Semanalysis in the Age of Abjection
This paper is a sequel to my earlier article titled “Symbolism of the
Tower as Abjection”, which was published in Parallax (Leeds University,
UK) in 2000. The paper interpreted the symbolism inscribed in the imagery
of “The Tower” card in a Tarot deck in terms of Julia Kristeva’s theory of
abjection. The year after, in 2001, it was another striking image that shook the
real world: the events on September 11 and the collapse of the World Trade Center's 'Twin Towers.' The
start of the 21st Century happened to be marked by the conflict and catastrophe
that represent, as this paper will argue, the dynamics of abjection. The Age of
Abjection, as I call it, is permeated with the confrontation with the Law of the
Father where a symbolic child risks not only castration but also the
destruction and loss of its whole being. I am going to interpret the meaning of
the Tower image at both textual (or rather pictorial, or semiotic) level and at
the level of social reality. I will then suggest that, in accord with Kristeva’s
semanalysis, the destructive moment is in fact embedded within a generative
constructive process, which represents at once symbolic and real construction
of collective subjectivity within a double process of negation and
identification. Therefore the very same moment is a marker of not solely
abjection but of hope, this metaphysical concept elucidated recently by a
number of critical theorists, including Kristeva (2002) who called such a
transformative change a joyful revolt.
Semanalysis is the term coined by Julia Kristeva in 1969. She however
rarely used it as an individual term later on. As originally posited, semanalysis
represents a synthesis of the apparently disparate disciplines: psychoanalysis,
philosophy, logic, linguistics, and semiotics in general. Quite
paradigmatically, it points to the central role of psychoanalysis, with its
emphasis on interpretation of symbols and dreams, in semiotics. In fact
semanalysis is a portmanteau word referring to both semiotics and
psychoanalysis and therefore, as will be seen later, is especially potent for the
purpose of this paper. According to Kristeva, the aim of semiotic analysis is
the making of various formal models. We consider such a model to be a
symbolic representation, that is, a certain system, the structure of which,
according to Kristeva, is isomorphic or analogous to the structure of the
system under study, the latter to be modeled or represented. Semiotics not
only produces models, but also considers them to be its own object of
AS/SA nº 17, p.
A central concept in semanalysis is the text, which however is to be
understood broadly as not only verbal or linguistic, but as a trans-linguistic
apparatus of productivity. The crucial feature of the text, according to
Kristeva, is that it is not reduced to just representing or literally meaning the
real. For Kristeva, the textual (or rather, intertextual) signification derives
from the text’s not merely representing but transforming reality. The text
dynamically captures reality at the moment of its non-closure. I would like
to make it clear that the definition of the text can be ascribed to different
modalities for as long as they serve a purpose of dialogic communication and
fulfill a specific generative activity called by Kristeva a signifying practice.
Thus, pictures as well as any cultural artifacts may be considered as texts,
albeit extra-linguistic. The lengthy narratives can be composed by pictures
because, sure enough, “pictures have a continuous structure [which] induces
the reader to … read the picture as if it were a written text” (Posner 1989:
A signifying practice, reading, and interpretation constitute the textual
productivity. This Kristeva’s concept focuses on the dynamical character of
the process of generative activity – productivity – rather than on some final
actual product. This activity is understood as a process or work, however
without any references to Marx’s social exchange. The concept of work is
posited to be analogous to what, for example, Freud used to call dream-work.
According to Kristeva, “Freud revealed production itself to be a process not
of exchange (or use) or meaning (value) but of …permutation, which provides
the very model for production. Freud therefore opens up the problematics of
work as a particular semiotic system, as distinct from that of exchange”
(quoted in Noth 1995: 323). Etymologically, the position of “analysis” in
semanalysis points to decomposition or dissolution of the sign and the text
alike, which leads, by virtue of the process of work, to the empirical discovery
in practice of some deep and hidden dimensions of meaning.
