Study Guide

Julia Kristeva Influences

Marguerite Duras

Not one to choose light subject matter, I take up Duras (and others) in Black Sun, my study of melancholy and depression.

My thesis in a nutshell: Look, we're all supposed to separate from the warm and snuggly mother at some point. Painful though it may be, you gotta enter into the symbolic, acquire language, and "sever" ties with Mum. Not everybody is keen on this idea. (I'm thinking Norman Bates from Psycho, but that is by all means an extreme case.)

So, what if you refuse to (proverbially) wean yourself from mum? Well... mourning and depression ensues. To me, Duras's Hiroshima, Mon Amour explores these issues of melancholy, not in overt mother-related ways, but in terms of fully embracing the grimness of depression.

Having lost her German lover at the end of World War II, the protagonist moves to Hiroshima, a city that had recently been attacked by atomic bombs. It's not exactly going to a spa, right? There, she wallows in melancholic memories of the past, unable to escape them, because you can never recover from the traumas of detachment—they always go back to your original detachment from the mother.

Hannah Arendt

Hannah was one cool chick. I couldn't get enough of this German political philosopher and wrote extensively about her work. It's not all praise; ever the critic, I take an unflinching look at some of the letdowns about her work. In The Ends of Arendtian Politics: A Review of Hannah Arendt, I call these disappointments "regrets."

For one, Arendt is no phenomenologist, which is to say that her many examinations of theory and language do not take into consideration that ideas come from a mind that is in a body. Yes, we are thinkers, but we are thinkers with bodies—not just free-floating brains and eyes perceiving the world. She just doesn't give enough credit to bodily subjectivity—as in: I see the world from the body of a woman, and that is a particular angle on the world.

We all have a "psychic life" and are part of a "social" world (source). It's not all about living as a political being. Arendt's just not keen on psychoanalysis and all of the sensing and bodily communication it involves.

Roman Jakobson

This linguist set some serious groundwork for future generations fighting the good fight. He was an extraordinary avant-garde theorist of Russian poetry and—most importantly to me—he believed in language and revolution. Though him, I really tapped into the theory and practice of Russian experimental poetry. (See my book Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art for more.)

Look, I am Bulgarian, so I too experienced life in a Communist country firsthand. I was steeped in Russian literature and theory. I was mostly interested in Roman's linguistic interpretation of the unconscious. (I just love me that psychoanalysis.) Jakobson doesn't see language as this dry thing divorced from those who are using it; Jakobson saw language as a way of understanding the speaking subject. Props.

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (aka Remembrance of Things Past)

I took on In Search of Lost Time, a behemoth of a novel published in 1913, by putting it under psychoanalytic scrutiny in my book Proust and the Sense of Time. Treating the novel like a patient, I looked at the French classic with all of its amazing and complex characters, the author's incredibly winding and suggestive prose, and his famous experiments with time.

One critic praised my study of the novel's presentation of "Jewish identity," explaining that I "brilliantly illuminate [...] Proust's compulsive concern with Jewish identity" (source). Cool, huh?

Colette

That Colette had a way with words. But lest you should think I just worshipped at the altar of Colette as others have, I will let you know that I did not think her plots were all that—in fact, they weren't exactly original.

My enormous tome on Colette starts by lavishing praise on the beauty of her prose: "Colette found a language to express a strange osmosis between her sensations, her desires, her anxieties—those 'pleasures thoughtlessly called physical'—and the infiniteness of the world […]" (source).

Like me, Colette just loved love, and her words expressed that. In reading her words, you sense the pleasure she derived from writing—she loved the very sounds of the words and the rhythms she could create on the page. Colette offers a perfect example of an author whose subjectivity and individuality comes through in the quality of her prose. Big red heart.