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Revolution in Poetic Language. by Julia Kristeva. Outline. I. Introduction II. The Semiotic and the Symbolic 2. The Semiotic Chora Ordering the Drive 5. The Thetic: Rupture and/or Boundary 12. Genotext and Phenotext III. Examples for Practice . Introduction.

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I. Introduction

II. The Semiotic and the Symbolic

  • 2. The Semiotic Chora Ordering the Drive
  • 5. The Thetic: Rupture and/or Boundary
  • 12. Genotext and Phenotext

III. Examples for Practice

  • Her focus: the workings of “poetic language” as a signifying practice, that is, as a semiotic system generated by a speaking subject within a social historical field (intro. 1)

– the infinite possibilities of language

  • Revolution: question the traditional epistemological subject and patriarchal language
    • “subject in process”-- brings the body back into signifying practice
    • focus on the maternal and pre-Oedipal in the constitution of subjectivity
  • How does Kristeva construct subjectivity?
  • How does she combine psychoanalytic concept of divided subject with structuralist concept of language (as signification)?
semiotic process and chora
The operation of semiotic drive -- as signifying process (p.2169-72) –

The facilitation and the structuring disposition of drives

Displacement and condensation of energies and their inscription (69)

semiotic “chora”– rupture and articulation (rhythm)

– a nonexpressive totality formed by the drives and their stases in a motility(運動性 ) that is as full of movement as it is regulated.

From Plato’s “chora”–mobile and uncertain articulation (different from disposition)

Our discourse—all discourse—moves with and against the chora in the sense that it simultaneously depends upon and refuses it.

Semiotic Process and “chora”


A sign, a position, nor a signfier

A model or copy


Generated in order to attain to this signifying position

Precedes and underlines figuration and thus specularization

Vocal and kinetic rhythm

A receptacle, nourishing and maternal (2171)

[physical  social] Its Vocal and gestural organization is subject to …an objective ordering, which is dictated by natural or socio-historical constraints (2171)

semiotic vs symbolic
Semiotic vs. Symbolic
  • Chora as the pre-symbolic: -- “a modality of signifiance in which the linguistic sign is not yet articulated as the absence of the object and as the distinction between the real and the symbolic” (2171).
    • (p.2172) Pre-Oedipal drives—which are “both destructive and assimilating,” i.e. including displacement and condensation, absorption and repulsion
    • (p. 2173) drive – attack against stasis, chora– a place where the subject is both generated and negated.
    • The process of charges and stasis – negativity
  • The symbolic: social language social effects constituted through objective constraints of biological difference and historical considerations (p.2171)  organize the chora through an ‘ordering’ (mediation) but not according to a law.
  • The mother’s body as mediation –between the symbolic order and the semiotic chora
semiotic drives symbolization
Semiotic Drives  symbolization
  • The semiotic rhythm: “text” is the terrain of operating signifying process (p.2172)
  • Checked by biological and social constraints (or the symbolic)
  • Semiotic marks: voice, gesture, color; a psychosomatic modality connecting the physical and the social (2173)
  •  symbolization through connection and functions (e.g. metonymy and metaphor; condensation and displacement; 2174 syntax)
summary body and the semiotic
Summary: Body and the semiotic
  • Chora -- The space of the drives;
  • The semiotic -- the bodily drive as it is discharged in signification (signifiance). The semiotic is associated with the rhythms, tones, and movement of signifying practices. As the discharge of drives, it is also associated with (and mediated by) the maternal body, the first source of rhythms, tones, and movements for every human being since we all have resided in that body.
the symbolic the semiotic
The Symbolic & the Semiotic
  • element of signification is associated with the grammar and structure of signification. The symbolic element is what makes reference possible.
  • Without the symbolic, all signification would be babble or delirium. But, without the semiotic, all signification would be empty and have no importance for our lives. Ultimately, signification requires both the semiotic and symbolic; there is no signification without some combination of both.


