Kristevas Kenotic Economy

Stop Narcissists from messing up your life

How To Deal With A Narcissist

Get Instant Access

We can legitimately develop Balthasar's work through Kristeva's because they share so much. Let me briefly point to four fundamental parallels. First, there is a common appeal to the primacy of love as an anthropological root. Balthasar develops this through his notion of the imago dei and divine eros, based upon his work on Gregory of Nyssa. Kristeva develops this from the attention given by psychoanalysis to sexual desire and, more specifically, Freud's discussion of narcissism and the Oedipal triangle. Secondly, for both of them the relationship of mother and child acts as the locus for a metaphysical analysis of living towards transcendence. Balthasar begins his exploration of the wonder of Being and the awareness of our radical contingency with relation to this transcendent horizon. Kristeva explores the nature of the unfathomable and the mystery of identity beginning with the mother—child unity. Thirdly, they share an understanding of selfhood as caught up in and constituted by wider economies of desire than simply the

85 Herrlichkeit, Bd. I, p. 566; Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. I, p. 589.

intentions of an I, modernity's subject. For Balthasar the significance of human eros (man/woman, mother/child, self/neighbour) is located in the larger economy of divine eros, and so self-autonomy is always fissured: one moves towards a realisation of personhood in following Christ and obeys the call to intra-Trinitanarian participation. Here an anthropologia crucis is sketched, which can only enter the condition of an anthropologia resurrectionis through entering the divine operation of redemption. Nevertheless the condition of anthropologia crucis is the existential condition for the possibility of entering this economy of resurrection life. For Kristeva, the ability to love oneself aright is dependent upon loving others. The ego is not the ego cogito of Enlightenment reasoning, but the ego affectus est of Bernard of Clair-vaux. The self is always in process, always part of an ongoing performance, always being displaced, because it is always only constituted in relation to being affected by that which is other. Finally, Kristeva herself recognises the connections between her own semanalysis — the analysis of the semiotic traces rippling the symbolic surface of a text — of amatory discourse, kenotic abandonment and Christ's Passion. In her short book In the Beginning Was Love, she writes:

Christ's Passion brings into play even more primitive layers of the psyche; it thus reveals a fundamental depression (a narcissistic wound or reversed hatred) that conditions access to human language. The sadness of young children just prior to their acquisition of language has often been observed; this is when they must renounce forever the maternal paradise in which every demand is immediately gratified. The child must abandon its mother and be abandoned by her in order to be accepted by the father and begin talking ... [L]anguage begins in mourning ... The 'scandal of the cross', the logos tou staurou or language of the cross . is embodied, I think not only in the psychic and physical suffering which irrigates our lives . but even more profoundly in the essential alienation that conditions our access to language, in the mourning that accompanies the dawn of psychic life.

She goes on to conclude in a way that returns us from Lacanian psychology to Balthasar:

Christ abandoned, Christ in hell, is of course the sign that God shares the condition of the sinner. But He also tells the story of that necessary melancholy beyond which we humans may just possibly discover the other, now in the symbolic interlocutor rather than the nutritive breast.86

86 In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith, tr. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988) pp. 40-1.

In what follows the theological implications of this astonishing passage will be drawn out in relation to Balthasar's depiction of Christ's kenotic love and the aphasia of Holy Saturday, and the descent towards the name and beyond the figurative in Paul's letter to the Philippians. For what Kristeva presents us with is an account of the inseparability of a morphology of selfhood from a theory of representation on the basis of kenosis. We recall that there is a concern with the morphology of selfhood in Paul's carmen Christi — with the move towards one's true identity post-mortem. For Kristeva, our initial entrance and any subsequent entrance into language is an experience of kenosis. But unlike the economies of lack and negation which characterised Hegelian kenosis — and characterise also the psychological economies of Freud and Lacan, founded as they are upon a similar notion of progress through negation and rejection (Verneinung and Verwefung), the symbolics of castration — Kristeva's emphasis is upon resurrection. 'I see symbolic castration less as asceticism than as an expansion — through asceticism — toward an endless poiesis ... my own path to vitality.'87 This growth, this movement beyond the death-drive, comes in and through the advent of language that Kristeva is all too aware parallels the Advent of the Word. This advent of language, and this constitution of personhood, are situated initially within the nexus of relations that comprise the Oedipal triangle and the movement from the imaginary to the symbolic order through the mirror stage.

