinction that enabled politics in Arendts sense; that is, as a life of action characterized by individuation within the plurality of public life.
Kristeva follows Arendts characterization of the intimate as a strange region that lacks a proper spatiotemporal, that is, worldly, place that language fails
to expose. Though she often refers to intimacy as a space, such space cannot
be understood with reference to ordinary spatial extension. As remedy to the
problem of spatially representing intimacy, Kristeva refers the intimate to time.
However, just as the intimate as space cannot be understood according to simple extension, neither can the intimate as time be understood according to our
everyday concept of time; and yet, neither can it be reduced to the philosophies
of time articulated by Bergson or Heidegger, which is not to say that it is unrelated to their thought. Kristeva elaborates the temporality of intimacy with
reference to Freuds Zeitlosthe timeless or, more literally, lost timeand
Prousts sensible time: a time of death (1997, 49; 2002b, 31) or a time outside time (40; 25) that approaches the somatic (49; 31) and where being itself . . . is heard (80; 50). The temporality of intimacy, as elaborated by Kristeva,
integrates the Freudian insight with Bergsonian duration and Heideggerean
temporality (4650; 2931). Freudian and Proustian sensible-(non)time marks
a break with temporality otherwise conceived. Nonetheless, Kristeva draws on
three great thinkers of [the twentieth] century (47; 29) to fully account for
the intimate. For Kristeva, intimacy would be an interruptive heterogeneity
vis--vis the unity of the three temporal ecstaces elaborated, albeit differently,
by both Bergson and Heidegger. The positive dynamic of intimacy, which she
calls intimate revolt, can be understood, in phenomenological language, as


S. K. Keltner

interrogation and expression. The first movement of the intimate as revolt is a

return to that affective moment of heterogeneity that inscribes an affective disposition in the subject. Revolt as return is essential because it takes us back to
the necessary moment of affectivity and through an active interrogation holds
on, experiences, and undergoes it. Here Kristeva establishes an affective moment in subject constitution in modernity as a necessary part of revolt. This
movement interrogates what is called trauma in psychoanalytic language, as
the return to the subjects fundamental, corporeal passivity as both rupture and
condition. It is a heterogeneity that cannot temporalize. The second movement
of the intimate as revolt is linguistic expressionwhat would correspond to
word and deed in Arendtian language. The interrogation and experience of
affective suffering is accomplished in words. Hence, the talking cure, the
novel, and even philosophy become intimate events. Intimate revolt is the
dynamic of subjective return to nonintegratable heterogeneity that is articulated or given signs. In other words, intimacy is a dispositional index of subjectivity characterized by a double movement: this space to the inside [au-dedans]
where men take shelter in referring to the beyond [au-del] (2001/2003, 51).
Because heterogeneity is ultimately nontranslatable, its narration is ceaseless,
infinite. Intimate revolt is, thereby, a double infinity that opens a ceaseless
questioning that sustains psychic life.
Kristevas choice of the term, in recalling Arendt, situates her concept of intimacy in relation to what she calls Arendts revolutionary temporality: the
event of natality as rupture and new beginning. Kristevas adoption of the
Arendtian description of a strange, nontemporal, nonspatial region of modern
existence, however, develops that line of thinking in a radically different direction. Indeed, Kristeva locates a dynamic of the event of natality in the positive
movement of intimacy. Kristevan intimacy thus fundamentally alters the meaning of the intimate and its relationship to what was the political event of natality for Arendt. In her third book on revolt, The Future of Revolt (1998a, 2002b),
included in the English translation of Intimate Revolt, Kristeva links her privileged examples of intimate revolt to the event: From prayer to dialogue,
through art and analysis, the capital event is always the great infinitesimal emancipation: to be restarted unceasingly (11; 223). Kristeva follows the Arendtian
search for new beginnings but locates what for Arendt was a political event not
in the public, but in the intimate. Kristevan events are precisely intimate
events. Both share an insistence on the event as constitutive, but their placement of that event differs. Further, though Kristeva adopts a set of temporal
structures from Arendt to analyze what she has called the failure of the political function (1990, 45; 1993, 68), Kristevas psychoanalytic and aesthetic resources point beyond the fundamental spontaneity of Arendts Aristotelianism
and toward a primordial passivity governed by the dominance of otherness in
subject constitution. Nevertheless, in articulating intimacy in relation to
Arendts political phenomenology, Kristeva thereby situates her thought of the

What Is Intimacy?


temporality of intimacy within Arendts temporal structure of an instant that is

a breach of time both traditionally and philosophically conceived.
Kristevas psychoanalytic and aesthetic position allows her to defend a different historical course of intimacy than the one offered by Arendt. She identifies the first articulate explorer (Arendt 1958/1998, 39) of modern intimacy
not in the writings of Rousseau but in the experience and work of another figure: the Viennese Dr. Freud, who came on the heels of Romanticism. Kristevas
interrogation of intimacy tracks a history of intimacy in the West that is concerned most expressly with the border between interiority and its beyond, which
is the problematic inherited by Freud (1998b, 10). In Intimate Revolt she identifies two major revolutions in intimacy: the first takes place with Augustines
introduction of the will into intimacy; the second takes place with Freuds introduction of heterogeneity (1997, 80; 2002b, 5051). What is intimate or inmost, for psychoanalysis, is simultaneously what is most strange; that is,
psychoanalysis returns subjectivity to a nonorigin of otherness in which the self
is, at bottom, beyond itself. The loss of intimacy positively conceived as singular psychic life corresponds to the formation of modern intimacy, a mode of
existence in which the positive dynamic of intimacy is lost.

Freuds Involution of Intimacy

What Kristeva calls Freuds revolution in the intimate in Intimate Revolt is named
in Strangers to Ourselves the involution of the strange (1988, 268; 1991, 191),
which reverses the nationalist formation of intimacy in German culture. In
Strangers to Ourselves Kristeva outlines the conditions of the emergence and significance of Freudian psychoanalysis as directly related to the problematic of racialized nationalism and Freuds identity as a Jew. The historical and political context
of the Freudian revolution/involution is defined by the culmination of the posttheological, modern secular logic of the nation-state in nineteenth-century German nationalism. Kristeva describes this logic as [a] logic that, amenable to
improvement (democracies) or degeneration (totalitarianism), acknowledges its
being based on certain exclusions and, consequently, surrounds itself with other
structuresmoral and religious, whose absolutist aspirations it nonetheless tempersin order precisely to confront what it has set aside, in this case the problem
of foreigners and its more egalitarian settling (143; 98). Intimacy marks the difference between the emergence of nineteenth-century German nationalism and the
emergence of Freudian psychoanalysis as a journey into the strangeness of the
other and of oneself (269; 182). German nationalism (be it grounded in blood,
culture, or language) foregrounds the intimate as an interiority of what is most familiar as the organizing principle of modern social and political reality. The intimate here marks the problems of race and nation in an expanding, globalizing
world. German Romanticisms interrogation of this very intimacy is intrigued
by what is most strange in language, culture, and tradition. The Romanticistss


S. K. Keltner

intimate quest of the strange is the fertilizing soil out of which the Freudian
unconscious sprang forth (267; 180181).
Kristevas analysis of the emergence of intimacy as nationalism and its
Freudian reversal follows closely Antoine Bermans history of the concept of
translation in German Romanticism in The Experience of the Foreign: Culture
and Translation in Romantic Germany (1984, 1992). Berman traces the concept
of German Bildung as the process of formation of a cultural ethos that is a direct response to the translation trends that form French culture. Berman traces
a twofold principle of Bildung: fidelity and expansion. Because French culture
is established, the question of its formation as culture is somewhat settled. German culture, because it is in the process of being formed, offers a conception of
translation that depends not simply on fidelity to ones own past models (which
it shares with the concept of French culture), but a fidelity that must also negotiate the expansion of itself (6162; 3536). The concept of culture as Bildung posits the foreign as the milieu and mediation of ones own or the
intimate. The foreign is that which one must pass through in the formation of
ones own. Berman opposes the foreign as mediation and incorporation to the
strange as that which radically disturbs and does not mediate, but unravels.
The latter he refers to Freuds description of the uncanny as linquitante
tranget (disturbing/worrisome strangeness) as a model of the relation between ones own and the foreign/strange that breaks with the notion of the foreign as mediation (247; 155). The suggestion is that both German and French
concepts of culture depend on a notion of translation that is ultimately
devoted to ones own at the expense of the foreign.
Kristeva redescribes Bermans thesis in the context of an analysis of the significance of the relation between Freudian intimacy and the political implications of the German negotiation of the intimate/foreign border. She insists that
the formation of German culture as Bildung suggests a balance between ones
own and the foreign, but the cosmopolitan ideal is perverted insofar as it culminated in the expression of German superiority that justified the demand for
a German cultural hegemony: Such a nationalist perversion of the cosmopolitan idea, vitiated and dominated by a national superiority that one has taken
care to valorize beforehand is, as is well known, at the basis of Nazi ideology
(1988, 266267; 1991, 180). If Kristeva insists on the importance of Romanticism for conditioning the Freudian discovery, she also insists that Freuds localization of the strange as linquitante tranget is equally conditioned by his
Judaism in the context of nationalism as intimacy.
On the heels of Romanticism, Freuds revolution in intimacy emerges as an
absolute contrary to the classical logic of the foreign in French and German culture: for Freud, what is most intimate is simultaneously what is most foreign.
Again, Kristeva calls the turning of intimacy as the nationalistic into the strange
an involution. It shares with German Romanticism an interrogation of the
strange in the intimate, but whereas the strange is relegated to a moment of the

What Is Intimacy?


intimate in German culture, it becomes the persistent breakup of such intimacy

in Freud. The strange as what lies beyond my intimacy in nationalism marks a
movement of involution of the strange into the very basis of the intimate, making the strange the intimate ground of the familiar: The involution of the
strange in the psyche loses its pathological aspect and integrates within the assumed unity of human beings an otherness that is both biological and symbolic
and becomes an integral part of the same. Henceforth the foreigner is neither a
race nor a nation. The foreigner is neither glorified as a secret Volksgeist nor banished as disruptive of rationalist urbanity. Uncanny, foreignness is within us: we
are our own foreigners, we are divided (1988, 268; 1991, 181). The Freudian
involution, the opposite of evolution, as in nationalisms Social Darwinism, specifically turns inward what is excluded by a nationalistic cultural logic that articulates the intimate according to the nation and its foreigners. Freuds involution
of the strange is the strange of National Socialism itself and encompasses the
strange as strangeunlike the strangers of nationalism, which are strange via
narcissistic projection or abjection. The otherness of psychoanalytic discourse
becomes then an otherness governed neither by a law of contradiction nor by a
law of dialectical negativity, but rather by a perturbed logic of ever-present otherness as the breakup of the self and its security. The Freudian involution discovers in itself the source of the intimate/strange distinction that governs the
German valuation of Bildung and, as such, discovers the intimate as what is most
foreign. Kristeva thus grounds the originary formative experience of modern intimacy, as articulated by Freud, in the problematic of racialized nationalism.
For Kristeva, Freuds intimist rehabilitation of the strange (1988, 268; 1991,
181) recalls principally Freuds Judaism, but not only the Judaic exploration of a
strange God or of a stranger who will reveal God (268; 181). It also recalls his
personal history: a Jew wandering from Galicia to Vienna and London, with
stopovers in Paris, Rome, and New York (to mention only a few of the key stages
of his encounters with political and cultural foreignness) (268269; 181). Thus,
at the basis of the Freudian preoccupation with the strange as the intimate, and
the logic that governs it, is a life lived as a marginalized migrancy conditioned by
and conditioning nationalist and/or racialized intimacy. The implication is that
involution, as what marks the Freudian course, is also the interiorization of a social demand that cannot be accomplished; that is, the interiorization of a moral
demand of intimacy that cannot be accomplished by a Jew, which makes of Freud
a wanderer. The Freudian revolution emerges as an involution of a Western social and political reality. Psychoanalysis thus is witness to the experience of a
socially and historically nonintegratable self.

Ravaged Intimacy and the Event of Death

Kristevas insight into the sociohistorical and political significance of Freudian intimacy is indebted to her prior analyses of abjection and loss in the 1980s, which


S. K. Keltner

further fills out the reality of modern intimacy. Again, in Powers of Horror Kristeva
articulates abjection according to a distinction between intimate suffering [la
douleur] and public horror. Abjection is the shape that the border between the intimate and the public takes; or rather, abjection is the fate of intimacy in the historical context of an unavoidable interiorization of public horror (1980, 165; 1982,
140). In Black Sun Kristeva returns to this distinction in the context of Arendts political phenomenology, primarily the distinction between private and public and the
emergence of intimacy in late modernity. To be precise, her thesis of abjection is
shown to bear the weight of the loss of public space as the space of individuation.
Kristevas thought of intimacy here provocatively reevaluates the stakes of the primary difference between Arendtian and Heideggerean ontology, read from the
vantage point of a psychoanalytic and aesthetic perspective. The work of Marguerite Duras is accorded considerable importance to this project. Her reading of
Duras appears as the concluding chapter to Black Sun and is entitled The Malady of Grief [la douleur]. It appropriates the title of one of Durass novellas, with
one exception: grief, pain, distress, or suffering [la douleur] replaces Durass
death: The Malady of Death. If the substitution marks the object domain of the
concluding chapter as suffering subjectivity, its tie to Durass chosen word, death,
remains essential. Kristeva asks, Would suffering [la douleur] in love with death be
the supreme individuation? (1987a, 245; 1989, 237; translation modified).
Though Arendt is mentioned by name only once, the text resonates with
her presence. This is clear in the first several lines of the chapterfrom how
Kristeva defines the modern world as the world since 1914, which repeats the
preface to The Human Condition, to the language and method of Arendts genetic phenomenological constitution of intimacy. However, if Arendts thought
marks the formal context of Kristevas political analysis, the Durasean aesthetic
concretizes its real meaning. Kristeva says that Durass aesthetic reveals that
the malady of death constitutes our most concealed intimacy (1987a, 229;
1989, 221; translation modified); that the outburst of death and madness that
was the reality of World War II found its intimate, unavoidable repercussion
at the heart of psychic grief [la douleur] (230; 222); that Duras and Resnaiss
film Hiroshima mon amour is une histoire rooted in the local, but yet, because of
the Third Worlds irruption and the realism of family carnage, is made not
only plausible, but strangely close, intimate (238; 230); and finally, that
Durass literary works are intimist texts (241; 234). Kristevas most recent work,
La haine et le pardon (2005), repeats her description of Duras in a chapter entitled Une tragre, originally published in a special issue on Duras in NRF in
1998. There, Kristeva says that the history of the twentieth century has passed
by the pages of Duras and left only a ravaged intimacy (2005, 502). Kristeva credits Duras with having discovered and elaborated the passion that is the
malady of death as a new malady of the soul.
Kristevas analysis of Duras provides an account of the event of intimacy
that is not the event of natality, but its opposite: the event of death. Kristevas

What Is Intimacy?


sole reference to Arendts proper name in The Malady of Grief [la douleur]
claims that [p]olitics is not, as for Hannah Arendt, the parade ground where
human freedom is deployed and displayed (1987a, 242; 1989, 235; translation
modified). Here, politics has the sense of an open field specifically constituted
for the emergence of freedom. Politics in this sense is absent. Kristeva continues: The modern world, the world of world wars, the Third World, the underground world of death that acts upon us, do not have the civilized splendor
of the Greek city state (242; 235). Arendt and Kristeva are in agreement that
politics as the event of natality is absent in the modern world. However, where
Arendt sees the impossibility of individuation, Kristeva sees a paradoxically
free individuation (242; 235). Kristeva maintains the ontological structure of
Arendts political phenomenology, and yet, the political event as the rupture of
the new through words and deeds in the public sphere gives way to the political event as the rupture of death and a subsequent, intimate asymbolia and immobility. Durass texts reveal that intimacy is dominated by the presence of
death; in Freudian language it is distinguished by the emergence of the death
drive. Kristeva tracks the constitution of intimacy in Durass text primarily
through the most intimate of experiences: that of love; specifically, loves interiorization of death or, recalling Powers of Horror, the intimates interiorization
of public horror. Death, in the modern world, is something, Kristeva says following Paul Valry, that we also know that we inflict on ourselves (229; 221).
Durass aesthetic demonstrates the lack of distance or possibility of escape from
public horror (235; 227) and situates the stakes of politics in love and death. The
relationship between love and death in the work of Duras represents, for Kristeva, the fate of modern intimacy. Intimacy is constituted by a political event,
but not the political event of natality.
[L]vnement (the event) appears four times in the final chapter of Black
Sun. First, Kriteva calls Hiroshima an event: Hiroshima itself, and not its repercussions, is the sacrilege, the death-bearing event (1987a, 239; 1989, 231). Second, the event appears as a description of the modern subject, or rather the strange
space in which the modern subject is situated. Just before her single reference to
Arendt, Kristeva says: The event, today, is human madness. Politics is part of it,
particularly in its lethal outbursts . . . madness is a space of antisocial, apolitical,
and paradoxically free individuation (242; 235; translation modified). Third, from
the perspective of human madness, which casts a fundamental, melancholy
shadow across the public, political events, outrageous and monstrous as they
might bethe Nazi invasion, the atomic explosionare assimilated to the extent
of being measured only by the human suffering they cause (242; 235). Finally,
Kristeva links the event to maternality or the feminine: After the imposition of
the mothers hatred in the mad bonzian woman (The Vice-Consul ), the
mother/daughter destruction in the The Lover compels us to realize that the
mothers outburst of fury against the daughter is the event that the hateful, loving daughter watches for, experiences, and restores with wonder (261262; 255).


S. K. Keltner

The term event here, in opposition to its use in Kristevas later work and
in the work of Arendt, indicates not an emancipation, but rather an event that
refuses to pass by. The political as event enters the private as intimate and opens
the psyche to the presence of death in a historically specific way. While the absorption of the political as the event of horror causes political life to lose the
autonomy that our consciousness persists in setting aside for it, religiously
(1987a, 242; 1989, 234), the public continues on as is and becomes, Kristeva says,
seriously severed from reality (243; 234). In those moments that would seem
to exclude the political, like erotic passion or desire, one finds an absorption of
the very politics that one would like to deny. Such a politics of intimacy is to say
more than that the personal is political. Kristeva claims that what we would like
to exclude refuses any form of negation that consciousness would like to accomplish. In this sense, the private loses its very intimacy, in the Arendtian sense.
The real political stake becomes situated in the private, but remains invisible.
The Durasean shape of intimacy is the effect of a politics that politics itself cannot reintegrate; hence the absolute equivalence that Duras describes in The
War, and that Kristeva quotes in both Black Sun and again in La haine et le pardon: Collaborators, the Fernandezes. And myself two years after the war, a member of the communist party. An absolute, final equivalence. Its the same thing,
the same call for help, the same judgment deficiency, lets say the same superstition, which consists in believing there is a political solution to a personal problem (243; 235236; 2005, 502). Politics is no longer the site of individuation;
rather, madness as suffering [la douleur] in love with death (245; 237; translation modified) becomes the form of modern, paradoxically free individuation
(242; 235). No longer God or politics or others, but death alone becomes the
source of an individuation that takes the form of radical severance.
Kristevas analysis of Durasean intimacy as a staged encounter with
Arendtian natality implicitly evokes a Heideggerean inspired account of the
shape of modern intimacy, albeit reread according to a history, problematic, and
Freudian influence that would have appeared unfamiliar to Heidegger himself.
Kristevas articulation of Durass passion for death as a new malady of the soul also
outlines what she takes to be the significance of the Heideggerean conception
of finitude. The importance of Heidegger to Kristeva at this juncture is confirmed by his presence in the opening pages of Black Sun: My pain is the hidden side of my philosophy, its mute sister. In the same way, Montaignes
statement To philosophize is to learn how to die is inconceivable without the
melancholy combination of sorrow and hatredwhich came to a head in Heideggers care and the disclosure of our being-for-death. Without a bent for
melancholia there is no psyche, only a transition to action or play (1987a, 14;
1989, 4). Or again: The melancholia [Aristotle] evokes is not a philosophers
disease but his very nature, his ethos. . . . With Aristotle, melancholia, counterbalanced by genius, is coextensive with mans anxiety in Being. It could be seen
as the forerunner of Heideggers anxiety as the Stimmung of thought (17; 7;

What Is Intimacy?


translation modified). Even further, the central notion of Black Sun, the Thing,
is referred back not to Lacan, who also found Heideggers analysis of the
Thing provocative, but to Heidegger. Kristeva finds in Heidegger, because of
her Freudianism, the culmination of the presence of the death drive in modern
life. Likewise, Kristeva finds in psychoanalysis, because of her Heideggereanism,
a discourse that exceeds subjectivism and gives way to an insight into Being and
the presence of death within it. In Time and Sense, Kristeva says: Death is not
a final destination, but a death drive inherent in Being, its constitutive intermittence, its indispensable lifeblood (1994, 376; 1996b, 313).
The political as an event that is not the event of words and deeds situates
Kristevas thinking of the modern political problematic within the ontological
difference. And yet, Kristevas descriptive account of the event of death is more
precisely an event that does not temporalize. Rather, the event, for Kristeva,
marks the stalling out of time, a return that, as she describes in Intimate Revolt,
runs aground on the Zeitlos (1997, 65; 2002b, 41). For Kristeva, the new
malady she names passion for death is a moment in which time itself seems
to disappear: the past does not pass by, no revolution is possible, there is no future (1987a, 71; 1989, 60). The political as an event comes to outline the very
temporality of the intimate, a temporality that Kristeva calls reduplication, which
she defines as a jammed repetition (253; 246). She says that the no mans land
of aching affects and devalued words . . . is not lacking expression. It has its
own languageit is called reduplication. It creates echoes, doubles, kindred beings who display a passion or a destruction [that lacks the effort for] putting into
words [and instead suffers their deprivation] (252; 246). If death marks the
moment of unity or the integration of Dasein for Heidegger, it marks utter fragmentation for Kristeva, and not in the sense that one is fragmented because of
a fallenness or fleeing. And yet, Kristeva wants to maintain repetition in a Heideggerean sense as that which is capable of such integration, albeit integrated
with the insights of Freud. For Kristeva, temporality is the horizon of finitude,
but she seeks individuation as the integration of fragmentation elsewhere.
Though Kristeva privileges Freudian timeonly in Freud has a breach of
time that does not temporalize been established (1997, 50; 2002b, 31)she nevertheless chooses the term reduplication rather than repetition to mark the negativity of the intimate. The space/time of failed repetition is a term that refers most
immediately to the space/time that precedes the identification that establishes
self-relation and relations to others in Lacans mirror stage. And yet, it recalls Heidegger insofar as the account of being-toward-death (as a passion for death) marks
the failure of a repetition that would unfold time (Arendts word and deed). Reduplication is an instant that cannot pass into another. She says that reduplication
lies outside time. It is a reverberation in space, a play of mirrors lacking perspective or duration. A double may hold, for a while, the instability of the same
in depth, opening up an unsuspected, unfathomable substance. The double is
the unconscious substance of the same, that which threatens it and could


S. K. Keltner

engulf it. . . . [Reduplication] refers to the outposts of our unstable identities, blurred
by a drive that nothing could defer, deny, or signify . . . a privileged universe (1987a,
253; 1989, 246). Kristevas reservation of the term repetition for the positive
movement of subjectivity into time, when she could have used the term to describe the death drive in Freudsince repetition, as the inability to let the past
pass by, is precisely how Freud discovered the death drivereveals an ambiguity
in the relationship between psychoanalysis and ontology for Kristeva. Kristevas
turn to Heidegger alongside Freud and Lacan for thinking death in modern society reveals a very specific understanding of the death drive. The death drive is not
simply a universal psychic drive that underwrites all behavior. If this were the case,
reference to Arendtian and Heideggerean ontologies would be unnecessary. Death
drive is not in the psyche as a private individual, but rather pervades the permeable limit of society itself. What we lack are the resources for negotiating it. It is as
if the psyche is a pawn in the death drive of Being. The political question is,: How
does one rejoin a past that no longer provides possibilities for repetition? How does
one answer the suffering of events without words and deeds? How does one transform reduplication into repetition in modern societies?

Kristevas Arendt: Passion for Death,

Passion for Life
Kristevas work does not offer a political theory per se that would equal the requirements of political theory proper, as for a figure like Arendt. Indeed, she refers
politics to a possibility of the futurea possibility that might be realized if intimacy in its positive movement of repetition as revolt is rehabilitated. However, her
work does point toward a thinking of the political significance of marginalized
subjectivities as essential to any rehabilitation of politics as such. To be precise,
Kristevas thought diagnoses the weaknesses of modern secular discourses; and
yet, she offers us a vision of hope for the future of politics. This vision is best formulated toward the end of Womens Time when she claims that marginality is
precisely the site created by politics that offers the possibility of a transformation
of politics itself: In our world, the various marginal groups of sex, age, religion,
ethnic origin, and ideology represent a refuge of hope, that is, a secular transcendence (1995, 216). In relation to Arendt, we might say that the failed transcendence that results in intimacy for Arendt becomes for Kristeva the very site of
hope for new forms of transcendence, understood in the sense that Arendt herself articulated this term as a positive, secular form of individuation and relation
to others. Though Kristevas work in relationship to identity politics generally
takes the form of an unraveling of identity, her thought does not abandon it. Kristeva especially privileges feminine/feminized subjectivities. Her seminal essays
Womens Time and Stabat Mater, but also her readings of Duras and most recently her trilogy on female genius, suggest that feminine subjectivity occupies a
privileged position with regard to the failure of politics in modern societies.

