Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, a compilation of Julia Kristeva’s early work, records her transformation from a young, Bulgarian doctoral student newly arrived in Paris into a leading interpreter of the theories of literature and culture that she encountered in the course of her studies: structuralism, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, and Marxism. Throughout Desire in Language, Kristeva draws on key themes in these theories to make original and provocative claims. On the one hand, Kristeva shares with their proponents (for example Ferdinand de Saussure, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Louis Althusser, respectively) a common perspective about language. She asserts that words—marks on a page or sounds—do not function as instruments of representation; rather, they produce a social, signifying space. Signs do not have meaning because they attach themselves like labels to things, but only in systemic relation to one another. Linked together, words articulate a history, a politics, a world. On the other hand, Kristeva emphasizes (more than others in her intellectual milieu) that echolalias, rhythms, and silences in speech also shape meaning. Suggesting too that it is perhaps necessary “to be a woman to attempt to take up that exorbitant wager of carrying the rational project to the outer borders of the signifying venture of men,” Kristeva breaks new ground in Desire in Language with a theory of language focused on the material aspects of speech. She refers to these...

(The entire section is 632 words.)