Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kristeva and the "unbound signifer"

I've been doing some preliminary research for my senior comp which I would like to have something to do with the androgynous female body. Recently, I was reading and article which made reference to Julia Kristeva's concept of the "subject in process/trial" (le sujet-en-procés) and, having read the book Revolt, She Said once upon a time and generally liking what I found, I decided to indulge myself and read about this new term I stumbled upon in its original home within the book Revolution in Poetic Language. In it, Kristeva examines the possibilities of linguistics that is focused on the speaking subject, with Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis as a theoretical starting-point for examining the signifying process.

In the chapter I was most interested in, Kristeva explores the concept of Hegelian negativity as a “conflictual state” whose subject being “a process, an intersection –an impossible unity (118)” requires the act of “rejection,” a fixing of the subject in place, in order that it might be signifiable. I believe that Kristeva’s concept of the “subject in process/trial” (le sujet-en-procés) (111) can be useful as a theoretical lens through which to look at the androgynous body and the manner in which society attempts to read, make sense, or also “deal” with it as an ‘unbound signifier’ whose constant state of seemingly unresolved flux creates a state of tension by disrupting structures and systems of meaning and understanding that is otherwise considered natural (such as the male female gender binary, female role as reproducers, the female as passive versus active; etc.)

It also made me think a bit of Judith Butler's call for "gender trouble" by playing around with gender performance as a means of challenging and moving the boundaries within which bodies are disciplined to "fit." Kristeva's concept provides an explanation for why such gender play might initiate the reshaping of gender boundaries by looking more explicitly at the reception of those performative practices.

Kristeva, Julia. "Negativity: Rejection." Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Margaret Waller. New York: Columbia UP, 1984. 107-164.

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