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Barnard, S. (1999). The Corporeal and the Sublime in Feminine Depression: Kristeva's Semiotic and Das Ding. Gender and Psychoanalysis, 4(4):367-386.

(1999). Gender and Psychoanalysis, 4(4):367-386

The Corporeal and the Sublime in Feminine Depression: Kristeva's Semiotic and Das Ding

Suzanne Barnard, Ph.D.

Psychoanalytic theories were some of the first to articulate a particular relation between incomplete mourning, depression, and feminine subjectivity. Over the past decade or so, however, psychoanalytic theories of feminine depression have been increasingly displaced in the clinic by the essentialist materialism of psychopharmacology, and in the academy by sociopolitical and linguistic analyses inspired by posts tructuralism, feminism, and cultural theory. The French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva suggests that this is due in part, at least, to psychoanalytic theory's neglect of both the role of the body and social power in the genesis of feminine depression. More specifically, she understands the continued reliance of psychoanalysis on the feminine as the sign of unrepresentability par excellence to be a symptom of its complicity with Judeo-Christian representation which conflates the maternal and the feminine, and obscures the double alterity of the maternal body itself. In the wake of the “death of God,” the maternal body has thus come to function as a “stand in” for what Freud called das Ding, or the sublime aspect of the real. In her own account of feminine depression and its “cure,” Kristeva understands the maternal body—not as the real other of the symbolic—but as the locus of a semiosis which can compensate for the loss of God as transcendant Other, and of a form of love that emerges from an experience of materializing alterity. She suggests that the possibility of a primary narcissistic identification with such a love

might support the feminine subject's translation of affect into the symbolic, and thus render her less vulnerable to depression.

[T]he depressed narcissist mourns not an Object but a Thing … the real that does not lend itself to signification

[J. Kristeva, 1989, p. 13].

[I]s a civilization that has abandoned the meaning of the Absolute of Meaning a civilization that needs to confront depression?

[J. Kristeva, 1996, p. 81].

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