She trained in psychoanalysis, and earned her degree in In some ways, her work can be seen as trying to adapt a psychoanalytic approach to the poststructuralist criticism.
For example, her view of the subject , and its construction, shares similarities with Sigmund Freud and Lacan. However, Kristeva rejects any understanding of the subject in a structuralist sense; instead, she favors a subject always " in process " or "on trial". She travelled to China in the s and later wrote About Chinese Women One of Kristeva's most important contributions is that signification is composed of two elements, the symbolic and the semiotic , the latter being distinct from the discipline of semiotics founded by Ferdinand de Saussure.
As explained by Augustine Perumalil, Kristeva's "semiotic is closely related to the infantile pre-Oedipal referred to in the works of Freud, Otto Rank , Melanie Klein , British Object Relation psychoanalysis, and Lacan's pre- mirror stage. It is an emotional field, tied to the instincts , which dwells in the fissures and prosody of language rather than in the denotative meanings of words.
It is closely tied to the "feminine", and represents the undifferentiated state of the pre-Mirror Stage infant. Upon entering the Mirror Stage, the child learns to distinguish between self and other, and enters the realm of shared cultural meaning, known as the symbolic. In Desire in Language , Kristeva describes the symbolic as the space in which the development of language allows the child to become a "speaking subject," and to develop a sense of identity separate from the mother. This process of separation is known as abjection, whereby the child must reject and move away from the mother in order to enter into the world of language, culture, meaning, and the social.
This realm of language is called the symbolic and is contrasted with the semiotic in that it is associated with the masculine, the law, and structure. Kristeva departs from Lacan in the idea that even after entering the symbolic, the subject continues to oscillate between the semiotic and the symbolic.
Therefore, rather than arriving at a fixed identity, the subject is permanently "in process". Because female children continue to identify to some degree with the mother figure, they are especially likely to retain a close connection to the semiotic. This continued identification with the mother may result in what Kristeva refers to in Black Sun as melancholia depression , given that female children simultaneously reject and identify with the mother figure.
It has also been suggested e. After abjecting the mother, subjects retain an unconscious fascination with the semiotic, desiring to reunite with the mother, while at the same time fearing the loss of identity that accompanies it. Slasher films thus provide a way for audience members to safely reenact the process of abjection by vicariously expelling and destroying the mother figure. Kristeva's idea of the chora has been interpreted in several ways: as a reference to the uterus, as a metaphor for the relationship between the mother and child, and as the temporal period preceding the Mirror Stage.
In her essay Motherhood According to Giovanni Bellini from Desire in Language , Kristeva refers to the chora as a "non-expressive totality formed by drives and their stases in a motility that is full of movement as it is regulated. Kristeva is also noted for her work on the concept of intertextuality. Kristeva argues that anthropology and psychology , or the connection between the social and the subject, do not represent each other, but rather follow the same logic: the survival of the group and the subject. In her comparison between the two disciplines, Kristeva claims that the way in which an individual excludes the abject mother as a means of forming an identity, is the same way in which societies are constructed.
On a broader scale, cultures exclude the maternal and the feminine, and by this come into being. Kristeva made a famous disambiguation of three types of feminism in "Women's Time" in New Maladies of the Soul ; while rejecting the first two types, including that of Beauvoir, her stands are sometimes considered rejecting feminism altogether. Kristeva proposed the idea of multiple sexual identities against the joined code [ clarification needed ] of "unified feminine language". Kristeva argues her writings have been misunderstood by American feminist academics.
In Kristeva's view, it was not enough simply to dissect the structure of language in order to find its hidden meaning. Language should also be viewed through the prisms of history and of individual psychic and sexual experiences. This post-structuralist approach enabled specific social groups to trace the source of their oppression to the very language they used. However, Kristeva believes that it is harmful to posit collective identity above individual identity, and that this political assertion of sexual, ethnic, and religious identities is ultimately totalitarian.
Kristeva wrote a number of novels that resemble detective stories. While the books maintain narrative suspense and develop a stylized surface, her readers also encounter ideas intrinsic to her theoretical projects. Her characters reveal themselves mainly through psychological devices, making her type of fiction mostly resemble the later work of Dostoevsky. Her fictional oeuvre, which includes The Old Man and the Wolves , Murder in Byzantium , and Possessions , while often allegorical, also approaches the autobiographical in some passages, especially with one of the protagonists of Possessions , Stephanie Delacour—a French journalist—who can be seen as Kristeva's alter ego.
Murder in Byzantium deals with themes from orthodox Christianity and politics; she referred to it as "a kind of anti- Da Vinci Code ". For her "innovative explorations of questions on the intersection of language, culture and literature", Kristeva was awarded the Holberg International Memorial Prize in Roman Jakobson said that "Both readers and listeners, whether agreeing or in stubborn disagreement with Julia Kristeva, feel indeed attracted to her contagious voice and to her genuine gift of questioning generally adopted 'axioms,' and her contrary gift of releasing various 'damned questions' from their traditional question marks.
Ian Almond criticizes Kristeva's ethnocentrism. He cites Gayatri Spivak 's conclusion that Kristeva's book About Chinese Women "belongs to that very eighteenth century [that] Kristeva scorns" after pinpointing "the brief, expansive, often completely ungrounded way in which she writes about two thousand years of a culture she is unfamiliar with".
