“What does ‘Mother’ have to do with me?”: On Maternal Passion in Julia Kristeva
ABSTRACT: Julia Kristeva’s concept of maternal passion plays a central role within her larger theory of subjectivity and is often criticized by feminists and misunderstood by new readers. In feminist reaction to this concept, she has been accused of biological essentialism, perpetuating patriarchal and heteronormative systems, and relegating femininity to mystery and subjugation. Yet, Kristeva’s theory of maternal passion is actually the source of her resistance to each of these accusations. This paper intends to explain how maternal passion is the prototype of passion for all subjects, regardless of sex or gender, by defining key concepts surrounding maternal passion, in part to assist new readers in navigating feminist critiques surrounding her emphasis on maternity. I contextualize maternal passion within her unorthodox psychoanalytic approach, distinguish her concept of passion from emotion, explain why it is called ‘maternal’, and situate its function within her greater project of addressing the process of subjectivity in depressive social times. By investigating and connecting ideas from her early and late theory, I argue that maternal passion is grounded in Kristeva’s theory of the semiotic and mediated by detachment, which inaugurates psychic life and early subject formation (i.e., subjectivation), thereby founding the capacity to construct loving bonds with others.