Authors: Julia Kristeva

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Bulgarian-born French critic and psychoanalyst

Author Works


Séméiotiké: Recherches pour une sémanalyse, 1969 (Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, 1980)

Le Texte du roman, 1970

Des Chinoises, 1974 (About Chinese Women, 1977)

La Révolution du langage poétique, 1974 (Revolution in Poetic Language, 1984)

Polylogue, 1977 (partial translation in Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, 1980)

Pouvoirs de l’horreur: Essai sur l’abjection, 1980 (Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, 1982)

Histoires d’amour, 1983 (Tales of Love, 1987)

Au commencement était l’amour: Psych’analyse et foi, 1985 (In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith, 1987)

The Kristeva Reader, 1986 (Toril Moi, editor)

Soleil noir: Dépression et mélancolie, 1987 (Black Sun: Depression and Melancholy, 1989)

Etrangers à nous-mêmes, 1988 (Strangers to Ourselves, 1991)

Lettre ouverte à Harlem Désir, 1990 (Nations Without Nationalism, 1993)

Proust and the Sense of Time, 1993 (translation of Le Temps sensible: Proust et l’experience litteraire, 1994; expanded as Time and Sense: Proust and the Experience of Literature, 1996)

Les Nouvelles Maladies de l’âme, 1993 (New Maladies of the Soul, 1995)

Julia Kristeva: Interviews, 1996 (Ross Mitchell Guberman, editor)

Pouvoirs et limites de la psychanalyse, 1996-1997 (2 volumes; volume 1 Sens et non-sens de la révolte, 1996 [The Sense and Non-sense of Revolt, 2000]; volume 2 La Révolte intime, 1997 [Intimate Revolt, 2002])

The Portable Kristeva, 1997, revised 2002 (Kelly Oliver, editor)

Contre la dépression nationale, 1998 (interview; Revolt, She Said, 2002)

Le Féminin et le sacré, 1998 (correspondence; with Catherine Clement; The Feminine and the Sacred, 2001)

Le Génie féminin: La vie, la folie, les mots, 1999-2000 (2 volumes; Female Genius: Life, Madness, Words, 2001; volume 1 Hannah Arendt, 1999 [English translation, 2001]; volume 2 Melanie Klein, 2000 [English translation, 2001])

Crisis of the European Subject, 2000 (essays)

Au risque de la pensée, 2001 (interviews)

Long Fiction:

Les Samouraïs, 1990 (The Samurai, 1992)

Le vieil homme et les loups, 1991 (The Old Man and the Wolves, 1994)

Possessions, 1996 (English translation, 1998)


Julia Kristeva (krihs-TEH-vah) is perhaps most accurately and conventionally described as a semiotician, that is, a student of signs and their meaning. However, in the course of a career that has repeatedly defied conventions, she has become one of the most diverse, controversial, and consistently innovative theorists engaged in the postmodern reconsideration of the origin, nature, and destiny of the human self. With a skillful and highly original blend of disciplines and methodologies, ranging from linguistics and psychoanalysis to Marxism, feminism, and literary criticism, Kristeva has produced works that trace the various interactions between language and the human psyche and explore the ways these interactions create and maintain the political, cultural, and religious structures of society.{$I[AN]9810001851}{$I[A]Kristeva, Julia}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Kristeva, Julia}{$I[geo]BULGARIA;Kristeva, Julia}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Kristeva, Julia}{$I[tim]194l;Kristeva, Julia}

Kristeva was born in 1941 into a middle-class Bulgarian family. She originally aspired to a scientific career, but because her parents lacked the political influence necessary for advanced technical study in the Soviet Union, she attended the Literary Institute of Sofia. She graduated in 1966 with a degree in linguistics and won a fellowship for doctoral study in Paris, where she worked with the famous linguist Emile Benveniste and the structuralist writer Roland Barthes. The literary critic Tzvetan Todorov, a fellow Bulgarian who had already established himself in the French capital, introduced her to the group of writers and intellectuals associated with the radical French journal Tel Quel. Among them was Philippe Sollers, the avant-garde novelist, who later became her husband. Encouraged by Todorov and Sollers, Kristeva began writing essays for Tel Quel. In 1973 she received her doctorat d’état and subsequently accepted a professorship in linguistics at the University of Paris.

In 1974 her dissertation was published under the title Revolution in Poetic Language. In this book and in the collection of her early essays that were translated and published in Desire in Language, Kristeva introduced the terminology and laid the theoretical foundation of all her later work. She presented her definition of the human self as a “subject in process,” explored at length her distinction between two types of language use, the semiotic and the symbolic, and explained her theory of the way literary texts respond to and appropriate each other, a process she named “intertextuality.” She also registered her discontent with linguistics as a science because it studied language as a self-enclosed, formal object and was primarily concerned with systematizing and structuring the products of linguistic behavior. Traditional linguists did not pose the types of questions that intrigued Kristeva, questions about the irrational, unconscious, and purely physical aspects of language that underlie and often subvert the language of conventional, day-to-day communication.

