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Julia Kristeva
Kristeva IMG 5888.jpg
Julia Kristeva in Paris, 2008
Юлия Кръстева

(1941-06-24) 24 June 1941 (age 82)
Sliven, Bulgaria
Nationality French / Bulgarian
Alma mater University of Sofia
Spouse(s) Philippe Sollers
  • Holberg International Memorial Prize
  • Hannah Arendt Award for Political Thought
  • VIZE 97 Prize
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
Main interests
Notable ideas
  • The "semiotic" of the pre-mirror stage
  • Nature of abjection
  • Intertextuality

Julia Kristeva (French: [kʁisteva]; Bulgarian: Юлия Кръстева; born 24 June 1941) is a Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, semiotician, psychoanalyst, feminist, and, most recently, novelist, who has lived in France since the mid-1960s. She is now a professor emeritus at the University Paris Diderot. The author of more than 30 books, including Powers of Horror, Tales of Love, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, Proust and the Sense of Time, and the trilogy Female Genius, she has been awarded Commander of the Legion of Honor, Commander of the Order of Merit, the Holberg International Memorial Prize, the Hannah Arendt Prize, and the Vision 97 Foundation Prize, awarded by the Havel Foundation.

Kristeva became influential in international critical analysis, cultural studies and feminism after publishing her first book, Semeiotikè, in 1969. She has published a large amount of academic work including books and essays which address intertextuality, the semiotic, and abjection, in the fields of linguistics, literary theory and criticism, psychoanalysis, biography and autobiography, political and cultural analysis, art and art history. She is important in structuralist and poststructuralist thought.

Kristeva is also the founder of the Simone de Beauvoir Prize committee.


Kristeva was born in Sliven, Bulgaria. Her parents were Christian. Her father was a church accountant. Kristeva and her sister attended a Francophone school run by Dominican nuns. Kristeva learned about the work of Mikhail Bakhtin. Kristeva went on to study at the University of Sofia. While a postgraduate there she got a research fellowship that let her move to France in December 1965, when she was 24. She continued her education at several French universities, studying under Lucien Goldmann and Roland Barthes, among other scholars. On August 2, 1967, Kristeva married the novelist Philippe Sollers, Philippe Joyaux.

Kristeva taught at Columbia University in the early 1970s. She is still a Visiting Professor. She has also published under the married name Julia Joyaux.


After joining the 'Tel Quel group' founded by Sollers, Kristeva mostly worked on the politics of language and became an active member of the group. She trained in psychoanalysis, and earned her degree in 1979. In some ways, her work can be seen as trying to adapt a psychoanalytic approach to poststructuralist criticism. For example, her view of the subject, and its construction has some things in common with Sigmund Freud and Lacan. However, Kristeva rejects any understanding of the subject in a structuralist sense. Instead, she describes the subject as always "in process" or "on trial". In this way, she contributes to the poststructuralist critique of essentialized structures, while preserving the teachings of psychoanalysis. She travelled to China in the 1970s and later wrote About Chinese Women (1977).

The "semiotic" and the "symbolic"

One of Kristeva's most important contributions is that signification is composed of two elements: the symbolic and the semiotic. That use of semiotic is different from the discipline of semiotics founded by Ferdinand de Saussure. Augustine Perumalil explained that Kristeva's "semiotic is closely related to the infantile pre-Oedipal referred to in the works of Freud, Otto Rank, Melanie Klein, British Object Relation psychoanalysis, and Lacan's pre-mirror stage." It is an emotional field that is related to the instincts in the gaps and sounds of language rather than in the denotative meanings of words. According to Birgit Schippers, the semiotic is associated with music, poetry, rhythm, and that which lacks structure and meaning. It is closely tied to the "feminine" and shows the state of the pre-Mirror Stage infant that has not yet developed independently.

In the Mirror Stage, the child learns to tell the difference between self and other. The child begins a process of sharing cultural meaning, known as the symbolic. In Desire in Language (1980), Kristeva describes the symbolic as the development of language in the child to become a "speaking subject" and to develop a sense of identity separate from the mother. This process of separation is known as abjection. The child must reject and move away from the mother in order to enter into the world of language, culture, meaning, and the social. This realm of language is called the symbolic and is different from the semiotic that is associated with the masculine, the law, and structure. Kristeva thinks differently from Lacan. She thinks that even after entering the symbolic, the subject continues to move back and forth between the semiotic and the symbolic. Therefore, the child does not form a fixed identity. The subject is permanently "in process". Because female children continue to identify to some degree with the mother figure, they are especially likely to retain a close connection to the semiotic. This continued identification with the mother may result in what Kristeva refers to in Black Sun (1989) as melancholia (depression), because female children both reject and identify with the mother figure at the same time.

Kristeva is also known for working on intertextuality.

