Thursday, 5 January 2006

The Doctrine of Permanent Adolescence

When Julia Kristeva proclaims that “revolt is our mysticism” [1], we may assume she speaks on behalf of her fellow soixante-huitards attardés and of other permanent adolescents, for such wretched and wrackful tantrumists have made revolt against both authority and norms of behaviour a sacred doctrine, a fashionable posture, and an end in itself.

What makes sense today [opines Dr Kristeva] is not the future (as communism and providential religions claimed) but revolt: that is, the questioning and displacement of the past. The future, if it exists, depends on it. . . .

. . . In counterpoint to certainties and beliefs, per­manent revolt is this putting into question of the self, of everything and nothingness, which clearly no longer has a place. . . .

. . . The permanence of contradiction, the temporariness of reconciliation, the bringing to the fore of everything that puts the very possibility of unitary meaning to the test . . .: these are what the culture of revolt explores. [2]

Accordingly, this nihilistic revolt has no end in sight, no wish to replace falsehoods with facts, or ugliness with beauty, or wrong with right, or misery with happiness, or worse with better, nor even a wish to preserve what goods we might have; it seeks only a “permanent crisis” and a “continuous subversion” [3] in all areas of life:
it is not exclusively in the world of action that this revolt is realized but in that of psychical life and its social man­ifestations (writing, thought, art) . . . Yet as a transforma­tion of man’s relationship to meaning this cultural revolt intrinsically concerns public life and consequently has profoundly political implica­tions. In fact, it poses the question of another politics, that of permanent conflictuality. [4]
This new kind of revolutionary action, a permanent “questioning” of all aspects of life, that ostensibly seeks no final establishment of its ideals, that would like to remain wholly and for ever irresponsible and in revolt against authority, marks apparently a split with the old. Yet one might surmise that Dr Kristeva describes what was always a crucial psychical aspect of many a socialist-revolutionary of old: namely, that a great deal of the motivating force for his revolutionary action was the will to destroy rather than to build—or in other words, to some extent the means was the end. Nevertheless, having expressly made permanent revolt into an ideal and end in itself, Dr Kristeva speaks directly to that pathetic irresponsibility and pointless destructiveness that marks the worst kind of adolescence—and in our times, she has the gratifying prospect of reaching a very large audience indeed.

[1] Julia Kristeva, “Intimate Revolt: The Future of the Culture of Revolt, The Life of the Mind, and the Species”, International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Vol 3:1, January, 2006.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Julia Kristeva, Revolt, She Said: An Interview By Philippe Petit. Ed., Sylvere Lotringer (New York: Semiotext(e), 2002.) p. 42.
[4] Julia Kristeva, “Intimate Revolt”.


Anonymous said...

Kristeva should have heeded the words of a rather more convincing, wiser and wittier rebel (substitute "permanent revolution" for "a life of passion"):

"I can never get people to understand that poetry is the expression of excited passion, and that there is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever. Besides, who would ever shave themselves in such a state?" (Lord Byron, in a letter to Thomas Moore, 5 July 1821)

Anonymous said...

Intellectuals of the left make opposition or criticism their raison d'etre. Kristeva is merely being a bit hysterical and tantrumistic (quite so!) in harping on about "revolt." So, naturally they always need something to oppose, to criticize, or to revolt against. Some will eventually discover that they can oppose opposition, criticize criticism, and revolt against revolt. Let us hope that is the first step to their graduating from adolescence.

Footnote: the idea of an International Journal of Baudrillard Studies is somehow depressing.

Deogolwulf said...

"the idea of an International Journal of Baudrillard Studies is somehow depressing."

But also somehow amusing.

WildMonk said...

Nice note Paul.

Of course, if you want to see a "permanent state of revolt," I suggest a tour of the failed states of the western coast of Africa might be in order. History provides plenty of other examples: France after the revolution, the "Great Leap Forward", etc. Lacking the "adult" gene, however, I doubt that Kristeva has the ability to understand where her "permanent revolution" would lead.