MELANIE KLEIN by Julia Kristeva


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The second installment, of more narrow interest than her Hannah Arendt (p. 787), in postmodern pioneer Kristeva’s planned three-volume triptych on female geniuses.

After her provocative study of the endlessly conflicted German-Jewish philosopher, Kristeva (Linguistics/Univ. of Paris) turns to a psychoanalyst whose work, unlike Arendt’s, will be little known to nonspecialist readers. Austrian-born Melanie Klein (1882–1960) was an early acolyte of Sigmund Freud’s whose elaborate modifications of his theories provoked considerable irritation on the part of the master himself and many of his intellectual progeny. Whereas Freud’s elaboration of such matters as the Oedipus complex “oriented the psychic life of the subject around the castration ordeal and the function of the father,” Kristeva writes, Klein insisted on the primacy of the female, thus running the risk “of reducing the oedipal triangle into a dyad.” Non-Freudians will be somewhat bemused by Kristeva’s approving summaries of Klein’s ideas on anal fixation, “oral-sadistic and cannibalistic desires,” the equation of the penis with “bad and toxic excrement,” and other matters; of more interest to generalists is her account of the controversies such ideas aroused in orthodox circles, which involved, among other things, a long and heated war of attrition between Klein and Freud’s daughter Anna. Kristeva’s ideas, which in other works are surrounded by impenetrable thickets of specialized language, here are clearly expressed (credit for at least part of that must surely go to the translator), and she capably demonstrates why Klein, despite the “ambiguous, ambivalent” nature of her theories, should be regarded as an innovator and pioneer in psychoanalytic theory.

Of much substance, though of interest to a very small readership.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-231-12284-5
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2001


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