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By Griselda Pollock

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Julia Kristeva 1966–96: Aesthetics politics ethics (Parallax, Issue 8 July–September 1998)

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The argument is not a central theme, but like a filigree that plays through her thinking. What is the meaning of life, that is to say, what is life? At present, in our societies, we no longer have organised forms of value formed for us by communism or a dominant ideology. Our ruling value is life. Is that, however, life as life—that would be an idealism—or is life, something which must have meaning given to it? There are two means to give life a meaning. The first route, as I have been suggesting, lies in the opening up of permanent interrogation, of maintaining critical PARALLAX thought, that continues to question the impasses of living.

More precisely, the girl desires that the father make her the gift of his penis/phallus in the form of baby that the girl will have just as if she were…the mother. The girl’s phallic aspiration takes therefore a new form and continues during this phase of Oedipus-2, and one can understand that Freud postulated that, in opposition to what happens in the case of the boy where the Oedipus complex is demolished under the influence of the castration complex, the girl’s Oedipus complex— what I call Oedipus-2—is not only not demolished but in fact only really commences with the castration complex.

For this reason, and given continuation of her bisexuality in the androgyny marking her ever-renewed Oedipus-2, the woman-mother can be seen as the guardian of both the social order and the continuity of the species. Women’s character as social beings, remarked upon by Freud, culminates in the figure of maternal omnipotence. Today, this figure would seem to find a new vigour in its relaying of the function attributed to the mother as the guarantee of the social and biological order. For modern genetics and gynaecology contribute to what may be understood as the mother’s aspiration to repair real presence; abetted by science and technology, the mothering woman phantasizes that she is capable of doing all that is necessary, and 36 KRISTEVA often exhausts herself in her efforts, to not only bring into existence but equally to improve by means of her child the real presence of the phallus.

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