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seems that the depth of Julia Kristeva's thinking -- and in this case of her
reading as well -- resists any reviewing. To do justice to a book of hers, one
should write an essay at the very least. A portrait of her oeuvre deserves a
volume of its own, for her influence spreads over several disciplines, and more
and more languages. This Bulgarian-born Parisienne is at the same time a
psychoanalyst, a linguist, a semiologist, an erudite scholar and critic, and a
most prolific author decided to write a trilogy on Female Genius. The first
volume -- entitled Life -- was devoted to the famous and equally
prolific philosopher Hannah Arendt, the second -- Madness -- to Melanie
Klein, and the final one -- Words -- to the French novelist Colette.
Kristeva considers these authors emblematic of the XX century female genuis
because "at the heart of the precarious solitude of their pioneering work,
which was the price they paid for their unique creativity, Arendt, Klein, and
Colette managed to create the conditions that give rise to a necessarily public
opinion and, why not, a school and, at best, create an effect of seduction that
solicits a communion of readings and a community of readers."
is impossible for me to say what amount of the study I am reviewing is a
product of self-reflection by a woman who unites these three allegedly distinct
commitments: philosophy, psychoanalysis, and literature. However, many of the
ideas in the volume on Melanie Klein come from Kristeva's rethinking of her own
theories. It seems that in this volume she did not draw a sharp line between
Klein's theory and her own, especially when it came to language acquisition and
development of creativity. Still, this is not the only reason for the choice.
Kristeva explicitly considers Klein "the most original innovator, male or
female, in the psychoanalytic arena," who introduced a new approach
without ever abandoning Freudian theory.
as this claim may turn out to be, Kristeva's book will, I am sure, help
delineate Klein's position in a much better way. Melanie Klein has so far very
often been "worshiped to the point of dogmatic fanaticism by her
disciples, and held in utter contempt by her detractors, some of whom did not
hesitate to deny her the analyst title." In her book, Kristeva sails
safely between these extremes in her search for what is still alive in the
Kleinian theory. Specifically, this book could prove to be one of the most
important among almost two-dozen translations of Kristeva in English. The
reason for that could be Melanie Klein's specific place within the realm of
Anglo-American psychoanalysis, where she has too often been neglected.
book can be considered a biography. It tells a lot about Klein's growing up,
her private life, the great controversy in the British Psychoanalytic Society
and her conflict with her daughter. Kristeva relies on the most popular Klein
biography -- the volume by Phyllis Grosskurth -- but writes a different kind of
book. Hers is more of a critical study and an elaboration of Klein's numerous
implicit theses for which biographical data serve as important context. Not
only is Kristeva superbly successful in this elaboration, but also I believe
she is sometimes superior to Klein herself in the conceptual articulation of
clinical aspects of Klein's work are, of course, indispensable in discussing
her theory. They are given due credit here, too: Klein's contribution to our
understanding of negative transference, projective identification, analysis of
children, and so on. Unfortunately, Kristeva writes about Klein's famous cases
with fewer details than they deserve. I assume that her decision to do so was a
consequence of book's length and target -- it is mere 296 pages long and is
intended for a professional audience that should already be familiar with these
cases. Still, we are deprived of the clinical talent Kristeva revealed in her
previous books and it would no doubt further improve this one.
the book contains all of the most important conclusions of Klein's work. One of
them relates the importance of play -- so important in German Romanticism and
never sufficiently elaborated and utilized by Freud. What dreams were to Freud,
play was to Klein: the royal road to the unconscious. Its importance is not
only in overcoming confinements of children's language proficiency, but in that
it gives us a clear insight into one's central anxieties and phantasies, which
Klein considered of utmost importance. Her developmental theory is organized
around succession of schizoid, paranoid, depressive, and Oedipal anxieties (and
defense mechanisms and relations), and her clinical work considers anxiety an
important sign a therapist should always monitor. Kleinianism is also
recognizable for its emphasis on innate (and inborn) fantasies as "metaphors
incarnate" that provide connections between drives -- particularly, the
death drive -- and consciousness.
play is not just a tool that allows us to observe children's psychic life. It
gave Klein the first block to build her theory of creativity. After her
insights about the capacity to play, she postulates depression as the precursor
of creativity (unfortunately, Kay Redfield Jamison has never, as far as I know,
acknowledged Klein's primacy and discussed her position). The ego as a whole
takes shape through depressive position, but it is even more characteristic of
creativity and symbolization that they depend on "death that devours men"
and one's capacity to make reparation to "the bits to which the loved
object has been reduced." Kristeva adds here the concept of ab-ject,
absent -- missing, lost, destroyed -- object, and its importance for knowledge,
creativity, and identity.
renders Kleinian theory "the psychoanalysis as a capacity to think."
I do not know whether Bion ever made a similar statement, but I am sure he
would have liked to. When I began reading this book, I wondered whether Melanie
Klein would have gone that far. Or was that what Kristeva would like Klein had
intended to say? Nevertheless, the book is very convincing on this, no matter
how unusual the idea of matricide and Klein's interpretation of "Oresteia"
might seem at first glance: in order to think, one must first lose the mother;
and after separation -- which in baby's primitive unconscious equals murder -- the
self never stops re-creating her.
did not only posit mother -- and the maternal -- as being of central importance
for personality development. She considered femininity as central to culture
and history as a whole. She hypothesized "a primary feminine phase of
development" for both girls and boys. And all these ideas are reflected in
her views on psychoanalysis as a profession: it is a maternal vocation in that
it restores psychic life, and an aid to a capacity to think, to create symbols
where once anxiety was. Kristeva, on her part, adds quite a contemporary
consideration: "I would like to think that each individual invents his or
her sex in the domain of intimacy. Therein lies genius, which is quite simply
also explains that the works of her three female geniuses are so deeply shaped
by their femininity that they cannot be understood without studying their
biographies: "You are a genius to the extent that you are able to
challenge the sociohistorical conditions of your identity. This is the legacy
of Arendt, Klein, and Colette."
we quite soon going to witness a book that will try to apply these notions to
Julia Kristeva's work? I wholeheartedly admit I am looking forward to it.
Aleksandar Dimitrijevic, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Psychology, Belgrade, Yugoslavia.