Kristeva on the encyclopedists: Linguistics, semanalysis, and the epistemology of Enlightenment science

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This essay ties Julia Kristeva’s linguistics into the general postwar critique of the Enlightenment and western knowledge production, most familiar from Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari. These voices critique today’s academic disciplines as fundamentally anti-humanist and formalist, thus overdue for a critique of their inherent ideological biases. In <i>Language, The Unknown: An Initiation to Linguistics</i>(1981), Kristeva offers a paradigmatic critique of the Encyclopedists’ linguistics as an emergent rationalist and “scientific” discipline. Kristeva’s own linguistics, aligned with psychoanalysis rather than the natural sciences, emerges as a critical challenge to this linguistics, questioning “master” academic disciplines and their norms for production of truth and knowledge. Kristeva stages her critique by returning to the discipline’s history, with the goal of renovating linguistics as a new kind of human science, systematic without being formalist, and thus more aware of the epistemological limits of its own knowledge and authority.


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