In Intellectual Impostures , physics professors Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont devote a chapter to Kristeva's use of mathematics in her writings. They argue that Kristeva fails to show the relevance of the mathematical concepts she discusses to linguistics and the other fields she studies, and that no such relevance exists. In , Bulgaria's state Dossier Commission announced that Kristeva had been an agent for the Committee for State Security under the code name "Sabina".
She was supposedly recruited in June Under the Communist regime, any Bulgarian who wanted to travel abroad had to apply for an exit visa and get an approval from the Ministry of Interior. The process was long and difficult because anyone who made it to the west could declare political asylum. Neal Ascherson wrote: " But the reality shown in her files is trivial. After settling in Paris in , she was cornered by Bulgarian spooks who pointed out to her that she still had a vulnerable family in the home country.
The Bulgarian security men seem to have known they were being played. But never mind: they could impress their boss by showing him a real international celeb on their books From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Julia Kristeva.
Crossings and Transfers in Contemporary Anglo-American Thought.
Sliven , Bulgaria. Holberg International Memorial Prize. Hannah Arendt Award for Political Thought. Continental philosophy Psychoanalysis Structuralism Poststructuralism French feminism .
Kelly Oliver | Philosophy Department | Vanderbilt University
Depicting the creation of a stable society grounded in law though founded in violence , Freud's tale serves as a paradigm for not only rudimentary, but also enduring and contemporary, political relations, which he views as rooted in unconscious drives but oriented toward achieving a stabilization or equilibrium of those drives at the communal level. This lineage founds political order in murderous fraternity, with women as objects of exchange not citizen-subjects.
Moreover, in explaining the advent of lawful existence, Freud identifies something recalcitrant, intractable in social arrangements—a kind of self-assault the super-ego that links pleasure with aggression, and thus that carries a potentially destabilizing force. The sons' attitude toward the father is one of ambivalence, hatred qualified by admiration, murder followed by guilt and remorse.
The brothers commemorate this loss and maintain their bond with one another in the public ceremony of the totem meal where together they consume a common substance the father's body transubstantiated into the sacrificed totem , and thereby affirm their fellowship and mutual obligation. This confirmation of shared paternal substance and kinship, and the collective affect of love, loss, guilt, and mourning, maintains ties of identity. The law that emerges from the father's murder ritualizes and enforces his edicts, forbidding murder and incest in the public realm, and takes hold internally in the superegoic 'no' of prohibition, producing a permanent sense of guilt that drives civilization and renders it a perpetual source of discontent.
Women, however, appear not as subjects of the law but as objects of its exchange; moreover, given the indefinite prolongation of their Oedipal Complex, women will be more likely to be hostile to the edicts of civilization insofar as these infringe upon family life. The relation between father and son is also contained, if concealed, in the account Freud offers in The Ego and the Id of how the ego emerges.
The subsequent and recurring retreat from object-cathexis investment of instinctual energy in an object to identification withdrawal of that energy into the self , is the primary mechanism of ego-formation, taking the lost object into oneself. Just as the father retains dominance in political life after his death, so he dominates psychic life even prior to the ego's formation.
In Freudian theory, the father's reign is pervasive, his sovereignty extended in every domain. Freud's privileging of paternal and fraternal relations provides the impetus for much of psychoanalytic feminism, as will be discussed below. Even in Freud's circle, not all analysts agreed with Freud's assessment and there were debates concerning women's sexuality and the roles of castration and penis envy therein, notably among Karl Abraham, Ernest Jones, Helene Deutsch, and Karen Horney.
Horney in particular argued for an inherent feminine disposition that is not merely a secondary formation premised on castration and she took issue with the ostensible effects of penis envy and women's supposed feelings of inferiority. As with some later feminist criticisms of Freud, Horney attempted to retrieve female sexuality, and by extension a valid form of feminine existence, by appealing to a genuinely independent nature and holding culture culpable for women's subordinate status. By thus reasserting the primacy of biological and social forces, however, Horney disputes precisely the idea that is central to Freud's hypothesis and that marks psychoanalysis as a unique field of inquiry, that of a distinctive psychical realm of representation that is unconscious.
Freud, in her view, takes for granted what he needs to account for, namely the value placed on virility. Beauvoir takes Freud to task for not considering the social origins of masculine and paternal power and privilege and deems his theory inadequate to account for woman's otherness. If women envy men, she argues, it is because of the social power and privilege they enjoy, and not because of anatomical superiority.
Most seriously, in Beauvoir's view, psychoanalysis allots to women the same destiny of self-division and conflict between subjectivity and femininity that follows from social dictates and biological norms. Psychoanalysis presents the characteristics of femininity and subjectivity as divergent paths, incompatible with one another. Women might be able to be full persons, subjects with agency, but only at the expense of their femininity; or they can embark on the course of femininity, but only by sacrificing their independence and agency.
Beauvoir alleges that psychoanalysis holds women to a fixed destiny, a developmental and teleological life process, precisely insofar as it defines subjects with reference to a past beyond their control. By assigning to women an essence or determinate identity, the psychoanalytic reliance on sexual categories once again renders woman as the other to a subject rather than a subject herself, and thereby denies her existential freedom. In Beauvoir's view, however, if women are not themselves subjects, but that in contrast with which men's subjectivities are constituted, they are still freely responsible for this situation, insofar as women collaborate in this process by seeing themselves through the eyes of men, justifying their existence through their romantic relationships, and attempting to mirror men's being.