What Is Intimacy?


The case of Kristevas reading of Arendt in Hannah Arendt is significant for

its reinscription of Kristevas understanding of intimacy, as opposed to Arendts
understanding, in the life of Arendt. If Durass intimist texts reveal a passion for
death that disintegrates the intimate and the publicThat is her discovery, that
is her supplement, to add to the manuals of the new maladies of the soul (2005
503)Kristeva locates in the work of Arendt a passion for life in the midst of a
passion for death (denial of life). The passion that integrates life and thought in
Arendts workGripped from the start by that unique passion in which life and
thought are one (1999, 26; 2001a, 4)constitutes a singular, exemplary negotiation of the malady discovered by Duras. Thus, whereas Kristeva criticized Arendts
political solution in Black Sun, in the biography, Hannah Arendt, Kristeva valorizes
Arendts intimate accomplishment, which she essentially links to her status as a
woman and as a Jew. Kristevas reading of Arendt emphasizes life as the primary
value that unifies Arendts oeuvre. Not content with philosophy proper as pure
thought, Arendts work appears as the concretization, if not the sensorialization,
of thought itself. Kristeva refers this Arendtian trait to a particularly female characteristic (26; 4), if not also to her social and political status as a Jew. Drawing out
the distinction between zo and bios, Kristeva returns Arendts concern for the
value of human life to an accomplishment of the positive dynamic of intimacy
that is intimately joined to Arendts female and Jewish subject position.
Kristevas redescription of Arendtian intimacy as an exemplary singular psychic life under social and political conditions is perhaps best articulated theoretically in her analysis of what she calls the extraneousness of the phallus in
The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt (1996a, 2000b) and again in the conclusion to
the female genius trilogy. Kristeva delineates the difficulties and the good fortune
of the psychic structuration of feminine subjectivities in modern societies. She
insists that the oedipal formation of the psyche is neither purely physiologically
nor purely sociohistorically necessitated. She insists, rather, that the psychoanalytic account requires an account of the affect/discourse ambiguity, which Freuds
psychoanalytic account elaborates. Kristeva summarizes her account of the positioning of women in Contre la depression nationale, an interview with Philippe
Petit: [W]oman is foreign to the phallic order that she however integrates,
which would be only because she is a speaking being, a being of thought and of
law. But she conserves a distance with regard to the social order, its rules, its political contracts, etc., which renders her skeptical, potentially atheist, ironic, and
in the final analysis pragmatic. I am not really it, says a woman, I remain outside
of it, I do not believe it, but I play the game, and sometimes even better than others (1998c, 113). The affective-discursive positioning of marginalized, feminine
subjectivity results in a disequilibrium that can lead to melancholia or, in defense
against melancholia, efforts to make as if through seduction, make-up, or on
an extremely serious side, abnegation, overwork, etc. A difficult interval to exist,
the question of the equilibrium of this strangeness also leads to nothing less than
the possibility of a vision of the new.


S. K. Keltner

The political question of repetition, which is thought according to intimate revolt in the 1990s, is tied to Kristevas privileging of the intimacy of
marginalized subjectivities throughout her writing and suggests an approach to
the politics of difference that is essential to negotiating Kristevas significance
for contemporary social and political thought. Her analysis of modern intimacy,
from psychoanalysis to phenomenology and art, is bound to questions of identity politics in the modern world. For Kristeva, the struggle with the difficulty
of repetition in modern societies takes place most dramatically at the margins,
where reduplication remains less unacknowledged and thereby an attempt at
working through, in psychoanalytic language, is enacted and accomplished.
Kristeva offers a formal political thought and concrete examples with respect to freedom and the social bond that provides a necessary moment in political reflection. Her insistence on the intimate and the multiplicity of
interrogative and narrative ruptures in the continued life of multinational and
international societies is essential as we rethink the national boundary. Marginalized identities are situated differently at the threshold of semiotic loss and
symbolic failure. The marginalized occupy a different relationship to the political, which affords insights guaranteed only at the margins of a discourse. For
Kristeva the marginalized are in the unique position to offer a different approach to power and meaning. To be precise, in her engagement with identity
politics, Kristeva finds in modern intimacy the hope of an endless accomplishment of intimate revolt that points toward secular forms of transcendence and
a possible future for politics in a political context in which, she claims, we are
all in the process of becoming foreigners (1988, 152; 1991, 104).

Arendt, Hannah. 1958/1998. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
. 1961/1993. Between Past and Future. New York: Penguin Books.
Berman, Antoine. 1984. preuve de ltranger. Paris: Gallimard.
. 1992. The Experience of the Foreign: Culture and Translation in Romantic Germany. Trans. S. Heyvaert. New York: State University of New
York Press.
Kristeva, Julia. 1980. Pouvoirs de lhorreur: essai sur labjection. Paris: Seuil.
. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez.
New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1983. Histoires damour. Paris: Denol.
. 1987a. Soleil noir, dpression et mlancolie. Paris: Gallimard.
. 1987b. Tales of Love. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia
University Press.
. 1988. trangers nous-mmes. Paris: Librairie Arthme Fayard.

What Is Intimacy?


. 1989. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez.

New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1990. La Nation et le Verbe. Lettre ouverte Harlem Dsir. Paris: Editions Rivages.
. 1991. Strangers to Ourselves. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 1993. The Nation and the Word. Nations without Nationalism. Trans.
Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1994. Le temps sensible: Proust et lexprience littraire. Paris: Gallimard.
. 1995. New Maladies of the Soul. Trans. Ross Guberman. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 1996a. Sense et non-sens de la rvolte: pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse
I. Paris: Librairie Arthme Fayard.
. 1996b. Time and Sense: Proust and the Experience of Literature. Trans.
Ross Mitchell Guberman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
. 1997. La rvolte intime: pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse II. Paris:
Librairie Arthme Fayard.
. 1998a. Lavenir dune rvolte. Paris: Calmann-Lvy.
. 1998b. Dialogue with Julia Kristeva. Parallax 4 (3): 516.
. 1998c. Contre la depression nationale. Interview with Philippe Petit.
Paris: Les ditions Textuel.
. 1999. Le Gnie feminine, tome I: La vie: Hannah Arendt. Paris: Fayard.
. 2000a. Le Gnie feminine, tome II: La folie: Melanie Klein. Paris: Fayard.
. 2000b. Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt: The Powers and Limits of Psychoanalysis, vol. 1. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York: Columbia University
. 2001a. Hannah Arendt, vol. 1, Female Genius: Life, Madness, Words
Hannah Arendt, Melanie Klein, Colette. Trans. Ross Guberman. New
York: Columbia University Press.
. 2001b/2003. Intimit voile, intimit viole. Chroniques du temps sensible, Premire dition (28 novembre; mercredi 7 heures 55 [20012002]).
Paris: ditions de lAube.
. 2001c. Melanie Klein, vol. 2, Female Genius: Life, Madness, WordsHannah Arendt, Melanie Klein, Colette. Trans. Ross Guberman. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 2002a. Le Gnie feminine, tome III: Les mots: Colette. Paris: Fayard.
. 2002b. Intimate Revolt: The Powers and Limits of Psychoanalysis, vol. 2.
Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York: Columbia University Press.
. 2004. Colette, vol. 3, Female Genius: Life, Madness, WordsHannah
Arendt, Melanie Klein, Colette. Trans. Jane Marie Todd. New York:
Columbia University Press.
. 2005. La haine et le pardon: pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse III. Paris:
Librairie Arthme Fayard.

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Fear of Intimacy?
Psychoanalysis and the
Resistance to Commodification

Cecilia Sjholm

The question of public versus private, as it has been cast in Enlightenment

philosophy, is inherent also in the discourse of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis may
seem to be dedicated to issues that belong to what could be labeled the private or
intimate sphere: sexuality, affectivity, love, desire, and so on. Indeed, Freud himself discusses the particularly intimate character of psychoanalysis and the specific
bond between analyst and analysand arising through such intimacy: psychoanalysis has a particular character of confession, and must be built on complete
candor. Certainly the unconscious is situated beyond what is laid open through the
confession. But it must be the task of the analyst to direct the patient toward
intimate issues of sexuality. The relation between analyst and analysand, as is well
known, must be constructed on transference: in analysis, the patient is repeating
love stories from his own history, what he is showing is the kernel of his intimate
life history: he is reproducing it tangibly, as though it were actually happening, instead
of remembering it (SE XX 226). And yet some psychoanalytic schools are suspicious of the language of intimacy. As is well known, the duty of psychoanalysis,
from a Lacanian point of view, is to resist reification and commodification of the
unconscious. Therefore, the theorization of the unconscious must, according to
Jacques Lacan, resist the urge to fall into the discourse that deals with affects,
emotions, and objects of intimacy. This may seem a bit surprising. After all,
what kind of space is it that psychoanalysis is occupying? What about the position of the couch in the bourgeois psychoanalysts household? Does that couch not


Cecilia Sjholm

construe a space of intimacy? Does it not also call forfor the psychoanalyst
and the patient alikea sharing of intimate secrets? Or is psychoanalysis today
to be considered a practice set beyond that distinction between public and private,
social or intimate, that so came to mark the self-conception of modern, urban
society in Freudian times, and thereby is not susceptible to the corruption of these
spaces? If the question of intimacy no longer applies in the discussion of psychoanalysis, one may wonder why the couches of the psychoanalyst even today
get placed precisely in a bourgeois household, rather than in, say, a workingclass council estate or a clinic or some other kind of space. Psychoanalysis still
seems drawn to the restaging of that bourgeois space of intimacy that, in theory,
it vividly fears.
Revaluing the place of affects and emotions in psychoanalysis, Julia Kristeva
has reclaimed the concept of intimacy. Psychoanalysis, Kristeva has argued, may
aid the resistance to the colonization of psychic space, and protect against the relentless exploitation of images and slogans in consumer society. Therefore, the
explorations of the unconscious as practiced by philosophy, psychoanalysis and
art, will help protect the singularity of human life. Kristevas belief in what she calls
the intimate revolt of psychoanalysis attempts to encircle the unconscious as a
form of intimacy that resists commodification, together with practices such as art,
literature, and philosophy. What is it that Kristeva has found in these practices that
appears to be resisting commodification of human emotions? And why does the
notion of an intimate revolt resisting commodification appear so surprising, not
only in an analytical but also a philosophical context? To answer that question, one
must begin by looking at the concept of intimacy and its particular place in philosophy. Jrgen Habermas and Hannah Arendt tend to equate intimacy with
emotions of love and a certain experience of family bonds. The private, on the
other hand, is rather a concept allied to property and ownership in their vocabulary. Julia Kristeva, in turn, links intimacy to sensory experience, giving the concept a rather particular meaning. One may not look to psychoanalysis to find
support for this particular meaning. Freud discusses intimacy in psychoanalysis
only on a few occasions. In Lacanian language the word intimacy lacks theoretical weight, since anything referring to a division line between interior and exterior is discarded. Instead, the genealogy of Kristevas concept of intimacy is to
be found in the Christian experience of meditation, and of love; intimacy is that
which allows for an experience of the soul that cannot be reduced to scientistic explorations of the unconscious. It is a concept linked directly to the knowledge of
love, felt and sensed through a sensorial experience of the body. In Kristevas argumentation, that sensorial experience is necessary for the protection of human
life as something vital, singular, and productive, capable of resisting the vast
amount of dead images and words that attack us in consumer society. Her sustenance of that belief is quite unique, however. Looking at philosophy and psychoanalysis, anything connected with the concept of intimacy is usually discarded as
unreliable, corruptible, and full of disguises and lures.

Fear of Intimacy


Intimacy according to Habermas and the

Frankfurt School
The spheres of the intimate and the private are considered prone to corruption
not only in (Lacanian) psychoanalytic theory, but also in the Enlightenment
tradition of philosophy. In his essay What Is Enlightenment? Kant describes
the development of public space through the growth of eighteenth-century publications, to which the citizen can turn and debate issues that are independent
of his own occupation; the citizen of public space is born. For Kant the growth
of public space is a victory for reason and for the laws of universality. Public
space is necessary for mans maturity, since it is only in public space that a man
may enjoy unlimited freedom to use his own reason and to speak in his own
person (1970, 57). Public space, therefore, would help produce a citizen of politics, unfettered by contingent circumstances that would prevent him from developing his capacity of judging. For Kant the growth of public space is a victory
of reason and for the laws of universality. For Hannah Arendt, as another theoretician of public space, Kants idea on universality and his appeal to reason are
not necessarily to be translated as valid for all people at all times. Kant is, rather,
indicating a possibility of thinking and judging not on personal grounds, but
within a political community. In that way, thinking and judging become imbued not only with concern for the whole in a technocratic sense. Rather, the
question of universality opens up a possibility of thinking and judging in place
of others, or of the other. The ideal of universalism and its incarnation in public space makes us capable of looking at things from the point of view of others. To think is to use judgment with concern for the plurality that marks society.
Thought is not a reflection of or over the self, but a dialectics between the self
and political society. In this way, judgment and thought will be dependent on
what we call public space, which guides our way of looking at the world. Public space makes possible a form of judgment that takes place in the space of the
other. The projected communication toward a space marked by plurality transcends the reflection of the self and makes judgment possible. Thereby Arendt
is erecting a dichotomy between public and private although she recognizes
their interdependence. But the question is, How are we to find new tools that
make it possible to reconsider what Arendt is describing: the possibility of
thinking in the place of the other, to find a space of sharing that goes beyond a
limited amount of ideas and ideologies, sharing instead at a more primary
levelin the mind, in judgment, in the sensory experience of the world?
Jrgen Habermas has helped complicate the philosophical conception of the
particular space of intimacy, viewing it as a social and political construction. Rather
than enforcing the dichotomy between public and private, Habermas is interested
in their intertwinement. In his book The Structural Transformation of the Public
Sphere, Habermas takes us through the complex social architecture of the bourgeois household of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; in it, he shows us, we


Cecilia Sjholm

find a dividing line between the salon used for guests and public discourse, and
the part of the house that was used for family, or private matters. This means then,
that the discourse of public space was not something that necessarily took place
in public space, it could just as well be taking place in the home. In other words,
the public sphere is internalized, so to speak, in the private sphere. An intricate
intertwinement between public and private, social and intimate, runs through the
bourgeois household and beyond (1989, 4546). The development of public, private, and intimate, however, is dependent on certain social and economic conditions. The bourgeois household was protective of its freedom, and saw itself
develop free of external coercion. On the other hand, the freedom of intimate
space was correlative with the authority of the patriarchal laws that governed it.
As Habermas notes, Freud discovered the internalization of those laws. They, in
turn, were dependent on a certain model for marriage, which made the questions
of love, marriage, and sexuality the obsession of the bourgeois.
The discovery of intimacy was this correlative to the development of a public domain; the discourse of intimacy tended to develop in a semipublic domain,
for instance through widely published novels like Samuel Richardsons Pamela.
Here, the intimate details of the seduction of a young woman, as revealed in
fictional letters, created frissons for an audience that may well have felt they
were looking into the secrets of her privacy, and spoken to in intimacy. On the
other hand, the frissons created by the novel became even greater since her seduction was exposed in a public domain. Habermas describes the links between
the opening of a space of intimacy within the home, and the related structure
of a public sphere, which also found a place within the home, as the historically
specific development of a bourgeois public space. With the development of a
brgerliche ffentlichkeit, then, not only does a public space develop, but also a
space of the intimate related to emotions, feelings, and sexuality, a sphere that
was commonly exploited in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels. The
relation between public, private, and intimate are intertwined in intricate ways,
not least since public discourse develops in the form of cultural critique. (1989,
4951). The public sphere is in fact the expansion of the intimate, as invented
by the novel, discussed and reflected in the public spaces that were constructed
around it: coffeehouses, publications. Public space, in this regard, is the bourgeoisie reflecting on itself. Both are conditioned by social and economic structures. Whereas intimacy is related to family life, privacy is related to property
and thereby to the market. One would have thought that these spheres would
be kept separate, intimate space reflecting a depth in subjectivity that remains
unfettered by market interests. However, this is not the case. The aspect of owning goods and the aspect of close relationships were bound up in the same individual, submitted to the same patriarchal structure. The same kind of
intertwinement can be seen in the relation between public and private. Whereas
Arendt considers public space to be something more than the sum of its parts,
Habermas considers it to be the result of the coming together of separate pri-

Fear of Intimacy


vatized individuals, hiding their interests as property owners under the fiction
of being human beings fair and square (1989, 56). The public sphere is thereby
the result of an economic and social structure, posing as the free space of equals.
The aspect of worldliness, and the aspect of sharing that has been forwarded by
Arendt does not exist in the Habermasian description, For Habermas, rather,
public space is a construction submitted to interests that may not be reflected
in the discussion taking place in an open realm.
From the critical perspective of the Frankfurt School, the commodification of the experience of art has been colonizing both public space and intimate
sphere, causing the collapse of the one into the other. Reading Theodor Adorno,
one must assume that the frissons of Pamela served to commodify emotions and
helped produce sentimentalization and banalization not only of the private but
also of the public. The bourgeois enjoyment of banality and sentimentality
helped produce a certain experience that, in the language of the Frankfurt
School, became part of the culture industry. In the cultural history of Adorno,
the same novel that gave rise to the sphere of intimacy became the beginning
of a cultural industry in which the experience of art became commodified, transforming human experience into a repetition of the same. The streamlining of
cultural products involve sentimentalization (Adorno 1991, 100). Naturalized
conceptions of pain and pleasure, for instance, have, in Adornos own critique,
become transformed into cultural products. The cultural industry, in fact, lives
off the promise of a pleasure that will never be fulfilled. Adornos primary example is music, which produces a commodified set of emotions; the consumer
of music is not so much enjoying the emotions and feelings that music gives rise
to as the value he receives from its enjoyment: status, social, and economic
stature. Like all goods, music has an exchange value in its various forms and the
specific character of immediacy, which belongs to music, is in fact a commodification of the very lack of object specific to the art of music. This pleasure production of the culture industry has its counterpart in the creation of the works
of fine art where, as Fredric Jameson has pointed out, the distinction between
pain and pleasure has been eradicated. Neither popular culture nor fine arts fulfill the promise of fullness, but whereas one is true to the suffering whereby the
faith of happiness is upheld, the other is busy providing substitutes. Slavoj iek,
for his part, has argued that the production of pleasure has long since been overtaken by the unmistakable production of enjoyment, or the collapse of distinctions between suffering and pleasure that the hypertrophied submission under
strong, symbolic systems has produced both in postcommunist Europe and the
capitalist West. What critical theory has shown, then, is the susceptibility of
commodification of a certain discourse of emotions, which one may relate to the
sphere of intimacy.
Regretting the loss of the public space of the polis as it was defined in ancient
Greece, Hannah Arendt has attempted to philosophize the notion of public space
in terms of her own political ontology. Although Arendt recognizes the vital


Cecilia Sjholm

impact of the private in public life, and although she challenges the Kantian
distinction public/private as an absolute, she still disavows the intimate when
compared to the public. In ancient Greece, private life, or the oikos, was governed
by necessitythe Penates, or the household gods. Things connected to good, to
the body, to the maintenance of human life were private. For Hannah Arendt
herself, the concept of privacy must be heard through its original meaning; it constitutes a form of deprivation, since in privacy we are deprived of others. The polis,
on the other hand, was the sphere of freedom. However, the condition of that
freedom depended on the household. With the rise of the social sphere, or the
economical maintenance of the city, the distinction between public and private became blurred. Modern privacy (which Arendt sometime uses in the same vein as
intimacy, although the private is otherwise connected to property) is distinct not
to the public sphere, but rather to the social sphere in its most important function, to shelter the intimate (1998, 38). This development occurred with
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose intimate confessions must be seen as a reaction
against societys perversion of the human heart such as the levelling demands
that have come to dominate the social sphere (39). As it were, then, the rise of the
social has a tendency to eradicate all distinctions between public and private, and
later also of the intimate sphere. Even more importantly, intimacy and public
sphere hold reversible positions in Arendts philosophy; the world of men tends
to disappear if one lives intensely through emotions, and what is intimate cannot
be revealed in public because it will lose its reality; love [. . .] is killed, or rather
extinguished, the moment it is displayed in public (51). Defining public space as
plurality, Hannah Arendt also links it to freedom, and thereby to the political.
The access to that aspect of human life that Arendt herself calls the most dignified of all, namely, the political, depends on the capacity of society to overcome
or transcend the lower spheres of personal needs. It could even be dangerous to
involve intimacy in politics; the intimate bond of love, for instance, when infused
in politics, could lead to idealization of leaders and thereby aid totalitarianism. In
its worst form modernity is an escape from the public sphere to the intimate, and
all those processes of emotion that dominate the space of the intimate. Warning
against the contamination of the intimate in public life, Arendt argues that too
much exposure on the intimate in public life would threaten to overtake the dimension of plurality that marks public space. Making the public realm the measure of judgment, Arendt pits it against privacy, which can never, she argues, reach
the same quality of reality which results from the plurality engaged in the public sphere: the reality of the public realm relies on the simultaneous presence of
innumerable perspectives and aspects in which the common world presents itself
and for which no common measurement or denominator can ever be devised
(57). In Arendts argumentation, the family world of privacy and intimacy is not
just another aspect of reality; in fact, it is less real than public space since it is only
through public space that worldly reality truly and reliably appear[s] (57). The
intensity of emotions and the depth of experience that may be connected to inti-

Fear of Intimacy


macy is, in Arendts mind, representative of a form of degeneracy that threatens

to overtake the plurality connected to public space: this intensification will always
come to pass at the expense of the assurance of the reality of the world and men
(50). In Arendts ontology, only the presence of others makes the world truly appear. Only the public world may represent sharing, a form of differentiation of the
same that makes participation and common experience possible while maintaining the singularity connected to the plurality of positions and experiences represented by a variety of people.

