Study Guide

Julia Kristeva Quotes

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Divided from man, made of that very thing which is lacking in him, the biblical woman will be wife, daughter or sister, or all of them at once, but she will rarely have a name. Her function is to assure procreation […] But she has no direct relation with the law of the community and its political and religious unity: God generally only speaks to men. [from About Chinese Women]

This quotation comes from a collection of impressions I gathered on a trip to China with my Tel Quel crew in 1974. You will find that I sort of drift into other seemingly un-China-related subjects—like Judeo-Christian thought and the oppressions it justifies in Western patriarchal society. Who takes the hit in this system? You guessed it: women, and more specifically everything maternal. (You can't do it by yourselves, guys.)

Sorry to be grim, but in this foul culture in which monotheism, capitalism, and patriarchal law hold power, women have two options: identify with Mom and stay out of the whole symbolic system of language (and be marginalized), or identify with Dad and bottle up any and all association with the maternal body.

According to Lacanian psychoanalysis, the Symbolic is everything associated with the Law of the Father, including language. To use language is to use a masculine system—and that means that in using language, women are always making a compromise of their own subjectivity.

I cannot take my eyes off that severed head. Much as I want to, this is my symptom. Depression, obsession with death, admission of feminine and human distress, castrating drive? I accept all these human, too human hypotheses. [from The Severed Head: Capital Visions]

So, this isn't for the faint of heart. My work is pretty hardcore, but it gets at all of the gnarly issues. Why do we like looking at bodily harm and gruesome images? We look—then we look away—then we look back. We are drawn to the harmed bodies of others and are fed a steady diet of such images on the front pages of our newspapers.

I wonder what it says about us that the severed head is so captivating? Is it a textbook case of Freud's idea that humans are obsessed with death? Is it a reflection of our own grim psyches? Does it gratify our "castrating desire," which is to castrate the father so that he is no longer the holder of the Phallus, the all-mighty signifier, the Law, and patriarchal power?

Just hear me out: I believe that developing out of infancy and losing that initial extreme intimacy with our mothers' bodies is traumatic (even if we don't consciously see it that way)—but that's the only way we can enter into the language, the Symbolic. Mom becomes the Other to the infant—separate, severed—get it? I say that head stirs up a lot of feelings about separating from Mom.

I will also hold that due to the complexity of this passion even mothers participate, more or less unconsciously, in obscuring it: they would rather benefit from this vision, this ideology of the womb as sacred and the marketing of the 'perfect child,' the 'child king,' than weigh out the risks and benefits that this passion holds for them, their children, the father and society at large. [From the lecture "Motherhood Today"]

Look, even though Freud seems to have covered the subject from A to Z and back again, his conversations about parenting seem to have over-discussed the Father at the expense of the Mother. He's not the only culprit in this oversight: our entire culture and even mothers themselves tend to underestimate what I call "maternal passion."

Mothers (and I am one myself) would rather think about anything other than their own passions. To me, women would rather worry about having the right $1,200 stroller or functioning as the ideal helicopter parent (Tiger Mom) than think about maternal passion.

What do I mean by embracing maternal passion? Well, I'm a psychoanalyst, so this is gonna get a little complex. To me, motherhood has always been bogged down in biology, so that people talk about the "instinct" and "desire" to be a mother. I'm not buying it. We can feel the deep love of motherhood (as with adoption) without having the biological attachment that tends to self-loathing and representations of women as slaves to their children.

The analytic situation is the only place explicitly provided for in the social contract in which we are allowed to talk about the wounds we have suffered and to search for possible new identities and new ways of talking about ourselves. [From "In the Beginning Was Love"]

Now, I don't want to say that the psychoanalyst replaced God, but in a very real sense, the psychoanalyst replaced God. Before Nietzsche delivered the bad news about God being dead, we looked to religion to find faith, renewal, hope, transformation, forgiveness… you get the point.

The "analytic situation" (an in seeing an analyst) is the new source of solace, the new place that we turn to heal ourselves. Psychoanalysis has replaced religion as the site of guidance, protection, and love. You go, make your confession, receive forgiveness, and leave with a sense of hope. All for a $30 co-pay.

In the case of texts by Lautréamont, Mallarmé, and Artaud, reading means giving up the lexical, syntactic, and semantic operation of deciphering, and instead retracing the path of their production. [From Revolution in Poetic Language]

At the turn of the 19th century, some writers began to change the way they used language and what they hoped to convey to their readers. Readers were no longer meant to be concerned exclusively with the language as language but were encouraged to consider the author's subjective conditions in producing the writing. That subjective position includes any and all ways that the author allows life to inform his or her writing. For example, the fact that Artaud was mad as a hatter might explain some of the way he writes.

Reading became less about interpreting a system of signs than a way into understanding an individual—in this case, the author. Traces of the author's subjectivity and all of the crises he or she has experienced can be seen in the production of the writing. Authors always reveal the workings of their own minds in their writing. Remember: post-structuralists do not believe that language has closed definitions, so why would a book have only one meaning? Read closely, friends.

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