Beauvoir's misgivings about Freud's account of femininity stem from two sources, a feminist suspicion that women, in psychoanalytic discourse, are understood on the basis of a masculine model, and an existentialist conviction that human beings are self-defining, choosing themselves through their own actions.
Following her existentialist convictions, Beauvoir insists that even when women abdicate their freedom, they do so as agents responsible for their own destinies, not merely as passive victims following a developmentally determined fate. Following her feminist convictions, Beauvoir recognizes that women's choices may be constrained by powerful social and bodily forces, but insists that women nonetheless bear ultimate responsibility for realizing their own possibilities by emancipating themselves.
Nonetheless, Beauvoir's dispute with Freud appears to be less about whether constraint is part of our being in the world, and more about where that constraint is located: psychoanalysis locates constraint internally, in the constitution of the psyche itself, not only in the situations of social life, whereas Beauvoir locates it externally, in the cultural forces that impact even the most intimate sense of our own agency. Beauvoir thus claims that her own interpretations of women's femininity will disclose women in their liberty, oriented freely by the future and not simply explained by a past.
She thereby ratifies the promise of existentialism for feminism. Beauvoir's own project of elucidating the paradoxical relation between femininity and subjectivity is nonetheless influenced by psychoanalytic concepts and appropriates its theoretical insights in various ways. The Second Sex highlights the practices by which women become women through their appropriation of bodily sexual difference, as well as the manner in which a human being generally is limited and compelled by bodily and unconscious forces.
Indeed Beauvoir and Freud seem to agree that one is not born but becomes a woman, i. Moreover, in her articulation of women's ambivalent attitudes toward embodiment, sexuality, and maternity, Beauvoir is clearly indebted to the attention psychoanalytic practice gives to listening to women's first person narratives, interpreting the emotional impact of events that can not be easily categorized, and heeding attachments that carry both affection and resentment.
Julia Kristeva: Abjection, Embodiment and Boundaries
Like Freud, Beauvoir recognizes that we are embodied as sexual beings and that our bodies not only testify to our own finitude and limits but also matter as sites of encounters with others, encounters that are multivalent—including loving connections and threatening defenses, moments of affirmation and of dissolution. Beauvoir refuses any political program that demands we deny our bodily possibilities in order to be fully human and proclaims that bodies and bodily difference are integral to projects of selfhood, and not merely accidental contingencies of a rational and disembodied mind.
Femininity for her is not merely a mystification that imprisons women's subjectivity even if its social construal has had this effect. Finally, like Freud, Beauvoir is fully aware of the impact on children of their domestic situation, the way familial life resonates with meaning that informs not only intimate relations but relations to the larger world.
Beauvoir's portrayal of living a feminine existence, of sexual difference as an embodied situation, developed through a series of phenomenological descriptions, tries to understand how women have been cast as other in the drama of masculine subjectivity and doubts the premise that this is an historical event, occurring at some definitive point in time. Beauvoir herself has often been mis read in a way analogous to her mis reading of psychoanalysis, as proferring a determinate succession of experiences for women, rather than describing socially extant processes.
But The Second Sex depicts the effects on women's character of inequitable social arrangements; it neither proffers a normalized destiny for women nor presupposes a common metaphysical identity.
Even so, in many ways Beauvoir's work is more easily aligned with the sociologically oriented Anglo-American feminists than with Irigaray and Kristeva. In considering the background of psychoanalytic feminism, a large portion of which is rooted in or aligned with what gets called French Feminism, the French context of psychoanalytic theory is also crucial, and in particular the work of Jacques Lacan. Lacan's work has been both a powerful influence on, and an object of critique for, feminist appropriations of psychoanalysis, and his ideas have been taken up, transformed, and challenged by Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva both of whom are discussed below , among others.
Lacan's work is both praised for its de-biologization of Freud and pilloried for its phallocentrism. These two aspects are in fact imbricated, as both hinge on Lacan's elaboration of language as a symbolic order that precedes and makes possible human subjectivity. In order to stay focused on the feminist deployment of the psychoanalytic theoretical apparatus, I will concentrate first on Lacan's understanding of the intersection of language and law in the symbolic order, and then on his account of the ego's formation in the imaginary order.
The imaginary and symbolic are modes of representation that make the world and the self intelligible. The symbolic is Lacan's term for the way in which reality becomes intelligible and takes on meaning and significance, through words; the imaginary refers to the mode of intelligibility offered by images. The concordant and conflicting mediation of the world by images and words coordinates, or makes sense of, reality and instigates both subjectivity and social relations. As with Freud, maternal and paternal figures are central to his account of subjectivity. Lacan characterizes his own work as fundamentally a return to Freud, albeit one that brings the insights of structural linguistics, especially Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson, and structural anthropology, primarily Claude Levi-Strauss, into the domain of psychoanalysis.
Even so, his returns are also revisions; he not only retrieves but renovates Freud's central concepts. According to Lacan, Freud's theory of sexuality anticipates a theory of signification that he could not yet elaborate. The intrusion of language and law institutes a break with nature, one that transfigures the world by imbuing it with meaning.