Bios politikos and oikos

Hannah Arendts concept of public space has, to a large extent, been influenced
by the Greek concept of bios politikos, political life as defined by the communal
spaces of the polis. In this view, man is a political animal, defined through his
capacity to think and act with others. In Aristotles Politics, that which is human
is also political, meaning that human beings communicate and share a common world, not only in terms of necessities for survival, but in the quest for the
good life. But philosophy is not the only tradition that is concerned with political life in various forms. The philosophical idealization of bios politikos neglects the consideration of other political spaces. As is well known, Greek tragedy
must be considered an alternative path in the representation of political life.
Greek tragedy does not equate politics with the open spaces of the bios politikos.
Although the scenes of Greek tragedy generally take place outside of a house
or palace, tragic action is a dialectic between private and public. Deeply affecting the run of public affairs, that which goes on inside of the house is uncanny
and impossible to control. Situated between the spaces of public and private
outside and insidetragedy calls into question what we know and how we think
we know it. Thereby it is embodying another view on political life than the
Aristotelian tradition. Rather than deliberative discourse, the political life of
tragedy is made out of lures, disguises, and appearances. The action of political
heroes is determined not merely by the regard for the best of the city, but also
through desires and drives, forces of the unknown that appear more powerful
than deliberative action. This quality of tragedy is embodied through the very
scenery of the action. It can also be linked to a question that still, as of today,
keeps haunting commentaries on Greek tragedy without having found a satisfactory answer: Given that Athens was a state in which almost no women were
present in the streets or the open spaces, or in the bios politikos of political life
at all, how come so many of the political concerns of the city were represented
by women on the stage? Why was Greek tragedy so obsessed with the figures
of women, letting them act out the problems of justice, power, government, and
revenge that were haunting the city, when in real life the lives of women were
in fact suppressed and invisible, hiding in the sphere of the oikos or the home,
cut of from public affairs? One could respond to this issue through a range of


Cecilia Sjholm

possibilities, one being that women were allowed to represent a wider array of
complicated desires and emotions connected to the sphere of the oikos, thereby
acting out an intricate link between the public and the intimate sphere of the
house, which was more difficult to portray for male characters, whose focus
ought to be more wholeheartedly set on public affairs.1
From this point of view, tragedy points to a complication in the philosophical definition of the political as that which is open and deliberative, common to all. There is reason, also, to link this other tradition, that of the tragic,
to a suspicion against those aspects of political life that belong to the sphere of
intimacy, a sphere remarked through its lures and disguises. Political philosophy
has imposed a clear demarcation line between that which is open to deliberation and communication and the sphere of intimacy, which implicitly imposes
a threat to the open spaces of the political. Of course, we know of Hegels famous appellation to the potentially subversive ironic laughter of women, placed
on the outskirts of the ethical order and without access to the discourse of universality. And, of course, we know of Rousseaus tireless journeys into the life of
emotion and senses, underscoring the idea that intimate life must be kept separate from public affairs. A philosophical consequence of this separation, as outlined also by Habermas, has been the subsequent devaluation of those aspects
of the individual that remain in the space of intimacyemotions, affects, and
feelings, or questions that relate sensibility to singularity. To some extent, both
the tragic and the philosophical tradition are implying that the separation between public and intimate is a gendered issue, and that the devaluation of the
sphere of intimacy is inseparable from the devaluation of women as political
and philosophical beings. However, it is not certain that the ghost of femininity is more fearful than the specters of inconsistency, vulnerability, and indeterminacy that is marking the life of emotions but also of the philosophical
category of the sensible all in all. As tradition has shown, the life of intimacy is
uncanny, not because it is run by women, but because it is threatening to all
those aspects of political life that are supposed to define that which is, as Arendt
has said, the most dignified aspect of human beings.2

Psychoanalysis and the Resistance to Reification

In the discussion of psychoanalysis, one is rarely considering the space of the practice, or the space referred to by psychoanalytic theory as such. It may well be that
psychoanalysis physically, from placing the cure in the home of the analyst, would
be embracing and affirming the qualities of intimacy. Looking at the theory of
analysis, however, this is not the case. Given the earlier discussion herein, which indicates the baggage given to intimacy in Western cultural history, it is perhaps not
strange that psychoanalysis rather than embracing the intimacy one would think
would belong to it through its practice takes distance and does its best to dissociate itself from the luring shadows of inconsistency, or of the intimate life of emo-

Fear of Intimacy


tions and sensations. From this point of view, the oedipal discourse of universality,
or the symbolic order in Lacanian language, would be representing that which was
socially and politically viable in psychoanalysis. Through Oedipus, psychoanalysis
has aligned itself with ideals of universality and the law. Freuds notion that paternal law is internalized links the intimate questions of the subject to a certain conception of the law, through which all issues of the unconscious and of desire must
be addressed. A consequence may well be a devaluation of those aspects of the subject that remain in the space of intimacyemotions, affects, feelings, and all those
sensory qualities that are integral to the analysand, and that cannot be observed by
the analyst himself. Freud is not interested in treating emotions or sensory experiences or qualities thereof, but the symptoms of the neuroses; all those things that
can be observed in language or the behavior of the patient. It could well be that the
patient is expected to confess to a life hidden from public view, such as his sexual
behavior, but the emotional or sensory aspects of that life of intimacy is irrelevant
for psychoanalysis. In linking issues of intimacy to a certain conception of the law
rather than affirming the life of emotions and sensorial experience as valid qualities in themselves, psychoanalysis casts itself as the immediate heir of Enlightenment discourse. Freuds famous view that the desire of women is enigmatic, and
that women constitute a dark continent, does perhaps not merely express an incapacity to understand the nature of women, but could also be a reference of suspicion directed to that other space of intimacy, the feminine space of the oikos, which
appears to lie impenetrable beyond the appeal to the law. Certainly psychoanalysis must affirm the space of intimacy as the very locus of its work, and it must reject all claims that psychoanalytic treatment should necessarily lead to adaptation.
But the Freudian view on all those aspects of life that one would otherwise associate with intimacynamely, the domain of emotions and feelingsremains one
of suspicion: the love, the emotion, the affect of the patient belong to the domain
that psychoanalysis must study and interpret. They need to be traversed for psychoanalysis to unravel. The work of the unconscious.
In the work of Jacques Lacan, on the other hand, the rejection of emotion
as proper, psychoanalytic material is made quite clear. For Lacan, emotions and
experiences of good and bad belong to the imaginary and thus to a sphere that
psychoanalysis must traverse. Psychoanalysis, according to Lacanian theory, has
been subjected to a similar fate in the sense that the unconscious has become an
object of banalization through the many misconceptions of Freudian ideas that
have flourished. The famous claim made by Lacan himself, that his project simply consists in the rescue of the Freudian unconscious from banalization, must
be seen as a fear of commodification of the unconscious, not least through the
production of art and literature. As it were, the only way to redeem the unconscious in Lacanian thought is through a radical return to the Traumarbeit.
Those aspects of the psychoanalytic subject that would be linked to emotions
and feelings, and to the idea of a good or bad internalized object in the Kleinian
sense, must be traversed in Lacanian analysis. Lacanian analysis disregards


Cecilia Sjholm

the Kleinian theory of the object for remaining in the imaginary, which is the
category that must be traversed for the truth of the subject to be revealed. Rather
than discussing the object, then, Lacan talks about the Thing in an attempt to
move beyond the Kleinian object, disavowing the theory of object relations.
Counting as imaginary are the infantile fantasies described by Klein, but also
the strong emotions connected to those fantasies. In his seminar on The Ethics
of Psychoanalysis, Lacan argues that emotions in general are aspects of the imaginary. Certainly the theoretical reasons for this are consistent throughout the Lacanian project. One may wonder, however, why those aspects of the subject that
are prone to commodification are linked to, precisely, the sphere of intimacy.
Could it be that Lacans interest in the symbolic and his disavowal of the object
are attempts to disclose the ghosts haunting psychoanalysis as belonging to
a space of intimacy? In that case, it would appear that Lacanian analysis is
attempting to force us out from those shadows, lures, and disguises that are
connected with the space of intimacy in ancient thought and beyond.
Part of the project of resisting commodification is the Lacanian attempt to
move beyond the spatialization of the unconscious as part of an interior. The unconscious is neither inside nor outside the subject, but rather that which structures its desire as having a cause, rather than a goal. Rather than referring to
intimacy, Lacan is using the concept of extimacy, a term according to which
the subject is constituted in and through that which is radically foreign to it; the
Thing that is foreclosed in the space of the Real. Lacan is attempting to make
of psychoanalysis a practice resisting reification (and thereby commodification,
one may argue) through the focus on the symbolic and the real, rather than the
imaginary and its objects. Could it be, however, that his disregard of affectation,
emotions, and so on would have something to do with an unwillingness to recognize intimate space? Given that psychoanalysis still takes place in the intimate
sphere of a bourgeois household, the resistance to intimacy could almost be regarded as a form of disavowal, perhaps directed against femininity, perhaps
against the roots of psychoanalysis itself.

The Frankfurt School and the Resistance to

The most poignant relation between Lacanian psychoanalysis and the Frankfurt School, resides, possibly, in this aspect; both stress the susceptibility of emotions and affects to fall prone to commodification or reification. The Lacanian
project of traversal mirrors the suspicion of the Frankfurt School regarding the
commodification of emotions. For the Frankfurt School, emotions are prone to
commodification through the culture industry. As Habermas himself has argued
in the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, the candidness that was explored through the eighteenth-century novel became a naturalized part of the
commodification of the public and the intimate sphere alike. As for the question

Fear of Intimacy


of the unconscious and of psychoanalysis, Habermas considers psychoanalysis a

potentially progressive force, but only if it aligns itself with the precepts governing public space, and the ideals of rationality and clarity that belong to it. Representing the intellectual left of the 1960s, Habermas has wanted to bring
psychoanalysis into the service of emancipation, since it provides a rational basis
for the precepts of civilization. There may well be a tension between political engagement and psychoanalysis that corresponds to the division of modern society into a public sphere of communication and the distortions of the unconscious,
but psychoanalysis does also teach us to overcome this tension. Psychoanalysis
may become a force of emancipation, and a force strengthening the public sphere
of communication, insofar as it cures language of distortions. Psychoanalysis is
governed by a hermeneutic impulse, attempting to reinstall a coherent meaning
structure in cases in which it is lacking, through supplanting explanations. The
phenomena examined by Freudparapraxes, forgetting, slips of the tongue, misreadings, bungled actions, chance actions, and so forthare all examples of behavior where the subject is deceiving itself in the communication with itself.
Neuroses distort the capacity of the subject to reflect on himself in the dimensions of language, action, and bodily experience. The very construction of the
unconscious, then, builds on distortions of that which withdraws from the sphere
of communication. The analyst attempts to interpret the processes of distortion,
although a layer of content will perhaps remain that may resist interpretation.
Resistance against the psychoanalytic process, according to Habermas is resistance against the rules governing public communication. It is the resistance to
interpretation that must be considered pathological. Resistance causes the unconscious to withdraw from interpretation in that it deviates from the communicative norms that govern the public sphere: wrong behavior means every
deviation from the model of the language game of communicative action, in which
motives of action and linguistically expressed intentions coincide (1989, 226).
Psychoanalysis therefore can be used where the text of our everyday language
games are interrupted by incomprehensible symbols. The symbols referred to as
incomprehensive by Habermas, offer resistance against interpretation because
they do not obey the grammatical rules of ordinary language, norms of action,
and culturally learned patterns of expression. The practice of psychoanalysis is
focused on coming to terms with the communication disturbance that the subject has with himself. The task of analysis, then, is to encourage self-reflection,
but it must be a form of self-reflection that aligns itself with the ideals through
which Enlightenment philosophy has interpreted the public sphere.
At another level, Freudian analysis may also teach us to analyze the distortions of the public sphere, although this is not directly argued by Habermas.
Whereas Marx lacks it, Freud has a reflective knowledge of collective behavior and
of the laws placed at the origin of communicative action. One may thus infer that
through Freudian analysis we may well learn not only to communicate better with
ourselves, or between ourselves, but also to traverse the illusions that are produced


Cecilia Sjholm

by the powers and ideologies that make the public sphere susceptible to commodification, as argued by Habermas himself in The Structural Transformation of
the Public Sphere. Habermass account of psychoanalysis, of course, is not one that
many would subscribe to today. But he does bring up questions that are valid in
this context: How does psychoanalysis relate to the function of the public sphere?
How does it describe the aspects of the subject and of the unconscious that are
withdrawing from the laws and norms that govern public communication? Is it
possible to disregard the function of the public sphere altogether and simply return to the Lacanian concept of the symbolic, or the Freudian concept of an internalized paternal law? The Frankfurt School has described a tendency toward
commodification of emotions in the production of art and literature. Lacan has
attempted to theorize a tendency within psychoanalysis itself toward a reification
of the unconscious, immobilizing the search for truth in analysis. All of these theories fear the inconsistency and vulnerability associated with intimate life, even if
they theorize practices such as literature, art, and psychoanalysis. One may of
course consider the resistance to intimacy as a consequence of the refusal of the
notion of interiority, and therefore as a philosophical position in the theorization
of the subject. In other words: both the Frankfurt School and Lacan refuse the
idea of a subject that would have some kind of interior life of emotions and feelings that would be corresponding to a site where the real self is to be discovered.
However, one must ask if this theoretical refusal of interiority has not also brought
with it an exaggerated suspicion against the idea that the truth of the subject also
has something to do with emotions, sensations, and sensibility.

Kristeva and Intimacy

In contradistinction both to the Marxist tradition and to Lacan, Julia Kristeva
does not consider the life of sensory experience and feelings, or the relation to
an internalized object, to be a symptom of alienation or commodification. In
discussing a particular conception of intimacy, she is attempting to restore the
value and relevance of certain aspects of psychic life that have been devalued
through the refusal of interiority. As I have already noted, Kristevas conception of intimacy is quite particular; it is not clear why sensory experience would
be referred to as intimate. One would describe this as being contrary to the
Lacanian project, and perhaps not very Freudian either. She takes recourse to
the tradition of Christian meditation, and the exploration of the senses in the
work of Augustine or Loyola instead. Kristevas intimacy is also a sphere that has
been held as a platonic cave of lures and disguises in the philosophical discussion, where sensory experience is devalued in relation to truth. What is it,
then, in Kristevas discourse that allows for intimacy to develop through, but at
the same time become, something other than sensory experience?
To unravel that issue, one must take recourse to the Enlightenment debate
and consider the way in which Kristevas discourse contrasts with common-

Fear of Intimacy


places in the philosophical tradition. The intimate, in Kristevas language, is not

the same as issues having to do with privacy, or with family life. Whereas privacy must be associated with a certain space of the home, the frissons that may
overcome us when we open the doors and get a glimpse of the lives and secrets
of the other, the intimate for Kristeva is not a place or a space but rather a function of subjectivity that is known or unknown to ourselves, but that always appears to touch the truth of ourselves. The intimate has evolved as a domain in
which issues of signification may be negotiated beyond the pretenses of universal law, or beyond the restraints of communicative language as described by
Habermas. Kristeva describes intimacy as a domain of singularity, or rather even
as the domain of singularity. The intimate is a domain of affects, sensations,
moods, and feelings, a domain in which the function of the mind is close to the
body. Intimacy is the capacity of the mind to connect language to forms of sensibility. Intimacy, in this version, is not a description of a sphere of interiority,
but rather a description of a certain discourse of corporeality. In the Christian
tradition of meditation, and the exploration of the senses in the work of Augustine or Loyola, the question of the relation between the word and the senses
has been central to meditation and to the individuals relation to God. In the
language of intimacy, the author is baring his soul through the unraveling of
his senses. He is thus unraveling the singularity of his existence, and thereby the
sovereignty of God, through a language in which that existence shows itself as
sensibility. The experience of the body, and all those aspects of sensibility that
we may link to feelings, affects, moods, and so forth, becomes proof of a divinity that can only show itself through a singular existence, the life of an individual. That experience, however, cannot be fully disclosed through a general
question pertaining to the link between mind and body, or the relation between
perception and sensibility. It can only be disclosed through the discovery of the
singularity of the life that bears witness to those affects and their meaning, to
those feelings and their signification. The language in which I bear witness
to the divine aspects of the sensible, then, is not a language of triumph or jubilation, but rather a language of intimacy, since I discover divine signification
through relating affects, moods, and sensations to singular events that only have
to do with my life, my experiences, and my questions.
Psychoanalysis is the theory and practice that, in our time, has proven most
capable of preserving that singular quality of human life in which truth, signification, and sensation become part of the same experience, without recourse to
divine interpellation. The particularity of Freudian intimacy consists in a recasting of the soul/mind dichotomy (Kristeva 2002, 50). To preserve that specific quality of psychic life, where sensations are attached to singular experiences
of signification, rather than general descriptions of corporeality, psychoanalysis
must stress the importance of countertransference, on the one hand, and the
very style of the language in practice, on the other: a poetics, as Kristeva calls
it (51).


Cecilia Sjholm

Here, we return to a territory well known from Kristevas argumentation

elsewhere. The concept of intimacy as a domain traversing language, and yet
strictly intertwined with processes of signification, has gone under different
names: the preoedipal, inner experience, negativity, the semiotic, the abject, countertransference, and so on. Although Kristeva relates the concept of intimacy to
that of revolt, it is perhaps not a question of reaction or revolution, but rather of
protection of a certain concept of the singularity of human life. A discourse of
intimacy does nothing to revolutionize society, but it may well present us with a
certain protection against the colonization of ready-made images that marks the
capitalist society of aggressive new media. The language of intimacy, therefore,
offers an access to the truth of the subject. Intimacy is the capacity of the mind
to connect language to forms of sensibility. Intimacy, in this version, is not a description of a sphere of interiority, but rather a description of a function of language through which the relation to the body becomes enhanced. In the
Christian tradition, the question of the relation between the word and the senses
has been central to meditation and to the individuals relation to God. Psychoanalysis incarnates the secular transformation of a long tradition in Christianity,
through which the intimate life of the soul has become a question of truth. In
The Intimate Revolt, Kristeva describes psychoanalysis as a practice that, together
with art, literature, and philosophy, is concerned with the uncovering of the domain of intimacy in this sense. It is a way of describing the very core of an intellectual engagement that has marked the twentieth century and beyond which
has attempted to resist the aggression of consumer society. In this she comes up
with another response to the question of the relation between public and private,
attempting to situate psychoanalysis beyond Enlightenment discourse. One may
well make universalistic references to the symbolic and the law, while attempting, at the same time, to move beyond the aspects of the private sphere that have,
as Habermas, Adorno, and others have argued, become susceptible to commodification. Intimacy, in Kristevas language, is not susceptible to commodification,
but rather a protection against it.
Moreover, Kristeva recasts the question of the object, and that eruption of
the foreign called extimacy by Lacan. The most important aspect of the subject
is not extimate, but rather a thing of intimacy. Kristeva thereby reverses the Lacanian perspective on the tasks of psychoanalysis. Rather than relying on the
symbolic order and its correlative the real, which are concerned with language
on the one hand and symptoms on the other, Kristeva is interested in the very
sensory qualities that are produced through the intimate practice of psychoanalysis. The extimate thing of foreclosure can only be known as symptom. The
object of intimacy, however, is one of experience. Not a product of foreclosure
but of countertransference, the thing of intimacy transpires through sensory
experience, emotions, and feelings.
To sum up, then, Kristevas notion of the intimate could be considered a response to the devaluation of intimacy that has been haunting philosophy and

Fear of Intimacy


psychoanalysis alike ever since the distinction between private and public was
made in Enlightenment philosophy. Whereas it does not deny that the phenomena that are usually connected with privacyemotions, frissons, pleasures,
and so forthmay well lack in political significance and may well be prone to
commodification, Kristevas notion of the intimate is one that remains closely
connected to such phenomena of the private sphere, although it cannot be
equated with them. Perhaps it is fair to say that the intimate is the displaced,
politicized version of the private, a version that refuses the closed doors but that
keeps open the frisson. The intimate object is rather the object that must be considered the condition for the subjects capacity to experience at all, and the object that must be the condition that makes thought and language possible. The
starting point of the subject, then, is not the law, but an object of the senses. In
this regard, the starting point is not equated with ideals of universality but rather
with the soft matters that may appear to escape the hard qualities demanded
by science, but that constitute the qualities of singularity that psychoanalysis
must concern itself with: bonding, corporeality, sensory experience, emotions,
and affectivity. These phenomena have been cast in the imaginary, considered too
soft or too involved in the sphere of sensibility for Lacanian or critical theory to
take them seriously. This aspect of psychoanalysis, one that seems to embrace
the notion of a primary, intimate object, may well bring us back to the kind of
couch that it thought it may well have left with Lacan, and that it felt itself too
rational to enter with Habermas, for instance. But if we are really beyond those
issues of the intimate, then how come we keep returning to their insistence in our
lives? Perhaps philosophy and psychoanalysis have placed too much focus at the
other side of the Enlightenment divide between public and private, and perhaps
the old fears of the tragic oikos keep haunting psychoanalysis as much as it keeps
haunting public life; the lures and disguises of intimate life.
An important philosophical issue to be raised before ending this discussion, however, is whether Kristevas conception of intimacy implies a form of
sharing, beyond the sharing that takes place in the public sphere, and whether
it manages to confront the Arendtian critique of intimacy as modernitys favored form of escape. Human life, for Arendt, is always diverse, singular, and
marked by the possibility of sharing that she herself refers to public space, rather
than the knowledge of privacy or intimate life. Kristeva points to the necessity
of countertransference, and to the poetic qualities of the language of intimacy;
a language of affectivity and sensibility. Through intimacy one can perhaps not
share a world, a truth, or a political community. On the other hand, one may
well argue that intimacy is a condition for creating the plurality of singularities
that, in Arendts ontology, creates the plurality of perspectives. If anything, Kristeva has managed to show that intimacy conditions singularity, beyond the
threats of commodification that appears to have created a philosophical fear
for the term of intimacy. Reconsidering intimacy, we may well begin to reconsider the public realm as well.


Cecilia Sjholm

1. This is related to what I have argued in my book The Antigone Complex.
Here I attempt to show that the desire of Antigone is not to be considered as
feminine to its nature, but rather as exemplifying a complex ethical question
that only a female character was capable of portraying. See Cecilia Sjholm,
The Antigone Complex: Ethics and the Invention of Feminine Desire (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 2004). In her book Playing the Other, Froma Zeitlin
argued for an interpretation which puts forward a different aspect: the sphere
of the oikos was radically separated from public space, a fact that meant the feminine sphere was radically separated from that of free men, participating in public life. That is why Greek tragedy, Zeitlin (1996) argues, may depict the
feminine as dark and fearsome, and also why Greek tragedy may appear to attempt to control those dark forces that may well pose a secret threat to the order
of the city.
2. This is so because it is connected to the sphere of freedom and equality
in the ancient world, as well the possibility of excellence, arte, as separated from
the sphere of the sheer necessities of human life (Arendt 1998, 27, 31, 49).

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Habermas, Jrgen. 1989. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.
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Kant, Immanuel. 1970. An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?
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Kristeva, Julia. 2002. Intimate Revolt. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York:
Columbia University Press.
Zeitlin, Froma. 1996. Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek
Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Humanism, the Rights of Man,
and the Nation-State

Emily Zakin

If God exists . . . everything . . . is permitted. So Slavoj iek pronounces in

a recent editorial in the New York Times (March 12, 2006). This Dostoyevskian
inversion, in seizing on the political climate of religious extremism, is published
on behalf of what iek calls Europes most precious legacy. Atheism, or more
particularly a secular public sphere, is this vital inheritance deemed crucial for
not only the past but the future of Europe, and it demands, in an obvious reference not only to Marx but also to Kant, what iek calls a ruthless, critical
analysis of religion as the wellspring of murderous violence. While iek has
sometimes allied himself with various forms of fundamentalism, or appointed
himself the representative or guardian of a (quasi-?)Stalinist or fascist set of political convictions as against liberal openness, multicultural inclusiveness,
do-gooder fervor, and especially humanist sincerity, nevertheless in this editorial iek puts forward a hard-hitting attack against religious conviction and a
fortification of atheism, atheism with its undeniably Enlightenment heritage
and distinctively European tradition. iek concludes that only atheism can
provide the public space requisite for a nonpatronizing and nonrelativist respect
for the beliefs of others. In part, iek is addressing the crisis confronting Europe, the crisis, we could say, of political correctness, of not trusting oneself.
And in part, iek is addressing the ramifications of this crisis for world politics, for relations to the other as he might scoff. But more profoundly, he is
confronting the question of legitimacy, the legitimacy of Modernity, and in particular the Modern nation-state (and, it seems, affirming that legitimacy).


