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Hatred and ForgivenessReview - Hatred and Forgiveness
by Julia Kristeva
Columbia University Press, 2010
Review by Kerrin A. Jacobs, Ph.D.
Oct 18th 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 42)

In Hatred and Forgiveness the philosopher and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva focuses on the heterogeneity of forgiveness and hatred, which is elaborated in terms of its subversion and sublimation in and through psychoanalysis and text. This book reflects the wide spectrum, and already presupposes most of Kristeva's much acclaimed work. Although the reader may face a sometimes disturbing hermetic style of psychoanalytical jargon and is challenged to disentangle lines of argumentation, the undismayed is shipped on a voyage with Hatred and Forgiveness that hides some rewarding moments. It is moreover an accomplishment of Jeanine Herman's translation to have made approachable the spirit of Le Haine et le Pardon (2005) to the English speaking audience, therein once more showing her excellent skills and understanding of Kristeva's work.             

Central to this book are individual pathology and pathological societal developments, which are recalled in light of religious and mythological themes and paradigmatically elaborated along the lines of reflections on the works of Marguerite Duras, Roland Barthes, Georgia O'Keeffe and Simone de Beauvoir and her earlier published works on language, abjection, the feminine, and love that are partly backed in this book by case studies from her own psychoanalytical practice. In elaborating the heterogeneity of psychical damage in terms of its individual and social manifestations, Kristeva once more stresses on the dialectics of self-constitution. In so doing she is emphasizing on forgiveness as something to be achieved in the psychoanalyzing process as the adequate modus of dealing with the dimensions of human existence as marked by loss, separation and confrontation with otherness.               

The book is thematically subdivided into six sections that aim to re-arrange central figures and themes of Kristeva's multi-faced work and concludes with an overture in form of an interview.  The six parts of the book are in the following commented separately along the lines of representative essays. This recollection of her essays, talks and interviews certainly mirrors fundamental aspects and the applicability of Kristeva's considerations, but altogether the essays often could have been made more transparent in their systematic role for accounting for psychoanalytic interpretation as postmodern variant of forgiveness, which is the essential claim of this book.  

Section I concentrates on "World(s)" referring to the singularity of individual self-and world-disclosure on the one hand and on plurality and diversity of human experiences of freedom in relation to individuating practice on the other. Against the background of Hannah Arendt's writings, Kristeva elaborates in "Thinking on liberty in dark times", individual experience of freedom in terms of her key concepts of intertextuality, the distinction of the semiotic and the symbolic, the theory of the abject and abjection, and finally in terms of foreignness. By differentiating two complementary visions of freedom and liberty within two types of culture -- the North American and European -- Kristeva explores freedom within the logic of what Arendt has labeled "the calculus of consequences" that provokes a contrasting alternative for Kristeva, namely, a conception of freedom of Being "which delivers, gives, or presents itself to itself and to the other, and liberates itself in the process" (p.15). While the first conception of freedom is a specious one in following the logic of unbridled consumerism, the social and psychological connotations of the second kind stresses freedom as core of "Being-in-the-World" as it is evident in the Speech-Being and in the Presenting of the Self to the Other. This exemplifies Kristeva's preference for conceptualizing freedom as already presupposing the uniqueness of the individual prior to any "cause", i.e. as a conception of freedom to uphold as core human value even in the face of contemporary problematic aspects of global economic development.  Kristeva then goes on to point out certain developments that undermine the individual and cultural challenge of living up to the value of "constant questioning" essential to her notion of freedom of Being, as it is also essential for the psychoanalytical ethos and integral to an assignment to agent autonomy as required for historical, social and national change in our times.      

