System and the Speaking Subject
Huang, Literary Criticism
22 Oct. 2002
claims that social functioning is “marked by a split between referent and
cultural and social expressions operate like a language, through symbols and
is an “anti-humanism”.
humanism: which led to rational/logical studies of civilization and its
ideologies without consideration of how those ideologies were shaped by
religious custom and symbol.
this sense, humanism doesn’t consider that society is embedded in linguistic
and semiotic logic; however, any study of humanity and social systems must
consider the semiotics. Therefore,
Kristeva sets up a contrast here between traditional studies and semiotics.
system and the speaking subject
traditional semiotic conception of subject
traditional semiotics considers that the speaking subject isn’t really a
person, but some “ideal” subject, a “transcendental
ego,” which exists outside the realm of experience.
It is an abstract concept; it doesn’t really exist.
western épistémé: The idealist
philosophy considered the transcendental ego cut off from its body.(77)
Again, it means that the transcendental ego is an abstract ego – it
doesn’t take into account the physicality of the speaking subject.
B. Kristeva’s criticism of traditional semiotics and her
The transcendental ego cannot be the
subject of the semiotics.
Because the transcendental ego is unified – it’s not split along
the lines of conscious/unconscious, sign/referent, drive/social convention,
The speaking subject that Kristeva refers to is “split” by
“[. . .] language separates out, within the signifying body, the
symbolic order from the workings of the libido” (79).
This means that the libido is not part of society; it is not really a
part of language. The drives, or
libido, only come out in language as aberrations.
applies Freud’s theories back to semiotics because they help bring the body
back into the discussion, since it considers the speaking subject in terms of
both bio-physiological processes (or “drives”) and social constraints.
speaking subject is a divided subject (78).
This split embodies the “infinitization of the symbolic system.”
splitting of the subject (societal constraints/libido (drives),
unconscious/conscious, etc…) and of the symbol itself (signifier/signified)
can go on infinitely—there are really no origin and no end.
c. The linguistic split (signifier/signified) and the split subject (unconscious/conscious, societal constraints/libido) are part of a biological system that itself is based on a system of division.
4. Semiotics assumes that society is made up of a multiplicity of language-like “codes,” which Kristeva calls “signifying processes.” The body can be seen in these signifying processes via the release of the drives through language.
Semiology is based on two concepts -genotext
A. The genotext is the body of the bio-physiological process constrained by the social code, and it is not reducible to the language system.
The genotext exists within the phenotext,
which is the perceivable signifying system.
Genotext ,which Kristeva refers to here as semiotic disposition, breaks those normal rules.
as a metalanguage, cannot get outside of the signifying system to explain the
deviations from the system. In
other words, as soon as semiotics tries to deconstruct the signifying system,
it recreates the signifying system.
there a paradox here?
forces of language.
Kristeva, semiotics occupies a paradoxical position. It is a meta-language---a
language which speaks about language and, therefore, homogenizes its object in
its own discourse. But, at the same time, semiotics insists on the
heterogeneity of language.
forces, in her view, make it a productive structure.
language making free with the language code; music, dancing, painting,
reordering the psychic drives which have not been harnessed by the dominant
symbolization systems. . .all seek out and make use of this heterogeneity and
the ensuing fracture of a symbolic code which can no longer 'hold' its
(speaking) subjects” (79).
then, is a way of thinking about language which has the potential to subvert
established beliefs in authority and order.
asks the questions of how language means and what is in language that resists
intelligibility and signification. Did she answer these two questions at the
does the author connect semiotics to language? What is her criticism of
structuralism’s view of language?
is the transcendental ego?
is the relationship between “genotext” and “phenotext”?
Kristeva, Julia. “ The System and the Speaking Subject.” The Kristeva Reader, ed. Toril Moi. Oxford: Basil Blackweli, 1986. 24-33.