Special issue of Theory Now: Journal of Literature, Critique and Thought
Guest editor: Maria Margaroni, University of Cyprus.
Submissions until October 1, 2022.
One of the major contributions of Julia Kristeva in all the diverse fields of study she has worked in since her emergence as a theorist in the mid-1960s is her attention to the body and the bodily. Some of her central concepts, such as the semiotic, semanalysis, signifiance, and abjection as well as her rethinking of the processes of transference/countertransference, sublimation, and the subject’s changing relation to the maternal culminating in her recent elaboration of a psycho-somatic economy she calls “reliance”, have helped theorists do justice to the complex vulnerability of the subject-in-process/on trial at the crossroads between desire and suffering, sexuality and thought, biology and language. As a psychoanalyst, she has remained concerned with bodily or psychic malaise and has systematically engaged with the theoretical frameworks within which such malaise has been understood, developing novel clinical approaches that aim to empower speaking embodied subjects to renew their bonds with others and nourish their psychic potential for rebirth.
Since the beginning of the 21st century her work (and especially her thought on forgiveness, analytic listening and a poetics of interpretation) has more and more been taken up in trauma and witnessing studies while she herself has made a number of important interventions in the areas of motor or sensory disability, autism, the treatment of schizophrenia, cancer and the care of the dependent elderly. As a writer of fiction, she has consistently thematized bodily and psychic vulnerability, featuring characters who face all sorts of traumagenic challenges or who succumb to what she calls radical evil, the result of socio-political abjection and the disintegration of the psychic apparatus. Since 2003, when she co-founded the National Disability Council in France, she has also become actively involved in the context of the rights of the disabled, calling for “a revolution of the gaze” apropos the subjects experiencing exclusion on the basis of some form of psychic, mental or physical disability (Gardou 2020, 663). In a seminal article titled “Liberté, égalité, fraternité et... vulnerabilité” Kristeva sets out to transvaluate the legacy of humanism in connection with the indisputable fact of human vulnerability and against an ideology of “Man” made in the image of an “all-mighty Creator” (2010, 33). More recently, in 2017, she joined Marie Rose Moro, John Odemark and Eivind Engebretsen to make an appeal for a more radical program for the medical Humanities, one that seeks to deconstruct the disciplinary division between hard and soft sciences, approaches all clinical encounters as inextricable from processes of cultural translation, and claims the need for a “singularized” treatment of all forms of illness. This special issue aims to take up the challenge Kristeva issues, contributing to the development of “a global ‘think tank’” on the limits and possibilities of a critical medical humanities (Kristeva et al. 2017, 57). Some of the questions contributors may want to address are:
- How does the approach of medicine (and our approach to medicine) change, if we switch our attention from the objectified, pathologized body to the speaking body as a “complex biocultural fact” (Engebretsen 2020, 673)?
- How do we reconceptualize identity beyond fullness/wholeness and an understanding of illness as privation?
- Why is Kristeva’s critique of assimilation policies vis-à-vis the disabled timely and useful? In what ways is this critique part of the “revolution of the gaze” she anticipates, making possible (as she argues in Hatred and Forgiveness) new polyphonic worlds and empowering a democracy of proximity (30, 45)?
- What are the benefits of a layered treatment of bodily and psychic malaise, one that attempts a cross-disciplinary understanding of illness and that pays equal attention to clinical evidence, socio-cultural context, linguistic and translinguistic processes and elements?
- Can the (ontologically or existentially) unsharable be shared? What are the challenges? And the limits? What is the role of literature and art in the process of imparting the lost, irrecoverable, unrepresentable part?
- Against the context of the recent pandemic the world is facing, what are the stakes of taking up and revitalizing the “feminine” value of care for psychical and physical life, making it, as Kristeva urges us, a political act (2010, 34)? How would the powers and limits of the analyst, the medical practitioner or the caregiver change if they were to occupy the maternal site of reliance?
- What are the contemporary forms of the “Band-Aid of denial”, as Kristeva aptly puts it (2010, 32)? What are the specific contexts that produce and shape such forms? The society of the spectacle? A fast-appealing ideology of transhumanism? A capitalist model of human transaction grounded in consumerism and consumer rights? An evidence-based medicine attentive to brain imaging and population studies rather than to clinical experience and the embodied situation of singular human subjects?
- Is loyalty to the Freudian talking cure still necessary and possible? What is the role of narrative in the context of it? Against the background of emerging maladies and the recent neuro-turn, are the clinical and healing functions of narrative undergoing a crisis?
- How can a critical medical humanities (open to the interface between language, culture, society, the clinic and embodiment) challenge the biopolitics at work in institutional health practices and policies?
Engebretsen, Eivind. “Evidence-Based Medicine and the Irreducible Singularity of Being – Kristeva’s Contribution to the Medical Humanities.” The Philosophy of Julia Kristeva. Sara G. Beardsworth (ed.). Chicago, Illinois, Open Court, 2020, pp. 671-687.
Gardou, Charles. “The ‘Intimate Face’ of a Common Thought and Action.” The Philosophy of Julia Kristeva. Sara G. Beardsworth. Chicago, Illinois: Open Court, 2020, pp. 663-270.
Kristeva, Julia, Marie Rose Moro, John Odemark, and Eivind Engebretsen. “Cultural Crossings of Care: An Appeal to the Medical Humanities”. Medical Humanities, no. 44, 2018, pp. 55-58.
Kristeva, Julia. Hatred and Forgiveness. Translated by Jeanine Herman. New York, Columbia University Press, 2010.