Julia Kristeva was born on 24 July 1941 in Sliven, Bulgaria. Completing her early education in Bulgaria, Kristeva moved to Paris when she was offered a research fellowship in 1965 and has lived there ever since. Although her original interests lay in linguistics, she was deeply moved by the texts of Roland Barthes, Lacan, Todorv and Goldmann. In 1965, she became an active member of the “Tel Quel” group, publishing political interpretation of historical events. She became interested in psychoanalysis, earning her degree in 1979. Kristeva studied the analysis of Freud and Lacan and, like her contemporaries, began working as an analyst and an academic.
One of the most important contributions of Julia Kristeva is her ideas about the two components of signification in language: semiotic and symbolic. Kristeva’s semiotic, distinct from the “semiotics”, is similar to pre-Opedial infantile of Freud or pre-Mirror stage of Lacan. She believed that emotions lie in the stress, rhythm and intonation of speech or text rather than the meaning of words. As the earliest source of rhythm and tones is the maternal body, the semiotic is considered “feminine” and is associated with poetry and music. When the child enters the “Mirror Stage”, he learns to distinguish between the self and other, forming a sense of identity distinct from his mother. This is the process of separation and entry into the world of culture and language or the “symbolic”. The symbolic is associated with grammar and syntax of the language. It is the symbolic which gives the words meaning. Kristeva, moving away from Lacan’s discourse, maintains that even after entering the symbolic; the subject continues to oscillate between the two states. Moreover, she argued that female children usually identify more closely with maternal figure and in turn may retain a closer connection with the semiotic.
Kristeva’s unique background also sets the base for her work: being a Bulgarian woman in male-dominated French intellectual society drew her interest in the politics of marginalization. Her ideas had a major impact on feminism. She claims that there are three phases of feminism. The first phase, which she rejects, seeks equality of sexes disregarding the inherent sexual differences. She also rejects the second phase which terms language and culture as masculine and calls for their total abandonment. In her defense, Kristeva maintains that language and culture are what makes us speaking beings and women, being part of this group, have no need for this abandonment. The third phase, which is endorsed by Kristeva, seeks to reconceive identity and difference and their relationship.
Julia Kristeva’s contributions were recognized in the fields of psychoanalysis, linguistics, political and culture analysis and culminated in her being awarded the Holberg International Memorial Prize in 2004 and Hannah Arendt Award for Political Thought in 2006. She accepted the chair of linguistics at University of Paris and remains visiting faculty at Columbia University in New York. She was also bestowed with the title of “Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters” by the French government in 1990.