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In November 1996, Catherine Clément and Julia Kristeva began a correspondence exploring the subject of the sacred. Their correspondence lead them to a controversial and fundamental question: is there anything sacred that can at the same time be considered strictly feminine?
Dividing her essays into worlds, women, psychoanalysis, religion, portraits, and writing, Julia Kristeva explores the phenomenon of hate (and our attempts to subvert, sublimate, and otherwise process the emotion) through a number of key texts and contexts. Her inquiry spans the themes, topics, and figures that have been central to her writing over the past three decades, and her paths of discovery advance the theoretical innovations that are so characteristic of her thought. Kristeva rearticulates and extends her analysis of language, abjection, idealization, female sexuality, love, and forgiveness. She examines the "maladies of the soul," utilizing examples from her practice and the ailments of her patients (fatigue, irritability, and general malaise), and she sources the Bible and texts by Marguerite Duras, St. Teresa of Avila, Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, and Georgia O'Keefe. Kristeva balances political calamity and individual pathology, addressing internal and external catastrophes, and global and personal injuries, and she confronts the nature of depression, obliviousness, fear, and the agony of being and nothingness. Throughout she develops the idea that psychoanalysis remains key to serenity, with its turning back, looking back, investigation of the self, and refashioning of psychical damage into something useful or beautiful. Constant questioning, Kristeva contends, is essential to achieving a coming to terms.
In her first biography of a fellow psychoanalyst, the prolific Kristeva considers Klein's life and intellectual development, weaving a narrative that covers the history of psychoanalysis and illuminates Kristeva's own life and work.
Kristeva focuses on an intriguing new dilemma. Freud and psychoanalysis taught us that rebellion is what guarantees our independence and our creative abilities. But in our contemporary "entertainment" culture, is rebellion still a viable option? Is it still possible to build and embrace a counterculture? For whom--and against what--and under what forms?Kristeva illustrates the advances and impasses of rebel culture through the experiences of three twentieth-century writers: the existentialist John Paul Sartre, the surrealist Louis Aragon, and the theorist Roland Barthes. The book also offers an illuminating discussion of Freud's groundbreaking work on rebellion, focusing on the symbolic function of patricide in his Totem and Taboo and discussing his often neglected vision of language.
Informed by a provocative exhibition at the Louvre curated by the author, "The Severed Head" unpacks artistic representations of severed heads from the Paleolithic period to the present. Surveying paintings, sculptures, and drawings, Julia Kristeva turns her famed critical eye to a study of the head as symbol and metaphor, as religious object and physical fact, further developing a critical theme in her work-- "the power of horror"--and the potential for the face to provide an experience of the sacred. Kristeva considers the head as icon, artifact, and locus of thought, seeking a keener understanding of the violence and desire that drives us to sever, and in some cases keep, such a potent object. Her study stretches all the way back to 6,000 B. C. E. , with humans early decoration and worship of skulls, and follows with the Medusa myth; the mandylion of Laon (a holy relic in which the face of a saint appears on a piece of cloth); the biblical story of John the Baptist and his counterpart, Salome; tales of the guillotine; modern murder mysteries; and even the rhetoric surrounding the fight for and against capital punishment. Kristeva interprets these "capital visions" through the lens of psychoanalysis, drawing infinite connections between their manifestation and sacred experience and very much affirming the possibility of the sacred, even in an era of "faceless" interaction.
"Unlike Freud, I do not claim that religion is just an illusion and a source of neurosis. The time has come to recognize, without being afraid of 'frightening' either the faithful or the agnostics, that the history of Christianity prepared the world for humanism." So writes Julia Kristeva in this provocative work, which skillfully upends our entrenched ideas about religion, belief, and the thought and work of a renowned psychoanalyst and critic. With dialogue and essay, Kristeva analyzes our "incredible need to believe" - the inexorable push toward faith that, for Kristeva, lies at the heart of the psyche and the history of society. Examining the lives, theories, and convictions of Saint Teresa of Avila, Sigmund Freud, Donald Winnicott, Hannah Arendt, and other individuals, she investigates the intersection between the desire for God and the shadowy zone in which belief resides. Kristeva suggests that human beings are formed by their need to believe, beginning with our first attempts at speech and following through to our adolescent search for identity and meaning. Kristeva then applies her insight to contemporary religious clashes and the plight of immigrant populations, especially those of Islamic origin. Even if we no longer have faith in God, Kristeva argues, we must believe in human destiny and creative possibility. Reclaiming Christianity's openness to self-questioning and the search for knowledge, Kristeva urges a "new kind of politics," one that restores the integrity of the human community.
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