Julia Kristeva (1941-) - Key Figures in Literary Theory

The Blackwell Guide to Literary Theory - Gregory Castle 2007

Julia Kristeva (1941-)
Key Figures in Literary Theory

Julia Kristeva was born in Sliven, Bulgaria, and studied at the University of Sofia before moving to Paris in 1966. She studied linguistics and semiotics at the University of Paris VII (Denis Diderot) and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, from which she received a doctorate in linguistics in 1973. In 1974, she became a “permanent” visiting professor in the department of French at Columbia University (a position she also enjoyed, after 1992, at the University of Toronto) and began her long career at University of Paris VII. In 1992, she became director of Ecole Doctorale at Paris VII and is currently professor of literature and linguistics. In addition to her academic appointments, Kristeva has, since 1979, maintained a career in Psychoanalysis.

Kristeva’s innovative combination of SEMIOTICS, literary theory, and psychoanalysis - “semanalysis” as she puts it - exemplifies the interdisciplinary nature of Poststructuralism. Her early linguistics and semiotics research found an audience among readers of the journal Tel Quel, whose editorial board she joined in 1969. In these years, she collaborated with Roland Barthes and Philippe Sollers (whom she eventually married). In 1974, she published her doctoral dissertation as Revolution in Poetic Lan-

guage, a study of semiotic poetics and nineteenth-century experimental poetry. Her most important early work involved an investigation of the semiotic chora, a pre-Oedipal space characterized by the dissolution of boundaries and signifying systems and a resistance to patriarchal discourse and authority. The chora privileges the maternal body and is the foundation for a feminist ethics. Kristeva's work in the 1970s concerned problems in linguistics and semiotics, though About Chinese Women (1977) looks ahead to her later works in feminist psychoanalysis. In the same year, Polylogue (1977), a collection of her early essays on semiotics and the novel appeared and, with some modifications, was translated as Desire in Language (1980). This text, especially its emphasis on Bakhtinian DIALOGISM, INTERTEXTUALITY, parody, and the maternal body, made her a major figure in Poststructuralist and Feminist Theory. In Powers of Horror (1980), she introduced the concept of “abjection,” a condition resulting from the need, in patriarchal societies, to regard the maternal body as a threat to the development of normative SUBJECTIVITY.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Kristeva wrote on psychoanalysis, social alienation, nationalism, Proust, and a host of other topics. She also wrote fiction, with her roman a clef, The Samurai, attracting critical attention. Though she was influenced to some degree by Jacques Lacan’s seminars of the 1970s, her own approach as an analyst was defined by a feminist resistance to some of his key formulations. Important psychoanalytic works include Tales of Love (1983) and Black Sun (1987), a study of depression and melancholy. In New Maladies of the Soul (1995), she brought together her essays from the previous two decades. This collection includes “Women's Time” (1977), one of her most important and influential feminist works. In 1998, Kristeva collaborated with Catherine Clement on The Feminine and the Sacred and, since 2000, she has written on Melanie Klein, Hannah Arendt, and Colette.


Kristeva, Julia. The Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

---- . Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

---- . Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Margaret Waller. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

---- . Tales of Love. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

---- . New Maladies of the Soul. Trans. Ross Guberman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.