- Reading Kristeva with Kristeva
I even have the impression sometimes of returning to the same subjects, myself, like that “revolution” we discussed, but always modifying them and finding other angles. In considering fiction, the writing of novels, one might think that it is a totally different thing, but for me there are links, there are bridges; it is more a question of putting something into practice.—Julia Kristeva, Julia Kristeva 222
The works of Julia Kristeva weave a web whose threads take into account constructions and interrogations of psychoanalysis, politics, belief, belonging, language, poetics, art, and literature, all of which resonate with each other to create a quintessentially twenty-first century vision of what it means to be human in world culture, world politics, and world history. In a talk on the future of European culture given at the British Academy in 2010, Kristeva diagnoses a shift in the constructions of the subject, becoming representative of the “kaleidoscopic individual”; the affectively engaging enunciating first person pronoun is “simultaneously itself and infinitely open to otherness: ego affectus est” (“Is There Such a Thing”). It is impossible not to read her four novels within this ongoing construction, placing them alongside her theoretical works, and, indeed, looking at her theoretical works, in turn, alongside her novels; she cites the importance of “a literary-philosophical coexistence” to French culture (Plaisir 60). And, Kristeva has said in an interview with Margaret Waller (interestingly in the same breath as denying the possibility of her writing novels), “if one identifies the novel with intertextuality, then every contemporary type of writing participates in it.… Intertextuality is perhaps the most global concept possible for signifying the modern experience of writing” (Julia Kristeva 192). This emphasis on intertextuality continues in Kristeva’s novels; she wants to invite us to read transgenerically, mixing, for instance, her work on Anna Comnena, which forms a major part of the novel Murder in Byzantium, with her Feminine Genius trilogy and her recent meditation on the life and work of St. Theresa D’Avila in the context of the novel form: “I would therefore like to invite you to read Anna Comnena in addition to Arendt, Klein, and Colette”; “[I am writing] a [End Page 111] book, a mixture of a novel and an essay, about Theresa D’Avila” (Hatred 6; Incredible Need 47).
The driving force of this essay is intertextual, reaching across many different texts by one and many authors, building upon and resonating across subject-matter, style, genre, place, and time. As a starting point we will take the lesser-discussed fictions of Kristeva and read them alongside some of her other adventures in thought, discovering the possibilities of reading the revolutions, the links, and the bridges across her work as passages which lead back to the polyvalent artistic-analytical-critical personality of Kristeva herself. Woven into the structure of the novels we discover an abiding concern with the formations, deconstructions, and processes of the subject. As Kristeva herself writes in a reflection upon her early work on intertextuality, “the speaking subject is a carnival, a polyphony, forever contradictory and rebellious”: ego affectus est (Hatred 10, “Is There Such a Thing”).
Whence do you speak? This is what distrustful people always ask, and they are not wrong in doing so. It is rightful that I introduce myself. The one writing here is a representative of what is today a rare species, perhaps even on the verge of extinction in a time of renewed nationalism: I am a cosmopolitan … this means I have, against origins and starting from them, chosen a transnational or international position situated at the crossing of boundaries.—Kristeva, Nations 15–16
In The Future of Revolt, Kristeva writes “I am a monster of the crossroads,” echoing Kafka, but in the context of Marcel Proust (Intimate Revolt 244). Existing at the crossroads, the thinker is between boundaries, at once stationary (the sphinx) and a traveller (Oedipus), both of whom were foreign to the space in which they existed at the point of encounter and intimately connected to humanity itself through the Sphinx’s riddle. Just as she frequently figures her self as between boundaries...