Emily Zakin

If the Modern legitimation crisis is brought about by what is always called

the death of God, this death derails the relation between the subject and politics, rendering it tenuous and unstable, regardless of the laws that are put in place
to order and maintain that relation. No state of law, no nation-state or republic,
can replace the homogeneity promised by the pre-Modern world of status, the
certainty of having a fixed place in the order of the world. The mobility produced
by Modernitys replacement of status with contract generates a disconnect between the newly established citizen and politics,1 a dissatisfying heterogeneity
(and ultimately an irresolvable tension between nation/people and state/citizen).
No wonder we are now witnessing the resurrection of God in politics.
What I will address in this chapter is not the sometimes circuitous and
rambling political commitments of iek but rather two convergent and salient
points he raises clearly and directly in the editorial cited: first, the already noted
crisis of European political structures and in particular the legitimation crisis it
implies, and, second, the way in which this crisis dovetails with the loss of transcendent values (not only the death of god, but also that of nature and history)
and thus, concomitantly, with the absence of any guarantee, or even hope, of
grounding law in either eternal ideas or human nature or the progress of spirit
( geist). Both Hannah Arendt and Julia Kristeva directly tackle these issues in a
number of works, including especially Arendts On Revolution (1963), The
Human Condition (1958), Origins of Totalitarianism (1966), and Lectures on
Kants Political Philosophy (1982), and Kristevas Nations without Nationalism
(1993), Crisis of the European Subject (2000), Strangers to Ourselves (1991), and
Hannah Arendt (2001). For my purposes here, I will disregard ieks contempt
for Arendt and her theory of totalitarianism that he takes to be fully allied with
reactionary politics. But what we can take from iek is a crucial insight that
might help us pursue the political significance of Arendt and Kristevas work:
that it is in our worldly relations with others, not in looking into ones own
heart or soul for inner truth or access to the transcendent, but in actively participating in the world, that we become political. Given this worldly concern,
the pursuit of political legitimacy must take place within the public space of appearance and cannot depend on access to the soul or another world or nature.
As already hinted by Kristevas interest in Arendt, I will make this argument, incongruously enough considering Arendts disrespect for psychoanalysis, by appealing to the psychoanalytic notion of the unconscious, contending
that the missing god of Modernity is akin to the missing (or divided, nonself-identical) self, both of which represent the insecurity and limits within which
we have to live with ourselves and others. Bringing psychoanalytic theory together with Arendt is less surprising than might perhaps appear since Arendt is
certainly not a rationalist who believes in egoic self-mastery and self-authorship.
Arendt makes clear that the human agent is not an author or producer of her
or himself (1958, 184) and that the story of our lives and of history is not something that is made at all (186). Her work, and in particular the last chapter of

Humanism, the Rights of Man, and the Nation-State


Origins of Totalitarianism, Ideology and Terror, as well as chapter 24 of the

Action section of The Human Condition, makes room, as Kristeva notes, for a
political psychology (2001, 137) in which the self embraces a daimonic element (173). Kristevas reading of Arendt attempts to explore the chasms of the
human psyche to which Arendts work is not always attentive, not only to reveal how the death drive . . . gives life to the speaking being (xvi) but also to
more fully theorize the destruction of that psychic space (137). Such a reading
does not contest Arendts insistent distinction between worldliness and our inner
disposition but renders it more complex, making it clear that the psychoanalytic
unconscious is at odds with, rather than allied with, a theological view of the
soul, since it can only promise that human life will be permanently unsettled.2
While Kristeva acknowledges the limitations of Arendts diatribe against
society (2001, 162), she nonetheless admires Arendt for distinguishing between
the social (which Kristeva, like Arendt, allies with need or, in psychoanalytic
vocabulary, the imaginary) and the politically dangerous freedom of bonds with
other people (161) (which Kristeva allies with desire or the symbolic, not dissimilar to Arendts idea of political speech). Kristeva appreciates Arendt in particular for recognizing the correspondence between a value system that deems
life to be the ultimate good (xv) and one that finds human life superfluous
(7) since both are ultimately nihilist (40). Whether the life process is raised to
the highest good as in the vitalist restlessness of the consumer culture, or held
only in contempt as in totalitarianism, in either case what is missing is a sense
of human possibility beyond predictable, automated, or conventional confines
and expectations.
By providing a psychoanalytic vocabulary, Kristeva provides new insight
not only into the social threat to intimacy, but also into who we are as political
actors and citizens. Psychoanalysis helps us see what is left when the egoic predicates of whatness, the armor of our identity and objective qualities, are not
taken as wholly determinative of who we are, and when we abandon the idea
that we can fabricate ourselves and our political communities. Because the fantasies of self-authorship and self-ownership (both liberal fantasies) are fundamentally egoic,3 they do not afford us the precarious hazards of freedom but
lock us in what Lacan has called the knot of imaginary servitude (2006, 80).
But the who, as we will see, is not entrenched in the fixation of vision (Kristeva 2001, 173); it is rather excessive, reducible to neither biological nor social
metabolisms (174). This excess reminds us of the nonsubjective foundation for
politics (219). Just as we are not our own individual authors, we are also not
communal authors of the polis. The polis is not premised on some human ideal,
essence, or telos, and it emerges from acting not fabricating. Rather than seeing the polis as an artifice of the human, we should say rather that the human
emerges from the artifice of politics.
Political Modernity can be characterized by the tension between, on the
one hand, an abstract and substanceless commitment to universality, realized


Emily Zakin

practically in legal neutrality as the basis of civil order, and, on the other hand,
a material attachment to blood or soil manifested not only in our social loyalties and identifications, but also in the formulation of the definition of the legal
citizen (with reference to parentage or land of birth). This tension is what both
defines and imperils the unstable amalgamation that is the Modern nation-state.
Kristeva offers an analysis of the nation-states odd and unavoidable hybridity,
and in so doing makes a crucial distinction between the dangerous, but inexorable, spirit of the national, on the one hand, and the juridical, and therefore
potentially empty, promise of the state as guarantor of rights, on the other.
In contradistinction to the liberal tradition, however, Kristeva does not advance
a commitment to the state as purified and rational, claiming that such an
idea is vacant and without affective force. Nation and state always contaminate
each other.
Kristeva considers what she takes to be the two dominant models of the
nation-state and the relation each has to a specific notion of the foreign and
then attempts to reconsider both in light of a third model. The two primary
forms or models of the nation-state, each with its own foreigner, are, according
to Kristeva, the organic and the contractual. The first, organic, feudal, and
spiritualistic (1991, 176) concept is founded on blood and soil, on physical
kinship and linguistic identity (and is based on inheritance). In this model, social harmony and homogeneity are the central traits; the foreign is represented
by different cultures, blood, soil, language, religion, and so forth. We could say
that this is a nation understanding of the nation-state.
Second, there is the contractual concept (1991, 175) premised on the right
to freedom (based on civic, rational, and universal ideals and capacities). In this
model, a certain kind of heterogeneity is presumed, since neutrality before the
law presupposes, even as it negates or obscures, individual difference; here, the
foreign is figured as the particular, the irrational, that which resists subsumption
by the universal. We could say that this is a state understanding of the
nation-state. Kristeva claims that this latter, contractual concept is affectively
empty, unmoored, hollow (178) and thus that it easily collapses into the
former in a search for affective bonds.
So, on the one hand, the state needs the nation (the bonds of affective identity) that nonetheless threatens it. On the other hand, the spirit of liberal contractualism produces its own foreigner in the form of the irrational, and this
reemergence of an alien outside of reason also presages a return to a national
concept from within the states own rationalism (we are rational, defenders of
freedom, saviors of democracy, and so on; they are precivilized demonic hordes
who hate our freedom). The implication of this analysis is that Enlightenment
rationalist cosmopolitanism cannot sustain itself, but this is not quite Kristevas
conclusion. The second model both tolerates and represses difference (the difference manifest in the particularity/singularity/corporeality that disappears
before the law). Nation, we could say, is repressed, even as it returns.

Humanism, the Rights of Man, and the Nation-State


Kristeva proceeds to offer a third understanding of the foreign, the one

developed by Freud (1991, 181), in the hope that this might provide a third
model of the nation-state (or perhaps better, a more self-reflexive version of the
contractual and cosmopolitan state). This foreign is neither banished as disruptive of rationalist urbanity nor glorified as a secret volksgeist (181). Instead, Kristeva writes, we are our own foreigners, we are divided. This form
of foreignness is thus more primordial than the other two, even their very source.
It is my own perturbed logic as a bundle of drive and language that is the
source of my discontent in living with the other. It is here that we can find a
different, or more self-reflexive, understanding of the nation-state, one that cannot disown either its affective bonds or its affective volatility and divisiveness
(the inability to live with others), one that does not run from, but grapples with,
the return of the repressed.
In discussing this revised view of the nation-state, Kristeva invokes an
ethics of respect that she claims to find in a kind of Freudian cosmopolitanism
that begins with an ethics of respect for the irreconcilable (1991, 182), of the
drives with language, the life of the body with the rule of law, kinship relations
with abstract citizenship, and natality, carnality, mortality, and maternity with
reason and universality. Kristeva concludes Strangers to Ourselves with the
prospect that the ethics of psychoanalysis implies a politics, a cosmopolitanism (192). We could say, in other words, that the return of the repressed
suggests an alliance between Freud and Kant linking Freuds respect for the unconscious with Kants call for cosmopolitanism as both separation and union
(173), preserving difference at the very heart of the universal republic (172),
an alliance that might transform the identity of the nation-state through the
secular and profane, rather than sacred and profound, promise not only of the
plural coexistence of states, but also of this plurality within.
But it is with regard to the peaceful coexistence of nation-states, and neutrality within nation-states, that both Arendt and Kristeva identify a crisis. As
Arendt puts it, human dignity needs a new guarantee which can be found only
in a new political principle, in a new law on earth, whose validity this time must
comprehend the whole of humanity while its power must remain strictly limited, rooted in and controlled by newly defined territorial entities (1966, ix). For
Arendt then, the great problem in politics . . . is how to find a form of government which puts the law above man (1963, 183). This might sound regressive
to those of us unfamiliar with the Foucauldian critique of the repressive hypothesis and who therefore equate freedom with liberation, emancipation, and
transgression, the breaking or overcoming of law, or anarchy. While I will take
only a limited foray here, Foucault makes clear (in The History of Sexuality,
vol. 1 [1978]) that the dream of liberation is itself allied with the juridical discouse it contests. Foucault mocks the sexual or political hope that links together
enlightenment, liberation, and manifold pleasures (7) and that promises a new
age of freedom in the future if only we would revolt today. He argues instead


Emily Zakin

that the claim that we are repressed or oppressed is itself an evasion of new
forms of nonsovereign power, and therefore is complicit with those forms. Sovereignty, in both its juridical and monarchical versions, is, for Foucault, on the
decline. It is replaced with what he calls disciplinary power and biopower,
power that operates not primarily through law but through social formations
embedded in our identities and practices (and productive of them), power of,
over, and through our corporeal lives. It should be noted, of course, that Foucault does not believe that the revival of sovereignty is the solution to discipline
and biopoliticshe calls instead for a new form of right that is liberated from
the principle of sovereignty (Foucault 1980, 108). Nonetheless Arendts reformulation of the traditional problem of legitimacy resonates with Foucaults
analysis and with his concerns about the administration or management of life.
Yet we must look more closely at the internal transformation of sovereignty
from its monarchical to its democratic form to understand the problem. The
Modern legitimation crisis has been analyzed by Claude Lefort who articulates
specifically this transformation in the form and meaning of political sovereignty.
Lefort proposes in his essay The Logic of Totalitarianism that to understand
the distinctive political logic of Modernity we must first discern the meaning
of a mutation which lies at the origin of modern democracy: the establishment
of a power of limited right (1986a, 279). He writes in the essay The Question of Democracy, that in monarchy power was embodied in the person of
the prince who condensed within his body the principle of order (1998, 17).
The princes power, and his body, thus pointed toward an unconditional,
other-worldly pole, acting as guarantor of the kingdom itself represented as
a body, as a substantial unity (17). But Lefort directs us toward the democratic
demise of this substantive form of power and the rise of the symbolic character of power (1986a, 279) in which the locus of power becomes an empty place
(1998, 17). This claim has two aspects: first, that the legitimacy of power is
based on the people but, second, that the image of popular sovereignty is
linked to the image of an empty place. In other words, Modern democracy
arises with and creates the paradox that democracy lies in the distinction or
contradiction: power emanates from the people . . . but is the power of nobody
(1986a, 279) because there is no such thing as the people or the demos.4 The
people does not exist.
This means that Modern democratic power is substanceless, dematerialized, or as Lefort claims purely symbolic (1998, 17). For Lefort, democracy is
not a substantive or organic unity, but an empty symbolic place, the place left
by the body of the king. Although power itself is not empty or impotent, the
place of power is empty (or again, to use Kristevas term, hollow), residing in
the lack of a popular will to assume the place that had been occupied by the
kings will. The singular place of power that had been occupied by the sovereign
is vacated, replaced by law (i.e., the symbolic form of power) and this rule of law
works by keeping the content or substance of power empty, by thus being uni-

Humanism, the Rights of Man, and the Nation-State


versal (all citizens are equal before the law) and disembodied. Sovereignty is
then situated as a void; it is symbolic rather than substantive. Even if a vestige
or residue remains in the sublation of king into law, the latter has lost its transcendent ground. The supposed subject of politics, the people, is therefore
merely a placeholder. Universal suffrage for citizens within a particular nation-state means that we are no longer recognized by the law as distinctively embodied with a particular political status; for instance, peasant or aristocrat, man
or woman, rural or urban, and so forth. The system of status and privilege gives
way to a system of universal rights.
This revolution in citizenship is not unproblematic. As power becomes disincorporated, Lefort writes, democratic society is instituted as a society without
a body (1998, 18), leading to the emergence of a purely social society (18; emphasis added) while at the same time dissolving social bonds in favor of statistics such that number replaces substance (19). This is the moment that Foucault
diagnoses as the movement from juridical sovereignty to biopower. The paradox
here is that the dissolution of social status actually dissolves politics in favor of
society, opening the reign of the good of all, in which democratic politics takes
as its mission the flourishing of life, and thereby smuggles the body back in.
Power, in the sanctimonious propensity of democracy to sustain a belief in its
own integrity, harmony, and moral supremacy, becomes identified with society,
is declared to be social power (284) and thus ceases to designate an empty
place (285). The logic of democracy thus reverses itself as democratic sovereignty becomes difficult to distinguish from biopower and the management or
administration of populations. The moment of the juridical nation-state is thus
ephemeral, passing fleetingly between pre-Modern forms of government and
postpolitical forms of managing the life of peoples and societies. Why is this so?
Arendt points to the vicious circle of legislation, namely, that those who
get together to constitute a new government are themselves unconstitutional
(1963, 183184). Before the law, there is no law. From whence does the legitimacy of the fundamental law arise (184)? Kristeva is right when she answers
in the affirmative the question whether for Arendt the search for political renewal, that is, for a secularized humanity, is tantamount to what was once
known as transcendence (2001, 165), but she perhaps misunderstands her own
claim. For Arendt does not wish to replace the transcendence of gods or history
with the people or some such secular concept. She is seeking instead to come
to terms with Modernitys legitimation crisis, the impossibility of replacing the
loss of transcendence, and with the danger that that impossibility will, by provoking atavistic but potent and compelling attachments, yet simultaneously isolating us from a common world, produce either a monochromatic social life and
identity or an impossible ideal of wholeness that will result in totalitarianism.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, we can consider these the once-promising
fantasies that emerge from the breaking up of national, political, and religious
bonds and that prove to be deadly strains of fanaticism (136). This form of


Emily Zakin

homelessness, this loss of ground (both in the literal sense of refugees forced into
statelessness and in the slightly more metaphorical sense of the death of transcendence) provides a crucial key to considering how the uncanniness of our
own drives and their phantasmatic and often self-destructive quest for satisfaction is bound to the fear of groundlessness and the desire for a secure place in
the world, for a home.5 But given our psychic and political need for safe haven,
what bonds are possible or necessary to both legitimate and sustain the Modern nation-state?
Let me approach this question and its alliance with the question of secularism obliquely at first, through Arendts criticism of Roussseau. Arendt takes
Rousseau to task for both his notion of the general will and his notion of natural compassion. As Arendt characterizes Rousseau, he understands that to put
the law above man and thus to establish the validity of man-made laws, il faudrait
des dieux, one actually would need gods (1963, 184). But Rousseau resolves this
conundrum with the notion of the general will. The will of the people is singular, lacking plurality, turning many into one. Arendt writes that the shift from
the republic to the people meant that the enduring unity of the future political
body was guaranteed not in the worldly institutions which this people had in
common, but in the will of the people themselves (76), producing the idea of
the nation as a body driven by one will (76), that is, an organic unity. Hence,
according to Arendt, the French Revolution merely replaces the body of the king
with the body of the people as one: the men of the French Revolution put the
people into the seat of the king (156) and thereby deified the people (183). The
people, in other words, remains a theocratic idea, emerging not as an empty
placeholder, but as a site of fullness, harmony, and singularity, a site of transcendence. The will of the people, the general will of Rousseau or Robespierre is still
the divine Will, transubstantiated, this will[-]made flesh.
Moreover, the result of this concept of will is that an enemy existed within
the breast of each citizen, namely, in his particular will and interest (1963, 78;
emphasis added)the particularity of our wills becomes the common enemy
and this Arendt takes as the origin of terror (79), the idea that the common
enemy resides in everybodys hearts (79). Rousseau is thus complicit with Robespierres terror of virtue (79) where we must be permanently suspicious of
our innermost motives lest we be hypocrites (97). Such a view turns the self
into a natural enemy and makes of compassion the birth of terror and terror the
fruit of compassion. Arendt thus claims that the passion of compassion has
haunted and driven the best men (71). The general will, while defiantly not the
sum total of private wills, nonetheless returns us to an introverted contemplation
of the state of our personal souls, removing us from the community of appearances into the pathology of expiation and interiority. Ironically, the general will
necessitates the absence of others and immersion in the self if only to immolate
it. We are no longer concerned with the world, but have become otherworldly
in our focus on inner life and dispositions. It should be clear, therefore, that

Humanism, the Rights of Man, and the Nation-State


Arendt is not seeking to idolize secularized humanity as a transcendent value, but

is, in fact, attacking this tendency within humanist political philosophies (and
Marx could be included as an example here as well).
Arendts sustained critique of Rousseau and the French Revolution can be
compared both to her more favorable outlook on the American Revolution and
to her very different assessment of the violence involved in the founding of law
laid out in the introduction to On Revolution. This introduction concludes by
stating that in the beginning was a crime (1963, 20)6 and that whatever
brotherhood human beings may be capable of has grown out of fratricide, whatever political organization men may have achieved has its origin in crime (20).
Arendts point here is twofold: first, that a political realm does not automatically come into being wherever men live together (19), that is, that the political is not something natural or innate but requires an event; and second, that this
prepolitical event preliminary to the advent of a polis will always be violent,
creating order out of chaos (nomos out of anomos). The question of legitimacy
is thus the question of beginning, of origin, and that question cannot be evaded
with reference to inner nature, especially to any evocation of a benign inner nature. Arendt is opposed to the idea of a natural or even artificial demos, premised
on a notion of the unity of a people, that would provide the seamless ground for
its own law, instead noting that law arises out of that which it cannot contain,
a prepolitical violence, and that citizenship does not presuppose natural equality but is the artifice of an isonomic form of government, where each is equally
ruler and ruled. This view is adamantly secular in its disregard of the soul.
The tradition of political philosophy proposes to answer the question, How
might we live in peace with one another? If we turn to Hobbes, peace is a problem because of our selfish nature, but this is also the solution to that problem
since we find within ourselves natural laws (corresponding to rational selfinterest in self-preservation) that lead us to seek peace. If we turn to Rousseau,
we have a different problem because, though we are at peace in nature, we are
solitary and do not live together. If, for Hobbes, in the state of nature we live
together but are at war, for Rousseau we live in peace but do so in isolation. For
Hobbes, the creation of artificial institutions gives us the means by which we
might transform our natures, becoming capable of new powers, especially those
that depend on cooperation. As we have already seen, Arendt is contemptuous
of Rousseaus understanding of compassion and of his dissolution of the public
realm into the inner workings of the soul. The Hobbesian idea of a new world
order, created artificially through institutions might be somewhat more palatable, but he continues to hold not only a view of human nature that is mechanistic and determinist, leaving no room for natality and new beginnings (1958,
300), but also a conceptual hold on absolute rule rooted in the image of divine
power (1966, 171).
Regardless of who one takes as a starting point, this tradition of political
philosophy has always hinged on a theory of human nature (this is true with


Emily Zakin

Locke and Hume as well). Each begins with a presuppostion about the nature
of man; for example, innocent or acquisitive, solitary or competitive, love of self
or love of glory. Such a conception, any conception of human nature in this
vein, supposes that politics can be built on a given what rather than be creative
of a who. It is here, crucially, that Arendt departs from the political tradition
in refusing to posit a theory of human nature. She instead discusses the human
condition (worldliness, plurality, temporality) and the human capacity for natality that allows us a second birth in which we might disclose and become a
unique who in contradistinction to what somebody ishis qualities, gifts,
talents, and shortcomings, which he may display or hide (1958, 179). This
who, as Kristeva reminds us, arrives in the midst of lifes conditions . . . as an
excess [that] is achieved through a constant attack on biological life, against the
metabolism with nature (2001, 174).
In reading Arendt, Kristeva is interested in the revolutionary political possibilities of this revelation of a who (2001, 230) that can never be reduced to
an egoic or predicated what where the latter is allied with, as Kristeva puts it,
social appearance and biological attributes (172).7 While the weakest parts of
Kristevas text on Arendt delve into cheap psychobiography (e.g., interpreting
Arendts political and philosophical commitments on the basis of her relation
with her mother), and while Kristeva is for the most part more suggestive than
argumentative about the benefit to Arendts political philosophy of a concept of
the unconscious, it is nonetheless clear that this unconscious has nothing to do
with the innermost recesses of the soul, discussed earlier, but rather with the
symbolic space of the psyche that simultaneously enables, refracts, and solidifies but also disables, obscures, and dissolves the symbolic space of politics. Kristeva thus provides a critical supplement to Arendts account of the who of
politics, of the relation between citizen and self, citizen and polis, and citizen
and foreigner. And this has nothing to do with the political tolerating its foreigners, which assumes that the polis is a unity, a one or totality, but rather with
the polis itself as divided and yet defined, porous yet bounded.
In her Lectures on Kants Political Philosophy, Arendt writes strikingly of the
act of judgment as an enlargement of the mind that involves taking the other into
oneself. Yet she is quite specific that this act is not one of empathy and that empathy would in fact be a hindrance to the disinterest required, merely substituting or multiplying interest, rather than dissolving it (1982, 43). The enlargement
of the mind is not driven by affect, but is a disinterested act of the imagination.
Arendt thus posits a relation of the other within that is a necessary basis for political life and yet that is nonetheless solitary without being firmly bounded or
limited. This otherness within is related to the solitude of thinking that Arendt
describes as being two-in-one and in both cases we might posit this otherness as
a unique form of productive or creative disidentification and a move away from
egoic boundaries. Writing in support of Arendts account of judgment, Kristeva
hopes it provides an alternative to the rationalism and quest for knowledge of

Humanism, the Rights of Man, and the Nation-State


contemporary political theory (a barb she aims at Habermas in particular), and

even more she suggests that it shares a kinship with a theory of the unconscious, a claim she recognizes as radical (2001, 230).
Kristeva insists adamantly that Arendts accounts of thinking and judging
reveal the fundamental estrangement of the thinker (2001, 192). Kristeva, in
other words, interprets Arendts idea of the solitary thinker who is always a
two-in-one, as commensurate with (though not equivalent to) the original
split (194) or original duality exposed by the unconscious (193), a split that
she considers both endogenous and endemic to the psyche (194). Kristeva
also approvingly cites Arendts disdain for the futility of the fashionable search
for identity (193; Arendt 1981, 187).
This returns us to the idea of the symbolic from a different perspective, in
terms of a split in the thinking ego as Kristeva puts it (2001, 194). For Kristeva, the symbolic acts as a triangulation of both social and egoic relationships,
each of which is fundamentally dyadic. The promise of the symbolic is to move
us away from the imaginary security and trap of identity, compensating for this
loss with a kind of psychic freedom or movement that can only be sustained
within language and law. By rendering both psychic and social identity less rigid,
less likely to stay stopped in place, the symbolic provides the mediation of movement or the movement of mediation that keeps us capable of new beginnings.
We can now juxtapose Arendts reading of Rousseau with her reading of
the American founding fathers. According to Arendt, the American revolutionaries, although they may have maintained rhetorical allegiance to the idea of divine authority, nonetheless acted as if laying down the law was pre-political,
prior to the existence of the polis, the city-state, just as building the walls around
the city was prior to the coming into existence of the city itself (1963, 186).
Rather than conflating law with power, with the people as the source of both, the
Americans thus located the source of law in something worldly and stable, like
the walls of a city, a written document (157). The authority of positive laws thus
derives not directly from the people but from a more fundamental law, the constitution. This is why Arendt reminds us that the law (nomos) is, etymologically,
related to wall (nemein) (1958, 63); it establishes and distributes the boundaries
between households, and between the public and private realms, preserving the
public space of appearances, and making possible a city or political community
(64). The law does not shield us from one another (as in liberalism where the aim
is to keep politics out of private individual life, a life that is assumed to be directed
by its author and defined by its predicates), but establishes an expanse that we can
enter together like the walls of a room that give us a public space.
Arendt both favors constitutional law as the source of authority and recognizes the import of positive laws, in their changeability. Positive laws are necessary to mediate between the permanence of legitimating authority and the
impermanence and temporal uncertainty of human life, of the ever changing
actions of men (1966, 463). But, Arendt argues, having followed the route of


Emily Zakin

Rousseau and the French Revolution, Modernity has become mass society in
which humans are imprisoned in the subjectivity of their own singular experience, which does not cease to be singular if the same experience is multiplied
innumerable times . . . [but] permitted to present itself in only one perspective
(1958, 58). We seek goodness rather than excellence (7378) and in this we
seek something that cannot appear and is fundamentally worldless.
This distinction between goodness and excellence becomes especially critical when considered in light of the last chapter of Origins of Totalitarianism
and its critique of the totalitarian dissolution of positive law into fantasies of
transcendence, the realization of heaven on earth. Totalitarian movement,
Arendt writes, benefits from the idea of disagreements beyond the power of
reason. By exploding the very alternative . . . between lawful and lawless government, between arbitrary and legitimate power (1966, 461), totalitarianism
manages to be arbitrary but not lawless since far from being lawless, it goes to
the sources of authority from which positive laws received their ultimate legitimation (461), that is, nature, history, God, promising the rule of justice on
earth (462). Its defiance of positive laws rests on a claim to a higher form of
legitimacy, namely, the laws of Nature or of History (462). Arendt considers
this recourse to authority monstrous since it dissolves the discrepancy between legality and justice (462), and sacrifices everybodys vital immediate interests (461) in favor of a higher notion of their good in which the human
species is transformed into the embodiment of law (462) with which they are
fully, totally, identified. Arendt here clearly gestures toward the limits of democracy and the asymptotic movement of law toward justice. Instead of a nomos or
positive law that, like four walls, provides a stable frame for the movements and
transformations of human beings, terror is the realization of the law of movement . . . [that] seeks to stabilize men (463) by having the law itself be constantly in flux and unstable. Terror thus renders men immobile and isolated
(incapable of both action and of sharing a common world) because it destabilizes the source of authority.
Arendt thus identifies in the totalitarian process not a new form of government or a seizure of power, but an antipolitics, a movement that is constantly kept in motion: namely the permanent domination of each single
individual in each and every sphere of life where the aim is to set and keep [the
people] in motion (1966, 326). While the constancy or continuity of law encourages the possibility of human spontaneity and action, the monstrous absolutization of Law fully realizedtotalitarian lawfulness pretends to have
found a way to establish the rule of justice on earth (462)by keeping law permanently on the move erodes the human ability to act. Instead, human beings
are either/both rendered immobile, fixed, rigidified, or are themselves put into
the permanent motion of behavior. In any case, the movement here is antithetical to action and serves not to disclose agents but to atomize and isolate
individuals in a state of perpetual motion.

