Monday, October 29, 2012

Julia Kristeva

The beauty of Kristeva’s career has been its multifaceted nature. She has moved between the poles of poetics, linguistics, feminism, psychoanalysis, and even novel writing. I have read bits and pieces of Kristeva’s works over the course of the past few years, but for this post I will focus on my encounters with Kristeva through Kelly Oliver’s “The Portable Kristeva,” a text that provides a cross-section of disparate writings drawn from throughout Kristeva’s career. Since Kristeva is so prolific, I will also try to tie my reflection on her work back to previous posts and discuss some of the ways her work poses a challenge to Lacan (whose lectures she attended while a student in Paris).

In her early career, Kristeva was interested in poetics and discussed how poetry functioned, especially in her writings about the revolution of poetic language. In her poetics writings, Kristeva broached the ideas of the semiotic and the symbolic and also coined the idea/phrase “intertextuality” (which she arrived at by doing readings of Bhaktin’s idea of heteroglossia and dialogue in Barthes’s work on anagrams). Returning to the semiotic and symbolic (later these terms would become the genotext and the phenotext), Kristeva saw poetry “working” when these two ideas struggled or were in tension with each other. The symbolic, in Kristeva’s formulation, could be described as the “rules” of poetry or language (similar to Saussure’s idea of the “Langue”). The symbolic is what makes poetry make sense, as it allows a poet to string words and ideas together in his or her text. The semiotic, on the other hand (not to be confused with the scientific study of semiotics) was where the “poetry” could be found. The semiotic is hard to define as it is what lies underneath the symbolic structure of a poem and every-now-and-again pokes through the surface of the symbolic elements of a poem and creates a deep sensation within the reader.

In furthering her discussion of the semiotic, Kristeva develops the idea of the chora. The chora (a term that can be traced back to earlier philosophic works, especially in Plato) was the semiotic area where “poetry” was created. For Kristeva, the chora was a distinctly feminine space akin to the womb. This is crucial when looking at Kristeva in relationship to Lacan and her reformulation of his work. Lacan essentially shuts the feminine out of his work. There is a transcendent m/other in Lacan’s work, but she quickly disappears. In Lacan’s development of language acquisition, the child becomes introduced into language through the laws of the father and by setting himself in opposition to the mother. In other words, there is no feminine space for language acquisition in Lacan. With the idea of the chora, Kristeva attempts to rectify this situation by creating/discovering a space that is left out of Lacan’s work.

Aside from the chora, Kristeva challenges Lacan’s notion of the patriarchal symbolic order on a number of other fronts, which include: bring the feminine body back into the discussion; arguing that language development happens earlier than Lacan says it does (a type of pre-verbal language that is more closely tied to the mother); and by positing that the move into language may not be one fraught with fear and trembling underneath the gaze/phallus of the father/law-giver (in fact, Kristeva posits that the acquisition of language is an incredibly pleasurable experience for the child). by moving into areas of the psyche and human experience that have traditionally been ignored or elided by traditional patriarchal psychoanalysis (such as the feminine, corporeal, and pre-verbal) Kristeva provides incredibly astute challenges to the patriarchal symbolic order of Jacques Lacan.

Next time...Cixous

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jacques Lacan (Part Deux)

...The second term in Lacan’s triumvirate is the Imaginary. The Imaginary is situated

between the Real and the Symbolic. The best way to define the Imaginary is to look at it in terms of another Lacanian idea: that of the mirror stage. According to Lacan, there comes a point in the infant’s life when he/she moves from the Imaginary into the Symbolic. This transition is facilitated by the infant’s gazing into a mirror and coming to the realization that he/she is an individual set apart from the world he/she has, up until this point, been inhabiting. Once the infant comes to this realization, he/she begins to see itself in relation to others. The first other he/she sees is the mother (or as Lacan puts it at one point the m/other). Once this happens, the child has moved from the Imaginary and into the Symbolic. To back track, in order to more clearly define the Imaginary, Lacan believes the stage before this recognition of the other is the Imaginary. In the Imaginary, the child is one with the world around it and able to purely experience the world sans mediation. There is no differentiation between the subjectivity of the child and the objects that surround him/her.

The final term to discuss is the Symbolic. As alluded to above, the Symbolic is the stage that comes after the Imaginary and it is the stage that, once entered by the child, acts as a prison for the rest of the child’s life (i.e. we are all stuck in the Symbolic and there is no escape [this is reminiscent of Wittgenstein and his ideas about people being stuck within language]). Concomitant with the mirror stage is the recognition of not only the m/other, but the recognition of the father/phallus/law giver. Once a person moves from the Imaginary into the Symbolic, he/she is from that point forward defined by the language others use to describe him/her. We are born into language, Lacan claims (for example, before a child is even born he/she is given a name and those in the community the child will be born into are already talking about the child). IN the Symbolic order, we are no longer able to determine who we are, rather, the way language functions around us defines us. As we are able to play with/create with language, so language is able to shape us. Within the Symbolic, we are always removed from the Imaginary and the Real. Everything we encounter is a symbol for something else, and we are forced to live out our lives continually seeking to define ourselves in terms of the “other.” This creates within people issues of “desire” and “lack.” In my understanding of Lacan, when we are in the Symbolic, we seek to return to the Imaginary that we were forced out of by the mirror stage and the law giving father, but, as the cliche goes, we can’t go home again. There is no return to the imaginary and this causes neurosis in many individuals in contemporary society.

Next time...Kristeva

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Jacques Lacan

The Suppling Mind returns with a few posts about some Psychoanalytic theory I've been reading...

Jacques Lacan is one of the most influential theoreticians of the 20th century. Lacan's work is notoriously difficult as he changed his mind and reformulated his ideas throughout his career. For example, before the early 1970's he viewed jouissance (the idea that one uses an "other" to fulfill a lack in one's self) as a negative thing, but later shifted his position and saw jouissance as a positive and necessary move. Lacan also wrote in a style that mimics the unconscious because he wanted his readers to do the work of the psychoanalyst to gather meaning from his work. Ecrits is a collection of Lacan's work that is dense and turgid, but, in the end, worth struggling with.

One of Lacn's major interventions into psychoanalytic theory was his reworking of Freud. What Lacan did was to use the structuralist moves of Ferdinand Saussure and transpose the materialist Freud into language. Once Freud had been transferred into language, Lacan was then able to create a new and reformulated psychoanalysis. After this shift, the material basis of Freud, such as the physical father and a physical phallus, was then able to be read in terms of language and symbol. The father in Lacan is not a physical man who throws the football around with his kids, rahter, he is now representative of law and power. The same holds true for the phallus. The phallus moves from being a penis (or in the case of Freud's mono-sexual tendencies a "small penis" in the female) to representing power and law, as well, and becomes somthing that both sexes feel they lack and thus desire. While Lacan did reformulate much of Freud, he failed to address the patriarchal and misogynistic tendancies in his work, that of Freud, and psychoanalysis at large (In future posts I intend to discuss the intervention of post-structuralist feminists, such as Kristeva, Irigaray, and Cixous in this discussion).
Turning to the specifics of Lacan's formulation of human experience, Lacan posited his famous triumvirate (the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic) to represent what he considered to be the main registers of the human psyche and how the world is experienced (these ideas are found scattered throughout Ecrits).
The first term in Lacan's formulation is the "Real." For Lacan, the Real is the easiest term to define, but, paradoxically, it is a term that is impossible to define. In other words, the Real is that which cannot be labled and what lies outside of language and experience. The moment something is put into language, it has left the realm of the ral and has entered into the the "Symbolic." The real is infinite and unexplainable...
Next time...Lacan Part Deux: The Imaginary, Symbolic, and Mirror Stage