Section II focuses on Womanhood and recapitulates the aesthetic and political dimensions of the feminine. As a key proponent of French feminism, Kristeva has not only influenced feminism and feminist literary studies especially in the US and UK, but also had a remarkable influence on readings into contemporary arts. This paradigmatically shines through her considerations on the representation of female beauty in "From Madonnas to Nudes" in which she retraces how Christian concepts of femininity influenced a specific notion of female beauty, on which grounds in turn the notion of sexual difference arises. Kristiva invites us to "see that in addition to beauty in the feminine there is a grimacing femininity that reflects and oversees the malaise of the civilization" (p.78) that she figures out by envisioning the impasses and risks of using the female body as an object.  Unfortunately, Kristeva's statement to have taken the reader "from madonnas to nudes without having to come to full circle" (p.78) remains true, but is balanced by her analysis of Giovanni Bellini's work as a paradigmatic case-study of this slippage in representation. 

In "Fatigue in the Feminine", Kristeva recalls the claim that fatigue of sexuation underlies all fatigue in women. Roughly, chronic fatigue is a matter of uncertainty in women to choose the object of desire or love object. This shall be accompanied by an alleged constant indecisiveness and insecurity about individual sexual orientation: While the homosexual woman wholeheartedly opts for phallic identification, which rids her off from tiredness, the tired woman in being unaware of her homosexuality in turn is seen as unable to live up to the dynamics of resistance; she simply failed to work through her bisexuality. The universal antidote to fatigue is gained by installing the space for psychosexual plasticity in the psychoanalytic process that stays attentive "to the two-sided oedipal phase of the woman, that accompany the feminine in man as well and give the most subtle among us the gracious maturity and fresh vitality we see radiate from certain women, at ease in their psychical bisexuality" (p.125). While the picture drawn of psychoanalysts as "tireless guardians" and "builders of psychical space" certainly captures aspects of psychoanalytical ethos, the reader has to decide whether to entire(d)ly embrace Kristeva's overall interpretation. Ideally, this essay may inspire reconsidering Kristeva's reworking of the Lacanian module of psychosexual development and her undeniable impact for feminists' psychoanalysts in offering a more central place for the maternal and the feminine in the subject's psychosexual development as a counterpart to the so-feared phallocentric model.  

In Section III Kristeva focuses on "Psychoanalyzing" while especially in "Hatred and Forgiveness; Or, From Abjection to Paranoia" the horizons of connecting with others, the possibility of destruction and creation of psychic space through transference and counter-transference is thoughtfully outlined. This essay is  the conceptual hanger of the book and therefore shall be discussed in more detail: Psychoanalytical experience reveals hatred -- in contrast to moralistic and religious thoughts -- as coextensive to human destiny, while psychoanalysis moreover assigning itself to the privilege of reconciliation. In order to illuminate the crucial "mutations" of Freudian psychoanalysis in the exploration of the speaking being, Kristeva elaborates a different path of dealing with hatred as a motor of psychical life. In illuminating "the human drive as energy and sense" (p.184), she relies on her theory of abjection (which is not at all clearly outlined in this book) and then enters the realm of symptoms of psychical negativity characteristic for the malignance of paranoid hatred in its causal role for individual and societal conflicts.

