A Day with Julia Kristeva: Arts, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics

By Grant, Megan | Melbourne Journal of Politics, Annual 1997 | Go to article overview

A Day with Julia Kristeva: Arts, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics


Grant, Megan, Melbourne Journal of Politics


A day with Julia Kristeva: arts, ethics, philosophy, politics Tuesday July 9, 1996 Artspace, Woolloomooloo

Presented by the Women's Research Centre at Macquarie University and the University of Western Sydney, Nepean, a day with Julia Kristeva promised much and really delivered. The suggestion that Kristeva herself would be present was a false/imaginary one but two of her most well-known interpreters Kelly Oliver and John Lechte gave keynote addresses.

For me, the first paper from Kelly Oliver of the University of Texas, Austin was the stand-out piece. Oliver, the author of Reading Kristeva: Unravelling the Double Bind Oliver delivered a paper entitled "The Mind Body Problem" which encapsulated one of the major challenges of Kristeva's writings on the "narcissistic structure" (see Fashion article). Oliver faced the difficulty that these works engender: that the polarisation of the imaginary father and the abject mother of Kristeva's theory of individuation does little to challenge patriarchal psychoanalytic paradigms. "Where is the father's body?" was the question which focussed this issue for Oliver.

She concludes that it has been "repressed." Semen is exempted from Kristeva's list of abject properties and placed outside of the father's "clean and proper body" by the movement of "messy reproduction" onto the female body. Semen, and the possibility of the father's impotence threaten the individual, quite literally, before they are conceived. The threat induced by phantasies of (the failings of) the father's body - indeed of bodies in general - in a culture where the father's body is a ghostly absence and the female is reduced to pure embodiment, is of "being" no body at all. Kristeva's conclusion that this "being uprooted from psychic space" requires the "spirit" in order to find itself is a fundamentalist one; it plays into the growing conservatism of the fin de siecle. Oliver instead suggests that as well as needing loving mothers and fathers society and subjects need social mothers and embodied fathers. Whether Kristevan theory may provide for this possibility remained an open question.

The papers delivered over the rest of the day demonstrated the breadth of subject in Kristeva's oeuvre. Two PhD candidates from Macquarie University proved the importance of this work for young researchers. Joan Kirkby's paper, "Julia Kristeva's Politics of the Inner Life", explored Kristeva's psycho-linguistic processes in relation to textual analysis. The study of texts is illuminated by the binary of the symbolic and the semiotic in relation to the psychoanalytic method. The semiotic heart of the text (or the subject) is explored and re-sutured, realigning the symbolic (the text's interpretation or the subject's self-narration) and leaving it changed.

Kirsten Campbell's paper, "Theorising Possibilities: Kristeva and Feminist Epistemology", had a hopeful title given Kristeva's "rejection" of feminism. …

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