15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Robert C. Hamilton
- Published on Amazon.com
Although this recent work by the prolific Julia Kristeva is brief and composed of a mosaic of interviews, letters, and occasional writing, it is no less rich as a result. The main attraction here, comprising more than half the work, is the eponymous interview in which Kristeva answers questions concerning religion, transcendence, psychoanalysis, fundamentalism, the feminist movement ... and the list goes on. It is impressive how much ground is covered in such a slender volume. The trade-off, of course, is that no single idea is exhaustively developed, and plenty of the work of interpretation is left (deliberately, I think) to the reader.
Perhaps surprisingly, the book remains close to the thoroughly atheist work of Sigmund Freud, with particular attention paid to late works like Moses and Monotheism. But Kristeva is not, by any stretch of imagination, attempting to cherry-pick from Freud's work to force it into friendlier relations with religion. Instead, remaining close to Freud's work and constantly re-affirming his atheism (and, presumably, her own - she denies being "a believer" several times), she argues that religion is better understood as "sublimation" than as delusion or neurosis. Kristeva has done a good deal of work on St. Theresa of Avila of late, including a chapter on her in her recent book Hatred and Forgiveness and writing a novel about her (as yet unpublished in English, so far as I know), and it shows in this work: Kristeva points out the extremely close manner in which Catholic mysticism and psychoanalysis allow the ego access to the id, and via this connection, suggests that psychoanalysis may itself be the proper heir of religion, its most worked-out and sophisticated form. She puts an extremely high priority on the individual via the concept of "genius," the sense of being accompanied by a god or (more realistically) of exceeding oneself, of a blurring between the ego and the world outside. Individual genius, for Kristeva, must inform our political arena, or it will inevitably degenerate into sterile empirical modernism or rage-suffused fundamentalism and religious war.
Another significant preoccupation of the book is suffering, worked out both in the central interview and in the "Lenten Lecutre" delivered at Notre Dame cathedral. Again, Kristeva teases out the similarities and differences between psychoanalytic and mystical-religious attitudes toward suffering. Both find ways to recontextualize suffering, to "forget" its oedipal roots in desire for / desire to murder the father. This is important work for Kristeva, as she considers happiness "only a kind of mourning for suffering."
Finally, two occasional pieces on John Paul II and the Roman Catholic church round out the collection; Kristeva sees John Paul as an admirable exponent of the "genius" of Catholicism, despite his regressive politics. She admires him in light of his expression of Catholic uniqueness and also his mature attitude toward, and endurance of, suffering.
Kristeva writes in a distinctive, almost poetic style that cannot reflect actual, spontaneous interview answers; clearly the work has been edited carefully (this actually helps make the collection feel more cohesive). The style is not especially difficult by the terms of French poststructuralism, but it cannot be absorbed as quickly or as casually as its length might suggest. If your acquaintance with Freud and Lacan is as introductory as mine, you might want to remind yourself of the nuances of a few terms (e.g. transference, counter-transference, sublimation, "le nom du père," père-version) before embarking; I found this extremely helpful. The translation was readable throughout, and provides adequate reference to the original French in brackets; that said, the translation grew extremely idiosyncratic when rendering proper names, leaving us with cacophonous franglais like "Saint Jean of the Cross," "Pope Jean Paul II," "Le Chanson of Roland," and "The Virgin Marie." Not having access to the French text, I am unsure if this confusion extends to the remainder of the text; however, it seems less an issue of translation per se than of editing.
Overall, I recommend this text to students of, or individuals interested in, the confluence of religion and psychoanalysis, religion and literature (Kristeva has high praise for the religious insights of literature, especially the work of Modernists like Joyce and Proust) or religion and philosophy. More than an encyclopedic theory of these confluences, it functions as an intervention that sheds light on canonical work and will, we can hope, provoke new work in the same direction.