We have treated Lacan's mirror stage in chapter five, 'Divinity and Sexual Difference'. Developing out of Freud's meditation on primary narcissism, we noted that this stage describes the effects of that scene when the child confronts its image in a mirror. Before this stage, the child occupies an imaginary phase in which it experiences, produces and stores up various images of itself and its body through mobilising any number of identifications it makes of the world around it.88 This imaginary level, closely associated for Kristeva with the rhythms, pulsations and drives of the psychobiological, provides the foundation for the subject of enunciation, the entry into discourse. For Kristeva this imaginary remains present in discourse itself as the semiotic as distinct from (but not polarised to) the semantic. 'I therefore distinguish between the semiotic, which consists of drive-related and affective meaning organized according to primary processes whose sensory aspects are

87 New Maladies of the Soul, tr. Ross Gubermann (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), p. 90. Both Irigaray and Cixous have continued in their own work to stress the difference between feminine economies of desire — emphasising extravagant giving and excess — and masculine economies of desire — characterised by lack and anal retention. For a concise expression of this theme see Cixous's essay '"The Egg and the Chicken": Love Is not Having', Reading with Clarice Lispector, tr. Verena Andermatt Conley (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990), pp. 98—122.

88 New Maladies, pp. 103-4.

often nonverbal (sound and melody, rhythm, color, odors, and so forth), on the one hand, and linguistic signification that is manifested in linguistic signs and their logico-syntactic organization, on the other.'89

As we noted earlier, with the mirror stage the child enters into the symbolic order. It recognises both its own need for symbols and yet also its own separation from full identity because of the uncrossable bar between the symbolic and the real (Lacan's S/s). It is at this stage that Kristeva places the child's descent into depression. The realisation of separation is a profound realisation of loss — a loss which is continually sublimated by the employment of symbols or language. Semanalysis is, for Kristeva, the inquiry into the relationship between that which is sublimated — which she terms the semiotic — and that which is being symbolised. This fundamental sense of loss, which Kristeva associates with the Passion of Christ and which I am describing as a kenotic economy, Kristeva terms abjection. 'Abjection,' she writes, 'or the journey to the end of the night.'90

The economy of abjection outlines the logic of separation that begins earlier and then informs Lacan's mirror stage. Anthropologia crucis is a condition established primordially in the individual's life with separation from the body of the mother, the abjection of the mother, and the move towards the law of the Father. For the Father governs the creation of firm identities in the realm of the symbolic. Kristeva views this separation from the body of the mother as a separation from the semiotic chora. This has to occur prior to the move through the thetic or image stage and the arrival at the semantic concern with the proper name. Abjection institutes an exclusion which marks a beginning and a boundary. On one level, abjection marks the beginning of the social order by defining that which is forever external, distinct and threatening its domain. On another level, abjection marks the initiation into subjectivity as the I discovers what is not-I, what is other (both the semiotic body of the mother and the imaginary father). On a final level, abjection marks entrance into the symbolic order. It marks out that which we necessarily leave out, that which remains but is silent, in order to construct. In all these cases, abjection both constitutes the possibility for the autonomy of the order — social, subjective, symbolic — while haunting such order by identifying its frailty, its instability, its ephemerality. As such, abjection constitutes what Kristeva calls 'the margin of a floating structure'.91

The effect of this separation Kristeva discerns in the melancholia which affects children just prior to entrance into language, prior, that is, to entering

90 Powers of Horror, tr. Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), p. 58.

the realm of the symbolic.92 The separation institutes primary narcissism and also creates a space. The child as presubject enters an emptiness which will lead to the entry into the symbolic order at the mirror stage. Kristeva locates, in this emptiness and the separation which precedes it, a primary identification with what she terms the 'imaginary father' — that is, the loving Father/husband of the Mother. These are troubled waters in studies of Kristeva, for the 'imaginary', loving Father prepares the subject for desiring the Phallus which provides the dynamic for entry into the symbolic order and the Oedipus complex. For our purposes, this haunting by the 'imaginary' father — whatever the coherence of the idea in Kristeva's work and her dialogue with Freud and Lacan — is another example of how Kristeva's morphology of the self parallels the doctrine of kenosis in the carmen Christi. Frequently Kristeva likens the operations of this imaginary father — the entry of the third party that comes from outside, or above, the dyad of mother—child — to the Christian God. The triune economy of love is explicitly compared with Christian agape.93 It is not the maleness as such that the imaginary father figure installs. Another woman might play this loving role in the life of any particular family. This pre-Oedipal father combines both genders. And as Kelly Oliver remarks in her commentary upon Kristeva's work: 'The irrepresentable that makes representation possible is represented ... by the imaginary father ... It is only in the context of "his" love that the symbolic can become meaningful.'94 Through agapaic love Kristeva weaves this making meaningful of the symbolic into the psychic process of identification, where (in one form of identification) there is a recognition and participation of one subject in another. The eucharist figures large in such discussions. In fact, Kristeva's notion of the meaningful sign, the affected respresentation, the effective symbol, is trans-substantiation. As the eucharist is a participation in eternal life and fosters resurrection, so does involvement with language. The eucharist, as an emblem of the kenotic economy, is always both a giving of life and a sacrifice, a loss, an act of violence.95

The melancholy moment before entering language is a moment where the meaning is lost. It is not only in children learning to speak that this occurs, and so Kristeva's work is not limited to the psychology of child development. The loss of meaning, and its consequent relinquishing of

92 It must be admitted here that Kristeva provides us with no clinical evidence to support such a claim.

94 Reading Kristeva: Unravelling the Double-Bind (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), pp. 63-4.

95 New Maladies, p. 183.

desire, is found paradigmatically in depressive states of all kinds. It is constantly having to be negotiated as the self-in-process grows in and through its misidentifications with others. It is negotiated in all transference and countertransference (or all economies of response). This loss, this use of symbolic substitutions, and the dialectic of demand and desire in which all representations participate place the self always in process, always searching for a place to belong to, always experiencing a certain dis-possession.

What is important, in terms of Kristeva's semanalysis, is that representation remains infected by that which is abjected.96 The semiotic drives operate dialectically within and upon the symbolic, so that 'writing causes the subject who ventures into it to confront an archaic authority'.97 The corollary of this is that the melancholy moment where meaning is lost is rediscovered and performed in every form of mimesis. Some acts of representation appeal to that suppressed melancholy more than others. Hence, when discussing Holbein's Dead Christ in Black Sun, Kristeva writes: 'very much like personal behaviour, artistic style imposes itself as a means of countervailing the loss of other and of meaning'.98 The death of Christ becomes a portrayal of a paradox — representing the erasure of beauty, transcendence and form; presenting ironically an icon of that which is iconoclastic. The experience of depression, of descent into emptiness, is endemic to the economy of representation as it is also to the self-in-process — both of which are constantly searching for, but can never attain, stable identity. Such stability, the stability of a proper Name not infected by the body of the mother, the semiotic chora, remains forever futural and eschato-logical, while being constitutive of the present as hope and promise. Holbein's presentation of Christ in the tomb, then, leads us 'to the ultimate edge of belief, to the threshold of non-meaning'.99 Non-meaning causes frigidity and paralysis. According to Irenaeus, throughout this time in the tomb Jesus looked upon chaos.100

We saw with Balthasar that 'the death ofJesus, like his incarnation, was a function of his living, eternal love'.101 Similarly, for Kristeva, the logic of

96 Semanalysis treats three interrelated forms of representation: 'representations of words (close to the linguistic signifier), representations of things (close to the linguistic signified) and representations of affects (labile, psychic traces subject to the primary processes of displacement and condensation)': In the Beginning, p. 4.

