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Kristeva, Julia

Julia Kristeva, 1941–, French critic, psychoanalyst, semiotician, and writer, b. Sliven, Bulgaria. Writing in French, she has explored many subjects including structuralist linguistics and semiotics, psychoanalysis, and contemporary feminism; many of her books have been translated into English. She studied at the Univ. of Sofia and settled (1966) in Paris, where she received (1973) a doctorate in linguistics from the École Pratique des Hautes Études. Kristeva, who became a psychoanalyst at 40, is also a professor of linguistics at the Univ. of Paris. In general, she takes a poststructuralist approach, analyzing the relationships among language, society, and the self with its individual psychology and sexuality. Her books include Semeiotiké (1969), Revolution in Poetic Language (1974, tr. 1984), Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia (1987, tr. 1992), Time and Sense: Proust and the Experience of Literature (1994, tr. 1996), and The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt (1996, tr. 2000). The subjects of her early 21st-century trilogy on "female genius" are Hannah Arendt (tr. 2001), Melanie Klein (tr. 2002), and Colette (tr. 2005). She has also written several novels.

See T. Moi, ed., The Kristeva Reader (1986) and K. Oliver, The Portable Kristeva (1997); R. M. Guberman, ed., Julia Kristeva Interviews (1996); studies by J. Lechte (1990), J. Fletcher and A. Benjamin, ed. (1990), D. R. Crownfield (1992), K. Oliver (1983 and 1993), A.-M. Smith (1998), and J. Lechte and M. Zournazi, ed. (1998); bibliography by J. Nordquist (1995).

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Kristeva, Julia (1941–)


Julia Kristeva was born on June 24, 1941, in Sliven, Bulgaria. She was educated by French nuns, studied literature, and worked as a journalist before going to Paris in 1966 to do graduate work with Lucien Goldmann and Roland Barthes. While in Paris she finished her doctorate, was appointed to the faculty of the Department of Texts and Documents at the University of Paris VI (Denis Diderot) and began psychoanalytic training. Currently, Kristeva is Director of the Department of Science of Texts and Documents at the University of Paris VII, where she teaches in the Department of Literature and Humanities.

In her early writing, Kristeva is concerned with bringing the speaking body back into phenomenology and linguistics. In order to counteract what she sees as the necrophilia of phenomenology and structural linguistics, which study a dead or silent body, Kristeva develops a new science that she calls semanalysis. She describes semanalysis as a combination of semiology (or Semiotics) from Ferdinand de Saussure, and psychoanalysis from Sigmund Freud. Unlike traditional linguistics, semanalysis addresses an element that is heterogeneous to language, the unconscious. The introduction of the unconscious into the science of signs, however, challenges the possibility of science, meaning, and reason. This is why Kristeva maintains that certain nineteenth-century poets whose work discharged unconscious drive force and emphasized the semiotic element of signification began a revolution in poetic language.

With semanalysis, Kristeva attempts to bring the speaking body, complete with drives, back into language. She does this both by putting language back into the body and by putting the body into language. She argues that the logic of signification is already present in the material body. In Revolution in Poetic Language she suggests that negation and identificationthe two primary logical operations of languageare already operating within the body prior to the onset of signification: Expelling waste from the body prefigures negation and incorporating food into the body prefigures identification. The second way in which Kristeva brings the speaking body back to language is by maintaining that bodily drives make their way into language. One of Kristeva's major contributions to philosophy of language is her distinction between two heterogeneous elements in signification: the semiotic and the symbolic. Within Kristeva's writings, semiotic (le sémiotique ) becomes a technical term that she distinguishes from semiotics (la sémiotique ). The semiotic elements within the signifying process are the drives as they discharge within language. This drive discharge is associated with rhythm and tone. The semiotic has meaning but not does refer to anything. The symbolic, on the other hand, is the element of language that allows for referential meaning. The symbolic is associated with syntax or grammar and with the ability to take a position or make a judgment that syntax engenders.

Kristeva describes the relation between the semiotic and the symbolic as a dialectic oscillation. Without the symbolic there is only delirium, whereas without the semiotic, language would be completely empty, if not impossible. There would be no reason for people to speak if it were not for the semiotic drive force. The oscillation between the semiotic and the symbolic is both productive and necessary. The oscillation between rejection and stasis already existing within the material body produces the oscillation between semiotic and symbolic in the speaking subject.

