Julia Kristeva and the Semanalysis

Kristeva first came into prominence for her work on Bakhtin  Seeking to counter the “necrophilia”as (Kristeva called it) of phenomenology and structural linguistics, she suggested “semanalysis,” a portmanteau term derived from semiology (Saussure)and psychoanalysis (Freud) to address an element beyond language but in an extremely self-critical fashion, questioning its own suppositions and ideological gestures. With semanalysis, Kristeva reintroduced the body into language by arguing that (1) the logic of signification is already present in the material body and(2) bodily drives make their way into language.

(i) For Kristeva the entrance into language is not just the result of lack or castration but also motivated by pleasure and excess. Anality is a process of rejection (due to excess) and separation (as Freud argued) that prefigures a separation that leads to signification. Birth, for instance, is separation inherent in the body: one body is violently separated from the other, the maternal body’s excess leads to separation. The maternal body also regulates the first laws (the availability of the breast, for instance). This maternal regulation operates before the advent of paternal law (which, for Freud and psychoanalysis, sets up the child’s identity).

(ii) For Kristeva there are two elements in signification.

(a) The semiotic (which, it is important to note, is distinct from semiotics in Kristeva) elements in the signifying process are the drives they discharge into language, and are associated with rhythm and tone. It is a subterranean element that does not signify. It corresponds to the “genotext” which is the very foundation of language. The semiotic is equated with the chora, the unrepresentable place of the Mother. It is a kind of. origin but an unnameable one (for, if named it would be placed in the symbolic realm). The chora stands for the material, poetic dimension of language.

(b) The symbolic, on the other hand, is the element of meaning that actually signifies–  the syntax and grammar. This symbolic corresponds to the level of the “phenotext” which is the language of communication, the level at which we normally read when seeking meaning. The threshold of the symbolic is the “thetic phase” the point at which the subject takes up a position and identification/identity. The genotext and phenotext together constitute the signifying. process.

The semiotic challenges the symbolic and the two are involved in what Kristeva characterises as a dialectic oscillation, between symbolic identity and semiotic rejection. This occurs in the following manner: without the symbolic have only incoherent, random and (perhaps) indecipherable “delirium,” without the semiotic we would have empty language (we speak because of a driving semiotic force). It is this relation between rejection and stasis that produces the speaking subject. It is thus a subject-in-process. Kristeva’s work consistently seeks to bring the speaking body back into language, and language into the body by arguing that the pattern-logic of language is already found in the body, and the pattern-logic of otherness (alterity) is already found in the subject.

(iii) Kristeva’s three models of discourses that challenge identity are Poetry, Maternity and Psychoanalysis. Poetry points to the language/process of signification: it draws attention to its own construction. Its attention to the sounds, rhythm, rhymes in language indicate the semiotic element in signification. It thus re-activates the semiotic within the language, to place the subject/ identity under question. Poetic language thus disrupts meaning, and opens the way to a new range of meanings. Maternity and the maternal body are the embodiment of the subject in process. It cannot be divided into subject/object, it suggests the alterity (otherness) within, the simultaneity of the inside and outside. (I and the Other—the child inside me). The subject (maternal body) is bound to the object/Other through Love and not Law. Psychoanalysis elaborates the semiotic, indicates the semiotic alterity inside the subject. Kristeva’s later work on love, abjection, melancholy and eros is perhaps more Lacanian and poststructuralist.


Source: Literary Theory Today, Pramod K Nayar.


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