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Record Type: Review   ID: 212

Ethics, Politics, and Difference in Julia Kristeva’s Writing

Oliver, Kelly (Ed.).

 Reading works by or about the writings of French post-structuralist feminist Julia Kristeva is never easy, yet what I experience in doing so is always stimulating. I would think this is because the act of reading Kristeva is an example of her "emancipatory practice," and it certainly makes one aware of being a "subject-in-process/on-trial," two key terms of Kristeva’s. Kristeva is ever concerned with the concept of the "other" (than oneself). Ethical schools traditionally are based on the concept of a unitary self in relation to other stable unitary selves who, for purposes of ethics, are taken to be the same. This does not work in practice where the "other" is not the same. Kristeva builds her ethics on difference, on self-in-process, on conditionality, not certainty (as I interpret it). In the post-structural view, there is no autonomous subject. This leads to poetry as a new basis for ethical adequacy. The significance of poetry lies at the limits of the known. There one experiences liveliness—it is the growing edge of the present self. It is evident that it also is part of a process—one finds (and discards) many new significances or selves in this process. One meets the other, and knows it as self. By extrapolation, the same process and recognition is potential with any object or other. As Oliver points out in the Introduction, the practice of poetry "constructs ‘a new symbolic device—a new reality corresponding to a new heterogeneous object.’ This new heterogeneous reality is the reality of a new heterogeneous subject, what Kristeva calls the ‘subject-in-process/on-trial’" (p. 3). Another key concept for Kristeva is maternity, which "problematizes the very notion of identity and difference" (p. 4), because it epitomizes otherness within the subject: the other exists within the self. It gives rise to what Kristeva calls "herethics," in which the subject’s obligations to another and to the species are bound by love, not law. The essence of Kristeva’s ethical position is that "the subject can relate to an other as other because she is an other to herself" (p. 13). Kristeva’s aim is to learn to live with others as others, not by removing the differences—she favors cohabitation, not absorption. She calls for an ethics that is ever born anew from the meeting of the old (law) and the different or other or new, which she calls "transgression." The law is seen not as outside but inside: "The social relation is inherent in the subject....Rather than love the other as himself, the ethical subject-in-process will love the other in herself. She will love what is different" (p. 17). In this volume 14 feminist scholars debate Kristeva’s view of ethics. What is their "relevance to exceptional human experience? According to the Experiential Paradigm, which is experienced in EHEs, the All-Self is both within and without, and it is the same, but it is always encountered in a radically different (exceptional) experience that, if not ignored or discarded, unites self and other. This is counter to Kristeva, but it embodies her insistence on the need to base one’s identity in one’s liveliest moments, on the growing edge between the old and the new—in the exceptional, not the ordinary. Here, as in Kristeva, the self is up for grabs, like a paperweight that as a result of being shaken never settles in the same way as before. And the "kick" comes because in one way or another, when it settles, what was other is now known as self. The process will continue again and again, but in each case, what was and still is experienced as unique becomes increasingly one with the other. EHEers should read Kristeva for what she says about means, not ends.
Publisher Information:New York: Routledge, 1993. 264p. Chap. bibl; 3 illus; Index: 259-261
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