In The Powers and Limits of Psychoanalysis, Kristeva revists the theme of revolution so prominent in her earlier work. In Revolution in Poetic Language Kristeva identifies the possibility of revolution in languagea revolution she deems analogous to social revolutionwith (maternal) semiotic forces in avante-garde literature. In Powers of Horror this semiotic force of drives is not only associated with the maternal but more particularly with the abject or revolting aspects of the maternal. Here, the revolting becomes revolutionary through the return of the repressed (maternal) within (paternal) symbolic systems. Two decades later, in The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt, Kristeva asks if revolt is possible today. In this book, volume one of The Powers and Limits of Psychoanalysis, she claims that within postindustrial and post-Communist democracies we are confronted with a new political and social economy governed by the spectacle within which it becomes increasingly difficult to think of the possibility of revolt. The two main reasons are that within media culture, the status of power and the status of the individual have changed. Kristeva argues that in contemporary culture there is a power vacuum that results in the inability to locate the agent or agency of power and authority or to assign responsibility. In a no-fault society, who or what can people revolt against?

In addition to the power vacuum, Kristeva identifies the impossibility of revolt with the changing status of the individual. The human being as a person with rights is becoming nothing more than an ensemble of organs that can be bought and sold or otherwise exchanged, what she calls the patrimonial individual. And, how can an ensemble of organs revolt? Not only is there no one or nothing to revolt against, but also there is no one to revolt. And without the possibility of revolt, especially the psychic revolt necessary for creativity, people are left with new maladies of the soul that make life seem meaningless.

In her Female Genius trilogy, Kristeva suggests that women with their attention to the sensory realm may provide an antidote for the meaninglessness that results from contemporary forms of nihilism. She argues that the genius of extraordinary women such as Hannah Arendt, Melanie Klein, and Colette help all women to see what is extraordinary in their own ordinary lives. Conversely, Kristeva maintains that the genius of everyday life is women's genius, particularly the genius of mothers; in creating new human beings, mothers are singular innovators, reinventing the child anew all the time. Kristeva maintains that mothers may represent a safeguard against the automation of human beings.

See also Aesthetics, History of; Arendt, Hannah; Barthes, Roland; Feminism and Continental Philosophy; Feminism and the History of Philosophy; Feminist Aesthetics and Criticism; Feminist Philosophy; Freud, Sigmund; Language and Thought; Modernism and Postmodernism; Philosophy of Language; Psychoanalysis; Structuralism and Post-structuralism; Unconscious; Women in the History of Philosophy.


works by kristeva

La révolution du langage poétique: L'avant-garde à la fin du XIXe siècle, Lautréamont et Mallarmé. Paris: Éditions du Seiul, 1974. Translated by Margaret Waller as Revolution in Poetic Language (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).

Pouvoirs de l'horreur. Paris: Éditions du Seiul, 1980. Translated by Leon Roudiez as Powers of Horror (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).

Histoires d'amour. Paris: Éditions Denoêl, 1983. Translated by Leon Roudiez as Tales of Love (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987).

Soleil noir: Dépression et mélancolie. Paris: Gallimard, 1987. Translated by Leon Roudiez as Black Sun: Depression and Melancholy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989).

Étrangers à nous-memes. Paris: Fayard, 1989. Translated by Leon Roudiez as Strangers to Ourselves (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991).

Les nouvelles maladies de l'ame. Paris: Fayard, 1993. Translated by Ross Guberman as New Maladies of the Soul (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

Sens et non-sens de la révolte: Pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse I. Paris: Fayard, 1996. Translated by Jeanine Hermane as The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).

La révolte intime: Pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse II. Paris: Fayard, 1997. Translated by Jeanine Herman as Intimate Revolt: The Powers and Limits of Psychoanalysis, Volume II (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).

Le génie féminin, Tome premier, Hannah Arendt. Paris: Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1999. Translated by Ross Guberman as Feminine Genius, Volume One, Hannah Arendt (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).

Le génie féminin, Tome II, Melanie Klein. Paris: Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2000. Translated by Ross Guberman as Feminine Genius, Volume Two, Melanie Klein (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).

The Portable Kristeva. 2nd ed. Edited by Kelly Oliver. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

works about kristeva

Beardsworth, Sarah. Julia Kristeva: Psychoanalysis and Modernity. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2004.

Lechte, John, and Maria Margaroni. Julia Kristeva: Live Theory. London: Continuum Press, 2004.

McAfee, Noelle. Julia Kristeva. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Oliver, Kelly, ed. Ethics, Politics and Difference in Kristeva's Writing. New York: Routledge Press, 1993.

Oliver, Kelly. Reading Kristeva: Unraveling the Doublebind. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Kelly Oliver (2005)

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"Kristeva, Julia (1941–)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . 19 Jul. 2017 <>.

"Kristeva, Julia (1941–)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . (July 19, 2017).

"Kristeva, Julia (1941–)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Retrieved July 19, 2017 from