In her famous “Revolution in Poetic Language” Kristeva (1984)
further develops the psychoanalytic significance of semanalysis by
specifically differentiating between two dimensions, the semiotic and the
symbolic. Roughly, the former may be related to what Freud called primary
process and the latter – to his secondary processes. The primary process
expresses itself prelinguistically, at the level of drives and instincts; therefore,
and by virtue of it being pre-symbolic, it constitutes the semiotic dimension.
The non-verbal semiotic dimension precedes the symbolic (or linguistic) one;
the two finding themselves related to each other dialectically. Following the
example of Freud’s psychoanalytic “psycho-logic”, Kristeva posits a new
dialectical logic of contradiction as a foundation for the signifying practice.
The Hegelian dialectics with its logical operation of negation becomes a basis
of any symbolic activity.
AS/SA nº 17, p.
The dictionary definitions of “abject” and “abjection” are as
1. the condition of being servile, wretched, or contemptible.
2. the act of humiliating.
3. Mycol. the release of spores by a fungus.
1. utterly hopeless, miserable, humiliating, or wretched: abject
2. contemptible; despicable; base-spirited: an abject coward.
3. shamelessly servile; slavish.
4. Obs. cast aside.
The meaning of abjection, as described by Kristeva in her “Powers of
Horror: An Essay on Abjection” (1982), is “one of those violent, dark revolts
of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant
outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the
thinkable” (1982: 1). We experience abjection as a spontaneous reaction that
may manifest in a form of unspeakable horror, often expressed at a physical
level as uncontrollable vomiting, when faced with a breakdown in meaning
caused by the generic loss of a habitual distinction. When the distinction – it
being either between subject and object, or self and other, or life and death, or
any habitual opposites for that matter – is destroyed, then the abjection takes
its place. Abjection preserves what existed at the archaic level of pre-objectal
relationship, as Kristeva puts it, and within the extreme violence as a condition
of a body becoming separated from another body so as to be! Corpse serves as
a primary example, traumatically reminding us of our own finitude and
materiality; but so does Auschwitz as a symbol of a particularly destructive,
violent, and immoral event. The corpse indicates the breakdown of the
distinction between subject and object, that is, a loss of the crucial factor in
establishing self-identity: it therefore exemplifies the concept of abjection.
Kristeva, describing abjection, uses the infinitive “to fall”, cadere in French,
hence cadaver, the corpse:
“[M]y body extricates itself, as being alive, from that border. Such
wastes drop so that I might live, until, from loss to loss, nothing remains
in me and my entire body falls beyond the limit – cadere, cadaver. If
dung signifies the other side of the border, the place where I am not
and which permits me to be, the corpse, the most sickening of wastes,
is a border that has encroached upon everything. ... ‘I’ is expelled”
(Kristeva 1982: 3-4).
AS/SA nº 17, p.
In the psychoanalytic tradition, abjection is linked to the image of the
splitting mother thus to one's desire for separation, for becoming
autonomous –accompanied as such by the contradictory feeling of the
impossibility of performing this particular act. Kristeva imagines a child who
throws up trying to cleanse himself so as to construct “his own territory,
edged by abject” (1982: 5). It is an attempt to release the hold of the
symbolic umbilical cord by means of the violent breaking away from the
womb, as if guided by the logic of rejection, embedded in bodily structure.
But because this body is the only and immediate life-world known by the “I”,
the very act of the fall or separation leads to the subject becoming a jettisoned
object in this process. That’s why Kristeva says, “it is no longer ‘I’ who expel,
[but] “I” is expelled” (1982: 4). Kristeva borrows the notion of “the excluded”
from Mary Douglas thereby affording abjection a greater, social dimension in
terms of ritualistic prohibition based on binary coding and resulting in
separation and segregation of gender, class, race, age, language, or culture.
I had a paper published in 2000, that is a year prior to 9/11, in Parallax
(Leeds University, CCS). This paper was called “Symbolism of the Tower as
Abjection” (Semetsky 2000, 2001)
. The paper interpreted the symbolism
inscribed in “The Tower” card (Fig. 1)
in the Tarot deck in terms of
Kristeva’s theory of abjection.
