Reading Kristeva: A Response to Calvin Bedient

Critical Inquiry 17 (3):639-643 (1991)
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I must confess that I found [Calvin] Bedient’s account of Kristeva’s theories quite shocking. Since, on the whole, critical essays rarely upset me, my own reaction was quite puzzling to me. What is there in Bedient’s prose to unsettle me so? It certainly can’t be his style or tone: he has produced a perfectly even-tempered essay. Refraining from imputing selfish or dishonest motives to the theorist he wants to disagree with, Bedient never argues ad feminam, and takes much trouble lucidly to explain why he disagrees with Kristeva. There is every reason to commend him for his honest style of argumentation. There can be no doubt that his essay is produced purely by his concern to take issue with a theory he truly believes to be incapable of accounting for the way in which poetry—and particularly modern poetry—actually works.What causes my unease must therefore be something else. It may of course be the fact that Bedient’s account of Kristeva’s theory of language in Revolution of Poetic Language is wrong. His is not a somewhat skewed, or slanted, or one-sided presentation of her views, but—as far as I can see—a total misreading. Briefly put, Bedient’s mistake consists in taking Kristeva’s account of the sentence process in language for a complete theory of poetic language. He does not seem to have noticed Kristeva’s account of the symbolic, her repeated insistence that language—the signifying process—is the product of a dialectical interaction between the symbolic and the semiotic, or even her definition of the “thetic.” Toril Moi, professor of comparative literature at the University of Bergen and professor at Duke University, is the editor of The Kristeva Reader and the author of Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory . Her most recent book is Feminist Theory and Simone de Beauvoir



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