97 Powers of Horror, p. 75.

98 Black Sun, tr. Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), p. 129.

101 Pneuma und Institution, Skizzen zur Theologie IV, p. 398; Explorations in Theology IV: Spirit and Institution, p. 412.

separation, the necessary recognition of diastema (with attending plurality and heterogeneity) — which provides the possibility for the ongoing configuration of self-in-relation-to-others in and through language — are part of a more general economy of love. Loss must lead to a renewal; death to resurrection. The psychologist's work is installed here where the movement breaks down, where the dead body of the mother is buried within and brings death to the soul, silence and autism to the speaking subject. Resurrection comes with becoming reconciled to the loss, the attachment to the mother, and searching for new identifications in and through discourse with the ideal and loving father. This Kristeva depicts in terms of the love of the mother for and by the father. Participation in and desire for complete reconciliation with this love — the economy of response — functions as the utopian horizon that makes psychological healing possible. Without this economy there is only abjection and melancholy; the material world is without meaning, for it cannot signify at all.

This concern to re-establish the primacy of a transcendental love is yet another reason why Christianity haunts her own analyses and why her work can be paralleled with Balthasar's. She asks what psychoanalysis is 'if not an infinite quest for rebirths through the experience of love'.102 Psychoanalysis never probes the genesis (for we are born into a love always already in operation) but the dunamis of love. This is the economy of desire which, for Kristeva, we enter with that primordial separation from the mother. We are born to love because we are born divided. As Kristeva writes, elliptically: 'Love is a death sentence which causes me to be.'103 The ego issues, then, from a transcendental economy of love and death (as separation) already in operation. Since this issuing is inseparable from entering the symbolic order, it is the economy of love which infects the symbolic order with its desire for identification with the other. All discourse, then, is amatory discourse: 'The speaking subject is a loving subject.'104 All representation is a kenotic act of love towards the other; all representation involves transference — being caught up in the economy of giving signs. Kristeva, taking up Lacan's structuralist understanding of language, views metaphor as the condensation of this love present in discourse and desire for the other as the operation of displacement or metonymy. '[W]riting serves as a resurrection.'105 As she herself concludes, in a way which returns us to theology: 'the literary experience stands revealed as an essentially amorous experience, unstabilizing the

102 Tales of Love, tr. Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), p. 1.

105 New Maladies, p. 181.

same through its identification with the other. In this it emulates theology, which, in the same field, has strengthened love into faith.'106

These two elements of Kristeva's semanalysis — the relation between abjection, the symbolic and descent into non-meaning (the logic of separation), on the one hand, and the relation between representation and transcendental economy of love (the logic of identification), on the other — not only parallel the doctrine of kenosis in Paul's carmen Christi and Balthasar's analysis of Holy Saturday. Kristeva's work, I wish to argue, roots a theological examination of the doctrine in an anthropology that relates the fundamental experience of human existence as one of dispossession (or in Schleiermacher's term, 'absolute dependence') to our nature as the creators of signs and symbols. We are makers of images because we are 'made in the image of'. Of course, while pointing to a triunal economy in Kristeva, a distinction must be made between this and Balthasar's Trinitarian theology. It is a distinction between the way difference is understood and championed in Kristeva's work (as in Levinas's, Derrida's, Irigaray's and Cixous's) and theological difference. Heidegger's ontological difference is the site for both their meeting and their departure from each other. Theological difference, Trinitarian difference, is other than ontological difference while being the condition for the possibility of ontological difference in Balthasar. But ontological difference characterises the human situation — summed up in Mary's open womb — and one could say it was this difference which post-structuralism teaches us about.

The kenotic economy becomes the very root of sign production and therefore theological discourse. In fact, Kristeva privileges the Bible as a place where this economy is most evident. Of course, it could be argued that what Kristeva presents us with is a demythologised, psychoanalytic reading of the Christian faith. This would identify her work as continuing the project of modernity. And there are emphases in her work that support the view that psychoanalysis 'explains' religious phenomena — codes of practice, liturgies, symbols, narratives — which make up Christianity. There are other, more recent, emphases which recognise parallels between the work of the analyst and the work of the priest (and between the work of the psychoanalytical theorist and the theologian). Karl Jaspers was among the first to suggest that psychoanalysists replace the traditional priest and sacramental confession, but Kristeva does not seem to wish to secularise a religious praxis. As a therapist, she works for the resurrection of the subject, through bringing that subject into a participation, in love, in an economy of response to the Word. She does this by fostering desire and vitality on the far side of

depression and descent into a death-like asymbolia. She accepts that theologians have resolved many of the 'maladies of the soul' by 'granting their subjects a single object in which to delight — that is, God (as Saint Augustine said, res qua fruendum est)', but recognises that 'If God no longer exists, the unconscious must reassemble the fragments of hysterical heterogeneity and its masks.'107 Therapy seems to function, then, as establishing subjects within a kenotic economy of love and its representation at a time when theology no longer has cultural dominance and when many can no longer believe in God. A time perhaps when Christian theology has given itself over to secular logics — such as the work of the death-of-God theologians we saw earlier. Therapy helps those who are outside faith, outside communities of those practising faith; those who are left washed up on the beach after the wave of secularism has crashed and ebbed away. Furthermore, Kristeva is aware that psychoanalysis cannot become a metanarrative, a master discourse which can explain away religious discourse which is also founded upon establishing persons in the economy of love. '[P]sychoanalysis ... is an art — I admit, an artifice — that may allow the men and women of our modern, sleek, lofty, costly, and profitable cities to preserve a life for themselves.'108 Psychoanalysis is an artifice, 'an imaginary discourse that serves as truth',109 for assisting modernity's ego in its search for a lost soul, for facilitating a transposition from necrophilia to resurrection life. Kristeva's own theory of the dialectical relationship between the semiotic and the symbolic would, in fact, militate against placing psychological discourse above theological discourse; giving symbolic priority to one form of language. To make such a claim 'creates the danger of transforming psychoanalysis not only into an ideology but also into a religion'.110 Certainly, Kristeva's reflections upon her Catholicism have caused embarrassment among several of her admirers and critics.111 But if Kristeva is right, then, on the basis of the theological account of kenosis, we can understand each act of signification (speaking or writing) and each act of performing that act (reading, liturgical practice) as a move in love, a kenotic giving towards an ineffable Word, a name above all names, a name which gathers up all our naming and within which we too

107 See 'The Semiotics of Biblical Abomination' in Powers of Horror, pp. 90—112, and 'Reading the Bible' in New Maladies, pp. 115—26. 'The Bible is a text that thrusts its words into my losses' (New Maladies, p. 119). This remarkable essay argues for psychoanalysis as 'post-Catholic' and demonstrates the analyst's continuing dependence upon Biblical rigour, logic and love.

108 New Maladies, p. 76.

111 In the Beginning, p. xi. Kelly Oliver has spoken of Kristeva's 'nostalgic relation to Christianity' and how her work 'privileges and recreates the Christian imaginary' (Reading Kristeva, p. 128).

are named (en to onomatiJesou). On the basis of her work we reopen the relation of Christology to mimesis. If she is also right that this descent to the marginalised is a movement towards the recovery of the lost semiotic body of the mother, then Christianity must possibly rethink its doctrine of the Trinity in terms of sexual difference — as we saw in chapter five.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Power of Meditation

The Power of Meditation

Want to live a stress-free, abundant life? Discover The Power of Meditation And How It Can Work For You To Increase Your Success In Your Personal And Work Life. Use These Steps To Practice Meditation In Your Life And Business.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment