Julia Kristeva (Bulgarian: Юлия Кръстева) (born 24 June 1941) is a Bulgarian–French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, feminist, and, most recently, novelist, who has lived in France since the mid-1960s. Kristeva has become influential in today’s critical analysis and cultural theory after publishing her first book Semeiotikè in 1969. Her immense body of work includes books, essays and preface publications of architectural importance, which include the notions of intertextuality, the semiotic, and abjection, for the fields of linguistics, literary theory and criticism, psychoanalysis, biography and autobiography, political and cultural analysis, art and art history. Together with Barthes, Todorov, Goldmann, Genette, Lévi-Strauss, Lacan, Greimas, Foucault, and Althusser, she stands as one of the forefront structuralists, in that time when structuralism took major place in humanities. Her works also have an important place in post-structuralist thought.
Arriving in France Kristeva experienced the rapidly waning influence of structuralism, which was being challenged by Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, among others. With joining the ‘Tel Quel group’ in 1965 she focused on the politics of language and became an active member of the group. Kristeva took training in psychoanalysis which she completed in 1979. In some ways, her work can be seen as trying to adapt a psychoanalytic approach to the poststructuralist critiques. For example, her view of the subject, and its construction, shares many similarities with Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. However, Kristeva rejects any formal systematical (or structuralist) understanding of the subject in favor of a subject perpetually “in process” or “in crisis.” In this way, she contributes to the poststructuralist critique of essentialized structures, while preserving a psychoanalytic approach. She travelled to China in the 1970s and wrote About Chinese Women (1977) about her experiences.
One of Kristeva’s most important propositions is her idea of the semiotic. Kristeva’s use of the term ‘semiotic’ here should not be confused with the discipline of semiotics suggested by Ferdinand de Saussure. For Kristeva, the semiotic is closely related to the infantile (pre-mirror) state in both Lacan and Freud. It is an emotional force, tied to our instincts, which exists in the fissures and prosody of language rather than in the denotative meanings of words. In this sense, the semiotic is opposed to the symbolic, which refers to a more denotative mathematical correspondence of words to meaning. She is also noted for her work on the concepts of abjection and intertextuality.
Anthropology and psychology
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 subject. Furthermore, in her analysis of Oedipus, she claims that the speaking subject cannot exist on his own, but that he “stands on the fragile threshold as if stranded on account of an impossible demarcation” (Powers of Horror, p. 85).
In her comparison between the two disciplines, Kristeva claims that the way in which an individual excludes the abject mother as 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 was regarded as a key proponent of French feminism together with Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray; she had a remarkable influence on feminism in the US and the UK, although her relations with feminist circles and movements in France was quite controversial. Kristeva made a famous disambiguation of three types of feminism in “Women’s Time” in New Maladies of the Soul (1993), while rejecting the first two, including that of Simone de Beauvoir, her stands are sometimes considered as rejective of feminism in common; in fact, Kristeva tried to propose the idea of multiple sexual identities against the joined code of “unified feminine language”.
In the past decade, Kristeva has written a number of novels that resemble detective stories. While the books maintain narrative suspense and develop a compellingly 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 – which can be seen as Kristeva’s alter ego. Murder in Byzantium deals with themes from orthodox Christianity and politics and has been described by Kristeva 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 2004. She won the 2006 Hannah Arendt Award for Political Thought.
- Séméiôtiké: recherches pour une sémanalyse, Paris: Edition du Seuil, 1969. (English translation: Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Oxford: Blackwell, 1980.)
- La Révolution Du Langage Poétique: L’avant-Garde À La Fin Du Xixe Siècle, Lautréamont Et Mallarmé. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1974. (English translation: Revolution in Poetic Language, New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.)
- About Chinese Women. London: Boyars, 1977.
- Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
- The Kristeva Reader. (ed. Toril Moi) Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986.
- In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.
- Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
- Nations without Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
- New Maladies of the Soul. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.
- Crisis of the European Subject. New York: Other Press, 2000.
- Reading the Bible. In: David Jobling, Tina Pippin & Ronald Schleifer (eds). The Postmodern Bible Reader. (pp. 92-101). Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
- Female Genius: Life, Madness, Words: Hannah Arendt, Melanie Klein, Colette: A Trilogy. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
- The Samurai: A Novel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.
- The Old Man and the Wolves. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
- Possessions: A Novel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
- Murder in Byzantium. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.