Humanism, the Rights of Man, and the Nation-State


It is in this context that Arendt discusses isolation as the psychological

basis for total domination (1966, 323). Once rendered homeless (literally stateless or figuratively uprootedsuffering the loss of traditional values and status), a human being, according to Arendt, can derive his sense of having a place
in the world only from his belonging to a movement (324), from finding some
form of attachment to its arbitrariness and becoming part of it. Given the need
for some affective social bond, ideology provides the only cement available. Ideology then replaces the everyday, common, mundane world with unwavering
loyalty and holds the individual to itself even while being devoured. Even as its
logic of identification promises security, it can nonetheless only be a practice of
self-effacement. As the logic of an idea (469), ideology defies both common
sense and the world of experience and is closed to persuasion. Its workings are
deductive, not deliberative, and it thus carries the violent force of necessity that
nothing can elude. Once the ideological premise (History or Nature) is set in
motion, everything follows inevitably from it. The logic of ideology is thus also
the logic of reattachment or, as Kristeva puts it, it is a paranoid delusion that
seeks to compensate for social atomization (2001, 136). By providing something to cling to in the face of a lost common world, it thus also, paradoxically,
binds many into one, eradicating plurality. In making this conceptual connection between ideology and isolation, Arendt astutely points to the threat posed
by a world released from law and citizenship.
How then can we think politically human instability and its relation to law?
As we have seen, unlike the social contract theorists, Kristeva, and psychoanalytic theory generally, gives us an entirely different way of conceptualizing
human nature, one that presupposes neither innocence nor avarice, nor any
other substantive binary. Instead, Kristeva offers a conception of the drives and
their relation to language, a notion of the unconscious and of the symbolic that
supplements Arendts analysis as well as Leforts. By allowing us to recognize
symbolic (and violent) processes within both psychical and political formations,
we can characterize both the subject and the polis as neither self-identical, nor
homogenous, nor at one with itself. Neither subject nor polis seeks, or merely
seeks, its own good and each is equally foreign to itself and horrified by its foreigners. The political experience of strangeness, especially as it is knotted to the
psychical strangeness we experience within ourselves, sheds light on the impossible task of civilization: living peacefully with others and doing so (within
the confines of nation-states) without repressing the violence that is the ultimate condition of our being with others (1991, 192).
Kristeva herself is stymied by the question, [T]he rights of man or the
rights of the citizen? (97). In reflecting on the distinction that sets the citizen
apart from the man, she claims the result to be the deadlock of the Modern
nation-state (97). Citizenship, by definition, always implies limited rather than
universal citizenship and thus within its essence is contained the difficulty of
the foreigner, the one who is a man but not a citizen. As Kristeva incisively


Emily Zakin

wonders, does this not mean that he who is not a citizen is not fully a man?
(98). Kristeva points out that there is a slippage between man and citizen in the
Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, one that obliquely acknowledges the
political reality of nation-states and the impossibility of natural egalitarianism
even while purporting to assert it (148149). Equality is thus, from the outset
of its Modern theoretical and political origins, a fundamentally political attribute: the free and equal man is, de facto, the citizen (149).
Kristeva finds this political state of affairs regrettable and notes its drawbacks (1991, 150); in allying herself with Arendt (150), however, she seems to
miss precisely Arendts neo-Burkean point, that in fact the rights of man are
helpless when faced with those who are not citizens of a sovereign state (150).
Arendt writes that no paradox of contemporary politics is filled with more
poignant irony than the discrepancy between the efforts of well-meaning idealists who stubbornly insist on regarding as inalienable those human rights, which
are enjoyed only by citizens of the most prosperous and civilized countries, and
the situation of the rightless themselves (1966, 279). Arendt, in other words,
seems to understand quite well, the pessimistic truth (which Kristeva tries to
evade) that one does not belong to mankind when one is not a citizen (1991,
150). Indeed the loss of a polity itself expels [the human] from humanity (1966,
297). The phenomenon of statelessness makes manifest the fragility of civilization, and our own dependence on artificial human institutions.
Arendt believes that the loss of citizenship (the right to have rights [1966,
296]) corresponds to a loss of humanity; it is not, according to Arendt, that
human beings have natural rights, but that the artifice of rights is necessary to
render us human, that is, citizens. As Arendt herself witnessed, the conception of human rights, based on the assumed existence of a human being as such,
broke down at the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were
for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationshipsexcept that they were still human. The world
found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human (299). Arendt
mocks the pious rhetoric of those who cling to human rights as bearing an uncanny similarity in language and composition to that of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (292).
While Kristeva allies the barbarity of National Socialism with the very
core of the nation-state system (1991, 151), Arendt allies it instead with its breakdown and transience. Kristeva retains the rights of man as an immanent principle of universal dignity (152) that has symbolic and ethical value beyond political
and historical dynamics of strife and barbarity.8 At the same time, and in my view
trying to have it both ways at once, she wants to wrest human dignity from the
euphoria of classic humanists to see it laden with the alienations, dramas, and
dead ends of our condition as speaking beings (154). In this idea of a cosmopolitanism interior to the nation-states (154), Kristeva appears to prevaricate
on Arendts more honest insight that we can never be world citizens and that the

Humanism, the Rights of Man, and the Nation-State


plurality of nation-states is the best that we can hope for. Citizenship, and not
compassion, is a better guarantee, or at least promise, of dignity and respect.
If we have lost an appeal to transcendent authority, to absolute justification
of the laws within which we live, then we live without guarantee or stable
bedrock. If instead we erect the good of all in the place of this transcendent
authority, we are in danger of loving too much our social status (no matter what
it is), of escaping from politics by taking refuge in the social (and in identity) and
of retheologizing our own human status in the name of humanism. This social
world of whats rather than whos, of predicated identities already positioned,
renders self-disclosure, and hence politics, if not impossible or obsolete, then at
serious risk. In place of god, we now have humanism as our transcendent value
and hence the all-pervasive rise of the management and fostering of life. Here
we have the perverse convergence of theocracy, global capitalism, and institutional depoliticization, all promising justice on earth through the eradication
of the distinction between public and private realms and the digestion of a common world by the administrative care of need. Romanticized cosmopolitanism
or appeal to a universal demos is not an antidote to either liberalism or theocracy but a variant of them. The alternative is the agonal equality of excellence
premised on a plurality of perspectives and honest about the tension between
equality and freedom. The pessimism that acknowledges that each who is
driven by its inherent impossibility of being must, according to Kristeva, accompany any hope for fostering political bonds and tolerating their fragility
(2001, 239). Working through the political, like working through the psyche,
would then be an interminable and nonutopian process, permanently grappling
with the insoluble trauma of loss. If the demos is neither the premise nor the
promise of politics, the ways in which democracy broaches its own limits might
reveal its immanent and insistent dangers. This involves accepting the tragic
view that neither happiness nor life is the highest good (Arendt 1963, 64).
And that may not be such a bad thing.

I first formulated many of the ideas presented here at an NEH Summer Seminar on Hannah Arendt in the summer of 2005, led by Russell Berman and Julia
Hell. I thank them as well as my fellow participants in the seminar, especially
Stephen Schulman and Edward Dickinson, for their thoughtful comments.
1. For a discussion of the distinction between status and contract and the
transformation of one to the other, see Pateman (1988).
2. Kristeva writes that in direct contrast to the reconciliation of man in his
isolation in the face of God . . . psychoanalytic anamnesis reveals that permanent conflict is a precursor of psychic life (citing Arendt 1958, 37). This


Emily Zakin

tension also corresponds to that between immortality and eternity that Arendt
discusses in The Human Condition (1958, 1721).
3. Liberalism assumes a substantive and self-identical subject endowed
with a free will; in spite of its friction with democracy, it is because of this shared
idea of the subject that we can still talk about liberal democracy.
4. The idea of a homogenous people sharing a general will (as in Rousseau)
is, as we shall see, a significant target of Arendts philosophical and political ire.
5. The link between Modern statelessness or homelessness and Freuds
idea of the uncanny (unheimlich) is something I will pursue further in a longer
work of which this is a chapter.
6. We might find this claim uncannily similar to Freuds analysis in Totem
and Taboo (1913).
7. Here we can clearly distinguish between social appearance and political appearance: only the latter is linked to the plurality of the world (Kristeva
2001, 172), while the former is constituted through an isolating conformity.
8. Lefort (1986b) makes a similar point in defense of human rights
and their political status, though more carefully elaborated and rigorously developed. In contrast, Giorgio Agamben (1998), Alain Badiou (2001), and
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2000) all raise compelling arguments
against human rights.

Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Arendt, Hannah. 1958. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago
. 1963. On Revolution. New York: Viking.
. 1966. Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt.
. 1981. The Life of the Mind. Orlando, FL: Harcourt.
. 1982. Lectures on Kants Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Badiou, Alain. 2001. Ethics. New York: Verso.
Foucault, Michel. 1978. History of Sexuality. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York:
. 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews, 19721977. Ed. Colin
Gordon. New York: Pantheon Books.
Freud, Sigmund. 1913. Totem and Taboo. The Standard Edition of the Complete
Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 13. Trans. James Strachey.
London: Hogarth Press.
Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.
Kristeva, Julia. 1991. Strangers to Ourselves. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York:
Columbia University Press.

Humanism, the Rights of Man, and the Nation-State


. 1993. Nations without Nationalism. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York:

Columbia University Press.
. 2000. Crisis of the European Subject. Trans. Susan Fairfield. New York:
Other Press.
. 2001. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Ross Guberman. New York: Columbia
University Press.
Lacan, Jacques. 2006. Ecrits. Ed. and trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton.
Lefort, Claude. 1986a. The Logic of Totalitarianism. The Political Forms of
Modern Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
. 1986b. Politics and Human Rights. The Political Forms of Modern
Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
. 1998. The Question of Democracy. Democracy and Political Theory.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
Pateman, Carole. 1988. The Sexual Contract. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Kristevas Uncanny Revolution:
Imagining the Meaning of Politics

Jeff Edmonds

How can we make our thinking more political? What would political revolt
look like today? Where would it take place? What, particularly, would it overcome? And what sort of society would we hope to achieve by means of this revolt? In short, what is the meaning of politics?
That these questions fascinate us today is a certainty. The question of the
political has dominated intellectual discourse in recent years. What is the meaning of this political turn in intellectual thought? One way to begin an answer to
this question is to turn to a thinker who has openly resisted this move to political thinking. Julia Kristevas work never shies away from the most fundamental political problems of the dayher work has contributed much to feminist theory,
to cosmopolitan political theory, and to political questions about immigration,
excluded communities, and terrorism. Yet, in spite of the apparent political relevance of Kristevas work, her own relationship to the political is uneasy at best. Indeed, despite this discomfort with the idea of being a political thinkerperhaps
because of this discomfortKristeva constantly finds herself having to explain
and address the political element of her work. Perhaps her ambivalence toward the
political is best expressed in the following excerpt from an interview with Rosalind
Coward. Here she responds to the statement by Coward that some of your [Kristevas] more recent statements about politics have been bewildering (2002, 341).
Kristeva replies that
I suppose we have a new religion which is not only sexwhich may
be important but also very pleasant and not dangerouswe have a


Jeff Edmonds

religion which is politics. We think that everything is political. When

we say political we say something which cannot be analyzed, its the
final act. This is political . . . stop. Its tremendously important this
final enigma, which is politics. (2002, 343)
While this reply is a response to Coward, it certainly is not intended to relieve her sense of bewilderment. In fact, Kristevas response here places bewilderment at the heart of the political, suggesting that politics today is, in fact,
something which cannot be analyzed . . . this final enigma (2002, 343). Moreover, Kristeva suggests here that it is precisely because politics is enigmatic that
it is tremendously important.
On the other hand, however, Kristeva is frustrated by the way in which
readers want to receive her work politically from the outset, as if its entire value
could be captured by its political dimension. It is in this moment that the political takes the form of fundamentalism, as that which cannot be analyzed. She
sees the repetition of the political in the vacuous form of political correctness
and the constant question of how her work is related to the political as sort of
meaningless and passionless fetishization of politics. Kristeva fears that this desire to see everything through the lens of politics will lead to a mystical or spiritual crisis. In the same interview, Kristeva states that what is needed is
more of a questioning about the discourse that can take the place of
this religious discourse which is cracking now. And I dont think political discourse can take its place. . . . If we stay with only a political
explanation of human phenomena we will be overwhelmed by the
so-called mystical crisis, or spiritual crisisthat happens, its a reality.
Every bourgeois family has a son or daughter who has a mystical crisisits understandable because of this very simple schematic explanation of such phenomenon as love or desire simply by politics. (2002,
Indeed, our very familiarity or heimlichkeit with the politicalour tendency
to gauge the adequacy of a work in terms of the political as if we knew from
the beginning what shape or substance the political takesthreatens to cover
over the uncanniness or unheimlichkeit of the political.1 Kristevas refusal to answer directly the question of whether her work is political is no rejection of
politics. It is a rejection of the simplistic and fetishistic repetition of the political as a criterion for thinking.
The thought here is that the almost neurotic repetition of the call to politics heard in the intellectual world today is a symptom of a deeper problem.
The ubiquity of the political question and the lack of subtlety with respect to
the political is a sign of its inability to represent human experience fully. The
very repetition of the political question represents the failure of the political

Kristevas Uncanny Revolution


discourse to give meaning to human problems. If this is true, then, perhaps the
domain of politics has moved beyond politics. Kristeva puts it like this:
So my problem is: how, through psychoanalysis or something else like
art, through such discourses can we try to develop a more complicated
elaboration, discourse, sublimation of these critical points of the
human experience, which cannot be reduced to a political causality.
(2002, 344)
In short, Kristeva gives us an analytic approach to politics. She is interested in
asking why the question of the political is so familiar to us rather than with addressing the political directly. While this analytic approach to the political is certainly not immediately recognizable to a traditional political thinker, her writings
are also not a naive rejection of the question of the political. I hope to indicate, in
fact, quite the opposite. Kristevas analysis of the political does certainly call the
political into question, but this questioning of the political is in no way an abandonment of it; on the contrary, it is an attempt to reinvigorate political discourse
to give it meaning by bringing it into relation to experience and imagination.
I would like to suggest, in short, that Kristevas complicated relationship to
the political shows the way toward a more vibrant conception of politics. By working through the problematic of Kristevas relationship to the political, I hope to
be able to articulate a way of engaging her work that requires neither the rejection of her work as apolitical, nor an immediate embrace of her as a political
thinker. Indeed, it is her ability to occupy an ethical space on the margin of politicsneither absolutely political nor apoliticalthat allows her to more effectively criticize the sorts of fundamentalism that threaten the very connection
between politics and intellectual life today. Kristevas analytic ethic provides a form
of unity better suited to democratic community than the forms of solidarity offered by traditional political theory. Hers is a community found through the work
of imagination, interpretation, and analysis, rather than in allegiance to an ideal.

From Fundamentalism to the Uncanny:

An Analytic Ethic in Strangers to Ourselves
Kristevas analytic ethic is elaborated through a criticism of fundamentalism.
Of course, political fundamentalism is not the only sort of fundamentalism that
threatens the possibility of a more adequate political language. Fundamentalism is perhaps the most recurrent problem within todays political horizon. From
the Christian right to Islamic suicide bombers, the fundamentalist drives political discourse (or the lack thereof ) today.2 Though Kristeva was writing before
the events of 9/11, her analysis of fundamentalism resonates even more clearly
today. In Strangers to Ourselves, she describes fundamentalism as purely


Jeff Edmonds

symbolic, a sort of emptied ritual.3 The bonds of the fanatical religious community are cemented by pure, hard fantasies (1991, 24). She writes, Fundamentalists are more fundamental when they have lost all material ties, inventing
for themselves a we that is purely symbolic; lacking a soil it becomes rooted in
ritual until it reaches its essence, which is sacrifice (24).
The argument here is complex. Stripped of all material ties, the fundamentalists are essentially adrift. They are a community of foreigners, but their
foreignness is absolute. Having been excluded from all other communities, they
invent a we that has no basis other than that of exclusion. Kristeva puts it this
way: As enclave of the other within the other, otherness becomes crystallized as
pure ostracism: the foreigner excludes before being excluded, even more than he
is being excluded (1991, 24). The hardness of the cemented fundamentalist bonds
that allow for the tightness of the community also cement the ostracization of
the foreigner. Their very impenetrability is a sign of their emptiness. Their inside
is cement. And yet these bonds are formed on the basis of a previous exclusion.4
This logic of fundamentalism, the emptiness of its ritual, the firmness of its
dogma, and its lack of interpretation leads to its essence, which is death. One
recognizes a sort of Hegelian thought here. The purity of the fundamentalists
fantasy can only manifest itself in her willingness to sacrifice everything for her
fantasy. That is, the universality of the fantasy is its essential emptiness. The
purely symbolic becomes rooted in ritual alone and eventually reaches its essence
as emptinesssacrifice and death. The question thus becomes how to disrupt
the absolutism of the fundamentalist that manifests itself in the tight link
between ideology and death.5
Kristeva finds resources to address this issue in Freuds short work, The
Uncanny. In this work, Kristeva writes, Freud shows that in the very word,
heimlich, the familiar and the intimate are reversed into their opposites, brought
together with the contrary meaning of uncanny strangeness harbored in unheimlich (1991, 182). In other words, the meaning of the familiar is constituted
by a sort of strangeness, and vice versa. Consequently therefore, writes Kristeva,
that which is strangely uncanny would be that which was (the past tense is important) familiar and, under certain conditions (which ones?), emerges (183).
Indeed, the political question of how to engage the absolutist fundamentalist may be asked in the following fashion: Under what conditions might ones
most familiar belief appear strange? Or under which conditions does the uncanny emerge? And what should our reaction be to this emergence? Freud writes
that whatever reminds us of this inner repetition-compulsion is perceived as uncanny (1919/1953, 391). What would remind us of this, of the vacuous eternal recurrence of the repetition-compulsion? How might the fundamentalist be
able to see the uncanny emptiness of her most meaningful rituals?
It is in response to this question that Kristeva develops her ethics of analysis. For Freud, Kristeva explains, it is the confrontation with death that produces the feeling of the uncanny. Kristeva writes that the fear of death dictates

Kristevas Uncanny Revolution


an ambivalent attitude: we imagine ourselves surviving (religions promise

immortality), but death just the same remains the survivors enemy, and it accompanies him in his new existence. Apparitions and ghosts represent that ambiguity and fill with uncanny strangeness our confrontations with the image of
death (1991, 185). Precisely, here, at the heart of the emptiness of fundamentalism, then, Kristeva locates a sort of uncanny possibility. Indeed, the simultaneous contradiction between and proximity of the suicide bomber and her
dream of immortality produces a sense of the uncanny. The fantasy of the suicide bomber, that through her death she might overcome her death, can lead to
the horrific realization of the uncanny.
It is at this moment that Kristeva locates a sort of ethical choice. The appearance of the uncanny, whether in the approach of a strange foreigner or in
the coincidence of death and immortality in the form of the suicide bomber,
leads to two possibilities of confrontation. The first possibility is to meet the uncanny with analysis: with curiosity and imagination. The second possibility is to
refuse the uncanny: with fear and abjection.6 Kristeva puts it this way:
On the one hand, the sense of strangeness is a mainspring to identification with the other, by working out its depersonalizing impact by
means of astonishment. . . . And yet the uncanny strangeness can also
be evacuated: No, that doesnt bother me; I laugh or take actionI go
away, I shut my eyes, I strike, I command . . . Such an elimination of
the strange could lead to an elimination of the psyche, leaving, at the
cost of mental impoverishment, the way open to acting out, including
paranoia and murder. (1991, 190)
It is in this choice that Kristeva identifies her ethic of psychoanalysis. If the cost
of the universal is always exclusion of the foreigner and if the heimlichkeit can only
be constructed on the basis of unheimlichkeit, then there is a sense in which the one
is always present in the other. It is only by abjecting the foreign completely that
one could arrive at the sort of empty ideology, the elimination of psychic space,
that would lead to terror activities. In a swift dialectical move, Kristeva locates
the terror of the terrorist fundamentalist within. But what the fundamentalist is
most terrified of, what she must exclude completely is the unheimlichkeit of her
deed. It is only on the basis of the exclusion of the uncanny that the certainty of
conviction can pave the way for the actualization of the death drive.
What is needed instead is deferral, displacement, sublimation. This would
only come if the uncanny were recognized as an imaginative possibility, as an
astonishment or wonder that calls for analysis. This is what Kristeva means
when she writes:
To discover our disturbing otherness, for that indeed is what bursts in
to confront that demon, that threat, that apprehension generated by


Jeff Edmonds

the projective apparition of the other at the heart of what we persist in

maintaining as a proper, solid, us. By recognizing our uncanny
strangeness we shall neither suffer from it nor enjoy it from the outside. . . . The ethics of psychoanalysis implies a politics: it would involve
a cosmopolitanism of a new sort that . . . might work for a mankind
whose solidarity is founded on the consciousness of its unconscious
desiring, destructive, fearful, empty, impossible. (1991, 192)
The ethical duty that would provide for a mankind whose solidarity is founded
on the consciousness of his unconscious elaborated here would be a constant
analysis of the forms of rejection that must take place for the us to be formed.
This analysis would be desirous in that it would call for a curiosity toward what
had been rejected, destructive in that it could not possibly fully articulate the
loss of those rejected, fearful in that it would have to confront the reasons why
it had rejected the others, empty in that it would be a mere sublimation or representation of the loss, and impossible in that for all of the above reasons, the lost
or repressed other would surely return.
We could say that the solidarity that Kristeva offers here is political, but the
analytic ethic is not the solidarity of traditional political theory. Because the
unity of this solidarity is founded on an ethic of analysis, on a working out or
working through of forms of social unity and exclusion, the unity it provides is
not theoretical, but one of practice. It is a kind of politics in-process/on trial. She
offers no a priori theory of politics, but a practice of political analysis. For this
reason, it is far removed from a call to brotherhood, about which one has already ironically pointed out its debt to paternal and divine authorityIn order
to have brothers there must be a father (1991, 192). Through her idea of an
imaginary politics, Kristeva attempts to give us a picture of politics beyond
brotherhoodand also beyond paternalism, authority, and political theory as
traditionally construed. Kristevas notion of solidarity is not organized around
a controlling ideal, but around an analytic practice. It is not grounded in a meaning, but in the constructions and reconstructions of the political imaginary.
This point is most evident in Kristevas style. Her work cannot be judged according to its theoretical completeness, for she is not interested in giving a final
and comprehensive theory of politics. The politics of her work is found in its effects on our own conception of how a political theory should work. Her writings
operate on the boundary of the political as a sort of play that entices us beyond
the political, that shows us a new space into which politics might move and become something else. In short, instead of asking the imagination to answer to the
demands of politics, she asks politics to yield to imagination. Instead of imagination and philosophy serving politics, Kristeva calls for a politics that is imaginative. She works to identify the concept of the political itself with an
imaginative analytics. On the one hand, this identification breaks down the idea
that we could possibly understand what sort of writing was or was not political

Kristevas Uncanny Revolution


from the outset. But on the other hand, this identification of the imaginary
with the political provides the possibility of giving new life to both imagination
and politics.

