- Noir Analysis: How Kristeva’s Detective Novels Renew Psychoanalysis
“I must make progress artificially so that I can focus all the light on an obscure point.” Such is Freud’s confession to Lou Andréas-Salomé, and it summarizes for me the analytical experience. But also my way of writing a novel.—Julia Kristeva
In an interview soon after the publication of Julia Kristeva’s latest detective novel, Murder in Byzantium (2004), Pierre-Louis Fort points out that the media repeatedly asks the psychoanalyst-turned-fiction-writer: Why a novel? (2005, 623). In so doing (Fort suggests), the media secretly aims to put Kristeva back in her place, to return her to her academic self, to her self as a critic, and to the more familiar ground of her affiliations with Roland Barthes, Tel Quel, and psychoanalysis. In the interview, Fort appears to want to reverse this trend by asking the implicit question: Why not a novel? But by putting Kristeva firmly in the place of the novelist, Fort’s question again misses the mark. He does not interrogate the qualitative difference between her fiction and her theory that much of the criticism about Kristeva’s fiction presupposes; criticism that suggests that her fiction is either more personal or more political than her more cerebral theoretical work, or that her fiction is merely a container, illustration, or elaboration of her complex theoretical concepts.1 Fort’s interview notwithstanding, Kristeva is widely perceived to be a psychoanalyst first and foremost, who nevertheless indulges in fiction writing, an activity that remains a distant second to what is considered to be her more serious theoretical and psychoanalytic work.
In what follows, I will take Fort’s legitimate concerns in a slightly different direction by considering Kristeva’s psychoanalytic theory and practice in light of her detective fiction. I will begin with the question [End Page 27] “Why not a novel?” but only as a means to ask the fiction writer two related questions: “Why psychoanalysis and what kind of psychoanalysis?” More precisely, I will argue that Kristeva’s detective fiction suggests the need to renew psychoanalysis at a time when one often hears of its demise on all fronts; when contemporary feminist theory, postmodern theorizations of subjectivity, and postcolonial accounts of alterity declare that its Oedipal paradigm is bankrupt; when psychoanalytic dogma and sectarianism divide psychoanalysts and destroy analytical societies; when psychoanalysis declines into standardization and normalization; and when there is a widespread loss of interest in the psyche.2
I will also argue that Kristeva questions or interrogates psychoanalysis in and through a noir analysis based on a negative aesthetics.3 On the one hand, a melancholy poetic writing can be said to inspire her specific approach to psychoanalytic theory, distinguishing it from Freudian psychoanalysis. On the other hand, her work in noir detective fiction signals a renewal of psychoanalytic practice. I will argue then that Kristeva renews psychoanalysis by aestheticizing its theory and its practice, both through her early readings of poetry and then through her later practice as a fiction writer. Or more specifically, she renews psychoanalysis by traveling through the dark matter of the unconscious to the “obscure point” of a signifying negativity.
What I mean here by renewal is both a renewed insistence on the value of analysis, as well as a practice that reinvigorates psychoanalysis from one of its limits, from the work of art in general and from detective fiction in particular. This is not to say that Freudian forms of psychoanalysis do not engage in cultural analysis, or that they set up limits to analysis that they do not cross. Rather, it is to suggest that Kristeva’s renewal consists of insisting that we remain at the uncomfortable limits of psychoanalytic technique (and in particular in the place of a negative sublimation); of insisting on a negative diagnosis that does not offer a cure but suspends judgment; of insisting on continuously turning the tables on the analyst, making her or him into a partner in crime with the analysand; and of insisting on remaining in the turbulent place of transference. This Kristevan insistence on the “obscure point” of a signifying negativity, I...