The year after, in 2001, it was another striking image that shook the
real world: the tragic events on September 11. This is one of the images of the
Twin Towers on 9/11 published on the Internet (Fig. 2):
AS/SA nº 17, p.
The beginning of the 21st Century has been marked by the catastrophe
that may be described as a moment inscribed into what Kristeva called the
dynamic of abjection, which was spreading from paganism through the whole
of Western culture. The present Age of Abjection, as I want to call it, appears
to be permeated with a confrontation with the law –symbolically, the Law of
the Father – when a symbolic child risks not only castration but also the loss
of its whole being. I am going to interpret the meaning of the Tower image
with the help of Kristeva’s semanalysis, at both textual (or rather pictorial, or
semiotic) level and at the level of social reality. I am going to suggest that, in
accord with semanalysis, the destructive moment is in fact embedded within
a generative constructive process, which represents at once symbolic and real
construction of collective subjectivity within a double process of negation
and identification. Therefore the very same moment is a marker of not solely
abjection but of hope, this metaphysical concept elucidated recently by a
number of critical theorists, including Kristeva (2002) who called such a
transformative change a joyful revolt!
The picture of the Tower (Fig. 1), which is sometimes called The
Tower of Destruction, is the sixteenth card in the twenty-two major arcana
in a deck. The semiotics of The Tower card expresses one of the most
dramatic, horrifying and powerful images in the deck: the two human figures
are being thrown out of a tower struck by lightning. It is a fall, but not a
free fall; it is a violent ejection. The figures' mouths are gaping in horror;
their eyes look and see nothing. They are cast aside and far into the deep. The
tower stands erect: it is only its crown that has been knocked down by the
blazing flames caused by lightning. The two beings on the card have built the
tower – and sealed it at the top; there is no entry or exit. They have
imprisoned themselves in their own creation – the rigid, phallic, mental
structure – and the only way out is through the agency of a threatening,
violent breaking force that would necessarily bring along a traumatic, abject,
AS/SA nº 17, p.
The two figures are neither subjects nor objects. In the midst of a
crisis, they are in-between two categories, hence “beset by abjection” (Kristeva
1982: 1) when literally positioned between the two opposites of the symbolic sky
and symbolic ground. Lightning pierces the sky above, and the ground below
is ruined by earthquake. Or there is no ground at all: some decks portray a
tempestuous sea. The violent fall from the tower, the feeling of the
catastrophe amidst thunder and lightning, brings two figures, if I use
Kristeva’s words, to the “border of [the] condition as a living being” (1982:
3)barely withstanding the effect of a rapid and shocking change. The falling
bodies approach the limits of human endurance; they seem in their suffering
to exist on the very border between life and death because in this fall “death
[is] infecting life” (Kristeva 1982: 4).The fall appears to be infinite and may
feel like eternity, signified by two figures caught up in a state of perpetual
suspension, indeed within “the utmost of abjection”(Kristeva 1982: 4).
The mood of this image is permeated with fear and uncertainty,
confirming Kristeva’s claim that “abjection is above all ambiguity” (1982:
9). The sense of “perpetual danger”(1982: 9) and the unconscious
anticipation of a shock, when the subject, the “I” – existing as “the twisted
braid of affects and thoughts”(1982: 1) – will eventually have to hit the
ground, makes the existence of the still alive “I” unbearable. This part of
self that is “I”, is so desperate and feels overwhelmed to such an extent that
it becomes greater than the self: an autonomous heavy body “which is
dissociated, shattered into painful territories, parts larger than the whole”
(Kristeva 1998: 152). The semiotics of the violent force is inscribed in the
image of a sudden lightning; its effect is pre-symbolic (semiotic): it proceeds
unconsciously and “draws me toward the place where meaning collapses”
(Kristeva 1982: 2). This force becomes a sign of “the breaking down of a world
that has erased its borders" (1982: 4).
Signification, according to Kristeva, always functions as a fluctuation
between stability and instability, or static quality and the negation of a stasis.
Symbolic lightning from above, by breaking the order of things and so
negating the stasis of one’s identity within the existing order,
simultaneously illuminates the way to the new order and new identity, albeit
through abjection, an abject becoming an ambiguous sign, a deject, “a
tireless...stray” (Kristeva 1982: 8) situated in space specified as “essentially
divisible, foldable and catastrophic” (1982:8). The deject “never stops
demarcating the universe. …[It] has a sense of danger, of the loss that the
pseudo-object attracting him represents for him” (1982: 8). The Tower image
is an embodiment of ambivalence: at a deeper level, this card may be
identified with the Tower of Babel; in fact, it is portrayed in this manner in
some decks, like in The Lovers’ Tarot (Fig. 3)
AS/SA nº 17, p.
A sense of danger grows into the horror experienced by deject-abject
when the inevitable force of the thunderbolt threatens the structure’s stability
forcing the subject-abject to be driven to “a downfall that carries [it] along
into the invisible and unnameable... Never is the ambivalence of drive more
fearsome than in this beginning of otherness” (Kristeva 1997: 188). The
semiotics of this image, an artefact, carries an uncanny resemblance to the
other poignant and maximally real image of the destroyed towers (Fig. 4).
AS/SA nº 17, p.
“The Tower” is a symbol of false omnipotence and mistaken
certainty, a priori condemned to destruction during the most powerful and
confusing instance of the collision of opposites and amidst persistent
contradiction and mutual misunderstanding. Kristeva, speaking of
contradiction, has stressed that its very conditions were “always to be
understood as heterogeneity... when the loss of unity, the anchor of the
process cuts in [and] the subject in process discovers itself as separated” (1998:
149). Indeed, the Tower becomes a signifier of a sudden interruption to the
status quo of the state of affairs, it being either individual, or interpersonal, or
collective and social. The loss of identity, experienced in abjection, prevents
the figures on the picture from being able to envisage or recognize the
moment of lightning. But the lightning strikes nevertheless even if the
upcoming event stays out of the subject’s conscious awareness: indeed, “the
impossible constitutes [the subject’s] very being” (Kristeva 1982: 5) and “a
brutish suffering that ‘I’ puts up with” (1982: 2).
Lightning may be identified with a sign of a sudden and totally
overpowering change in one's psychic state leading to a potentially
overwhelming (numinous?) alteration in consciousness. “A flash of lightning
...is discharged like thunder”, says Kristeva, as though herself peculiarly
narrating the Tower picture, and “the time of abjection is double: a time
of oblivion and thunder, of veiled infinity and the moment when revelation
bursts forth” (Kristeva 1982: 9). In psychoanalytic terms, the Tower card may
be considered to be an index of abreaction, taking the form of catharsis, that
is, a dramatic and forceful replay of the unconscious material in consciousness,
when indeed one’s “fortified castle begins to see its walls crumble” (1982:
48). However, the enforced evacuation, breaking all defences, frees one from
being incarcerated in the symbolic tower of one’s own making, whether it be
psychological, ideological, cultural, or any other stagnant belief system. The
Tower card represents a structure that is sealed yet open: it is “an
oxymoronic structure… an open/enclosure” (Casey 1997: 325), and it
semiotically describes any unforeseen cataclysmic event, which suddenly
brings people down to earth by disturbing the existing norm and order of
things, while simultaneously – by expanding the boundaries of individual and
collective consciousness – providing a set of conditions for a new order.
The change, via abjection, in the level of awareness represents
dialectics that constitutes a double process of negation and affirmation that is
embedded in the construction of identity. Negation is characterized by a
temporary interruption in the periodic dynamic process, within which a pause
appears, as claimed by Kristeva, in a form of a surplus of negativity, which
would ultimately destroy the balance of opposites. That is why “the deject is
in short a stray. ... And the more he strays, the more he is saved” (1982: 8),
that is, constitution takes place via negation, ultimately contributing to the
organization of reality at a new level. The breakdown in existing order
simultaneously creates conditions for the potential production of a new order.
Thus both rejection and stasis, or negation and identification, considered by
Kristeva to be the essential elements of subjectivity, seem to precede the
Lacanian mirror stage, providing that the mirror is taken metaphorically and
not as solely predicated upon a pre-oedipal infant. This means that the
dialectical process exists in its semiotic, quasi-objective reality prior to
having become an object of recognition when presented in the form of the
iconic sign (as “the Tower” card, for example). The function of the sign thus
becomes to amplify the unconscious contents so as to eventually permit the
“recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language or desire is
founded” (Kristeva 1982: 5).
AS/SA nº 17, p.
Kristeva, acknowledging the presence of the gap that exists between
her analysands' verbal expressions and the affects perceived by the analyst,
points to the loss of meaning in contemporary life due to dissociation
between affects and language: the words are meaningless because the psyche
is empty. But the unconscious contents projected in Tarot imagery indicate
that the psyche is never really empty even if unconscious of itself: its contents are
constituted by signs, which – never mind their existing prior to articulation –
are semiotically real and informationally active because of their affective
capacity to produce real effects. The pragmatics of interpreting Tarot images
in terms of semanalysis is to carry the signs over to the level of conscious
awareness, to articulate them into readable symbols so as to bridge the said gap
by returning the meaning to its bearer. Kristeva emphasized “the working of
imagination [in] the experience of the want” (1982: 5)that is, the realm which
is virtual, non-visible and “logically preliminary to being and object” (1982:
5) that would find its signification in nothing but the spoken language.
However, Tarot pictures carry that implicit semiotic signification, which
appears prior to articulation in its iconic and indexical (cf. Peirce) mode.
Respectively, this is signification of the higher order, or meta-signification
founded upon interpretation when signs (semiotic) are being translated into
words (symbolic), thereby trans-linguistically producing meanings within the
very signifying practice of Tarot readings.
Kristeva considered the affective world to be enigmatic for the reason
of it being irreducible to the verbal mode of expression. All affects exist only
through signs that stand for the
“psychic representations of energy displacements.... [whose] exact
status ...remains, in the present state of psychoanalytic and
semiological theories, very vague. No conceptual framework
in the relevant sciences... has proven adequate to account for this
apparently very rudimentary representation, presign and
prelanguage” (Kristeva 1997: 192).
However, (and such is the thesis advanced earlier in Semetsky 2000), Tarot
images when functioning in a mode of pictorial semiotics (cf. Sebeok 1994),
do enable the shift of a subject-position from the infamous abstract view from
nowhere to the contextual and concrete view from the here-and-now. Pictures
function in the capacity of “a modality of significance” (Kristeva 1997:
193) for affects, moods and thoughts, which represent “inscriptions [or]
energy disruptions... [that] become the communicable imprints of affective
reality, perceptible to the reader” (1997: 193). Any semiotic system as part of
the typology of cultures needs certain means for its identification within a
field of communicative and social relations. Culture itself could be seen as a
set of texts inscribed in collective memory (Lotman 1990), and texts, we
repeat, need not be exclusively linguistic.
AS/SA nº 17, p.
The symbolic Tower of Destruction may be erected not only at the
individual level but also the collective one. In the feminist interpretation
(Gearhart & Rennie, 1981), “The Tower” signifies radical intervention,
revolution and the overthrowing of false consciousness, violent social conflict
and change, destruction of the old order on a grand scale, and release from
imprisonment in that patriarchal structure during the very process of its
demolition. Jean Baudrillard (2002), in his analysis, or as he says,
analogon, of the spirit of terrorism, talks about the shift of the struggle into
the symbolic sphere where an initial event – “as quite a good illustration
of chaos theory” (2002: 23) – becomes subjected to unforeseeable
consequences. Such a singular event – like the destruction of Twin Towers
on September 11 – propagates unpredictably, causing the chain of effects
“not just in the direct economic, political, financial slump in the whole of
the system –and the resulting moral and psychological downturn – but the
slump in the value-system” per se (2002: 31-32). The collapse of the
towers represents the fact that “the whole system has reached a critical
mass which makes it vulnerable to any aggression” (2002: 33). Baudrillard
points out that not only terrorism itself is blind but so were the real towers
– “no longer opening to the outside world, but subject to artificial
conditioning” (2002: 43): air conditioning, or mental conditioning alike, –
similar to the Tower on the Tarot picture that was sealed at the top when
suddenly struck by lightning.