Given these concerns with unconscious and nonrational processes, it was perhaps inevitable that Kristeva would be drawn to psychoanalysis as the one “science” that might be able to provide the answers to her unprecedented questions. During the mid-1970’s she received her training as a psychoanalyst and in 1979 began her own practice.

The influence of this experience is immediately apparent in the changing emphases and methods of Kristeva’s work throughout the decade of the 1980’s. In Powers of Horror, for example, she presents her own revision of the stages and purposes involved in the process Sigmund Freud defined as “abjection.” In Tales of Love Kristeva reversed her focus in order to examine the various discourses of love that have been produced throughout the history of the West. She uses Freudian concepts such as narcissism, the Oedipus complex, the Ego-ideal, and the process of transference to explain the role of desire and illusion in allowing the human self to create and cling to a tentative, fluid, and essentially fictional sense of identity.

It is in a short book entitled In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith that Kristeva asserts her strongest and most provocative claims for the efficacy of psychoanalysis. After sorting out the differences between Christianity and psychoanalysis, she concludes that it is the latter which offers the more varied, tolerant, and livable roles for its patients to play. As a source of identity and of healing love psychoanalysis has thus come to supplant Christianity.

With the publication, between 1990 and 1996, of the novels The Samurai, The Old Man and the Wolves, and Possessions, Kristeva entered yet another phase of her varied and continually evolving career. Throughout the many stages of her work, however, one constant has remained: her concern with ethics. She has insisted that it is the intellectual’s duty to formulate and follow a more inclusive, more equitable, and, where women are concerned, potentially more liberating ethical code than the one that governs Western societies.

BibliographyFletcher, John, and Andrew Benjamin, eds. Abjection, Melancholia and Love: The Work of Julia Kristeva. London: Routledge, 1990. Stemming from a 1987 conference at the University of Warwick on the work of Julia Kristeva (which she also attended), this collection of ten explanatory and critical essays deals with a number of her seminal ideas such as the “abject,” the “semiotic chora,” “ primary narcissism,” and adolescence and perversion. The book includes Kristeva’s own article, “The Adolescent Novel.”Grosz, Elizabeth. Sexual Subversion: Three French Feminists. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1989. This text contains an excellent introductory glossary with some basic terms of postmodern thought, as well as a lucid explanation of several components of Kristeva’s work including the semiotic. It provides a basic explanation of French feminism as well as additional writings on the work of Luce Irigaray and Michèle Le Doeuff.Guberman, Ross Mitchell, ed. Julia Kristeva Interviews. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. This diverse collection of twenty-three interviews given by Kristeva covers her intellectual influences, views on socialism and feminism, concepts of avant-garde practice and psychoanalysis, and other issues.Kim, C. W. Maggie, Susan M. St.Ville, and Susan M. Simonaitis, eds. Transfigurations: Theology and the French Feminists. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1993. Using North American feminism as a foil, this volume of essays introduces characteristic components of leading French feminists, including Kristeva, and the relationship of their thought to the larger context of feminist theology.Lechte, John. Julia Kristeva. London: Routledge, 1990. Part of a series of books on twentieth century thinkers edited by British scholar Christopher Norris, this text offers a careful reading of Kristeva’s work within the realm of semiotics.O’Grady, Kathleen, ed. Julia Kristeva: A Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources in French and English 1966-1996. Charlottesville, Va.: Philosophy Documentation Center, 1998. An invaluable guide to the voluminous material on and by Kristeva.Oliver, Kelly. Ethics, Politics, and Difference in Julia Kristeva’s Writing. New York: Routledge, 1993. A series of critical essays that generally focus on Kristeva’s works concerning identity within the symbolic and the “ethico-political” subject.Oliver, Kelly, ed. Reading Kristeva: Unraveling the Double-Bind. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. A volume that offers myriad ways of interpreting Kristeva’s complex ideas. It provides a succinct summary of many of her notions within the context of those both critical and supportive of her ideas.Smith, Anna. Julia Kristeva: Readings of Exile and Estrangement. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. An in-depth and accessible reading of Kristeva, this text discusses the concepts of exile and estrangement in relationship to the female intellectual and metaphors of habitation.Wardi, Eynel. Once Below a Time: Dylan Thomas, Julia Kristeva, and Other Speaking Subjects. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. Applies Kristeva’s theories to the Welsh poet’s work, developing a theory of the psychological origins of poetry along the way.
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