Kristeva - in the airplane

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Posted by Robert Fleck on November 23, 1996 at 12:46:48:

I was very interested in your remarks on the new book of Julia Kristeva,
"Sens et non-sens de la révolte". As you know, the book consists in a
adapted version of the seminar teachings of Julia Kristeva in Paris,
university of Jussieu, in 1994/95. I was myself a little astonished, reading
this new book by Kristeva. The first thirty pages are very interesting. She
is relating the shock she had on the Venice Biennial of 1993. It was the
Biennial organized by Achile Bonito Oliva, and he had invited Julia Kristeva
to be part of the jury for the official prices. Travelling myself to the
Venice Biennial in 1993, I was sitting in the same plane with Kristeva, at
the other end of the same range, and was positively surprised to see her
going to the Biennial. In the first thirty pages of her now book, she
describes how much the contemporary art she discovered in Venice was
shocking her, in a positive way. She gives interesting descriptions of the
Hans Haacke-piece in the Biennial, for instance. It is remarkable to see
somebody, today, who is really hit by an exhibition, she was destabilized in
her own identity, describing the contemporary art she discovered in Venise
as engaged with fragmentation, chaos, disintegration, deconnection etc,
related directly to the crisis of the subject and of the individuality
described by psychoanalysis and philosophy (espacially Foucault, for
instance) in the last thirty years. These parts of the book are very
interesting, because the show the immediate reaction of a philosopher or a
literature scientist to contemporary art, which is very different than the
view of "professional" art people.
the second half of the book is, I think, much more ambiguous.
Kristeva reexamins Aragon, Sartre and Barthes to find possible points of
"revolt" in a posit-ideological world. In these pages, in fact, you find
very much remarks which are surprisingly conservative. It is like a big
preach about the decadence of the world since the sixties, which
anti-american statements and a lot of flat sentences about the media society
etc. At the beginning, I was surprised. But you have to relate this to some
openly reactionary statements of Jean Baudrillard about contemporary art and
culture, published earlier this year in the french newspapers "Liberation"
and "Le Monde". For Baudrillard, the case is more evident: he allways was a
conservative thinker, coming out of a "cultural criticism" which was a big
tradition in the german and french conservativism, and it was allways a big
misunderstanding to see Baudrillard as a thinker of modernity or
post-modernity in the eighties. In private circles, Baudrillard had allways
very conservative positions, in political terms, and the only difference
with his new reactionary statements on contemporary art is the he now
expresses openly what he allways had thought about contemporary art.
The new book of Julia Kristeva is part of the same evolution in
France, but more relativistic and less direct then the actual statements by
Baudrillard. The very conservative views expressed by Kristeva today, are
part of a shift which is typical for many authors of the so-called
"structuralist" period in France. Many intellectuals who were structuralists
in the sixties, then maoists in the seventies and "neo-baroque"-thinkers in
the eighties, became supporters of conservative parties in France at the
beginning of the nineties. You have to consider that Philippe Sollers, the
husband of Julia Kristeva whose novels and esthetic positions she subscribes
for several times in her new book, took part in the conservative election
campaign of Edouard Balladur (a kind of old styled conservative politician,
reprensenting "la vielle France" of the 18th century). Some aspects of
Kristevas new book are directly related to this ideological shift in the
intellectual circle of Sollers.
Newertheless, the book has big qualities as a literary study opening
new views about the work of Louis Aragon, Sartre and Roland Barthes.

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