The collapse of symbolic Panopticon that was founded on the
meticulous organization of space, generates chaos out of the former order: the
abjection in this case loses its phobic quality, becoming not only the power
of horror, as Kristeva says, but the power of terror. It turns instead into the
unleashed rage of violence against violence when the long repressed emotions
and implicit feelings concerning the state of affairs, when deprived of
expression, explode and “spill out from their ... container” (Casey 1997: 323).
No longer projected inward, the released violence becomes directed into the
space where, ure enough, the abject “does not respect borders, positions,
rules”(Kristeva 1982: 4). This is indeed “abjection [that] allows us to move
beyond the Law of the Father” (Bogue & Cornis-Pope 1996: 10). In a sense,
there is jouissance in this process: Kristeva states that subjects that are
“victims of the abject are its fascinated victims” (1982: 9).
Quite significant is the fact that the card immediately preceding
“The Tower” in a deck is called “The Devil” (Fig. 5) and is
traditionally interpreted in terms of fear, bondage, submissiveness, and
sexual or economic dependency.
AS/SA nº 17, p.
It represents the absence of freedom, the lack of hope, and the total
powerlessness tending to, as Baudrillard would have said, crystallize and then,
at the critical level, begin to spread spontaneously until reaching the climax.
Non-incidentally, the subsequent card in the deck, “the Tower”, semiotically
represents this climax as the utmost of abjection. At the level of depth
psychology, the image of the Devil is the embodiment of the powerful, either
individual or collective, Shadow that lurks behind the scenes and may
indicate, very much in Nietzschean sense, the ultimate slave morality in the
relationship between oppressor and oppressed, even if the interplay of forces
involved in this interaction subsists at the unconscious level only. It
represents a moment of psychological denial and a possible implementation
of scapegoat policy, while projecting onto “the other” one’s own inferior and
“shadowy” qualities. It is only when a set of relations becomes totally
unbearable for the psyche, infusing it with fears and phobias, then the next
symbol, the Tower, comes forward. Or, rather vice versa, when the effect
produced by “The Tower” crosses over the boundary between the Symbolic
and the Real, then the breaking down of the current status quo becomes
Revolt against may turn into revolt for: ambiguity may lead to the
appropriation of the other, that “Other who precedes and possesses me, and
through such possession causes me to be” (Kristeva 1982: 10). Jouissance?
Yes, but one that borders on a violent passion. The joy is highly problematic
indeed: it is only jouissance for as long as the power is distributed properly.
The joy of destruction, if over- determined, may contribute to erecting yet
another Tower, to replacing one Symbolic Order with another. Baudrillard
calls it a state of total control, a terror that is now based on law-and-order
measures (2002: 32). However, the historicity is in the place and in place: it
is so inscribed in the genealogy of space that any tower attracts lightning and
is destined, sooner or later, to be blasted by a thunderbolt. The subject, if
not in process, is spaced-out and, respectively, is out of place both
symbolically and literally: “the space of the subject collapses in on itself and
the subject without psychic space is prey to aggressive drives and paranoid
projections of the kind exhibited in misogyny, nationalism, racism and war”
(Kirkby 1998: 111).
AS/SA nº 17, p.