Anthropology and psychology

Kristeva argues that anthropology and psychology, or the connection between the social and the subject, do not represent each other, but rather follow the same logic: the survival of the group and the subject. Furthermore, in her analysis of Oedipus, she claims that the speaking subject cannot exist on his/her own, but that he/she "stands on the fragile threshold as if stranded on account of an impossible demarcation" (Powers of Horror, p. 85).

Julia Kristeva à Paris en 2008
Julia Kristeva in Paris in 2008

In her comparison between the two disciplines, Kristeva claims that the way in which an individual excludes the abject mother as a means of forming an identity, is the same way in which societies are constructed. On a broader scale, cultures exclude the maternal and the feminine, and by this come into being.


Kristeva has been called an important leader of French feminism together with Simone de Beauvoir, Hélène Cixous, and Luce Irigaray. Kristeva has had a strong influence on feminism and feminist literary studies in the US and the UK. She has also influenced thinking about contemporary art. But her relation to feminist groups and movements in France has been very controversial. Kristeva made a famous statement about three types of feminism in "Women's Time" in New Maladies of the Soul (1993). She rejected the first two types, including that of Beauvoir. Some people think she completely rejects feminism. Kristeva proposed an idea of multiple sexual identities against concepts of "unified feminine language".

Against identity politics

Kristeva says American feminist academics have misunderstood her writings. According to Kristeva, it was not enough to take language apart to find its hidden meaning. History and individual psychic experiences also tell us how to understand language. This is a post-structuralist approach. It helped some social groups to find the source of their oppression in the language that they used. However, Kristeva believes that it is harmful to think of collective identity as more important than individual identity. She thinks that politics that makes sexual, ethnic, and religious identities the most important thing is ultimately totalitarian.


Kristeva wrote some novels that are like detective stories. The books have mystery and suspense, but readers also find ideas from her theoretical projects. Murder in Byzantium has themes from orthodox Christianity and politics. She called it "a kind of anti-Da Vinci Code".


Kristeva won the Holberg International Memorial Prize in 2004. She won the 2006 Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought. She has also received Commander of the Legion of Honor, Commander of the Order of Merit, and the Vaclav Havel Prize.

Some writings

  • Séméiôtiké: recherches pour une sémanalyse, Paris: Edition du Seuil, 1969. (English translation: Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, Oxford: Blackwell, 1980.)
  • La Révolution Du Langage Poétique: L'avant-Garde À La Fin Du Xixe Siècle, Lautréamont Et Mallarmé. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1974. (Abridged English translation: Revolution in Poetic Language, New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.)
  • About Chinese Women. London: Boyars, 1977.
  • Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
  • The Kristeva Reader. (ed. Toril Moi) Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986.
  • In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.
  • Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
  • Strangers to Ourselves. New York: Columbia University Press,1991.
  • Nations without Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
  • New Maladies of the Soul. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.
  • Crisis of the European Subject. New York: Other Press, 2000.
  • Reading the Bible. In: David Jobling, Tina Pippin & Ronald Schleifer (eds). The Postmodern Bible Reader. (pp. 92–101). Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
  • Female Genius: Life, Madness, Words: Hannah Arendt, Melanie Klein, Colette: A Trilogy. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
  • Hannah Arendt: Life is a Narrative. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.
  • Hatred and Forgiveness. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.
  • Marriage as a Fine Art (with Philippe Sollers). New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.


  • The Samurai: A Novel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.
  • The Old Man and the Wolves. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
  • Possessions: A Novel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
  • Murder in Byzantium. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
  • Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.

Other books about Julia Kristeva:

  • Irene Ivantcheva-Merjanska, Ecrire dans la langue de l'autre. Assia Djebar et Julia Kristeva. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2015.
  • Jennifer Radden, The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva, Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Megan Becker-Leckrone, Julia Kristeva And Literary Theory, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
  • Sara Beardsworth, Julia Kristeva, Psychoanalysis and Modernity, Suny Press, 2004. (2006 Goethe Award Psychoanalytic Scholarship, finalist for the best book published in 2004.)
  • Kelly Ives, Julia Kristeva: Art, Love, Melancholy, Philosophy, Semiotics and Psychoanalysis, Crescent Moon Publishing Édition, 2010.
  • Kelly Oliver, Ethics, Politics, and Difference in Julia Kristeva's Writing, Routledge Édition, 1993.
  • Kelly Oliver, Reading Kristeva: Unraveling the Double-bind, Indiana University Press, 1993.
  • John Lechte, Maria Margaroni, Julia Kristeva: Live Theory , Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2005.
  • Noëlle McAfee, Julia Kristeva, Routledge, 2003.
  • Griselda Pollock (Guest Editor) Julia Kristeva 1966-1996, Parallax Issue 8, 1998.
  • Anna Smith, Julia Kristeva: Readings of Exile and Estrangement, Palgrave Macmillan, 1996.
  • David Crownfield, Body/Text in Julia Kristeva: Religion, Women, and Psychoanalysis, State University of New York Press, 1992.

See also

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