The Alienated Self

Unlike Irigaray, Kristeva does not challenge the necessity of the Oedipus complex for the development of socialized subjectivity, which means that she also accepts the necessary masculinity of the subject of the symbolic order (see Grosz 1989: 63-9).6 Through the intervention of the father in the early mother-child relationship, the child achieves the separation required to become an individuated subject, modeled on the paternal example. But for Kristeva, the masculine subject is a less stable and coherent entity than the social order acknowledges, and the cost of sustaining the illusion of a unified, unambiguously masculine self is too high. While Irigaray argues that the move towards a transformed social and sexual ethic will come about through the sexual differentiation of culture and discourse, Kristeva argues instead for the internalization of difference through an acceptance of the idea of the divided and self-alienated subject. She finds in Freudian psychoanalysis a rich resource for rethinking the ethical and religious paradigms of Western culture, in a way that takes into account the interrelatedness of language and the body in the drives of the unconscious, and also the suffering associated with the insatiable yearning for love and the unavoidable awareness of death identified with the maternal relationship. This subliminal experience of love and abjection, desire and mourning, which haunts the speaking subject of the symbolic order, finds expression in the language of the chora, based on Plato's concept in the Timeaus of "an ancient, mobile, unstable receptacle, prior to the One, to the father, and even to the syllable, metaphorically suggesting something nourishing and maternal" (Kristeva 1987a: 5). While religion sublimates this maternal language and allows it partial expression in the language of devotion, the secular symbolic order represses it altogether.7 Although Kristeva does not rule out the efficacy of religion as a means to psychological health, she sees Christianity as an anachronism in Western culture, a dying discourse which has been replaced by the discourses of psychoanalysis (see Kristeva 1987a). While I would take issue with Kristeva on this point, I do not think her premature dismissal of the relevance of Christianity invalidates the value of her insights for Christian thinkers.

Kristeva argues that Freud exposes the extent to which the Enlightenment project, with its idea of the autonomous, coherent, and unified subject, is achieved through a process of repression and alienation which makes us "strangers to ourselves" (Kristeva 1991), because the rationalized subject is unable to accommodate the "uncanny strangeness" (Kristeva 1991: 183) associated with maternal femininity, death, and the biological drives.8 This strangeness is projected onto others who become "foreigners" when viewed from the perspective of the various forms of nationalism and patriotism which have gripped Europe since the seventeenth century. If we seek to build a culture of peace, suggests Kristeva, we must learn from Freud in order to recognize the foreignness, the uncanny, within ourselves. "The foreigner is within me, hence we are all foreigners. If I am a foreigner, there are no foreigners" (Kristeva 1991: 192).

For Kristeva, the present crisis in Western identity and ethics will only be resolved through the displacement of the subject and a recognition of the self as psychologically divided between identity and otherness, love and abjection, desire and loss. It is in the tension between the chora or the semiotic, and the socio-symbolic, that we experience the truly human as "the subject in process" (Lechte 1991: 27). However, this means that we need collective access to a way of expressing the maternal semiotic, which necessitates the creation of a cultural symbolics of motherhood beyond religion, possibly based on the language and experience of mothers themselves, since in modern Western society we are confronted with "a motherhood that today remains, after the Virgin, without a discourse" (Kristeva 1987b: 262). The rediscovery of a secularized form of maternal discourse might in turn allow for "an heretical ethics separated from morality, an herethics, [which] is perhaps no more than that which in life makes bonds, thoughts, and therefore the thought of death, bearable: herethics is undeath [a-mort], love . . . Eia mater, fons amoris . . ." (Kristeva 1987b: 263).

But is Kristeva right in declaring the end of maternal religion and its replacement by psychoanalysis? I think she radically underestimates the ongoing potency of the Madonna as both a religious and semi-secularized symbol in Western culture. One study offers a conservative estimate of 60 to 70 million religiously motivated visits to Western European shrines every year (Nolan and Nolan 1989: 1). If one bears in mind that many of these are Marian shrines such as Lourdes, Medjugore, and Fatima, this suggests that Marian devotion is a powerful semiotic force in the modern world - semiotic because it is both dynamic and hidden, influential and largely unacknowledged by society Even in secularized Europe, while religious devotion has declined, the Marian presence is written across the face of culture in architecture, art, music, literature, and film. The Madonna stands watch over a postmodern world in many guises, from the outrageous parodies of her pop singer namesake, to the whimsical sentimentality of the Princess Diana cult, as a reminder of a maternal tradition that has been disempowered but not destroyed, evacuated of religious meaning but not thereby rendered meaningless. The Mother of God still forms the matrix in which the Western imaginary finds collective expression in whispered, forbidden longings for God. Rather than psychoanalysis seeking to displace religion, it is surely possible for the two to encounter one another in a mutual spirit of exploration and discovery about what it means to be truly human.9

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