From Abjection to Hope
One's sealed world was initially created due to the presence of the
primary, unconscious, and narcissistic desire to imprison oneself in the
Tower. The image of expulsion from the Tower seems to be “the logical
mode of this permanent aggressivity, and the possibility of its being
positioned and thus renewed. Though destructive, a ‘death drive’, expulsion
is also the mechanism of relaunching, of tension, of life” (Kristeva 1998:
144), that is, its function doubles to play a creative role in the construction
of subjectivity and transformation of reality. The Tarot readings operate at the
level analogous to semanalysis: the interpretation of the pictorial text leads to
the subject’s identifying herself with the implicit meaning inscribed in the
symbolism of the Tower and, respectively, becoming able to recognize her
own shifting identity as abject. The subject, when functioning in the capacity of
the abjective self, becomes animated by expulsion, by (so to speak) abjecting
the abject in accord with the dialectics of negating the negation. As Kristeva
points out, “such an identification facilitates control, on the part of the
subject, a certain knowledge of the process, a certain relative arrest of its
movement, all of which are the conditions for its renewal and are factors
which prevent it from deteriorating into a pure void” (1998: 149), the ground
Thus, although the interpretation of the text when indeed “revelation
bursts forth” (Kristeva 1982: 9) seems by itself to be a violent act, in a sense
of its shattering one's set of privileged beliefs – such a violence of expulsion
“rejects the effects of delay”(Kristeva 1998: 153) and hence – rather than
breaking the subject – contributes to making the subject anew, to re-making
it! For this reason, the image of “the Tower” card sometimes serves as a sign
not of a breakdown but a breakthrough, albeit in both cases necessarily
indicating the abruptly terminated current psychological state or a break-up
in a set of values privileged by a given culture. Significantly, the polyvalence
of the image that follows the Tower in a deck, “The Star” (Fig. 6) connotes
the field of meanings which include healing, hope, inspiration, and creativity
therefore semiotically transmitting the message that no destruction is final. In
fact, this card is sometimes called this way: The Star of Hope.
AS/SA nº 17, p.
Analogously, Kristeva points to the possibility “of rebirth with and
against abjection” (1982: 31) following catharsis represented by symbolism
of “the Tower”. The semiotic significance of the iconic signs is justified by
their functioning in the mode of a site of a subject-in-process who, “instead
of sounding himself as to his ‘being’ …does so concerning his place:
‘Where am I?’ instead of 'Who am I?’ For the space that engrosses the deject,
the excluded, is never one, nor homogeneous, nor totalizable, but essentially
divisible, foldable and catastrophic” (1982: 8). This ambiguous space is called
“a strange place, … a chora, a receptacle” (Kristeva 1982: 14):a subject-in-process being always already constituted by conflicting desires and perverse
“drives, which are ‘energy’ charges as well as ‘psychical' marks’”(Kristeva
1984: 25) creating an enfolded field of forces in action that need to be
unfolded in semanalysis. The term borrowed from Plato, chora's original
meaning is a connective link between realms of the intelligible and the sensible,
implying a quality of transition or passage, a bridge – albeit invisible and in
itself formless — between the two.
Chora is a site saturated by forces, itself a vital and “moving force”
(Casey 1997: 324). Kristeva, acknowledging the dynamic and even
organizing character of chora, as “a ... totality formed by the drives and their
states in a motility that is as full of movement as it is regulated” (Kristeva
1984: 25), stresses its provisional and non-expressive quality within the limits
of verbal discourse. In the mode of pictorial semiotics, however, chora
becomes effectively expressive as the discursive boundaries expand to
incorporate the non-verbal, extra-linguistic mode of the paradoxical “semiotic
articulation” (Kristeva 1998: 142)) in the “language” of signs. On “the Tower”
picture, a space occupied by the subject in process is unstable and ambivalent:
the archaic divided self, by virtue of its very (dis)placement in the chora, is
represented by “a multiplicity of ex-pulsions” (Kristeva 1998: 134), the
primary function of which is self-destruction or the death drive. Still, it is an
amorphous space, the rhythmicity of which resonates with the pulsations of
labour when giving birth: ultimately, therefore, chora fulfils its generative
and creative purpose, as represented by the figure of the naked woman in the
“the Star” picture. Structure-less, chora can be designated solely by its
function which is explicitly feminine: to engender, to provide the caring
conditions – or rather, in its relational economy, to be the condition, the
symbolic home – for regeneration, re-birth, and the genesis of new forms.
