Head Cases: Julia Kristeva on Philosophy and Art in Depressed Times (Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts)
Elaine P. Miller
While philosophy and psychoanalysis privilege language and conceptual distinctions and mistrust the image, the philosopher and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva recognizes the power of art and the imagination to unblock important sources of meaning. She also appreciates the process through which creative acts counteract and transform feelings of violence and depression.
Reviewing Kristeva's corpus, Elaine P. Miller considers the intellectual's "aesthetic idea" and "thought specular" in their capacity to reshape depressive thought on both the individual and cultural level. She revisits Kristeva's reading of Walter Benjamin with reference to melancholic art and the imagination's allegorical structure; her analysis of Byzantine iconoclasm in relation to Freud's psychoanalytic theory of negation and Hegel's dialectical negativity; her understanding of Proust as an exemplary practitioner of sublimation; her rereading of Kant and Arendt in terms of art as an intentional lingering with foreignness; and her argument that forgiveness is both a philosophical and psychoanalytic method of transcending a "stuck" existence. Focusing on specific artworks that illustrate Kristeva's ideas, from ancient Greek tragedy to early photography, contemporary installation art, and film, Miller positions creative acts as a form of "spiritual inoculation" against the violence of our society and its discouragement of thought and reflection.
Herman (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 60. 132. Kristeva, Black Sun, 100. 133. Kristeva, The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt, 10. 134. Ibid. 135. Ibid. 136. Ibid. 137. Robert Musil, Posthumous Papers of a Living Artist, trans. Peter Wortsman (Hygiene, Colo.: Eridanos, 1987), 61. 138. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, trans. Peter Preuss (Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1980), 22. 139. Slavoj Žižek, For They Know Not What They Do (New York:
“betweenness” is an interval rather than a severance, one that would be achieved artistically through the spiritual inoculation of melancholia: Is it still possible to paint when the bonds that tie us to body and meaning are severed? Is it still possible to paint when desire, which is a bond, disintegrates? Is it still possible to paint when one identifies not with desire, but with severance, which is the truth of human psychic life, a severance that is represented by death in the imagination
analysis, a patient’s free association may make it possible for the content of a repressed image or idea to enter consciousness by means of negation. For example, the psychoanalyst may ask the patient what he or she would consider to be the most un likely imaginable outcome or interpretation of a given situation, and, if the patient, unaware, falls into the trap the analyst has laid and says what he or she thinks is most unimaginable, Freud asserts that he or she almost always makes the correct
fearful, empty, impossible.”13 Kristeva’s meditation is clearly informed by current events: recent ethnic conflicts in Eastern Europe and Africa, global warfare in the Middle East, immigrant riots in France, and the question of immigration across Europe and in North America. Clearly distinguishing her ideas from those of Arendt, Kristeva links the idea of the nation-state, which Arendt defends, along with the specific civil rights belonging to citizens of particular nation-states, as the only
“neither in the status corruptionis of the drunken sin or in the status integratatis of a pacified conceptual understanding, but rather in the status gratiae.”179 This “state of grace” evokes the Greek word charis in that it connotes an intense regeneration.180 Our time has lost faith in religion and in revolutionary fervor; where religion and political passion exists, it seems to have succumbed to the emptiness and repetitiveness of the spectacle and of technical prowess and commodity culture.