Inner Experience and Worldly Revolt: Arendt’s Bearings on Kristeva’s Project

Noelle Claire McAfee
Emory University
What is at stake when political revolt depends upon radical inner experience? Is the only route to cultural and political change, as Kristeva seems to argue, through personal introspection and revolt? If we want more from life than the freedom to channel surf, as she says, need the direction of inquiry be primarily inward? Need there be an either/or of psychical versus public life? Is the only answer to social and political dead ends really found by turning inward? Is the micropolitics of the couch the path to freedom? “Today,” Kristeva writes, “psychical life knows that it will only be saved if it gives itself the time and space of revolt: to break off, remember, re-form. From prayer to dialogue, through art and analysis, the crucial event is always the great infinitesimal emancipation: to be endlessly recommenced.” In this essay I ask whether we might move Kristeva’s “New Forms of Revolt” from the couch to the polis with the help of one of her major interlocutors, Hannah Arendt, who reminds us that thinking is always a plural affair. I develop a link between Arendt’s thinking and Kristeva’s revolt to show how thinking-as-revolt puts subjects in relation to each other and to the political. Such a political culture of revolt can engage in the work needed to move beyond adolescent fixations in melancholic times. And with it we might in fact create more meaning for our lives.
Keywords Julia Kristeva  Hannah Arendt  Revolt  Neoliberalism  Politics
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DOI 10.5195/jffp.2014.656
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