Appetite after the Feast: Toward a

Postprandial Politics
Kristevas notion of the political as beyond brotherhood raises some important
questions. If politics has been transformed from a more traditional statecentered understanding to a more imaginative, psychic realm, then it seems reasonable to ask how one could identify the form of authority in this new political landscape. If the domain of politics is imaginary, then are the forms of
authority operative here as well? The question is crucial. If Kristevas treatment
of the political is not to be read as a flight from authority into a romantic imaginary space, it must be read as an engagement with forms of oppression, alienation, and suffering in a new realm. What is the relation between this new
political realm and the traditional way of understanding political authority?
In other words, we might ask: Is imaginary revolt possible? Against whom
would we revolt? And who are we? To put the question in psychoanalytic terms,
if solidarity is not brotherhood, which is to say if we are not held together by
the memory of the death of the father, then how really might this solidarity be
provided? In other words, if solidarity always comes through revolt or the overcoming of some authority, then where or what or who is the authority against
which this new cosmopolitan politics could be constituted?
It is clear that politics without a discourse of authority is almost unimaginable
and most likely irresponsible, but perhaps a healthy answer to this question can be
found somewhere between abandonment and fixation. If the difficulty of conceiving a kind of solidarity or cosmopolitanism beyond brotherhood rises because
of our insistence on conceiving this unity in terms of an absolute authority, then
perhaps in working through an analysis, together, of the sources of this conception
something like this solidarity might appear. We can find solidarity in the engagement with this problematic.
I take Kristeva to be beginning this task most explicitly in The Sense and
Non-sense of Revolt (2000) when she identifies the traditional form of this problematic in the Freudian fable of the founding of the social link with the murder of the father in Totem and Taboo (1913). As she already indicated in her call
for solidarity beyond brotherhood, Kristeva suggests here as well that we are at
the limits of the logic of this fable. To understand what a politics beyond brotherhood might mean, we must look a little more closely at the Totem and Taboo
myth, which Kristeva summarizes nicely:
One day, the sons plotted a conspiracy and revolted (there we are!)
against the father: they killed him and ate him. After this totemic meal,


Jeff Edmonds

they identified with him, and after this primary ceremony of humanity, which saw the concomitance of revolt and feast (remember this
concomitance!), they replaced the dead father with the image of the father, with the totem symbol of power, the figure of the ancestor. From
then on, guilt and repentance cemented the bond, the social pact,
among the sons, among the brothers; they felt guilty and banded together as a result of this guilt, and the dead father became stronger
than the living one had been. (2000, 12)
In essence, the myth tells the story of the founding of religious consciousness. The primitive strength of the father is transformed into a transcendental
powera sense of wrongdoing (2000, 12). The social link, so the myth goes,
was primarily a religious link, worked out through the ritualization of an idealized image of the father. So long as this totem reminds the sons that they killed
their father, the social bond is maintained through the feeling of guilt and the
remembrance of the death of the father through the totemic rite.
At the limits of this logic, however, the bond between the brothers becomes
a mere association, and the rituals that memorialized the father become meaningless and empty. The ritual of remembrance degenerates into riot on the one
hand and empty, fetishistic fundamentalism on the other. At this moment the
basis of the social bond transforms from one based on a common memory to
one based on exclusion and sacrifice. We have returned to the moment of fundamentalism and of the repetition of the politicalthe clinging to empty rituals that require empty sacrifices. Kristeva asks:
Why does one sacrifice? Why does one enter into a religious pact and
embrace fundamentalism, of whatever sort? Because Freud tells us, the
benefits we extract from the social contract threaten to disappear as a
result of the changing conditions of life: unemployment, exclusion,
lack of money, failure in work, dissatisfactions of every kind. From then
on, assimilation into the social link disintegrates; the profit I finding
my integration in the socius collapses. What does this profit consist of ?
It is nothing other than the appropriation of paternal attributes. In
other words, I felt flattered to be promoted to the level of someone
who could, if not be the father, at least acquire his qualities, identify
with his power; I was not excluded (2000, 14; emphasis added)
Kristeva mentions exclusion here in reference to her analysis of fundamentalism in Strangers to Ourselves. The logic is precisely the samebecause of the
loss of material ties, the profit of integration into the social collapses. What
was once a society governed by the memory of a single authority literally disintegrates into and through the logic of exclusion. The authority is no longer located transcendentally and shared equally. Instead, power operates horizontally

Kristevas Uncanny Revolution


between the brothers at the level of normalization: I feel excluded; I can no

longer locate power, which has become normalizing and falsifiable (2000, 14).
At this moment, the social bond is based on what both Freud and Kristeva
call filial rebelliousness (2000, 14). The brothers, having lost the memory of
the dead father who once united them, turn against each other. This leads to a
multiplication of acts of defiance: Thus we see the development of new attempts at rebellion, different from the primary revolt that was the murder of the
father, in the form of religious worship and its pageantry, which today we consider aesthetic or artistic. A sacrificial situation is reproduced through which an
imaginary power (which is not immediately political but has this latent vocation) is established and activated (14). After the death of the father, after the
identification with him, occurs the concomitance of revolt and feast, which
Kristeva earlier asked us to remember. This is our moment, the passing of the
memory of the father into empty, normalizing, and pervertible ritual, into a fantastic, tumultuous rebellion. The revolution of the sons turned them into a band
of brothers, but at the limits of this logic, the band disintegrates into a mob
the culture of the spectacle.
Here we are. The memory of the fathers death has been finally killed and
we are all, on the one hand, constantly and frantically, gorging ourselves in the
feast, consuming so quickly that we forget why. The inundation and repetition
of images, spectacle, and hollow ritual has crowded out another possibility: that
of actively and creatively representing this loss together in a politically meaningful way. The father has been dispersed, digested, completely consumed. Revolution used to be killing the authority of the father and providing for the
possibility of this feast. Now all we have is feasting; the feast characterizes our
moment: Perhaps this is where we are: neither guilty nor responsible but consequently incapable of revolt (2000, 15).
What to do now? We cannot bring the father back to life. We understand
all too well that he was, in fact, an invention of our imagination, an imaginary
father. The totem is (was) a hollow ritual. Yet, in a strange way this hollowness
and emptiness provides for the possibility of a return of a more democratic
solidaritya solidarity founded not on the basis of paternal authority but on an
active working through of the loss of that authority. The loss of a unified source
of authority in the form of a religious or secular discourse (God or State as paternal function) uncovers a concealed possibility. At the very moment when the
fathers memory has been lost, the possibility of bringing him back imaginatively, aesthetically, and artistically has been opened. This imaginary return gives
meaning to revolution today as an analytic, imaginative revolt. The father cannot be brought back to life, but through imagination we can sublimate this loss,
this death, instead of actualizing it.
Kristevas revolt thus calls for a giving of meaning to the loss of ground or
authority that is involved in the culture of the image and of the spectacle. It
would be the attempt to keep filial rebellion from mob mentality. It will require


Jeff Edmonds

negotiation, discourse, and engagement without the possibility of an end.

Instead of a conspiracy against the father, political revolution would be the constant and never finished sublimation of the conflict between brothers without
the possibility of the return of some final authority. It would require an analysis of the social in terms of a familiar memory that has been lost at some point
but again returns,7 never fully present, unconscious, indeed unheimlich
a mankind whose solidarity is founded on the consciousness of its unconsciousness (1991, 192).
Kristeva presents us the challenge of articulating this solidarity through an
analytic ethic. This is the revolutionary and political task she sets out. The space
of the political is again an imaginary domain: aesthetic, subjective, linguistic,
symbolicin short psychic. Its dangers and forms of authority are operative on
this domain as well. Kristeva puts it this way:
A sacrificial situation is reproduced through which an imaginary power
(which is not immediately political but has this latent vocation) is established and activated. Each participant hopes to satisfy the need to
confront an authority in his/her imagination; it becomes possible not
only to protest indefinitely (the rite is repeated) but also to renew the
rite, in a way, with the dazzling expenditures that accompany religious
celebrations: dances, trances, and other festivities inseparable from the
scene of the sacrifice. (2000, 14)
The choice is between politics as a repetitive, empty protest (which costs nothing) against an imaginary authority or as a sort of jouissancea celebration with
expenditures, festivities, guests. The difference is subtle, but essential. The question boils down to who will control our imagination. Will we remain stuck
protesting indefinitely against the same empty image of the father, pounding our
fists for a while, then changing the channel or falling asleep?8 Or will we take
the absence of the father as an opportunity to celebrate, to invite others in, to
imagine possibilities for encounters with others from different families? Will we
fixate on the heimlich, clinging uncannily to a lost family resemblance, or will we
invite the foreigner in on the off chance that he, too, is uncannily familiar?
In short, Kristeva draws the authority of the father (and politics thought in
terms of this authority) into question in a revolutionary way. She presents the
political response to this question as leading to two possibilities. On the one
hand the response to this loss of authority could be abjectiona forgetting, a
denial of the fathers death, a repression of his memory. If the psychological
analogy holds, this repression would cause a return of the father in some horrifying wayit would bring his image back as real,9 as an uncanny return of
authority in the form of an image that would fill psychic space with its spectacular emptiness. Fundamentalism and terrorism are manifestations of this
today. On the other hand, the response could involve an active reimagining and

Kristevas Uncanny Revolution


deferral of this loss, an attempt to bring an imaginary father back through an

infinite process of imagination, analysis, and interpretation. Kristeva puts the
options this way:
[I]t is no longer a matter of conforming to the universal . . . or asserting ones difference (ethnic, religious, sexual) as untouchable, sacred;
still less of fighting one of these tendencies with the other or simply
and skillfully combining them. It is a matter of pushing the need for the
universal and the singular to the limit in each individual, making this
simultaneous movement the source of both thought and language. . . .
The borders of philosophy and literature break down in favor of a process
of meaning and the speaking being, meanings emitted and values
received. (2000, 19)
This very process would require the analytic ethic elaborated in Strangers to
Ourselves. It figures the ethical as curious, endless engagement as opposed to
exclusion and rejection. It figures politics as imaginative revolution of meaning. The process calls for subjecting our own meanings to the values of others,
meanings emitted, values received instead of giving in to a repetitive rebellion. Perhaps politics as paternalism is dead, and democracy is on the rise, but
Kristeva shows us that the passing of paternalism is just the beginning of a
process of working through that death. Her imaginary politics raises the question of how to deal with the lack of an identifiable authority.
Kristeva thus draws the authority of politics into question in a revolutionary
way, but her revolution is not meant to consume the father by means of indifferent and vacuous ritual, image, and text. It is instead the postprandial articulation
of a revolutionary process; a process that is not only an end, a consuming or consummating feast, but the birth of an appetite, a drive, a beginningwhich
involves not only loss but the birth of a memory of that loss.

Lets return to the questions that opened this chapter. What is the meaning of
politics today? And are Kristevas writings political?
A third question now comes into view: What would it mean to answer
these questions in theory? And thus what would it mean to assume that one
could decide theoretically what the shape or form of the political is and which
works met the criterion of being political? Following Kristevas analytic ethic
demands interrogating the community that is guided by political questions.
Indeed, if we follow the uncanny logic elaborated on in this chapter, the
repetition or fetishization of the political as a question emerges as a symptom
of the rejection of the political from the rest of the passions that guide and sustain our lives. Faced with the death of political consciousness, we academics


Jeff Edmonds

have been trying to conjure it through the repetition of images of political

rebellion or a desperate sort of seeking for its lost essence. This intellectual who
sees everything in terms of its implications for political theory threatens to undermine the ethic of analysis and the practical solidarity this ethic provides. It
is to sacrifice the fragile but sustainable bond built through a process of analysis to the absolute and empty bonds of political theory.
Kristevas description of the fundamentalist bears repeating in todays political context: Fundamentalists are more fundamental when they have lost all
material ties, inventing for themselves a we that is purely symbolic; lacking a
soil it becomes rooted in ritual until it reaches its essence, which is sacrifice
(1991, 24). If those of us today who are concerned with the threat of fundamentalism to politics respond with a fundamentalist allegiance to the political,
we sacrifice attention to material realities that might not be captured by traditional political discourse. This sort of fundamentalist politics is built more on
the separation between political theory and the rest of life, the lack of material
ties between the political we of academia and the apolitical them that lies
outside our politicized theory. What are the consequences of our desire to be politically relevant for the communities in which we live? What sorts of lines does
the discourse of politics draw between people? And how can these lines be reconfigured? These are the questions that Kristevas analytic ethic places before
us. They are political questions, to be sure, but to address them we must examine how the meaning of politics functions in community. How have the practices of political theory already decided who is to engage in political reflection
and how that political reflection is to take place?
For Kristeva, the meaning of politics remains enigmatic. But the enigmatic
nature of politics is a call to imaginative analytics. Kristevas work attempts to
show a sort of narrow path that we might tread with regard to finding a meaningful place for politics within the larger context of life. Her response to the
enigma of politics is neither an abandonment of politics nor the repetition of a
question concerning its essence. Instead she takes a calculated distance from
the political, pausing for a moment to reflect on the reasons, forces, and
desires behind our political consciousness.
This distance provides space for reflection, for sublimation, for return, for revolution. One could thus say that for Kristeva the space of the political is psychic
or that psychic space is the condition of possibility of politics. But to understand
the political as a process, as the birth of an appetite instead of the return of an
empty repetition, a continuous interpretation of what it means for politics to be
guided by imagination must continue. At the very least it means that we must be
able to imagine possibilities for judging the effects of discourse beyond the simplistic question of whether and how the discourse is politically relevant.
We must understand Kristevas call for an imaginary politics as a demand to
look toward what has been overlooked in our fascination for finding political implications. In this sense it is in the very imaginative articulation of politics as imag-

Kristevas Uncanny Revolution


inary that an imaginary politics would appear, and it is in this uncanny articulation
of a politics beyond the political that Kristevas work finds its political implications. Instead of a collectivity centered around an image of authority, she points toward a democracy to come: one that is always in process, its unity founded on an
imaginative process of analysis of that unity. This unity must always be provisional.
As soon as this imaginative process of articulation is finished, Kristevas uncanny
unity between politics and imagination will be evacuated, leaving an emptiness,
words on a page, a mere image of imaginary politics.
For these reasons, Kristevas work gives us no answers; it gives us questions
that demand analysis. Her work calls for an imaginative confrontation with her
own uncanny, shifting, and difficult text. Indeed, if her remarks concerning the
political are bewildering, it is because they call for interpretation. Her interpretation of the political disperses its meaning. What is the nature of the political?
The question repeats itself, continuously. It calls for interpretation, for an imaginary revolution.

1. I will return to the relation between the familiar and uncanny, which is
extremely important in Kristevas work. She acknowledges that her use of the
familiar and uncanny derives from Freuds 1919 essay The Uncanny, in which
he writes, What interests us most . . . is to find that among its different shades
of meaning the word heimlich exhibits one which is identical with its opposite,
unheimlich. What is heimlich thus comes to be unheimlichIn general we are
reminded that the word heimlich is not unambiguous but belongs to two sets of
ideas, which without being contradictory are yet very different: on the one hand,
it means that which is familiar and congenial, and on the other, that which is
concealed and kept out of sight (1919/1953, 375).
2. The recent violence in Europe and the Middle East over the political
cartoons depicting Mohammed dramatizes in an extreme way both the failure
of the political discourse and the emptiness of the fundamentalist reaction to
that failure. These events have made it increasingly clear that we lack the language to address the political and religious differences that threaten the possibility of a more democratic or cosmopolitan global community. The death of
political discourse dramatized by these events calls ever more urgently for analysis, for a more imaginative sort of politics.
3. I will return to this notion of the empty ritual in my analysis of revolution in a different light in the second section of this chapter.
4. The question of who is responsible for what one might call a primary
exclusion seems wrong to ask here. Kristeva is not interested in locating who or
what is to blame for the exclusion of certain groups and for their counterexclusion. Indeed, the attempt to finalize and/or demonize some group as carrying
the sole responsibility for starting the process of exclusion would be absurd on


Jeff Edmonds

her account. As she makes clear, rejection is always necessaryit is more a question of the manner in which the exclusion would occur.
5. Another question arises at this point, which is that insofar as we have
identified the absolute fundamentalist as the terrorist, perhaps we have already succumbed to the logic of exclusion that Kristeva is elaborating. Again,
however, it is not merely a question of identification, but of how we deal with
that identificationwith violence and rejection or with analysis?
6. These two possibilities are dramatized in E. T. A. Hoffmans The
Sandman. The protagonist, Nathaniel is antagonized by uncanny visions, and
though in the end they drive him to suicide, they also drive him to correspondence and curiosity and eventually love. Interestingly, he falls in love with Clara,
who analyzes his uncanny fantasies as products of his imagination. It is only
when he takes these fantasies to be real that he cannot love Clara and commits
suicide. Hoffman dramatizes these options as follows. First, the uncanny as a
source of curiosity and imagination: [N]ever could I accustom myself to the uncanny ghost: the image of the cruel sandman never grew paler within me. What
it could be that he had to do with my father began to engage my imagination
more and more. An invincible timidity prevented me from asking my father
about it; but to investigate the mystery myself, to see the fabled sandman myselfthis desire grew more and more intense as the years passed. The sandman
had started me on the road to the strange and adventurous that so easily find a
home in the heart of a child (1988, 89). But when Nathaniels imagination becomes confused with reality, the sandman becomes an object of horror and abjection: When now I saw this Coppelius, my soul was filled with fear, and with
horror that it was he of all people who had turned out to be the sandman; the
sandman was now no longer that bogeyman of the nursery tale who took childrens eyes as food to his owls nest in the moon: no! he was now a repellent
spectral monster bringing misery, distress and earthly and eternal ruination
wherever he went (90).
7. The brothers, having forgotten the father at this point, are no longer
brothers, but perhaps they have the unconscious memory of having been a family. Perhaps, upon the appearance of the other, there is an uncanny recognition.
What was once familiar (heimlich) has been transformed into the uncanny (unheimlich). Thus heimlich, writes Freud, is a word the meaning of which develops toward an ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite,
unheimlich (1919/1953, 377).
8. This idea was suggested by Kelly Oliver. This chapter arose from a graduate seminar in the spring of 2005 and owes much of its development to Kellys
help both inside and outside the seminar.
9. It is helpful at this point to remember the two choices for representing
this uncanny return as depicted in Hoffmans The Sandman. The first involves love, analysis, and imagination. The second, which conflates image with
reality, involves rejection, horror, and death.

Kristevas Uncanny Revolution


Freud, Sigmund. 1913. Totem and Taboo. The Standard Edition of the Complete
Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 13. Trans. James Strachey.
London: Hogarth Press.
. 1919/1953. The Uncanny. Collected Papers. Trans. Joan Riviere. London: Hogarth Press.
Hoffman, E. T. A. 1988. The Sandman. Tales of Hoffman. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin Books.
Kristeva, Julia. 1991. Strangers to Ourselves. Trans. Leon Roudiez. New York:
Columbia University Press.
_____. 2000. The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New
York: Columbia University Press.
_____. 2002. Julia Kristeva in Conversation with Rosalind Coward. The
Portable Kristeva. Ed. Kelly Oliver. New York: Columbia University Press.

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Religion and the Rights of Man
in Julia Kristevas Work

Idit Alphandary

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,

(How Could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the sprophets pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the slovers cry,
Hart Crane, To Brooklyn Bridge

Julia Kristevas writings on religion, I would like to suggest, redefine the relation
of language and desire. According to Kristeva the institution of a productive relation between desire and language enhances the rights of man. A useful connection of language and desire might enable human beings to experience being,
not just safely participate in doing, or successfully circumvent difficulties that
crop up in daily living. In Kristevas writing, the most important human right is
the right to unite with the sacred, in the religious phrase, or to have a sensation
of being, in the language of psychoanalysis. Kristeva, I would like to show, both
detects and creates a correlation between the religious mind and the psychoanalytical mind on profound levels of thinking and meaning production. Kristeva
foreshadows the linguistic proficiency that engenders dominant narrativepatterns, and shows that the acquisition of language and the oedipal phase are
fundamental to all narrative systems around which our minds revolve. The Christian narrative, which is grounded on the three advents: of conception, death, and
resurrection, and the psychoanalytical narrativecomprising three cardinal
phases: unity with the mother, subjection to the taboo against incest, and the


Idit Alphandary

institution of a flow of information between the conscious and the unconscious

mindare narratives very similar to one another and thus they contain overlapping ideas. Kristeva initiates a scholarly and humanistic study that crystallizes
ideas that are common to religion and psychoanalysis, as these ideas enhance our
ability to have meaningful experiences.

The Son and Murderous Desire

In Kristevas book In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith (1987), she
relates the structure of the unconscious with the very structure of monotheism.
She interprets the Christian Credo and shows that religion points to the narcissistic wound that man suffers as he begins to talk and develop his subjectivity:
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the
only begotten Son of God, begotten of his father before all worlds, God
of God, Light of Light, very God of Very God, begotten not made,
being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was
incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man,
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. (1987, 37)
In the Credo, Kristeva argues, Christ is the symbol of human living that
the believer could identify with. Christ is both a Son and a son, or a young
boy. It is possible to identify with Him because this son, with a small s, is at
the same time inherent in God, identical to light, and is very God of Very
God. The son of God does and does not coincide with the father; the fathers
existence implies a paternal function in the life of the son, Jesus Christ, and of
all human beings.
In analysis, too, the son realizes that he is not identical to the father; the discourse of the monarch or the father is metaphorical and might exist in the son
through the acquisition of language. The son abandons a jubilant unity with
the mother, when he learns to speak. In the aftermath of the loss of the mothers
body, melancholia inhabits the sons psyche, and language, which expresses this
depression, enables him to communicate his desire to the others. Yet, death is
inherent in this transition. From the crucifixion of Christ, the analyst learns
that murderous desires toward the father lurk in the very structure of monotheism. In psychoanalysis, too, analysands suffer from an almighty father or from
the lack of a powerful father. The analyst interprets Christs passion as guilt that
is visited upon the Son who is put to death. According to religion, then, the
sacred is inherent in crucifixion.
Kristeva shows that sublimation of the death drive, and language acquisition, are connected to one another. In An Ethics of Dissensus, Ewa Pnowska

Religion and The Rights of Man in Julia Kristevas Work


Ziarek suggests that Kristevas analysis of language acquisition is to do mainly

with an ethical role assigned to sublimation, the deflection of the aggressivity
of the death drive for the destruction of the narcissistic unity of the ego and for
the restructuring of language (2001, 133). Ziarek is not at ease with Kristevas
narrow characterization of sublimation, and I subscribe to the discomfort. Here,
love is excluded from the structure of sublimation. But Kristeva, too, is unhappy
with her own interpretation as it presupposes that interaction with the other is
grounded on sacrifice. Thus Kristeva examines the possibility that a nonsacrificial sacred exists too.

The Mother and the Son

Kristeva continues, Seen in psychoanalytic terms, the rights of man comprise not
the right to calculate what life is but to understand the unconscious, to understand it
even to the gates of death (1987, 62). Kristeva institutes a new theoretical viewpoint of the relation of the Mother and the Son. In the definition of human rights
in the last section, the Power that resides in the symbolic order of signification is
undermined by the obligation to understand the death that presides in the semiotic order of affective significance. This means that human beings do not have a
moral right to restrict meaningful living and uniquely deploy symbolic calculation,
thus dissociating sublimation from love and concern for the other. The expression
the Rights of Man has a double valence: it means that human beings have a right
to tend to those aspects of the personality that emerge from trauma, but at the
same time this expression announces that human beings are answerable to new
moral discriminations. Kristeva examines the mothers posture in discourse and
deduces that man is subject to a moral imperative to explore memory traces in the
unconscious mind. Understanding the unconscious might teach the man of faith,
the analysand, and the reader to assign significance to the affects pain, sorrow, and
loss, and this understanding will give meaning to ideas such as love and concern
for the other; ideas on which human existence is founded.
In Stabat Mater, Kristeva represents the mothers posture in discourse.
She shows that the mothers love begins to develop when she encounters death.
The calm of another life, the life of that other who wends his way while I remain henceforth like a framework. Still life. There is him, however, his own
flesh, which was mine yesterday. Death, then, how could I yield to it?
(1976/1987, 243). The mothers subjectivity is characterized by the emergence
of the capacity for concern for the other.1 In this case, Kristeva singles out the
relation of love to death: love necessitates complete openness to the other; it is
consubstantial with an experience of personal annihilation, or with perfect openness, an acceptance of death. The Virgins love appears at the instance of her
own death as the Madonna is transformed in the process of Dormition or Assumption.2 In both of these cases the mother encounters death uniquely as it is
inherent in love; death is embedded in giving life.


Idit Alphandary

In The Feminine and the Sacred, in her reply letter to Catherine Clment,
Kristeva detects a striking parallelism between the religious mind and the psychoanalytic mind. She shows that from the Nativity to the Pieta, and including the Mater Dolorosa and the Regina Caeli, the Virgin is . . . exclusively the
devoted mother. The good mother as Melanie Klein would say, who gives herself body and soul to her son, to the extent that, without her, the dear son would
have no body, since that god is a man precisely, only by the grace of his journey
through the body of Mary full of grace (2001, 76). We are told that no human
being could survive without maternal love and care. Kristeva connects the religious myth with the narrative of psychoanalysis and states, In short, Mary rehabilitates that primal bedrock of our identities, which modern analysts call
mother-baby excitation, and which Winnicott identifies with the serenity of
being (76). The continuity of love and death, inherent in motherhood, is a
gift that precedes other drive-related phallic definitions of rights of man, such
as freedom, equality, knowledge, and justice.
In Cecilia Sjholms recent book Kristeva and the Political, she examines
the secularizing gesture that presides in Kristevas study of religion and psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis repeats the Christian form of meaning production.
Psychoanalysis could even, at least to some extent, be said to have taken the
place of religion. After theology, psychoanalysis studies how language produces
meaning, through the notions of transference and countertransference. Rather
than being a science, or a question of truth, psychoanalysis is faith. Its object is
also a question of the imaginary (2005, 82). I take issue with this argument as
it seems to turn matters upside-down. As I indicated, psychoanalysis studies
the human mind and examines religious devotion precisely in the respect that
both scripture and analysis introduce difference to language.
Kristeva, I suggest, does not hold that religion is a meaningful language in
and of itself. Rather, I think that she elucidates the power that the religious narrative has over the believer, or the archaic mind, in order precisely to show that
a different, scientific or humanistic narrative holds the same explanatory power
and it, too, ushers in meaningful living. The psychoanalytical model of transference and countertransferenceconterminous with recognition and love of
the otherbecomes the preferred model of communication, because meaningful living emerges from these intersubjective relationships. Contemporary psychoanalystsparticularly the American psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchellgo a
step further to show that indeed intersubjective interactions enhance acts of
consciousness construction.3

The Semiotic and the Symbolic

Yet, Kristevas description of the mother has to explain the breakdown that separates the semiotic from the symbolic orders of language. Because the cuts and
breaking inherent in giving birth and child rearing do not imprint death in the

Religion and The Rights of Man in Julia Kristevas Work


mothers unconscious they introduce difference to language. Kristeva relates

the semiotic both with the unconscious and the imagination. The mother resides in the prelinguistic phase and beyond the parentheses of language, and
thus we call the sons language the mother tongue. Motherhood means that
the mother experiences the body and the transmission of speech as continuous
with each other.
In an early article, The Abject Maternal: Kristevas Theoretical Consistency, Mary Caputi writes, That mode of expression which most articulates
jouissance, which is the most maternal, is poetic language. In its self-conscious
abjuration of symbolic logic, poetic language carries out the project of semanalyse, lending credence to the claim that a connection between language and
revolution indeed exists (1993, 32). Revolution is a central concept in this discussion, as according to Hannah Arendt (1963), it is directly related to freedom.4 Yet I think that Caputi short-circuits the fact that the use of the idea of
revolution obligates one to endorse the utopian Kantian description of the autonomy of the will, which emerges from ones subjection to the ethical imperative. But it is precisely this utopia that Kristevas oeuvre challenges. Thus, I
view the role that jouissance and poetry have in language differently. Affect and
literature do not merely furnish the revolutionary mind with the tools needed
to refute symbolic categories, such as the taboo, and the law. More important,
jouissance and poetry do to language what the relation love-death does to the
human being. In both cases tenderness or the sublime creates a union between
the human subject and being.5
The aforementiond claim also explains why the mother resides in abjection.
In Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Kristeva shows that the mother has
difficulty with the symbolic realm and with acknowledging and being acknowledged by the father or the husband. In this situation, the third or the father enters into the picture and helps the sonactivates his drive energy in the
sonand orientates him toward doing. The father initiates a struggle against
this thing that was the mother and is now the abject. The son internalizes this
struggle, Repelling, rejecting; repelling itself, rejecting itself. Ab-jecting (1982,
13). Thus, the mothers significance is to do with a primeval object of impossibilityshe is the excluded or the one that is outside of meaning; the abject. She
is the Atopia, a kind of nowhere to which the sons being continuously refers.
Precisely because the mother remains outside the symbolic order of language abjection presides in literature and psychoanalysis; two discourses that give
metaphor to abjection, or alter meaning through the excess of sublimation.

Literature and Psychoanalysis

Kristeva likes to interpret Antonin Artauds relation to Christs corpse.
The corpse provokes horror and in writing Artaud attains resurrection.
Kristeva writes:


Idit Alphandary

The death that I am provokes horror, there is a choking sensation

that does not separate inside from outside but draws them the one into
the other, indefinitely. Artaud is the inescapable witness of that tortureof that truth. . . . At the level of downfall in subject and object,
the abject is the equivalent of death. And writing, which allows one to
recover, is equal to a resurrection. (1982, 2526)
For Kristevas Artaud, Christ and the author are similar to one another.
Christ, too, is abjected, rejected, excluded, because his language recalls the death,
sin, or loss in which our lives are immersed. According to Kristeva the history
of religionnot uniquely of Christianityis conterminous with the history of
purifying the object. It culminates with art, the most cathartic occupation, on
the far and near side of religion (1982, 17).
Artauds The Theater and Its Double clearly relates maternal language with
instituting a new cultural ideal:
Here is what is really going to happen. It is simply a matter of substituting for the spoken language a different language of nature, whose expressive possibilities will be equal to verbal language, but whose source
will be tapped at a point still deeper, more remote from thought. . . .
Gesture is its material and its wits; . . . [this language] springs from
the necessity of speech more than from speech already formed. But
finding an impasse in speech, it returns spontaneously to gesture. In
passing, it touches upon some of the physical laws of human expression. It is immersed in necessity. (1958, 110)
Artaud implies that speech emerges from trauma. Traces or physical sensations inscribed in the semiotic and the abjected memory of maternal care
make speech necessary. For Artaud theater is the art that should bring the semiotic back into the symbolic realm, thus enhancing meaning, turning meaning
into a personal experience. The theater is heartrending precisely because at the
navel of this cultural experience abjection presides.
In Kristevas famous phrase, the language of psychoanalysis is grounded on
a gaping wound. She relates that Lacan views the importance of psychoanalysis in the saintliness of the analyst who embodies the linkage and is imbued with
uniquely one mood: blackness. The analysands wound has to be kept open, as in
it she or he resides. The analysts poetic speech is an antidote to the sadness that
pervades the analysands speech; it shows that this sadness is the way in which one
gains knowledge of the abject. The language of the analyst exhibits identification
but moves away from it through the use of interpretation. Thus the analytic speech
becomes incarnate, in the true sense of this word. Psychoanalysis is Cathartic,
as it enables the analyst and the analysand to experience not just purification, but,
rebirth with and against abjection (Kristeva 1982, 31).6 In Forgiveness and

Religion and The Rights of Man in Julia Kristevas Work


Community, Kelly Oliver relates the meaning that emerges in the transference
to forgiveness, As the unconscious makes its way into signification through the
semiotic dimension, the possibility of forgiveness emerges from meaningful response. The meaninglessness of life, more specifically the meaninglessness of
trauma, is thereby forgiven by becoming meaningful (2004, 9). According to my
line of thinking, forgiveness is one of the rights of man.7 These rights belong to
a political discourse and, thus, suddenly politics has to contend with difference and
relate the rights of man to love.

1. In Winnicotts seminal article, The Development of the Capacity for
Concern, in The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment, he writes,
Concern refers to the fact that the individual cares, or minds, and both feels and
accepts responsibility. At the genital level in the statement of the theory of development, concern could be said to be at the basis of the family, where both parents
in intercoursebeyond their pleasuretake responsibility for the result (1990,
73). This citation is relevant to Kristevas text as it locates concern beyond the pleasure principle. Yet, in Stabat Mater, it seems to me that Kristeva goes a step further when she directly relates giving birth to still life, or to the cessation of the
existence that preceded the delivery of an infant into the world. Her concern for
the other directly emerges from the syncope that pervades maternal existence.
2. Kristeva studies the Madonnas Assumptionthe process in which the
Madonna rises up to the heavens body and soulbecause she believes that it
endows the body, too, with continuity. As the Mother of God does not die she
need not rise from the dead, and thus her body is not subject to suffering and
decay. This fate, which is more radiant than the Sons, renders the womans body
both seductiveafter death Mary becomes Queen of Heaven and the Church
and, at the same time, disembodied, spiritual, or desexualizedthe sexuality of
the maternal body is censored, and it contains neither the life instincts nor the
death drive. Always intact, the Madonnas body accomplishes the totality of the
woman and thus Mary protects the child and the artist against an oedipal anxiety. The seductiveness of the Virgin, characterized by Kristeva as seduction withheld and experienced as incorporeal, appears on canvases devoted to this topic.
Mary McCarthy began to interest the later Kristeva, who was writing Hannah
Arendt, the first volume in Kristevas trilogy on female genius. Thus, it is interesting to note that in her masterpiece on the grandeur of Venice, Mary McCarthy relates Titians Assumption to the Jesuit ideology that aspires to bring the
believer closer to the dogma of the Church. The Frari Assumption, moreover,
though owned by the Franciscans, is quite in the Jesuit taste. Ruskin detested it,
rightly, I think; with its gaudy reds and blues, it seems to be the first sample, of
that religious propaganda art which the Jesuits used to sell the faith to the
masses (1963, 138).


Idit Alphandary

3. Stephen Mitchells work is devoted to articulating a new role for the

psychoanalyst, one in which the analyst imparts knowledge to the analysand
and yet neither loses his authority nor obstructs the flow of materials that reside in the analysands unconscious mind. In Influence and Autonomy in Psychoanalysis, Mitchell claims, In a complex interpersonal situation, one can present
to another in many different ways what is or was in ones mind. He continues,
In an important sense, consciousness comes into being through acts of construction either by others or, through self-reflection, by oneself (1977, 218).
4. In her comparative study of revolutions, Hannah Arendt compares the
French revolution to the American revolution in regard to how they view the
relation of revolution to freedom. Crucial, then, to any understanding of revolutions in the modern age is that the idea of freedom and the experience of a
new beginning should coincide. Arendt continues, And since the current notion of the Free World is that freedom, and neither justice nor greatness, is the
highest criterion for judging the constitutions of political bodies, it is not only
our understanding of revolution but our conception of freedom, clearly revolutionary in origin, on which may hinge the extent to which we are prepared to
accept or reject this coincidence (1963, 29).
5. Emmanuel Levinas attributes pure alterity to the feminine. In this sense,
Levinas views the feminine as an integer in the relationship that exceeds the encounter between two people. The feminine belongs to the sublime as woman
cannot be reduced to knowledge and thus she remains contrarietyor that
which is not reduced to sameness by a correlation with its other that emerges
within the relationshipwoman is the signifier of contrariety within the relationship. Contrariety is a term that inhabits the absolutely other; it is equal to
the feminine. Levinas uses the example of tenderness to show that womans
contrariety remains intact within the relationship with the other. The feminine
enhances desire even while woman pacifies the claims of desire. In Le Temps et
lautre (Time and the Other), Levinas writes,
La caresse est un mode dtre du sujet, o le sujet dans le contact dun
autre va au-del de ce contact. Le contact en tant que sensation fait
partie du monde de la lumire. Mais ce qui est caress nest pas touch
proprement parler. Ce nest pas le velout ou la tideur de cette donne dans le contact que cherche la caresse. Cette recherche de la caresse
en constitue lessence par le fait que la caresse ne sait pas ce quelle
cherche. Ce ne pas savoir, ce dsordonn fondamental en est lessentiel. Elle est comme un jeu avec quelque chose qui se drobe, et un jeu
absolument sans projet ni plan, non pas avec ce qui peut devenir ntre
et nous, mais avec quelque chose dautre, toujours autre, toujours inaccessible, toujours venir. La caresse est lattente de cet avenir pur,
sans contenu. Elle est faite de cet accroissement de faim, de promesses
toujours plus riches, ouvrant des perspectives nouvelles sur linsaisiss-

Religion and The Rights of Man in Julia Kristevas Work


able. Elle salimente de faims innombrables. Cette intentionalit de la

volupt, intentionalit unique de lavenir lui-mme, et non pas attente
dune fait futur, a toujours t mconnue par lanalyse philosophique.
The caress is a mode of being of the subject, where the subject in contact with an other goes beyond this contact. The contact as a sensation
is a part of the world of light. But what is caressed is not touched properly speaking. It is not the smoothness or the warmth given within the
contact that the caress searches. The research of the caress constitutes
the essence of the contact by the fact that the caress does not know
what it searches. This not to know, this fundamental disorderliness
is the caresss essence. It is like a game with something that takes itself away, and a game absolutely without a project or a plan, including
not with what can become ours or we, but with some other thing, always other, always inaccessible, always yet to come. The caress is the
expectation of this pure future, without content. It is made of this increase of hunger, of always richer promises, opening new perspectives
on the elusive. It nourishes numberless hungers. This intentionality of
the voluptuous, unique intentionality of the future itself, and not expectation of a future fact, has always been unrecognized by the philosophical analysis. (1983, 8283; translation mine)
Levinass portrayal of the caress, and by extension the feminine, is reified. Levinas, I suggest, aims to define the feminine or the caress as an action and an affect that enhances consciousness even while it evades the hold that
consciousness has on the advent of the encounter with the other. Yet Kristeva,
who, I have every reason to believe, accepts the content of Levinass argument,
offers a complex, profound analysis of the relation of the emergence of conceptual thinking to the development of the body or of the relation of tenderness
with Power. Kristeva shows that the mother inherits to humanity a capacity to
meet the other when she discloses her own experience, which defers eroticism
into tenderness and makes an object an other me (2001, 57). Uniquely the
shared experience of motherhood, I would like to suggest, could transform the
body to significance or to a semiotic system, and thus relate desire to language
and institute the free play of desire and desires sublimation. Kristeva writes,
Now I can set forth my idea: through these two prototypes of filth (excrement and menses), what is fundamentally warded off is maternal
Power. Why? Just think of the maternal authority that oversees the
training of the sphincters, through archaic frustrations and prohibitions, and forms a first cartography of identity out of our autoerotic
baby bodies, well before our identity cards, a cartography composed
of zones, orifices, points and lines between proper and improper, to


Idit Alphandary

be precise, possible and impossible. A primal cartography of the body

I call semiotic, which is the precondition for language even though
it depends on language, and which suffers and takes pleasure in an
other logic, complementary to the logic of linguistic signs imposed and
consolidated by paternal laws. (2001, 95)
6. The epigraph of this article is particularly relevant to Kristevas view of the
relation of religion or the sacred to abjection. Hart Crane conveys the feeling that
Brooklyn Bridge is more magnificent than a monumental cathedral is and possesses discrete sanctity, as does an altar, precisely because the bridge is forged by
the furies that reside in the hearts of the prophet, the pariah, and the lover. In
plate 11 of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake asserts, All deities
reside in the human breast (1988, 38). But Hart Crane courageously examines
the wilderness and abjectionthe gaping wound, in the language of Kristeva
in which human living is immersed and from which the myth of God emerges.
The poet shows that mere toil endows mans impure existence with objects that
are the fruit of a thriving imagination that lend[s] a myth to God (1986, 43).
7. In On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, Jacques Derrida articulates two different aspects of forgiveness. The first, directly related to the law, was established
in the Nuremberg Tribunal, when the conviction of those who perpetrated crimes
against humanity stood as a symbol for humanity that desired its own condemnation, because it needed to forgive itself and continue living while believing in the
Power of laws even in the face of historical catastrophe. Derrida adds that the Truth
and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa was established when the United
Nations decided to define Apartheid as a crime against humanity. The second
form of forgiveness does not bring about totality. Derrida writes, In order to approach now the very concept of forgiveness, logic and common sense agree for
once with the paradox: it is necessary, it seems to me, to begin from the fact that,
yes, there is the unforgivable. Is this not, in truth, the only thing to forgive? The
only thing that calls for forgiveness? (2001, 32). According to my understanding,
Derrida articulates the role that forgiveness plays in introducing difference to the
construction of history and memory. And yet, I think that uniquely after we have
further analyzed the various aspects of loveinherent in maternal concern for the
other and in transference in the psychoanalytical encounter, as indicated by
Kristevawe may be able to articulate the empirical bases that enhance global
politics to contend with difference and redefine the status of persons who offer
forgiveness within states of affairs whose very existence emerges from unforgivable deeds.

Arendt, Hannah. 1963. On Revolution. New York, London: Penguin Books.
Artaud, Antonin. 1958. The Theater and Its Double. Trans. Mary Caroline
Richards. New York: Grove Press.

Religion and The Rights of Man in Julia Kristevas Work


Blake, William. 1988. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Ed. David
V. Erdman. New York: Doubleday.
Caputi, Mary. 1993. The Abject Maternal: Kristevas Theoretical Consistency.
Women and Language 16 (2): 3236.
Crane, Hart. 1986. Complete Poems of Hart Crane. New York: Liveright.
Derrida, Jacques. 2001. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. Trans. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes. London: Routledge.
Kristeva, Julia. 1976/1987. Stabat Mater. Tales of Love. Trans. Leon Roudiez.
New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez.
New York: Columbia University Press.
1987. In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith. Trans. Arthur
Goldhammer. New York: Columbia University Press.
Kristeva, Julia, and Catherine Clment. 2001. The Feminine and the Sacred.
Trans. Jane Marie Todd. New York: Columbia University Press.
Levinas, Emmanuel. 1983. Le temps et lautre. Paris: Presses Universitaires
de France.
McCarthy, Mary. 1963. Venice Observed. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.
Mitchell, A. Stephen. 1977. Influence and Autonomy in Psychoanalysis. London:
Atlantic Press.
Oliver, Kelly. 2004. Forgiveness and Community. Southern Journal of Philosophy 42 (Suppl.): 115.
Sjholm, Cecilia. 2005. Kristeva and the Political. London: Routledge.
Winnicott, W. D. 1990. The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. London: Karnak.
Ziarek, Ewa Pnowska. 2001. An Ethics of Dissensus: Postmodernity, Feminism,
and the Politics of Radical Democracy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Idit Alphandary is adjunct faculty of Poetics and Comparative Literature and
Women and Gender Studies at Tel Aviv University. She submitted her doctoral
dissertation at Yale University (2001). She is currently completing the manuscript of her first book The Subject of Autonomy and Fellowship in Guy de Maupassant and D. W. Winnicott.
Caroline Arruda is a graduate student in the Philosophy Department at State
University of New YorkStony Brook and is currently writing her dissertation,
entitled The Practice of Recognition: Hegel, Social Reproduction, and the Epistemic
Foundations of Social Theory.
Sara Beardsworth is associate professor in the Philosophy Department at
Southern Illinois University. She is author of Julia Kristeva: Psychoanalysis and
Modernity (2004). Her research is in nineteenth- and twentieth-century European philosophy, and she has published articles on psychoanalysis, feminism,
and critical theory.
Jeff Edmonds is a graduate student at Vanderbilt University. He received his
bachelors degree in philosophy from Williams College in 1999 and worked as
a high school teacher in Asuncion, Paraguay, and Bell Buckle, Tennessee, before
deciding to pursue his Ph.D. in 2004. His areas of interest are political philosophy, philosophy of education, and philosophy of language.
Robyn Ferrell is presently attached to the University of Western Sydneys Writing and Society Research Group. She is the author of Copula: Sexual Technologies Reproductive Powers (2006), Genres of Philosophy (2002), and Passion in Theory
(1996). She is currently working on a book: Untitled: Art Culture Gender Law.
S. K. Keltner is assistant professor of Philosophy at Kennesaw State University.
Her research interests fall within social and political philosophy, broadly construed



to include continental thought, psychoanalysis, aesthetics, and discourses concerning social difference. She has published essays on de Beauvoir, Levinas, Kristeva, Irigaray, and Heidegger. She has a book forthcoming entitled Julia Kristeva:
John Lechte is professor of Sociology at Macquarie University in Sydney with
a special interest in Continental theory. He has published, with Mary Zournazi, The Kristeva Critical Reader (2003), and with Maria Margaroni,
Julia Kirsteva: Live Theory (2004). In 1990 he published his influential book
Julia Kristeva.
Maria Margaroni is assistant professor in Literary and Cultural Theory at the
University of Cyprus. She is coauthor, with John Lechte, of Julia Kristeva: Live
Theory (2004) and coeditor, with Effie Yiannopoulou, of Metaphoricity and the
Politics of Mobility (2006) and a special issue of the European Journal of English
Studies on Intimate Transfers (2005).
Kelly Oliver is W. Alton Jones Chair and professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of fifteen books and more than fifty articles,
including The Colonization of Psychic Space: A Psychoanalytic Theory of Oppression (2004); Noir Anxiety: Race, Sex, and Maternity in Film Noir (2002); Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (2001); Subjectivity without Subjects: From Abject
Fathers to Desiring Mothers (1998); Family Values: Subjects Between Nature and
Culture (1997); Womanizing Nietzsche: Philosophys Relation to the Feminine
(1995); and Reading Kristeva: Unraveling the Double-Bind (1993).
Frances Restuccia is a professor in the English Department at Boston College,
where she teaches contemporary literary and cultural theory as well as modernism and film/film theory. In 1989, she published James Joyce and the Law of
the Father and, in 2000, Melancholics in Love: Representing Womens Depression
and Domestic Abuse. Restuccia has also published numerous articles in journals
such as Raritan, Contemporary Literature, Novel, Genre, Genders, American Imago,
JPCS (Journal for Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society), Gender and Psychoanalysis, Clinical Studies, Religion and the Arts, literature and psychology, and Lacanian
Ink. She is cochair of the Psychoanalytic Practices seminar at Harvards Humanities Center and editor of the Contemporary Theory series at Other Press.
Her most recent book, Amorous Acts: Lacanian Ethics in Modernism, Film, and
Queer Theory, appeared in 2006.
Cecilia Sjholm is associate professor in Comparative Literature and has a Ph.D.
in philosophy. She teaches at Sdertrn University College, Stockholm, Sweden, where she is currently director of the Program of Aesthetics. Her work includes articles and books on literature, psychoanalysis, and philosophy in English



and Swedish. Her latest works are the titles Kristeva and the Political (2005) and
The Antigone Complex: Ethics and the Invention of Feminine Desire (2004).
Lisa Walsh is a lecturer in French Studies and Critical Theory at the University of Nottingham and member of the editorial board of Culture, Theory, and
Critique. Her articles on psychoanalysis and feminism appear in Hypatia and
differences, and she is author of Subjects of Love and Desire (2009).
Emily Zakin is associate professor of philosophy at Miami University of Ohio.
She is the coeditor of Derrida and Feminism and Greek Tragedy, Sexual Difference and the Formation of the Polis, and of numerous essays in Continental philosophy, political philosophy, and psychoanalysis. She is currently completing a
book manuscript tentatively entitled Fantasies of Origin: The Birth of the Polis
and the Limits of Democracy.