Following the logic of Totem and Taboo , social identities are constituted on the basis of exclusions that establish kinship networks. Lacan thus accounts for the transgenerational transmission of elementary structures of kinship without appealing to any natural necessity. Lacan takes this law of kinship dictating desire and its limits to be fundamentally co-terminous with the order of language since it is instituted through a symbolic articulation. The no that prohibits the father's law and the name that establishes authority the father's name or the proper name are conferred simultaneously.
By submitting to the law of the father his no and name the child assumes a symbolic identity and place in the human universe of meaning, i. With this compliance, the child takes on a life of desire and incompletion, pursuing lost objects with no firm ground or fixed purpose, a lack of plenitude in being that Lacan designates as castration. Lacan complicates this theoretical perspective by deeming all subjects, all speaking beings, to be castrated, by which he means deprived of the phallus, which is not the same as the penis.
While the penis is a biological organ, the phallus is a signifier which invokes or points toward other signifiers, or toward a system of signifiers. The moment of castration is the primordial moment of loss, the fracturing of being by language. With entry into the reign of law and language, subjects are cut off from the immediacy of bodily experience; relations to things, and to oneself and others, are now mediated by words and representations.
The distinction between phallus and penis can be seen to carry forward Freud's own distinction between instinct and drive, since in each case the latter term indicates that the experience of the body has meaning insofar as it takes place in the medium of language and in a world of others. Castration takes place when the child recognizes lack in the mother and her maternal omnipotence is annulled. The mother, for the child, ceases to be the all-powerful provider of every satisfaction as she herself is a desiring being deprived of satisfaction.
Galvanized by the mother's lack, the law of the father which need not be embodied in an actual person takes the place of the desire of the mother, substitutes for it, occludes it. Indeed the paternal function, working through name and law, indicates a dead father, just as Freud understands in Totem and Taboo that the murdered father, the precondition of law, is stronger than the living one.
In the Lacanian version of the Oedipal Complex, human beings achieve a sexual position by traversing the Oedipal Complex, i. There is thus no sexual difference prior to representation. Here we arrive at the phallocentrism, if not the patriarchalism, of Lacan's thought, the central role of the phallus in his thinking about subjectivity and sexual difference.
The phallus, in other words, is responsible for the child's passage from immersion in perceptual immediacy to a representational domain in which the world takes on meaning. It is this claim that de-biologizes Freud, since it articulates the function of the phallus apart from any particular bodily attributes. Lacan insists that the phallus is a signifier, not an image or bodily organ, and that in relation to it all are castrated. Nonetheless, while Lacan centers human experience not on the supposed biological fixity of anatomical distinctions, but on a representational economy, the phallus retains its associations with masculinity and remains the focal point of sexual identity.
As already discussed, Freud had theorized that there is only one libido and it is masculine. This is the view I earlier mentioned as belonging to Karen Horney who defends the idea of an inherent, underived, biologically-based, nature of feminine sexuality. Lacan also disparages the idea that the final stage of genital sexuality is directed toward the entire person in his or her personhood, the achievement of a kind of tenderness toward the whole being of another Lacan , Lacan disputes both of these positions as normalizing and biologizing and claims that the psyche is not harmonized with nature in either of these ways.
This symbolic dimension of human relations must be clearly distinguished from the imaginary as the domain of the ego. The mirror stage commences, pre-Oedipally, when the infant is around 6 months old. The infant at this age is literally infans , without speech and moreover, without bodily coordination or motor control. Born prematurely, at a point prior to any adequate capacity for self-care, the infant is wholly instinctually inept.
By identifying itself with an image, a coherent unity that contrasts to its own fragmented and dispersed bodily existence, the infant forms a preliminary self, one animated by an illusion but an illusion that allows it to anticipate its own future organization. Lacan's account of the mirror stage establishes the ego as fundamentally imaginary, formed through the infant's specular captivation with the unitary form presented in images of itself which it assumes as its own through identification.
The ego, with its illusion of self-mastery and containment, is formed through misrecognition, an anticipatory identification with an idealized, stable, self-enclosed, citadel of self. This identification with an image of oneself sets up the ego as rivalrous, narcissistic, and aggressive.
While the act of misrecognition becomes the basis for a sense of self or for self-consciousness, it is also an act of alienation, exclusion, or self-division; by erecting an imaginary ideal, representing oneself in a perfected image, the self is also split and rendered unconscious to itself, cut off from the multiplicity of dispersed drives. The withdrawal of the self from itself proceeds from the reflexivity of representational practices of language. The ego as object is trapped in oppositional relationships, including with itself, and cannot therefore be equated with the subject as speaking being who, in the use of words, signifiers that are differentially related to one another, is capable of more complex plays of presence and absence; language, unlike perception I perceive an object or I don't , can evoke simultaneously the presence and the absence of the thing I can represent objects that are not present.
While the advent of the symbolic order is tied to Oedipalization, and the imaginary order is tied to the pre-Oedipal period, it would be mistaken to think of the imaginary and symbolic in only developmental or chronological terms as they are also ongoing structures of experience. Even in the seemingly dyadic relation between mother and child, Lacan argues, a third term is always at work. Initially this third term is simply a question, the question of the mother's desire, of what she wants, but already this question interrupts or destabilizes the child's position, rents dyadic unity, even as the child takes itself to be this object of desire, since it indicates in a preliminary way that the mother is lacking, that she is not whole, entire, omnipotent.
