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  • Writing as Resistance:Alice Jardine's At the Risk of Thinking
  • Carol Mastrangelo Bové (bio)
Review of Alice Jardine, At the Risk of Thinking: An Intellectual Biography of Julia Kristeva, ed. Mari Ruti (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), 400 pp.

Alice Jardine's new book, At the Risk of Thinking: An Intellectual Biography of Julia Kristeva, is an impressive example of life writing emerging from feminist literary criticism and theory of the 1970's when she first discovers Kristeva's work. The volume's insight into a major cultural critic and novelist of our time confirms one's sense of the importance of both author and subject. The most valuable contribution in my reading of this biography as well as the primary problem it poses derives from the dyad psyche/society.

Jardine's precise description and analysis of Kristeva's corpus includes her theories, fiction and interviews. At the Risk of Thinking points out the ways in which they are relevant to today's questions of power and ethics. Given the menace to creative thinking along with the erosion of women's reproductive rights in the drive toward totalitarian government fueled by the marketplace in the U.S. and beyond, this intellectual biography reveals how developments in writing on feminism and psychoanalysis can resist the impasses threatening us.

While retaining its special characteristics, the book represents a particular group of writers in the anglophone literary world of that period. Some might see 1970-90's writing by and about women as marginal and essentialist. The work in fact has important ramifications for human rights across the board, including those relating not only to sexual orientation but also to ethnicity and class.

The critique of psychoanalytic readings—that they fail to recognize the historical and material grounding of literary texts and/or are essentialist—is sometimes legitimate. Such readings may also at times neglect the imperialist leanings of contemporary societies including liberal ones in their turn from Marxist-inflected approaches (Fraser and Nicholson 1990, 33). These [End Page 491] critiques of Neo-Freudian approaches, which indicate potential problems in this intellectual biography, are ultimately not valid in my examination of Jardine and other literary critics whose work derives in important ways from the second wave of feminist thought. While "1970's feminism" sometimes refers to a reductive identity politics, which can neglect women of color and other constituencies such as women who are in themselves sexist, the term also and more precisely indicates the productive turn of women writers in the anglophone world to French feminist authors and their engagement with Freud. This was in fact the historical period when Kristeva herself, influenced by the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, Emile Benveniste, Philippe Sollers and André Green, as Jardine indicates, turned from linguistics, the discipline in which her graduate degrees are based, to psychoanalysis. Important examples in English are Juliet Mitchell's work in England (Psychoanalysis and Feminism, 1974), Jane Gallop's in the U.S. (The Daughter's Seduction, 1982), and Toril Moi's in Norway, England, and the U.S. (Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory, 1985). Mitchell in particular indicates the contribution of the turn to Neo-Freudian theory in a clear and cogent way when she states that "psychoanalysis is not a recommendation for a patriarchal society, but an analysis of one" (Mitchell 1975, xiii). Jardine's work on Kristeva over the years and especially in this biography is one of the best examples.

Her book describes Kristeva's thinking and indicates its relevance for issues of power and ethics, for instance, the analysis of the ways in which psychological formations and social behavior form parallel tracks which are linked and can lead to clearer thinking and more ethical action. Jardine inscribes her description and analysis of Kristeva's life and writing in the context of the author's own intellectual biography, providing the reader with a compelling experience that is relevant on a personal level, as is arguably the case for others who began exploring psychoanalysis and feminism in the 1970's as I did.

Jardine's discovery of Kristeva as a person and as a writer began on arrival at Columbia University as a graduate student...


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pp. 491-500
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