AS/SA nº 17, p.
In her recent interview with Mary Zournazi, Kristeva (2002) present
hope as a transformative, humanistic, and even religious idea. Pointing to the
destruction of psychic space in the current ideological climate, she says that
our hope for a positive and “joyful revolt” (Kristeva 2002: 64), that is, a
transformation in our critical thinking up to the point of inventing new ways
of living – is embedded in the economy of care. Care, as a type of
psychoanalytic cure, is “a concern for others, and a consideration for their ‘ill-being’”(2002: 66). The loss of hope is what is feeding terror, and it was
precisely on September 11, 2001, when Kristeva re-defined her idea of revolt
as event enabling one to move into a space of hope. She calls it a process of
re-evaluation of the psyche that constitutes the renewal of the self, which
embodies events that she calls “symbolic mutations” (2002: 76). The fall of
Berlin Wall, or the drama of the Russian Kursk, or the planes hitting the
World Trade Centre, natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes
notwithstanding – those singular events may provide experiential conditions
for transformation. The very “logic of symbolic change” (2002: 75)
presupposes “necessity of the symbolic deconstruction, the symbolic renewal,
which comes from creation – psychic creation, aesthetic creation, rebirth of
the individual” (2002:76). Such deconstruction enables the expansion of
consciousness in terms of healing, hope, and the flow of creativity, all these
attributes represented by the imagery of “the Star”. The semiotics of pictures
creates their own text, the semanalysis of which provides those “other means,
symbolic or imaginary”(Kristeva 1997: 391) that serve as an example of
the economy of care and hope in the aftermath of destruction.
AS/SA nº 17, p.
Baudrillard, J. (2002). The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for Twin Towers (C. Turner, trans.).
Bogue, R. & Cornie-Pope, M (eds) (1996). Violence and mediation in contemporary culture.
Albany SUNY Press.
Casey, E. (1997). The fate of place: a philosophical history. Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press.
Gearheart, S. & s. Rennie (1981). A Feminist Tarot. Persephone Press.
Kirkby, J. (1998). Julia Kristeva: A politics of the inner life? In J. Lechte & M. Zournazi (Eds),
After the revolution: On Kristeva. Australia: Artspace Visual Arts Center, pp.109-123.
Kristeva, J (1982). Powers of Horror: An essay on abjection (L.S. Roudiez, trans.). New York:
Columbia University Press.
Kristeva, J (1984). Revolution in poetic language (m. Walter, trans.). New York: Columbia
Kristeva, J. (1997). Black Sun. In K. Oliver (Ed.). The portable Kristeva. New York: Columbia
University Press, pp. 180-202.
Kristeva, J. (1998). The subject in process. In P.ffrench and R.-F. Lack (Eds.) The Tel Quel
Reader. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 133-178.
Kristeva, J. (2002). Joyful Revolt. In M. Zournazi, Hope: new philosophies for change.
Australia: Pluto Press, pp.64-77.
Lotman, Y. (1990). Universe of the Mind: a Semiotic Theory of Culture, trans. A. Shukman.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Nöth, W. (1995). Handbook of Semiotics. (Advances in Semiotics). Bloomington: Indiana
Posner, R. (1989). What is culture? Toward a semiotic explication of anthropological concepts.
In The Nature of Culture: Proceedings of the International and Interdisciplinary
Symposium, October 7-11, 1986 in Bochum. Walter A. Koch (ed), pp. 240-295. Bochum:
Sebeok, T (Ed.) (1994). Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics (Approaches to Semiotics, 73).
New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
E-mail the editors
Pour écrire à la rédaction
© 2005, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique