- New Forms of Revolt: Essays on Kristeva's Intimate Politics ed. by Sarah K. Hansen and Rebecca Tuvel
Albany: State University of New York Press, 2017, 230 pp.
Triggered by shifting socioeconomic and political changes—including the unification of Europe, the globalization of capitalism, and the culture of new mediatized images—in the mid-1990s, Julia Kristeva began writing on revolt, under the qualifier "intimacy." Intimacy expresses a dimension of the psychic life of the contemporary subject whose formative conditions originate with high European modernism and its forms of subjectivity. Revolt thus draws its vitality from intimacy, from the subject's power to sense and bestow value upon meaning and the relation to the Other, and in this way to inscribe rupture in the time of lived psychic life. On Kristeva's semiotic theory, revolt is thereby, and controversially, no longer attributed to action—whether this is the action of individual or collective agents, or of traditional historical agents, various entities that form political intentions or act out ideas and ideals.
Kristeva arrives at this concept of revolt by approaching it through psychoanalytic resources. Revolt is a repetition and compulsion, a retroactive questioning and returning of the past as disturbance of the present. The need to repeat and return, to split and remake the subject, connects it with a clandestine politics of compromise (hence "intimacy"). But revolt need not be [End Page 159] a reactive force, even if it takes place under conditions of the disappearance of symbolic authority in social life, in state governed representations of power, and in further forms—it arises "in a power vacuum."sup1
Recently Kristeva turns to new forms of psychoanalytic listening and interpretation, and this includes attention to suffering and psychic life amidst the turmoil of "popular uprisings" and "toppled-down dictators" of the Arab Spring in 2011.2 Her new reference points are social justice and healthcare; vulnerability, disability, and identity; trauma; the new youth and motherhood; global poverty and oppression.
This volume offers valuable interpretations of the fundamentals of Kristeva's mid-1990s trilogy of books on "revolt," up to her most recent work on "new forms of revolt." The inspiration behind this volume is the 2014 meeting of the Kristeva Circle at Vanderbilt University, where Kristeva's keynote address drew from her work on "new forms of revolt." Its nine chapters also raise critical questions and probe her work with new ideas, making explicit various areas of Kristeva's oeuvre, such as feminist theory, gender and sexuality, and race and transgender studies, decolonial and indigeneity theory, the arts and medical humanities. I first turn to the introduction of the volume, to draw out some of the above points about revolt. I then locate the strengths and contribution of individual chapters, to give a better sense of the real achievement of this collection.
In their introduction, the editors, Sarah K. Hansen and Rebecca Tuvel, make a good case for the coherence and unity underlying Kristeva's immense contribution to contemporary thinking about revolt. This is not without taking critical distance from the writings of Kristeva: the editors do not shy away from the critical positions that have shaped the debate historically around her work, including charges raised by Marxists, feminists, and cultural theorists concerned about her intellectualism and apolitical stance, her whiteness and Eurocentrism. This is complicated by the decision to include excerpts from Kristeva's responses to questions addressed to her during her keynote. This decision, though, lets the editors foreground a key debate about Kristeva's work, namely whether her work on revolt exhausts itself in a focus on what she calls "a tiny portion of language,"3 that is, on the semiotic power of words (although they do not quite resolve this debate in the introduction).
The introduction is also helpful in defending the overall unity of Kristeva's work. The early thinking agitates for "revolution" as an oppositional "movement against." In her 1974 Revolution in Poetic Language4 (RPL), she understands this in terms of the revolutionary...