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Abjection (the abject), 52, 54, 55, 63,
144, 222, 233, 234; of Duras, 157;
eroticization of, 52, 55, 62; of the
foreign, 217; and intimate suffering,
163, 170; overcoming, 60; and the
sacred, 238n6. See also under sacred
Abu Ghraib, 49, 51, 53, 57, 61
Adami, V., 87
adaptation, 24, 26, 112, 115, 187. See also
Adorno, Theodor, 183, 192
affectivity (affect), 2, 3, 67, 87, 122n13,
130140, 186188, 198199; and
the icon, 116; and image/ representation, 50, 56, 80, 102105, 132;
and literature, 146, 155, 233; and revolt, 166; and word/discourse, 2, 49,
50, 173, 175
Agapitos, Panayiotis, 115
allegory, 108, 109, 112, 113, 121n4
Allori, Cristofano, 33, 37; Judith and
Holofernes, 33
amorous disaster, 6062
anguish, 132, 151, 152, 154
Antigone, 194n1
anxiety, 6, 7, 34, 36, 106, 235n2; in Being,
172; about capital punishment, 99;
of influence, 145. See also under
Arendt, Hannah (Arendtian), 25,
164167, 170175, 181186, 193,
196209, 233, 236n4; The Human
Condition, 170, 196, 197, 210n2;

and the intimate, 164, 165, 170,

172, 174, 175, 180, 193; Lectures
on Kants Political Philosophy, 196,
204; Origins of Totalitarianism, 196,
197, 206; political phenomenology,
12, 13, 164, 166, 170, 171; On
Revolution, 196, 203; What is
Authority? 164
Argus, 30
Aristotle, 132, 159n21, 172; Politics, 185
Artaud, Antonin, 233, 234; The Theater
and Its Double, 234
artistic sublimation, 11,127129, 135,
asymbolia, 145, 147, 148, 171
atheism, 119, 145, 150, 155, 195. See also
Augustine, Saint, 26, 167, 190
authority, 4, 21, 22, 164, 209, 218225;
maternal; 237n5; source of, 205,
206, 221
Auzepy, Marie-France, 115
Balibar, Etienne, 117, 120
banality of evil, 22, 69, 70
Barthes, Roland, 20, 88, 89, 9799,
102, 153, 154; Camera Lucida, 88;
Ltrangre, 153
Bataille, Georges, 3, 151, 159n18
Beardsworth, Sara, 2, 3, 158n9
Benjamin, Walter, 87, 108, 113, 121n4;
The Origin of German Tragic Drama,




Bergson, Henri (Bergsonian), 80, 90,

91, 165
Berman, Antoine, 168
betrayal, 38
Bildung, 168, 169
bio politikos, 185
birth, 32, 235n1; re-birth, 56, 61, 70, 119,
147, 148, 204, 234
Black Sun (Kristeva), 129, 145147, 151,
154, 164, 170173
Blake, William, 238n6
Bckenfrde, Ernst-Wolfgang, 21, 22
Boleyn, Anne (queen), 35
borderland(s), 146, 148
brotherhood, 203, 218, 219
Bush, George W., 58, 59, 117
Cambiaso, Luca, 30; Mercury Beheading
Argus, 30
Cameron, Averil, 120
Caputi, Mary, 233
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 39,
41, 57
caress, 237n5
Carter, Kevin, 105, 106
castration, 7, 29, 3237, 41, 70, 93n4;
anxiety, 32, 36, 56; fantasy, 35,
44n24. See also under mother
catharsis (cathartic), 152, 154, 155,
159n20, 159n21, 234
Cavallino, Bernardino, 33, 42n16; Judiths
Servant, 33
chambre noire, la, 148150, 155, 157
Chirac, Jacques, 121, 123
cinema, 66, 6971, 7983, 8992, 93n3,
97, 98; as allies of psychoanalysis,
68. See also film
citizenship, 201, 203, 207209
Clment, Catherine: The Feminine and
the Sacred, 99, 232
Colette, Sidonie-Gabrielle, 26
commodity (commodification), 183, 188,
190, 192, 193; of emotions, 180,
183, 188, 190; as fetishistic, 84;
meaning as, 51; of reality, 57; of the
unconscious, 179, 180, 187; of
womens sexuality, 59

contrariety, 236n5
corporeality, 191, 193, 198
corpse, 39, 108, 117, 121n4, 233.
See also death
Correggio, 33, 43n17; Judith and her
Servant, 33
Coward, Rosalind, 213, 214
Crane, Hart, 229, 238n6
crystallization, 89, 90
cultural failure, 127, 128, 130, 132
David, Michel, 160n24
death, 29, 3639, 56, 57, 169175, 216,
217, 230234; -bearing, 129, 171;
and consciousness, 76; culture of, 60,
62; fathers, 219223; fear of, 35, 36,
38, 216; of God, 196; malady of,
152, 170; sensationalism of, 99; and
time, 67. See also corpse; and under
drive; event; passion
Debord, Guy, 7, 79, 80, 83, 84, 110,
121n6. See also society of the
decapitation, 29, 30, 3236, 41, 56, 57
de Certeau, Michel, 151
decollation: definition of, 41
deferred action, 35
defloration, 32
Deleuze, Gilles, 7982, 8993, 93n3, 151
del Garbo, Raffaellino, 33; Judith, 33
democracy of the guillotine, 57
Denes, Dominique, 148
Denis-Diderot, 22
Denon, Vivant, 36
depression, 56, 60, 61; artists, 37;
narcissistic, 129, 131134, 137, 138.
See also melancholia
de Roucy-Trioson, Anne-Louis Girodet,
36; Study for the Revolt of Cairo, 36
Derrida, Jacques, 109, 113115, 121,
238n7; On Cosmopolitanism and
Forgiveness, 238n7; The Other
Heading, 110, 113
desire: cause of, 71, 74, 75; object(s) of,
71, 72, 74, 76, 130, 140. See also
under law
detachment, 41, 74, 137, 139


Didier, 69, 70, 81, 111

distortion, 189
Dor, Gustave, 34; Jehus Companions
Finding the Remains of Jezebel, 34
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 120, 131, 145, 146,
155, 195
doubt(s), 65, 155
dream(s), 102, 103
drive(s): death, 7, 22, 56, 66, 67, 74, 129,
138, 139, 171, 173, 174, 197, 217,
230, 231 (see also under negativity);
life, 139; sexual, 22, 69; violent, 52,
56. See also instinct
Duras, Margeurite, 143160, 163, 164,
170175; Le Camion, 149; La
Douleur, 159n14; The Ravishing of Lol
Stein, 159n18. See also under abjection
ec-static other, 22
ego, 89, 102, 137, 139, 140, 144, 147,
205, 231. See also superego
Eisenstein, Sergei, 69, 82, 83
England, Lynndie, 61. See also Abu Ghraib
Enlightenment (Aufklrung), 21, 55, 58,
115, 179, 181, 187193, 195, 198
equality, 58, 59, 61, 194n2, 203, 208, 209
Ernst, Max, 30, 42n4
Eros, 39, 69, 73, 139. See also drive;
instinct; Thanatos
Europe: crisis of, 109, 110, 196;
Europhilia, 113
event, the, 171, 173; of death, 169, 170,
173 (see also death); of natality, 164,
166, 170, 171 (see also birth)
evocation, 8688, 97
exclusion, 59, 60, 216218, 220, 223,
225n4, 226n5
extimacy, 188, 192. See also intimacy;
fantasm, 8083, 89, 92
fantasy (fantasies), 60, 6876, 77n4, 81, 89,
90, 111, 188; of the certainties of
salvation, 25; colonization of, 50;
fundamentalists, 216, 217; masculine,
32; production, 80. See also realism;
and under castration; mother; reality


father, 31, 35, 218223, 226n6, 226n7,

230, 233. See also under death
female homosexuality, 154
feminine, the, 35, 44n24, 130, 141n9,
141n11, 145, 171, 194n1, 236n5
Feminine and the Sacred (Kristeva), 14, 99,
feminine unconscious, 32
femininity, 31, 186, 188
festival, 83, 222
fetishism (fetishistic), 36, 51, 70, 71, 76,
84; anti, 71
filial rebellion, 221
film, 68. See also cinema; and under horror
filth, 237n5
fixation(s), 67, 72, 76, 219
fore-give, 49. See also forgiveness
foreign, the (foreignness), 109, 168, 169,
192, 198, 199, 216, 217
foreigner, the, 1, 4, 153, 154, 167, 169,
176, 198, 199, 204, 207, 216, 217,
for-giveness (par-don), 51, 56, 61, 67,
156; gives-for, 155
forgiveness, 49, 61, 67, 76, 146, 155, 156,
235, 238n7
Foucault, Michel, 58, 199201; The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, 199; and
power, 58, 76, 200, 201; Society Must
Be Defended, 76
Frankfurt School, 181, 183, 188, 190
freedom, 2325, 62, 70, 111116, 184,
194n2, 198, 199; and autocommencement, 23, 58, 116; conception
of, 6, 112, 115, 236n4; emergence
of, 171; of intimate space, 182;
and revolution, 233, 236n4; to
shop, 58, 59
Freud, Sigmund: the dark continent,
130, 134, 137, 140, 187; Instincts
and Their Vicissitudes, 102; Mourning and Melancholia, 137; Mystic
Writing Pad, 101; Three Essays on
the Theory of Sexuality, 54; Totem
and Taboo, 141n5, 210n6, 219;
The Uncanny, 216, 225n1, 226n7
(see also under uncanny)



Fundamentalism (fundamentalists), 60,

61, 144, 195, 214217, 220, 222,
224, 225n2, 226n5. See also terrorism; and under fantasy
Gauthier, Xavire, 151
Gentileschi, Artemisia, 32, 39, 40; Judith
Beheading Holofernes, 32, 40; SelfPortrait as the Allegory of Painting, 40
German nationalism, 163, 167
globalization (globalism), 24, 51, 58, 65,
110, 112, 117, 158
Godard, Jean-Luc, 69, 70, 80, 83; Contempt, 71, 75
Graner, Charles, 61. See also Abu Ghraib
Greek tragedy, 185, 186, 194n1
grief, 26, 131, 151, 170, 171. See also
guilt, 29, 52, 220, 221, 230
Habermas, Jrgen, 21, 180183, 186,
188193, 205; Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, 188, 190
Haine et le Pardon, La (Kristeva), 3, 7, 49,
54, 55, 58, 156, 164, 170, 172
Hannah Arendt (Kristeva), 164, 175
Hansen, Mark, 93n3
hatred (hate), 49, 5456, 87, 154, 156,
172. See also forgive; forgiveness
Hayles, Katherine, 91
head, 45n39; severed, 37, 39, 57. See also
Hebbel, Friedrich, 31, 42n14
Heemskerck, Martin van, 30; David and
Goliath, 30
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich
(Hegelian), 127, 133, 139, 186, 216.
See also negativity; spirit
Heidegger, Marin (Heideggerean), 21,
24, 66, 112, 132, 165, 172174; concept of finitude, 172; Dasein, 173.
See also temporality; time
heterogeneity, 3, 165167, 196, 198
Hitchcock, Alfred, 69, 80, 82; Psycho, 82
Hobbes, Thomas, 203
Hoffman, E. T. A.: The Sandman,
226n6, 226n9. See also uncanny

Holberg, Ludvig, 2326; Holberg Prize,

5, 1921, 26
horror, 7, 36, 72, 75, 82, 105, 143145,
170, 172, 226n6, 234; film/movie,
75, 80, 82, 83
humanism, 2123, 36, 55, 195, 209
human nature, 203, 204, 207
human rights, 58, 208, 210n8, 229, 231
Hume, David, 204
Husserl, Edmund, 110, 147
identity politics, 176
ideology, 207
illusion, 75, 84, 87, 94n7, 111, 129, 189
image(s): mental, 79, 93n3; as nothingness, 84, 90, 92; qua image, 80, 85;
saturation of, 50, 68
imaginary, the, 90, 111, 219, 232; double
character of, 88; and jouissance, 68;
for Lacan, 187, 188, 193; role of, 67
imaginary: of peace, 62; politics, 218,
223225; scenarios, 68; spectacular,
imagination, 50, 86, 88, 136, 141,
217225, 226n6, 233
imago, 81, 89. See also Lacan
imitation, 8688
immortality, 210n2, 217. See also death
impotence: childhood/infantile, 35, 36
incantation, 87, 88
instincts (instinctual), 54, 67, 69, 102,
235n2. See also drive
integration, 62
interiority, 5, 70, 76, 81, 118, 148, 164,
167, 190192; register of, 68
interpretation, 51, 61, 81, 83, 102, 189,
234; lack of, 216; need for, 55, 56, 156
In the Beginning was Love (Kristeva), 230
intimacy (the intimate): concept of, 164,
166, 180, 192; and private, 164, 165,
172, 180182, 193; and public, 163,
165, 166, 170, 171, 175, 182186,
188, 193; ravaged, 164, 169, 170
intimate revolt, 1, 50, 6577, 164166,
176, 180
Intimate Revolt (Kristeva), 55, 66, 70,
111, 163, 166, 167, 173, 192


intimist, 163, 164, 169, 170, 175

involution, 167169
isolation, 207, 209n2
Is There a Feminine Genius? (Kristeva),
Jameson, Fredric, 183
John the Baptist, 29, 30, 32, 37, 39, 41
John the Damascene, Saint, 116
jouissance, 50, 51, 56, 60, 62, 66, 144, 146,
147, 152, 157, 222, 233. See also
under the imaginary
Juranville, Anne, 152, 153
Kant, Immanuel, 23, 58, 112, 181, 184,
195, 199, 233; The Critique of Practical Reason, 23; The Critique of Pure
Reason, 23; Perpetual Peace, 61;
What is Enlightenment? 181
khora, 81, 82, 92, 93n4
Klein, Melanie (Kleinian), 1, 138, 145,
187, 188, 232
Kusturica, Emir: Black Cat White, 92
Lacan, Jacques (Lacanian), 51, 100, 153,
158n4, 159n10, 159n21, 179181,
187190, 192, 197, 234; conception
of lack, 71, 93n4; Encore, 73; The
Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 188; The
Four Fundamental Concepts, 71, 74;
Homage to Marguerite Duras,
158n10; on love, 7375, 77n4; mirror stage/image, 81, 88, 173 (see also
mirror). See also imago; objet a; and
under the imaginary
language: acquisition, 230, 231; and desire, 229; of intimacy, 179, 191193;
maternal, 25, 234; meta-, 87, 104;
poetic, 233; as translation, 132; visible, 98, 104. See also semiotic
law: dead letter of, 4; and desire, 3, 49,
52; paternal/symbolic, 49, 50, 52,
54, 62, 118, 134136, 141n5, 187,
190, 238; positive, 205, 206
Lefort, Claude, 200, 201, 207, 210n8;
The Logic of Totalitarianism, 200;
The Question of Democracy, 200


lekton (lektonic), 69, 80, 82, 83

Levinas, Emmanuel, 56, 236n5; and the
face, 56
literature, 143146, 150, 154157; and
art, 127129, 135, 136, 187, 190;
authentic/ real, 143, 144, 147; and
psychoanalysis, 5, 6, 2123, 68, 233;
and revolt, 66
Locke, John, 204
loss: dynamic of, 127129, 135, 138;
failure of, 127, 128; latent, 130, 132,
138; the lost, 128, 129, 131138,
141n11; primal, 129, 131, 136138;
of self, 128, 129, 136140
love: as metaphor, 89, 140; self-, 129,
140. See also narcissism
Lynch, David: Mulholland Drive, 7077
MacCannell, Juliet Flower, 159n20
malady (maladies): of civilization, 3, 50,
51; of death, (see under death); of the
soul, 50, 51, 68, 72, 103, 111, 129,
134, 145, 156, 170, 172, 175
Mallarm, Stphane, 37, 44n27, 151
Margaroni, Maria, 77n1, 77n4
marginality, 174
marginalized, the, 176
Marie-Antoinette (queen), 35
martyrdom, 60. See also suicide bombers
Marx, Karl, 189, 190, 195, 203
maternity (maternal), 141n11, 199; feminine, 11, 128, 130136; protospace,
35; Thing, 147, 152. See also under
authority; language
McCarthy, Mary, 235n2
McGowan, Todd, 74, 77n3
meaning(s): and being, 50, 51, 55, 56, 60,
62; crisis of, 128, 132, 133; production of, 7, 9, 12, 50, 100, 104, 106,
229, 232
mediation, 80, 83, 84, 89, 205; of the
drives, 144; the foreign as, 168
Medusa (medusan), 31, 35, 39
melancholia (melancholy, melancholic),
12, 34, 36, 129132, 136, 137,
141n1, 146148, 152, 153, 158n8,
172, 175, 230; allegorical, 108, 114,



melancholia (continued), 117, 119; cultural,

11, 133, 135139; definition of, 145,
158n6. See also under writing
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 81
metaphysics, 29, 103
Metz, Christian, 75, 76
Michaels, Eric, 100
Michelangelo, Buonarroti, 37
Millot, Catherine, 145
mirror, 82, 90. See also under Lacan
Miserablism, 30
Mitchell, Stephen, 232; Influence and
Autonomy in Psychoanalysis, 236n3
Mitry, Jean, 93n5
Mitterand, Franois, 114, 121
modernity, 117, 134, 166, 170, 184, 193,
195197, 200, 201, 206
monotheism, 14, 140, 230. See also religion
Montaigne, Michel de, 172
mother: all-powerful, 6, 31, 35, 36;
archaic, 130133, 136138; and
castration, 7, 31, 32; fantasy of, 31.
See also maternity; motherhood
motherhood, 32, 141n11, 232, 233,
mourning, 29, 131, 132, 137139, 147
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (movie), 52, 53, 56, 63
Murder in Byzantium (Kristeva), 10, 26,
107121, 160n26
narcissism (narcissistic), 40, 81, 129, 130,
136, 140, 149; primary, 129, 130,
137, 138, 140, 141n4; wound, 8, 14,
55, 230. See also love
negativity, 11, 66, 70, 71, 127, 136, 138;
and the death drive, 129, 139; as
fourth term of the dialectic, 55; of
the intimate, 173. See also under
Nestroy, Johann, 42n14
neuroses, 187, 189
New Maladies of the Soul (Kristeva), 9, 50,
97, 104
Nicodemus the Hagiorite, 115
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 21, 94n6
nihilism, 11, 21, 120

nondifferentiation, 130, 131, 138

non-sense, 66
normative consciousness, 21
nothing (nothingness), 38, 70, 7476,
150, 154; and Being, 66; refusal to
transcend, 145; and Sartre, 9, 84,
90, 92
Nothing/Real, 72, 73
object, 22; love, 7274, 77n3; metaphorical, 140
objet a, 71, 74, 75, 93n4
Oedipal, 141n5, 175, 187, 229, 235n2;
pre-, 122n13, 147, 192; triangulation, 130
oedipalization, 134
oikos, 184187, 193, 194n1
Oliver, Kelly, 159n19, 226n8, 235
omnipotent self, 147, 148
passage, 10, 29, 41n1, 116
passion, the, (as suffering), 108
passion: for death, 154, 172175; for life,
8, 51, 62, 63, 174, 175
passivity, 32, 166
paternal complex, 32
peace, 58, 61, 62, 203
perception, 92
perversion, 5262, 70, 184; infantile, 54
Petit, Philippe, 175
phallic: equality, 61; order, 175; power,
32, 35
phallus, 175
phobia, 52, 55, 62. See also neuroses
photograph (photographic), 51, 53, 56,
61, 80, 85, 88, 9093, 97106; press,
9, 97, 98, 100101, 105, 106
poetics, a, 89, 191
political revolt, 1, 4, 5, 213
polyphonic logic, 144
Powers of Horror (Kristeva), 54, 55, 143,
144, 157, 163, 170, 171, 233
preverbal, 67, 70, 130, 132, 133
primacy of the body, 103
principle: pleasure, 53, 103, 235n1;
reality, 53, 103
procreation, 60, 62


prohibition, 7, 49, 51, 52, 54, 5962, 134,

237; and cut, 38, 100
Protestantism, 24, 112, 116. See also
Proust, Marcel, 1, 26, 39, 82, 164, 165
psyche, the, 50, 66, 67, 83, 101, 102, 174,
205; colonization/takeover of, 7, 8,
13, 70, 180; elimination of, 217;
formation of, 175; the life of, 66,
127, 128
psychic (psychical): identity, 26; space,
5, 7, 9, 51, 55, 56, 65, 76, 79, 81, 86,
87, 180, 197, 217, 222, 224. See also
singular psychic life; and under
psychoanalysis: as emancipation, 189;
ethics of, 199, 216218, 222224;
and narrative, 229, 232; need for, 55;
practice of, 127, 189, 192
psychosis, 66, 74, 102
public: vs. private, 2, 165, 170, 179182,
184, 185, 192, 193, 205, 209
purification, 7, 52, 55, 61, 152, 234
questioning, 24, 50, 51, 59, 66, 70, 113,
121n1; and psychic life, 166; transforms negativity, 55
Raffet, August, 57
Ratzinger, Joseph, 21
realism, 9, 87, 98, 99, 103. See also fantasy; reality
reality: conceptions of, 9, 84; of consciousness, 81; construction/ production of,
9, 57; and fantasy, 53, 57, 72, 80, 85;
and image, 103; mechanical analogue
of, 98; psychical, 66, 68. See also under
principle reduplication, 173, 174, 176
Regnault, Henri, 36, 37; Execution Without Trial under the Moorish Kings of
Granada, 36; Standing Moor, Arms
Raised, 36
regression, 8, 5255, 62, 63
religion(s), 6, 134, 143, 195, 213, 214,
229238; collision/clashes of, 20, 55,
60, 156, 160n26. See also atheism;
monotheism; Protestantism


Rembrandt (van Rijn), 32, 34, 37;

The Blinding of Samson, 34
repetition, 55, 173, 174, 176, 183, 216
repressed, the, 8, 35, 49, 5254, 140, 222;
return of, 30, 38, 55, 199
Resnais, Alain: Hiroshima mon amour, 170
responsibility, 8, 52, 235n1; ir-, 152
resurrection, 13, 29, 147, 149, 229, 233,
revolution, 4, 25, 146, 147, 158n5, 233,
236n4; American, 203, 205, 236n4;
French, 25, 57, 112, 202, 203, 206,
236n4; in poetic language, 50
Revolution in Poetic Language (Kristeva),
55, 104, 151, 158n5
Richardson, Samuel: Pamela, 182, 183
Rimbaud, Arthur, 3, 21
ritual, 61, 216, 220224
Roland, Philippe-Laurent, 34; Samson, 34
Romanticism, 163, 165, 167, 168
Rothko, Mark, 87, 103
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 83, 165, 167,
184, 186, 202, 203, 206; and the
general will, 202, 210n4
sacred, the, 6, 9, 30, 99101, 103, 104,
106; and abjection, 238n6; and
crucifixion, 230; Eastern notion of,
143; and human right, 229
sacrifice(s), 6, 57, 5961, 100, 216, 220,
222, 224, 231; eroticization of, 34
sacrificial terror, 36
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 9, 22, 79, 80, 8488,
92; concept of intentionality, 87;
LImaginaire, 84, 85, 111. See also
under nothing
seeing, 93n4, 110112, 114, 116, 119;
all-, 30
self-authorship, 196, 197
semiology, 9, 81, 141n1. See also semiotic
semiotic, the, 67, 8083, 89, 92, 130,
132135, 146, 238n5; and symbolic,
2, 3, 11, 12, 104, 133, 232, 233
sentimentalization, 183
September 11 (9/11), 3, 58, 100, 101,
109, 143, 156, 164, 215. See also



Sergel, Johan Tobias, 34; Samson and

Delilah, 34
sexual thing, the, 2224
Shapiro, Meyer, 104
sharing ( partager), 6, 23, 25, 27n5, 181,
183, 185, 193; unsharable, 23, 25
signification, 13, 55, 82, 191, 192, 231,
235; dialectical model of, 157,
158n5; and media images, 50; and
our survival, 146; and thetic phase,
77n1; two modalities of, 2, 3
silence, 116, 145, 147, 148, 152, 157
singular psychic life, 4, 5, 10, 12, 13, 163,
167, 175
Sjholm, Cecilia: Kristeva and the Political, 232
skull, 35, 36, 43n23
society of the spectacle, 5, 710, 65,
870, 76, 7986, 90, 93, 110, 111.
See also Debord
Solario, Andrea, 37, 44n30
solidarity, 14, 218222, 224
somatic symptom, 50, 54
speaking being, 3, 8, 10, 2224, 175, 197,
208, 223; and psychosis, 66
speaking subject, 22, 35, 54, 102, 146,
Speech-Being, 59
spirit ( geist), 196. See also Hegel
Spivak, Gayatri, 60
Spranger, Bartholomeus, 33; Judith and
Holofernes, 33
Strangers to Ourselves (Kristeva), 1, 4,
163, 167, 199, 215, 220, 223
Stuart, Marie, 35
subject: abysmal, 55; formation, 104,
129135, 140; -in-process, 3, 89, 90,
93; -object, 2, 9, 66, 80, 85, 88, 137.
See also speaking subject
substitution, 51
suffering, 57, 58, 67, 70, 108, 133135,
150158, 159n14, 170, 172, 174; intimate, (see under abjection); melancholic, 131; and pleasure, 183
suicide bombers, 8, 60, 215. See also martyrdom
superego, 53, 135

surveillance, 49, 54, 5759

symbolic, the, 2, 3, 49, 54, 89, 93, 133,
148, 190, 205, 232234
symbolic: life, 128, 132134; order, 89,
92, 187, 192
Tales of Love (Kristeva), 88, 89, 163
talking cure, 156, 166
temporality (temporal), 67, 97, 165167,
173; atemporal, 67, 114; of intimacy,
165, 167, 173. See also time
terror, 202, 206
terrorism, 11, 143, 144, 213, 222. See also
September 11
Thanatos (thanatology), 39, 67, 69, 70,
77. See also death; drives; Eros
thetic, 70, 104, 146149, 158n5; consciousness, 85. See also under
Thing, the, 173, 188
Thomas Aquinas, Saint, 155, 156
time, 19, 67, 8082, 9092, 93n4, 94n6,
117, 158n8, 165, 173, 174; absolute,
107; before responsibility, 52; future
anterior, 10, 117, 120; -image, 82,
93n3; -less, 37, 67, 70, 74, 80, 118,
151, 165; unconscious, 67. See also
temporality; and under death
Time and Sense (Kristeva), 164, 173
totalitarianism, 21, 100, 110, 167, 184,
196, 201, 206
transference, 25, 89, 112, 140, 159n19,
179, 232, 235, 238; counter-, 25,
191193, 232
transfiguration, 29, 57
transgression, 51, 199
trauma, 104, 105, 166, 231, 234, 235
Traumarbeit, 187
uncanny (unheimlich), 109, 169, 216218;
effect of the real, 53, 57; Freuds notion of, 168, 210n5, 225n1, 226n7;
and life of intimacy, 186; otherness,
55; of the political, 214; in The
Sandman, 226n6, 226n9
unconscious, the, 13, 14, 21, 39, 67, 69,
70, 158n10, 179, 180, 187190, 205,


207, 222, 230, 231, 233, 235.

See also feminine unconscious;
and under commodity; time
universality, 13, 20, 62, 186, 187, 197,
unreality (irreality, unreal), 75, 80, 81, 84,
85. See also reality
Valry, Paul, 110, 171
Venus of Willendorf, 35
Veronese, Paolo, 33; Judith and
Holofernes, 33
Victor, Barbara, 60
visibility (the visible), 10, 29, 36, 68, 69;
and the invisible, 111, 116, 119;
terminus of, 40
Visions Capitales (Kristeva), 7, 43n23, 56,
57, 59
vulnerability (vulnerable), 8, 22, 5457,
59, 60


Weber, Max, 24, 112

Wenders, Wim: Until the End of the
World, 109
William of Orange, 120
Winnicott, W. D., 232, 235n1
Woolf, Virginia, 152
working-through, 11, 13, 14, 68, 176,
209, 219, 221, 223
writing, 148150; and an other cinema,
69; experience(s) of, 6, 25; and
melancholy, 131, 153, 155; in
revolt, 66
Zeitlin, Forma: Playing the Other, 194n1
Zeitlos, 67, 71, 74, 76, 165, 173. See also
Zernike, Kate, 61
Ziarek, Eva Pnowska, 230231
iek, Slavoj, 13, 80, 117, 183, 195, 196;
Welcome to the Desert of the Real!, 113

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