the thetic as rupture
The Thetic as Rupture
  • Signification as proposition or judgment, a realm of positions.  structured as a break in the signifying process
  • The break is thetic; it produces the positing of signification. (Meaning is produced through rupture and break.)
  • Thetic signification—the threshhold of language: a stage arrived at during the signifying process; it constitutes the subject, but the subject is not reduced to such stage; nor to the transcendental ego.
genotext and phenotext
Genotext and Phenotext
  • genotext: the body of transferring process that is not restricted to univocal information (“includes drives, their disposition, and their division of the body, plus ecological and social system surrounding the body”) (p.2176)
    • 2177 a process; forming structure out of ephemeral and non-signifying structures
    • a) instinctual dyads, b. corporeal-ecological continuum, c. the social organism and family structure. d. matrices of signification.
  • phenotext: a structure follows rules of communications and denotes language for representation (“the emergence of object and subject, and the constitution of nuclei of meaning involving categories”) (p.2177)
genotext and phenotext13
Genotext and Phenotext
  • Genotext as topography (spaces of connections) vs. Phenotext as algebra (forms of relations) (2178)
  • Signification: “stopping the signifying process at one or another theses that it traverses; they knot it and lock it into a given surface or structure.”
  • Phenotext –conveys these obliteration of the infiinity of language.
  • A “new” semiotics: the genotext exists within the phenotext, which is the perceivable signifying system
the semiotic disposition
The semiotic disposition
  • Those with the semiotic disposition allow the emergence of the semiotic in the symbolic, or the genotext in the phenotext.
  • E.g. rhythm, ambiguity and over-symbolicity, the switches and multiplicity of locutionary positions.
the semiotic examples
The Semiotic: Examples
  • Music -- Mallarme –“air and song beneath the text” (2174)
giotto the last judgment 1306
Giotto The Last Judgment 1306
  • Figure vs. Color
  • Fresco, 1000 x 840 cmCappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
giotto last judgment 1306 detail
Giotto Last Judgment 1306 –Detail

“Thus all colors, but blue in particular, would have a noncentered or decertering effect, lessening both object identification and phenomenal fixation. They thereby return the subject to the archaic moment of its dialectic, that is, before the fixed, specular “I”, but while in process of becoming this “I” by breaking away from instinctual, biological (and also maternal) dependence.” (Desire in Language 225)

the maternal body
The Maternal Body

Rejected by and split from the child

“motherhood” as “a luminous spatialization, the ultimate language of jouissance at the far limits of repression, where bodies, identities, and signs are begotten” (Desire in Language 269)

giovanni bellini madonna and child
Giovanni Bellini“Madonna and Child”




giovanni bellini madonna and child20
Giovanni Bellini“Madonna and Child”


  • The final series of motherhood paintings…carries on and perfects Bellini’s mastery of the style he created between 1480 and 1500. The mother’s face again falls into calmness/absence, dreams of an unsignifiable experience. The infant…appears more easily separable. The maternal figure increasing appears as a module, a process, present only to justify this cleaved space.. . .(263-64)
  • On “The Yellow Wallpaper”: “The official text needs to be broken down and the writing seen as both subjectivity and communication--writing where one reads the other (Desire in Language). Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a model of Julia Kristeva’s theory.”(source)

Pollock, Jackson Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952


1. existentialism ("existence precedes essence"); alone in the void (alienation);

2. the Cold War: post-Hiroshima; the Soviet Union gets the bomb in 1949;

3. the 50's beat generation (pushing to the edge of one's consciousness.)

4. Jungian analysis (the collective unconscious; the archetype; mythic structures embedded in everyone's unconscious).

5. Inspired by jazz improvisation; listened to records by Charlie Parker while he painted. Also influenced by Native American sand painting and the idea that painting could be ritualistic, a rites of passage.

(source: )

  • Retrieve subject from language: thetic signification
  • the text, in the concept of intertextuality, explores the internal conflicts in culture and serves as a new semiotics by ecriture feminine陰性書寫 (p.2175)
  • related website: The feminist Theory Website: