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Julia Kristeva Introduction

If you like whip-smart rebellious women, you're gonna get a real kick out of Julia Kristeva. Not all of her work is beach reading, but her topics are usually pretty juicy—once you get past some of the dense post-structuralist language.

Confused already? Well, post-structuralists believe that words only have meaning relative to other words and experiences. According to them, words and definitions can never be absolute. That also means that literature never has one neat, single, closed meaning: there are many interpretations available for any given text.

One implication of this is that when we read books, we not only receive information on the subject at hand, but we may also gain some insight about the author him- or herself.

Now, Kristeva hits on some great topics: revolution, disgust, melancholy, love—oh, and lots of horror. Yup: Kristeva writes about things like vomit, and she comes up with a theory about how icky it is when milk forms that creepy film when it's been sitting around for too long.

What will those theorists come up with next?

Kristeva's big theory was her theory of the "abject," which is concerned with the body's way of managing all of its, well, unsavory products—like excrement, urine, saliva, tears, and other fluidy things. Humans reject and want to see those unpleasantries as separate from themselves. According to Kristeva, we have to control all of these disruptions to the purity of our bodies in order to maintain the boundaries between self and other, and to be part of the social order.

Kristeva is from the old school of French theorists. Say what? We're talking about all of those French (a.k.a. "Continental") theorists and revolutionary post-structuralists who mesmerized academics worldwide, mostly during the 1960s and 70s. She and a bunch of other members of the French intellectual royalty (e.g., Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault) were in an organization called the Tel Quel, which was dedicated to the study of avant-garde literature and post-structuralist theory as it applied to literature, film, gender, and culture.

Julia Kristeva has it all, so try not to get too jealous. She's a beautiful, intellectual psychoanalyst and academic who has produced copious amounts of writing on motherhood and childbirth (beautiful and cozy), the abject (ick), time (how literature mixes up the present and the past), melancholy (all about lost attachments), and beyond.

Julia and her crew had a huge influence on academic work of that era, and they even managed to seriously irritate many American academics, which can never be a bad thing—that's how you know you've really made it. We say: what's not to love about someone who writes stuff like, "Urine, blood, sperm, excrement then show up in order to reassure a subject that is lacking its 'own and clean self'" (see The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection for more)?

Oh, and she has her own website, where you can find pictures of her shaking the Pope's hand, news about The Kristeva Circle, calls for conference papers, and journal and magazine article links. She's even been in a spread in French Elle.

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