Monday, April 16, 2007

Julia "Dead-End" Kristeva

Yes, yes, I know it’s a bit of a late posting, but I’ve only just turned to last Saturday’s edition of the first-rate Guardian Review (unlike the almost pointless Guardian Magazine) and feel that I really must interject.

For those unacquainted with the Review, there is usually a splendid page entitled A Life In Writing, which gives the reader a good overview of the writer in question: part biography and part interview, a couple of anecdotes thrown into the mix and the works that have inspired the interviewee. The philosopher and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva graced this fine page last week.

True to form, Kristeva is pretty much incomprehensible: feminism should consider embracing rather than denigrating the “plasticity of mind and body”, and “the kernel of political affairs is the possibility that each and every singularity should appear in the plurality of political links…” blah blah blah.

Every time I come across this kind of hogwash I’m reminded of Daniel Liebeskind’s appearance on Desert Island Discs. Asked why he chose a certain record, Liebeskind replied that the music’s quality was such that there was “a dissemination of a spherical space of density”. For once I sympathised with an exasperated Sue Lawley as she almost broke down.

Incomprehensibility about “plasticity”, “kernels” and “singularities” soon gives way to something even more absurd: self-reflection without self-reflection. Kristeva, with no irony intended, babbled that individuals “should question themselves and their backgrounds, and their own dead-ends, and have the courage to speak up”. This, of course, applies to everyone except the goofy High Priestess of Paris gobbledegook.

In the superb book Intellectual Impostures Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont devote a chapter to Kristeva’s mumbo-jumbo. For instance, Kristeva relates her finding that poetical language “is a formal system whose theorisation can be based on set theory” and can be examined with “the computability of the axiom of choice and the generalised continuum hypothesis”. It’s not long before she finds Gödel’s theorem applicable to poetry. And on she rambles on in similar perverse fashion. That she has indoctrinated many susceptible minds with incomprehensible gibberish and unleashed these bozos onto an unsuspecting public does not seem to unduly bother her Royal Goofiness.

At no point does Kristeva apply the technique she believes admirable: to “question themselves, their own dead-ends, and have the courage to speak up”. If she did, she might find that her career has been a waste of time and that in time all will look back on her work as a source of ceaseless hilarity. Like the fact that few mad people realise that they themselves are mad, perhaps Kristeva doesn’t know she’s writing total bullshit. But that’s to give her the benefit of the doubt, which I’m not really willing to give her.

Meanwhile the Guardian writer of this glowing portrait of the High Priestess of Charlatanry hilariously opined about “today’s cynical media manipulation…and ‘banalisation’”. Again, no irony was intended.


Louisefeminista said...

Yes and language can liberate women from oppression....

Her brand of ideas are described as "psychic essentialism"...and I agree.

Tawfiq Chahboune said...

As you say, language can liberate. Why, then, do so many feminists read - and laud - the likes of Kristeva and pretend they understand what she has written?

It's just nonsense: no wonder Sokal made up that now famous paper on quantum gravity and society, stringing nonsense after nonsense, and humanities departments worldwide hailed it as brilliant!

"Psychic essentialism"? How about "psychopathic essentialism"?

It's not that I haven't tried to read stuff by Kristeva, Derrida, Lacan, etc. It's just that I have, literally, no idea what they're saying. Presumably, they don't either. And I don't believe anyone who says that they understand this gibberish. Set theory and poetry?

The whole thing is insulting and perverse. Quite frankly, I think these people may well be sick - or, to be kind, are knowing bullshit artists and making a pretty penny. I'm of the opinion that it's the former, not the latter. These people need serious psychiatric help.

AN said...

Nor is this problem confined to mainstream commentators, some of the most "profound" thinkers on the left write clever sounding gobbldygook, that sounds plausible only becasue it evades specifics. throw in an out of context quote from lenin as well, and you are a genius!

Louisefeminista said...

Sorry, I think you have misunderstood me (my own fault on that). When I said that language can liberate women, it was meant in a sarcastic tone as Kristeva et al say this hence the charge of "psychic essentialism".... it is so anti-materialist.

I too have read Lacan and Derrida and yeah, some of it makes no sense and that sums up Postmodernism (and Alex C. wrote that very accessible and good bk, Against Postmodernism). What is also scary is that some lefties have been won over to postmodernism.

"throw in an out of context quote from lenin as well, and you are a genius"!

Scary but true!!

Tawfiq Chahboune said...

I know you were being sarcastic! I was certainly not referring to you. I was referring to all those feminist liars and clowns who cheerlead Kristeva and her loony band of "pychic essentialists" and conartists.

Who's worse: Kristeva or her cheerleaders? In any case, they're pitiful creatures.

But it would be interesting to get an answer from someone who follows the feminist movement closely as to why these absurd figures are such giants in feminist thinking.