The question of desire, in other words, means that the phallic mother of the imaginary is already the castrated mother of the symbolic, and that the imaginary unity of the ego, with its oppositional relations, is bound to be sublated into a symbolic relation of difference. It is important, however, not to conflate the mother with the woman or maternity with femininity.
Symbolic and imaginary representations leave something out, hit their limit, produce an impasse that presents a fracture or fissure in the symbolic order. While sexual difference is mediated by representation, it cannot be fully contained within its terms. The idea that sexual difference is not biologically innate but established through language and law has led some feminists to conclude that Lacan is on the side of social constructionism but this would be mistaken.
Language and law, personified by the name of the father, are irreducible to social practices and processes and are in fact the condition of their possibility. While Lacan is criticized for constituting sexual difference on the basis of the phallic function and subjectivity on the basis of paternal authority, what the Lacanian project does provide for feminism is not the idea of a malleable culture, susceptible to human mastery, as distinct from a fixed nature that escapes it, but the more disconcerting idea that human mastery, of ourselves, of others, of nature and culture, is itself illusory.
Rather than the promise of a rational progress toward greater and greater equality, respect for individual difference, and universality, Lacan's insights, like Freud's, point toward the precariousness of identity and social bonds and to the instability of the drives that attach us to one another. Subjectivity and sexuality are not natural adaptations but deviations, detours, breaks from nature that undermine identity and divide or limit any unity of self or community.
In addition to the distinctiveness of his method, focus, and insight, this willingness to grapple with the limits of self-mastery is one reason why Lacan has been taken as an innovative and amenable resource for some feminist theorists. In exposing the inadequacies of social or empirical accounts of sexual difference, identity, and the power relations built upon them, Lacan confronts the fundamental structures at the root of empirical socio-historical circumstances.
French Feminism is in many ways a misnomer since the authors thus characterized are rarely of French origin or nationality although French is the predominant language of their writing and not necessarily overtly self-identified as feminist. The writers affiliated with French Feminism, including Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Sarah Kofman, Catherine Clement, and Helene Cixous, among others, variously ask about the relation between the maternal and the feminine, doubt that we can say what a woman is, worry about Freud's lack of attention to mothers, play with writing style, wonder about feminine subjectivity, ask if women can be subjects or citizens without adapting to masculine norms, impeach Lacan's phallocentrism, and suspect that access to language assimilates women into neutralized brothers.
Unlike Beauvoir, they are philosophically and temperamentally more sympathetic to the split of subjectivity detailed by psychoanalysis, the idea that I am not I, that self-division rather than self-identity is the fundamental feature of human existence, and therefore that the subject is not a unitary point of origin for choice. Like Beauvoir, they ask whether the structures of femininity and the structures of subjectivity are compatible, commensurable, reconcilable, and are vexed by the apprehension that they are fundamentally at odds.
While they aim to disentangle femininity from maternity, and provide a critique of their conflation, they also take seriously the significance of maternity for women and for children of both sexes. Because they concede the limits of socio-cultural explanations for women's lack of standing in the social contract, and take femininity and the feminine body as points of departure for speech or writing, they have often been accused of essentialism.
Below I focus on the work of Irigaray and Kristeva, examining how they engage with and transform the ideas of Freud and Lacan, and how they articulate sexual difference as integrally connected to the foundation, and disruption, of a symbolic order. Irigaray characterizes her own project as taking place in three stages: first, deconstructing the masculine subject; second, figuring the possibility for a feminine subject; and third, construing an intersubjectivity that respects sexual difference Irigaray a, Irigaray's writings implicate Freud in this culture of sexual indifference, his work a symptom of masculine metaphysics and its dream of self-identity and self-mastery.
I will discuss Irigaray's understanding of sexual indifference further below, after first describing and elucidating her style of writing. Irigaray's writing does not proceed propositionally, laying down theses and supporting arguments, nor is it formulated through conventionally linear explanations. This is not to say, of course, that she does not draw conclusions or that her writing is empty of insight. But these insights are reached by mirroring the text she is reading, allowing it to play out its tensions and contradictions, juxtaposing, transfiguring, and intensifying its crises and putting its parapraxes its textual and conceptual slips of the tongue on display.
Her writing is driven by the vagaries of the author before her, and makes appear, or unmasks, the structuring forces of the text and its impasses and limits. This reading strategy goes to work on the unconscious logic of a text, revealing the author's underlying fantasies and anxieties by amplifying and reflecting them, and thereby attempting to loosen the masculine hold on the symbolic by conveying its unstated postulates and conversing from a different perspective. Intently attentive to the signifer, to the words and silences of psychoanalytic texts, she aims to retrieve the bodily in language, something underlying symbolic processes of representation, and to invent a new language and imagine new forms.
Her text opens as Freud's does, with his words, and is comprised of long quotations that follow the course of Freud's essay. Insofar as this appropriation might at first appear as the passive listening of a dutiful daughter, Irigaray performs a kind of masquerade of femininity: receptive, submissive, obedient.
But this performance does not merely reiterate or reproduce; in exemplifying the ways in which women have no language of their own, can only speak in or through the voice of the father, she is establishing the symbolic terrain upon which any critique must move while also subverting its presuppositions. Her own words are inserted as commentary, question, counterpoint, breaking open the Freudian text, usurping its privileges, revealing its wounds. By engaging Freud in a conversation, she insists on her own status as a speaking subject, and not merely an object of study in support of the expansion of a sexist science.
Freud's lecture had ventured to address the question of sexual difference, and had endeavored to complicate rather than simplify our perceptions and certainties concerning its meaning and status. Irigaray, however, by retrieving and replaying Freud's voice, attempts to show that he remains caught up in certainties and dogmatisms about sex, so that ultimately his discourse is one of sexual indifference , as I will discuss next. Freud is thus not the master of Irigaray's essay: his words do not so much determine her trajectory as reveal their own freely associative character, his own unmastery, the egoic and identificatory fantasies that haunt his texts on femininity.
According to Irigaray, Freud's work is sexually indifferent because of its assumption of a kind of symmetry or harmony between masculine and feminine identities and sexualities. With regard to sexual identity, Freud models the feminine Oedipal Complex on a masculine paradigm and origin, with the feminine as its distorted copy. In both cases, Freud contrives to understand women as the complementary other to men, an other modeled on the same. Irigaray considers this to be a monosexual, homosocial economy governed by specular opposition or mirroring. The crime here, in Irigaray's view, is matricide and the suppression of maternal genealogies or lines of descent.
The law of the father, the patrimonial order by which sons inherit the father's name by submitting to his prohibitions, privileging this name over the maternal body, appropriates even birth to the father. The maternal lineage is suppressed. Irigaray argues that this means that a pre-Oedipal mother-daughter relationship has not been taken up by the signifying order; in fact that order retroactively denies that such a relation ever existed, since a daughter becomes a daughter properly, becomes feminized or sexually differentiated as a girl or woman , only post-Oedipally.
Not only is the maternal connection lost or repressed, but the ability to name or identify the loss as a loss is also barred. Banished from memory, the loss of the mother cannot be mourned. Irigaray claims that it is this genealogical asymmetry, with the father's name memorialized and the mother's body sacrificed to it, that sustains the legitimacy of patriarchy and propels the fantasy of a harmony of sexual difference, the conviction that the sexes are reciprocal and complementary in their identities and desires.
Freud's account of sexuality presupposes that the sexual subject is male, and even that there are no women, only mothers or those destined to become mothers, that is that the meaning of being a woman is fully exhausted in the meaning of being a mother. As little girls diverge from little boys, as they cease to be little men, they are expected to be appealing visual objects, the mirror of men's desires, enabling men to represent themselves, shore up their self-image with an adoring reflection.
Irigaray sees in this account a masculine desire for women's desire to be directed toward men. Women are expected to provide the mirror that supports men's projects, nurtures and nourishes their identities, energizes their drive for mastery, by presenting themselves as an alter ego. This imaginary, specular, order is matricidal, feeding on the blood of women, leaving unpaid its fundamental debt to the mother, and abandoning the subjectivity of the daughter.
By repressing dependence on the maternal origin of life, the masculine is marked as originary, that from which differentiation proceeds. Not only is Western culture premised on matricide, which she claims is more primordial than the patricide of Totem and Taboo , but this matricide is forgotten and the mother remains unmourned. Repressing any maternal genealogy, political life has been predicated on the lineage between fathers and sons and the bonds of brotherhood, appropriating universality and citizenship to men and rendering women as objects of their desire and exchange.
The exploitation of women is not merely a phenomenon that takes place within the social order, it is its very foundation and premise. This forgetting of the mother supports vertical and horizontal relations between men but leaves women unrepresented in language as subjects and incapable of achieving representation in the body politic as citizens.
Developing the resources for transformation, i. This task requires intervening in the symbolic and imaginary realms, creating a new language that would not be severed from the body and ending the division of labor between love and law. The structure of the representational economy, its association of subjectivity with masculinity, precludes the convergence of being a woman and being a speaking being.
Although of course there are words for women, these words constitute her only with reference to masculinity, as a photographic negative of man, or in response to a patriarchal exertion of feminine norms and expectations. They secure her in a masculine universe, they say in advance what she is, they render her captive to an idea of feminine essence. By contrast, Irigaray seeks to create a representation for women that would not be a designation of what she is, defining her by and holding her to some concrete essence, but would allow her to exist on her own terms and speak for herself.
Irigaray believes that this type of self-determination is barred by the exclusion of mother-daughter genealogies, an exclusion that works to assign woman to a maternal destiny as mothers of men. Neither denotative nor expressive, neither speaking of woman as though woman were a determinate object of study nor speaking as one as though the aim were to express an inner essence , Irigaray's writing establishes a reflexive relation to language. By acquiescing, in her mimetic writing style, to the cultural expectation of feminine artifice, Irigaray stages her own exiled agency and thereby extends the possibilities for being a woman to include being not only an object in or reference of language but a transformer of language.
Without claiming to say what a woman really is, to get right what the symbolic order gets wrong, she shows that in speaking differently, the very meaning of being a woman or being a man can be transformed, so that sexual difference remains open to new possibilities. She thus does not so much refute Freud's account of the Oedipal Complex and the little girl's purported masculinity as re-present its primal crime against women, the Oedipal exclusion of maternal dependency, thereby altering the scene of its representation.
