Julia Kristeva: Feminism, Abjection, and Theory

Instructor: Paige Sweet
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Emigrating from the European periphery to its intellectual center, Julia Kristeva exploded like a bomb onto the insular world of French theory. Her first book, Revolution in Poetic Language, put forth a wholly new understanding of human communication—insisting on the non-linguistic rhythmic dimension that undergirds all language. Her emphasis on the body in turn centered the formative significance of the maternal, which, she argues, is repressed in traditional theories of psychoanalysis. In rethinking the maternal alongside the paternal—and, analogously, the semiotic in and through the symbolic—she provides a radical new theory of the poetic function in language. And yet, as generative as Kristeva has been for feminist theory, her own approach to feminism—traversed through Biblical exegeses, poetry, psychoanalysis, and painting, and committed to the supposed reality of sexual difference—may be unrecognizable, problematic even, to many readers. What are we to make of Kristeva’s manifold interventions—into questions of subjectivity, love, abjection, meaning, desire, art, and revolution? How are Kristeva’s insights illuminated, or undermined, by her occasional xeno- and Islamo-phobia? How can we understand Kristeva’s work, with all its challenges and provocations, as a coherent whole?

This course will explore key works by Kristeva, including her seminal contributions to literary theory with her concept of intertextuality, her understanding of abjection as a breaking down of subjective boundaries, and her revisions of psychoanalytic theory through a centering of the maternal. We’ll ask:  In what ways does her understanding of poetic language lead to her valorization of revolt? What are the stakes of her claim that literary or aesthetic revolt is not secondary to social or political revolt? How does Kristeva’s concept of the semiotic—with its emphasis on tone and rhythm—provide a revision of psychoanalytic theory by giving an account of the maternal within language? How might Kristeva’s understanding of psychoanalysis—as the co-presence of sexuality, thought, and love—reconceptualize how we think of a therapeutic “cure”? How does her account of abjection—especially its threat to subject-object distinctions and conventional orders of meaning—lead to a peculiar concept of subjectivity? Readings will be drawn from Revolution in Poetic Language, Desire in Language, Powers of Horror, Tales of Love, New Maladies of the Soul, interviews, and select secondary texts.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
April 13 — May 04, 2023
4 weeks


Registration Closed

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