Laura Saetveit Miles
Medieval Feminist Forum: 47, no. 1 (2011):52-76.
In 1975, Julia Kristeva, the Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, sociologist, and feminist, was pregnant. She was also writing, and the essays from the years surrounding the birth of her son in 1976 reflect a deep concern for maternity and its relationship to female sexuality and feminism. In one of her most provocative essays, which first appeared as the article “Héréthique de l’amour” in 1977 in the periodical Tel Quel (Winter 1977) and later as a chapter titled “Stabat Mater” in her book Histoires de l’amour in 1983, Kristeva delves into the history of the cult of the Virgin, engaging with the early Christian and medieval Marian tradition by means of Marina Warner’s influential book, Alone of All Her Sex: the Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary (1976).
As critic Toril Moi explains in her Kristeva Reader, where this essay is reprinted, Kristeva’s main concern is “to point out that today, due to the demise of the cult of the Virgin, and of religion in general, we are left without a satisfactory discourse on motherhood.” But Kristeva does something unusual in this essay: she intersperses stream-of-consciousness, intimately personal observations of her own experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. This inner narrative is set off typographically from the main critical narrative (fig. 1). Neither narrative acknowledges the other, leaving it to the reader to deduce the meaning of this startling juxtaposition of individual story and Christian history.