Irigaray also challenges the Lacanian idea of the law of the father and the phallic signifier, pillorying the way in which natural birth has been assigned to maternity while cultural birth is assigned to paternity, equating the woman-mother with body and the man-father with language and law, and relegating the bodily process of parturition maternity to mute nature while valorizing the symbolic process of legitimation paternity as constitutive of civilization. Human subjectivity has been masculinized, while human flesh is both feminized and animalized.
Irigaray aims to provoke a legitimation crisis in the paternal legacy and the name of the father that bestows on the child a political and familial identity. The erasure of sexual difference enables a metaphysics of substance in which sexual identity is a matter of fixed and pre-determined being, of underlying essences or common properties, rather than a form of becoming and self-generation.
Irigaray's genealogical account of sexual difference resists both the idea of an invariant universal and hence sexually neutral human essence that subtends and thereby expels human multiplicity and the idea of sexual essences that consist in self-enclosed identities between which there is an uncrossable divide. That is, she rejects the ontological assumptions of both universal equality and separatism, taking both to be implicitly masculine and patriarchal, bound to a metaphysical essentialism that aims to capture diversity in first or final principles, or to subsume particulars under general concepts.
Challenging the logic of the one and the many, Irigaray takes the self-division of nature, its being-two, as a model of autonomous self-development. When Irigaray says that human nature is two, she does not mean that there are two fixed sexual substances, but that to be natural is to be embodied, finite, divided, that the fundamental character of nature is growth through differentiation.
Human nature, in her view, is not disembodied or neutral; it is always distinctively sexed or sexuate, a neologism for sexed, but not necessarily erotic, bodily difference. If human nature is two, and always divided, Irigaray argues, then civil identity is also two and divided; the two of nature needs to be brought into the two of culture. The one is an illusion of patriarchy, while the two threatens the phallocentric order and challenges the supposition that universality must be singular.
The scandalous idea of a feminine subjectivity means that the universal must be doubled. Doubling the universal does not, for Irigaray, mean merely replacing a neutral universality something that holds true for all human beings with two wholly distinct and separate truths. A universal that has been doubled has also been split or divided from itself, no longer one, and Irigaray sees in this the possibility for cultivating sexual difference and overcoming a culture of sexual indifference that is dependent on the idea of the generic human.
If the other has always been formulated on the basis of the same, as merely a specific difference from some underlying generic identity, there has only been complementarity and opposition, there has never been an actual other subject, each with its own path of development. Women have mirrored men's subjectivities, reflected their egos back to them in an illusion of wholeness and unity, submitted to the demand that they perform or masquerade femininity. Given this criticism of the exploitation of otherness, and despite her criticism of a feminist politics of equality, Irigaray thus cannot be simplistically aligned with the project of difference, if this means asserting features of women's biological or social specificity as essential and innately valuable attributes, since these Irigaray takes to be framed already and in advance by a patriarchal symbolic and imaginary order.
Irigaray's affirmation of sexual difference does not mean affirming the feminine traits that have been ascribed to women, since these are actually, in her view, the traits of sexual indifference, defined only with reference to men. Sexual difference has yet to appear and it is her task to bring it into being. Being-two is counterposed to the metaphysical alteration between the one and the many, with its incessant oscillation between the essentialism of a rigid identity and the laissez-faire contingency, independent of any determining essence, of unlimited multiplicity and atomistic individualism.
It is on the basis of this being-two that Irigaray attempts to build an ethics of sexual difference, a political relation between-two, with civil rights appropriate to sexuate identity, so that one's identity as a citizen is not cut off from the body, and law is not severed from nature. If sexual difference is not simply an effect of oppression, then freedom does not mean freedom from sexed embodiment.
While political neutrality can only recognize disembodied subjects deprived of their bodily life, for Irigaray, citizens are not abstractions. The doubled, non-neutral, universal allows for distinctively feminine and distinctively masculine subjects to be recognized politically. Similarly to Beauvoir, who ascertains that language and culture constitute the subject as masculine, and the feminine as other to him, Irigaray maintains that inhabiting a feminine subjectivity is paradoxical in a fraternal social order.
But, for Irigaray, both Beauvoir and Freud fail to address sexual difference insofar as they retain a singular notion of masculine subjectivity, Freud because he presumes the libido is always masculine, and Beauvoir because she reckons the aim of women's emancipation as equality with men for instance by concluding the Second Sex with a call to brotherhood and seeming, arguably, to be calling for women to assimilate to masculine norms of selfhood.
This might seem unnecessary, especially to equality-oriented feminists, since of course, women can, at least in much of the liberal, democratic world, be citizen-subjects, just like men. But Irigaray's point is that women can have the rights of men only so long as they are like men, i. This purportedly equal access to citizenship and subjectivity thus does not resolve the paradox, since it merely takes the side of subjectivity over that of femininity, retaining the constitution of the feminine as lack, the inverted image of man, the other of the same, that which stands in the way of political agency and obstructs autonomy, and which thus must be overcome in order to achieve self-determination.
In the prevailing social contract, femininity and subjectivity remain opposed. Irigaray does not think she can say what a woman is or what femininity is. Familial, social, and symbolic mechanisms of exchange have denied femininity its own images and language, fashioning women through men's language, images, and desires, and thereby producing an apparent, but false, symmetry within a single, monotonous, language. Against this homogeny, with its same and its other, Irigaray construes the production or work of sexual difference, sexual difference as a relation between-two, to be the path toward liberating both femininity and masculinity from their metaphysical and political constraints by allowing them each to cultivate their own interdependent natures.
The idea of a between-two does not mean a singular path that is shared by both, but rather indicates, in addition to the value of a specifically feminine sexual identity and a specifically masculine sexual identity, the ethical path of an intersubjective relationality that allows them to appreciate and value one another. Since the between-two is premised on being-two self-differentiated , it is in the cultivation of this sexual difference that we will find the possibility of an ethical sexual relation, what Irigaray calls an ethics of sexual difference.
For Irigaray, then, contra Lacan, there can be a sexual relation. Irigaray's undertaking thus involves not merely an assertion of difference against equality, nor certainly a simple reversal; such stances take place on the basis of an already existing symbolic order and imaginary relation and are themselves what need to be interrogated. Although Irigaray often invokes the maternal as the source of life and subjectivity, she does not equate maternity with femininity or the mother with the woman.
She is not an essentialist who views women's biology as their destiny. While often grouped together in cursory overviews of so-called French Feminism, Irigaray and Kristeva have fundamentally disparate projects and locations in the academy , both with regard to their critical analyses and with regard to their political enterprises.
Whereas Irigaray was a student of Lacan who breaks with even as she is inspired by his teachings from her earliest work, Kristeva has a much more ambiguous relationship to his school of thought and was never his student or attended his seminars. Their respective views can perhaps best be captured with respect to their attitude toward the symbolic violence of castration the Oedipal Complex and the social contract. As explained above, Irigaray envisions a sexuate culture that would overcome the Oedipal demands of a sacrificial economy and restore feminine genealogies to the work of civilization.
Kristeva, by contrast, argues that there is no subjectivity beyond sacrifice and does not believe Oedipus can or should be overcome. Kristeva and Irigaray do not form a cohort and they do not respond to each other's writings. But they both have psychoanalytic training and practices and both attend to the body and the drives, taking up the theme of loss or exile of the mother's body and the impact of matricide on social relations.
- Julia Kristeva: Psychoanalysis and Modernity - Sara Beardsworth - Google Livres?
- The Idea of Progress in Eighteenth-Century Britain;
- Mysteries of Faith-The Prophets(U.S.News &World Report:Special Issue).
Kristeva's connection to feminist thought is also unsettled and volatile, although her focus on questions pertaining to language, femininity, and the maternal body has made her work amenable to feminist interest and development. The first generation is universalist in principle and aspires to give women a place within history and the social contract; this generation takes equality as its mission and asserts women's identification with the dominant values of rationality. Kristeva aligns Beauvoir with this project of pursuing access to universal subjectivity.
The second generation is reactive, rejecting the idea of assimilation to values taken to be masculine; this generation insists on feminine difference. While Kristeva does not mention Irigaray, it seems clear that Kristeva would align her with this strategy and the project of recognizing feminine specificity. In Kristeva's view, the first generation is so committed to universal equality that it denies bodily difference, and the second generation is so committed to difference that it refuses to partake of a history it deems to be masculine.
The third generation follows neither the path of fixing identity nor the path of neutralizing difference in the medium of universality. Instead it embraces ambiguity and non-identity, respecting both the value of participating in historical time and the ineluctability of bodily difference. The third generation recognizes that it is as embodied beings that we enter into the social contract and community with others. Since Kristeva believes that there is no subjectivity and no sociality without the violence of the symbolic contract and the splitting of subjectivity, the feminism that she proposes would not take refuge from this violence either by standing outside history as the second generation does , or by denying women's bodies and desires as the first generation does.
Taking seriously the intransigence of sexual difference, and the violent fractures within and of identity, Kristeva advocates feminist support for alienation that would not pretend to reconcile the rupture between body and law what Lacan calls castration and would refuse the solace of identity. Kristeva mentions the bodily experience of pregnancy, an experience of being split, of being two in one, as manifesting the instability of, and alterity within, identity.
This insistence on the fragility and precariousness of identity can be grasped in the first instance by looking at Kristeva's understanding of the drives and language. Kristeva introduces the notion of the semiotic as the affective dimension of language that facilitates its energetic movement. The semiotic is the materiality of language, its tonal and rhythmic qualities, its bodily force. In Kristeva's account, the drives are not simply excluded by language but also inscribed as an alien element within it.
While more primitive than signification, the semiotic participates in signifying practices. Kristeva's elaboration of the semiotic situates it at a point prior to the Lacanian imaginary, i. Mobile and provisional, moving through the body of the not-yet subject, the semiotic is a chaotic force anterior to language, unlocalizable because it courses through an as yet undifferentiated materiality in which the infantile body is not yet distinct from the maternal body. Kristeva calls this stage pre-thetic since it is prior to the reign of propositions, judgments, positions, and theses, these being subsequent possibilities that might arrest or seize a movement that always exceeds them.
Since the image is itself a kind of sign, a first representation, the advent of the imaginary demarcates the first thetic break, a break from nature and into the realm of convention.
Related Julia Kristeva: Psychoanalysis and Modernity (SUNY Series in Gender Theory)
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