Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Language and Subject in Heidegger and Kristeva

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Language and Subject in Heidegger and Kristeva

Article excerpt

The usefulness of Martin Heidegger's model of selfhood in Being and Mme for a reexamination of what or who the self is, has begun to be debated by philosophers, among them feminists1 who are searching out an alternative account ofhuman agency or subjectivity that, without a strongly ego-centered intentionality, remains phenomenologically genuine. Such readers have criticized Heidegger for the masculinizing tendencies of authentic Dasein which, in danger and risk, musters its forces in the Kampf against inauthenticity. Moreover, critics like Luce Irigaray have pointed to the generality of Heidegger's notion of Being as problematic.2 Other accounts of subjectivity have been suggested that radically differ from Heidegger's own alternative to what he calls the subject of "metaphysics."

But it has also been noticed that the so-called groundlessness of the self described by Heidegger in his writings affords a passage "beyond the will to conceptual mastery" that characterizes traditional metaphysics as Heidegger understands it.3 Heidegger's depiction of the self's structure as ecstatic, as a transcendence irreducible to my own ego, is one resource for an alternative to the transcendental subject. From Being and Mme onward, what Heidegger calls the "self' (das Selbst)4 is structured by relationality.5 Later, this relationality is described as Gelassenheit a letting-be of beings or a "releasement" toward them6 that situates Heidegger's "quest for non-metaphysical ways of thinking"7 in some kind of account of the self.8 Such an account is inextricably tied to the question of language.

While Heidegger has shown, in readings of poetic language (ofthe German romantic tradition from Holderlin to George and Rilke, but also in French poets of twentieth century), that we can conceive of disclosure and meaning without the traditional models of intentionality, Julia Kristeva outlines a transgression of the symbolic structure of meaning that she sees as taking place within modern poetry and which, she argues, manifests a revolution in the self or subject who speaks. In the wake of this "revolution" she offers "feminine" models of subjectivity. In this essay I will examine some features of the structure of subjectivity as Heidegger and Kristeva revise it, taking into account that both revisions unfold within their respective theories of language.

For while their projects radically differ in scope and concern, both revise traditional theories of language, thereby reconfiguring our conception of the speaking subject. Both turn to the realm of aesthetics9 and poetic language in order to articulate models of subjectivity not grounded in intentionality as Husserl outlined it, but nevertheless sensitive to phenomenology as an account of experience. That poetic language, or aesthetic articulation in general, troubles ego-centered theories of the generation of meaning has been noticed by poetic theorists in both German and French traditions long before the twentieth century--from Kant and the German Romantics to Paul Valery and Maurice Blanchot. But, with the possible exceptions of Nietzsche and Freud, Heidegger revised our understanding of the self most radically; and Kristeva adds a trenchant political and psychological dimension to that analysis. The fact that she explicitly brings out what she calls the "feminine" dimensions of language draws out further questions about the alternatives both she, and Heidegger, offer.

Yet as I will show, Heidegger both reimagines the self along the lines _ of what I will call a more feminine model, and retains residues of the self he had attempted to deconstruct in Being and Time. Kristeva's treatment of the transgressive nature of poetic language will be seen to owe much to Heidegger's insights about non-representational, extra-symbolic elements of meaning and disclosure. Yet while Kristeva liberates the "feminine" dimensions of the subject repressed by intentionalist theories of meaning, she also replicates Heidegger's moments of retreat into a masculinizing rhetoric of transgression. …

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