For a better understanding, we can recapitulate that Julia Kristeva has exemplarily outlined her theory of abjection in the Powers of Horror (1982).  In general, the abject refers to the human reaction to a breakdown in meaning as it is caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other. From a psycho-developmental perspective the in-between of the chora -- the earliest, drive-dominated stage of development in which you do not distinguish your own self from that of your mother and in which we are closest to what Jacque Lacan refers to with "the Real" -- and the so-called mirror stage, occurs as a pre-linguistic stage that Kristeva associates with the abject. In this developmental episode between 4-8 months the necessary separation between me and the (m)other -- has to be established prior to entering the realm of language that already presupposes this boundary. The process of separation respectively "is a violent, clumsy breaking away, with the constant risk of falling back under the sway of a power as securing as it is stifling" (Powers of Horror, p. 13). Threatened of falling back into the pre-linguistic stage of the chora as plain absence of the fundamental linguistic structures according to which the social world of meaning is ordered, the stage of abjection in Kristeva's reworking of the Lacanian module is characterized by the subject's troubled relation to the abject and already includes a fundamental kind of narcissistic crisis. This is the background idea according to which Kristeva goes on to specify her theory of the abject and the abjection in describing it further as manifesting the "degree zero of hatred" (p.185) and as present well before the so-called "paranoid-schizoid position" as Melanie Klein once has labeled it ("Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms" 1946).  If we affirm abjection as "the only psychosexual significance of lack" as well as "the only possible narrative of the experience of lack" (p. 186), which is (chrono-)logically prior to the being of the object and the being of the subject alike, we can construe abjection according to Kristeva on grounds of revolt. Respectively, abjection is seen as the "psychosomatic avant-garde of the future oedipal revolt" (p. 186) that settles these psychic borders of one's own and consequently allows an explanation of various psychopathologies, like for instance Anorexia Nervosa or paranoid hatred, according to this difficult process of "becoming a subject through violent and awkward demarcation (...) threatened by relapse to dependency" (p.187).

The key to understanding the logic of hatred is to understand it first and foremost as a defense against (maternal) control, making the subject regress to the point of abjection that places it back at risk of relapse and the disruption of meaning. This might be a fundamental experience due to regression on the couch: The process of struggling with the wish to regress or "to merge with the maternal feminine" (p. 190) simultaneously provokes the defense of hatred. In juxtaposing two objects, the paranoiac follows the logic of "I'm, only if I am dangerous for a dangerous other" (p.190). This negative self-image shams narcissistic safety, but apparently points to and rather can be uncovered as a fundamental lack of autonomy in the "hateful warrior" (p. 191). Consequently, for the psychoanalytical work the question is not whether hatred operates there as well, but rather how it can be solved in virtue of Kristeva's core idea of psychoanalytical interpretation as forgiveness (p.191). The passage about "Interpretation as Pardon" -- par, through, don, a gift -- is essential for Kristeva's understanding of the dynamics of hate. These dynamics especially reveal in religious conflicts, i.e. when religion generates hateful conflicts under an ideological superego therein neglecting "offering the gift of pacifying meaning" (p.192). Freely adapted from a brilliant song of The Faint we can rephrase that hate "arise from egos sick with poltergeists and demons". Kristeva's theory of abject is further tied to both religion and art, as being the two ways for "purification" of the abject as she already stated in her Powers of Horror (p. 17).  The psychoanalytic setting consequently is kept up in Hatred and Forgiveness as an adequate place for offering the gift of interpretation of the variants of hatred, in contrast to mere judging it against a religious dogma of love. This essentially contributes to Kristeva's view of it as idle setting for the "rebirth" of the subject (see also: "Healing, A Psychical Rebirth" in this section).

This relates to the topic of "Religion" in Section IV and straightens the impression of religion as an implicit forefront in this book. In examining the notions of belief, atheism, tolerance, peace and love in favor of more a humanistic view and in lights of political considerations, the religious ramifications appear clearly in Kristeva's comments on exodus, exile and return in "The Triple Uprooting of Israel", in which aspects of her earlier published theory about religious coding of abjection reappear. Generally, these considerations rather must stay opaque without reading them against the background of Kristeva's theory of representation (see also in Section II) and her reflections on love, loss and abjection in religion and artworks as one foil of her earlier works. Concerning Western monotheism, she exemplarily prognoses the failure of religious discourse to symbolize the semiotic, this is, the non-discursive aspect of meaning and subjectivity according to her conception of language as not being the exclusively signifying medium, and according to her respective critique to dominant conceptions of a plain linguistic world that misses to address the whole embodied-affective preconditions of the human subject. The central distinction between the semiotic and symbolic is firstly explicated in her Revolution in Poetic Language (1974) and is continually developed in her later writings. This includes a fundamental change in methodological perspective on the semiotic and its status in symbolic discourse, which later inspired Kristeva's hypothesis of an unacknowledged suffering as a residue of freedom in modern times. Roughly, what modern Western societies fail to promote is an adequate discourse of individual's exposure to otherness, separation and loss that according to Kristeva only can be accounted for by incorporating the whole dimension of subjectivity and meaning -- as the essence of social bonding -- and require accommodation in the symbolic. The symbolic covers the realm of communicative discourse and therefore refers to the meaningful object in terms of representations, ideas, things etc. For Kristeva it is then rather art than religion that steps in where modern secularity in its institutionalized form and discourse simply fails to provide a realm of reflection on how the semiotic takes or fails to take on a symbolic form. For deeper reflections on these topics it might be helpful for the reader consulting also the excellent book about Julia Kristeva written by Sara Beardsworth (Psychoanalysis and Modernity 2004).

In a fifth section on "Portraits" Julia Kristeva's devotes an essay to her teacher Roland Barthes, which is accompanied by two essays entailing an analysis of the works of Georgia O'Keeffe and Marguerite Duras in this section. The essay "Writing as Strangeness and Jouissance" appears like the laws of pleasure principle enthralling upon the reader: enjoy as little as possible. For those who feel inspired to transgress, it may remind them of the dictum that "jouissance is suffering" (Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959/60). In Kristeva's lingering over personal memories, she fancies an interpretation of Barthes as "the Winnicott of French criticism", i.e. as the great inventor of critical discourse, as a "transitional object" in which author, critic, and reader play a game of improvisation according to a "space of open possibilities". We face such statements as "to write for one's own pleasure would just be masturbatory" and that in turn, writing in an other language aims at installing the possibility of "a dialectics of desire, of an unpredictability of bliss" (all quotes Kristeva, p.255). Trusting in having prepared a site of bliss -- a space of fruitful dialectics -- becomes apparently questionable when the reader is getting lost before the play has even started by facing impenetrable idiolect. The rhetoric question of whether writing in pleasure guarantees the reader's pleasure, may indeed wholeheartedly be negated, without equally rejecting this site: Even the lucky ones who can enter it may be however inclined to leave it, but not according to reasons that implicitly seem to penetrate the puzzled reader: it is not about leaving "the site" in virtue of a mere dislike of "the language of intellectuals" (pp. 224-5) as Kristeva seems to ascribe it to the general public; it may be simply the authentic reaction due to an impression that some kinds of jouissance beyond a certain limit are simply "strange".

In the sixth section "Writing", Kristeva shares her passion for Proust and Aragon. Proust as being subject of her "Time and Sense: Proust and the Experience of Literature" and Aragon as exemplarily analyzed in her "The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt" inspired the novelist Julia Kristeva to define the novel as being "the unbearable elevated to the savors of language" (p. 226). In the interview with Pierre-Louis Fort, she finally explains her affinity for the "novel of the Subject" in contrast to the "novel of Ego" as the core of dynamics of her fiction and critical writing.    

To sum up: Hatred and Forgiveness presents itself as reflecting the postmodern spirit, which elsewhere is affirmed rather in terms of thinking of it in virtue of a "beyond". This may entail emphasizing the need for a systematically stringent elaboration of complex thought and language of psychoanalysis in order to be able to uphold it, not so much as the ultimate key to serenity, but as an important stance of reflection that mobilizes the individual and society potential for reconciling us with the fate of loss, otherness and alienation. Julia Kristeva's book is a memorable source of reflections on the temptation and quest of being -- the great voyage -- and in this sense Roland Barthes' admiration for Kristeva as "changing the place of things, as destroying the latest perception" is one conclusion that even the critics may share, given the fact that Kristeva clearly does not comfort the reader.


© 2011 Kerrin A. Jacobs



Kerrin A. Jacobs is postdoctoral research fellow in the Animal Emotional II project at the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrueck (Germany).


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