Julia Kristeva

Julia Kristeva, a professor at the University of Paris Diderot, was born in 1941 in Bulgaria to a poor church accountant. She went on to become a philosopher, sociologist, feminist, literary critic, psychoanalyst and novelist. She resides in France where she has lived since the age of 23. After the publication of her first book, Semeiotike, she became known as an authority in the fields of cultural theory, international critical analysis and feminism. She has published many articles, essays and books about semiotics, abjection and intertexuality in the field of linguistics, as well as about psychoanalysis, literary theory and art history. She is a shining light and one of the most important and most noteworthy structuralists in the field of humanities.

Julia Kristova holds a unique position in the world of academia and especially the field of feminism, due to her background as a foreign working woman in France among mostly male intellectuals. This places her in the center of the politics of feminism and gives her the authority to speak openly about her work in semiotics and her theories about marginality. She is a deeply analytical thinker who engages in the ongoing process of language and avoids strict one-dimensional thinking. Kristeva's background, in coming from Bulgaria which was a communist country, affords her the opportunity to have a deep and personal understanding of Marx and other communist philosophers who have greatly influenced her way of thinking. By developing some of their theories, she was able to create a critique and a move from structuralist to poststructuralist thinking.

Kristeva elaborated on the differences between semiotics in the realm of study in linguistics and the two incongruous types of body language known as semiotic and symbolic. The semiotic (which is the studying of symbols and signs in communicative actions and the analysis of the various types of communication such as gestures, body language and the type of clothing worn) is exhibited in the rhythm and the tone in which language is spoken. In concentrating on the semiotic, one cannot get the feel of the body or psychic energies of the speaker. Speaking has inherent limits, as one can only hear what the person is saying and not know the inner feelings. The symbolic refers the grammar, syntax, the tone of voice and body movements that mean that the inner thoughts and feelings are noticed.

When Kristeva completed her training in psychoanalysis in 1979, her work centered on how the role of abjection or the condition of being servile and the formation of an identity have an effect in the process of psychoanalysis. In her easy Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection Kristeva elaborates on the pre-mirror stage of early childhood development. She theorizes that the advent of birth is a separation from within a body; one body, the child, is violently separated from another body, that of the mother. While the child is in the mother's body, and has everything that it needs to be sustained, that is just before the mirror stage. However, the child is not prepared for what will come after, when it enters into what Kristeva calls paternal law as the entry into society and language.

Kristeva is counted among the founders of post-modern feminism, which itself is the predecessor to what is widely referred to as multiculturalism, political correctness and identity politics. She used to lament that she felt that she was not correctly understood or appreciated by the American feminist movement and American feminist academics. Kristeva felt that is wrong and even harmful to assume that collective identity is above or higher than individual identity. She believed that this political contention of ethnic, religious and sexual identities is actually totalitarian.

In the field of psychology and anthropology, which is widely defined as the attachment or connection between the subject and the social, Kristeva argued that they do not represent each other, but they really follow the same line of thought, which is the survival of the subject and the group. When comparing the two, she theorized that just as an individual will shed their mother in order to shape an identity, so are, in the same way, societies formed. Cultures come into being by shedding the feminine and the maternal.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Julia Kristeva
Noëlle McAfee.
Routledge, 2004
In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith
Julia Kristeva; Arthur Goldhammer.
Columbia University Press, 1987
Reading Kristeva: Unraveling the Double-Bind
Kelly Oliver.
Indiana University Press, 1993
The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva
Jennifer Radden.
Oxford University Press, 2000
Philosophy and the Maternal Body: Reading Silence
Michelle Boulous Walker.
Routledge, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Kristeva: Naming the Problem"
After Poststructuralism: Reading, Stories and Theory
Colin Davis.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "After Identity: Kristeva's Life Stories"
Naming the Multiple: Poststructuralism and Education
Michael Peters.
Bergin & Garvey, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Julia Kristeva: Intertextuality and Education"
Religion, Society, and Psychoanalysis: Readings in Contemporary Theory
Janet Liebman Jacobs; Donald Capps.
Westview Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "Julia Kristeva and the Psychoanalytic Study of Religion: Rethinking Freud's Cultural Texts"
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
Judith Butler.
Routledge, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "The Body Politics of Julia Kristeva" begins on p. 101
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