To Feel Betrayed


Marriage at Cana (detail), Paolo Veronese, 1571-72

From The New Republic:

Kristeva and Sollers met in Paris in 1966 when she was 25 years old and had just arrived on a fellowship from Bulgaria, and he was 30, already a published writer, and a disaffected son of the French middle class. No sooner had they begun talking than each recognized in the other an exciting kindred spirit. Two years later they were married and, from that day on, the conversation between them has not ceased to flow. This intellectual companionateness, both aver, has established the kind of equality that is vital to a successful marriage. It also doesn’t hurt that Kristeva and Sollers are equals insofar as material independence goes. Sollers, sounding for all the world like an American feminist as well as a French bourgeois, confides that without equal earning power, “there’s not much use in talking about the sophistication of love or the ins and outs of fidelity.”

Kristeva laughs and assures the reader that Philippe is only speaking the simple truth. The problem is both Kristeva and Sollers are incorrigible intellectuals, constitutionally incapable of a simple anything, much less a straightforward answer to a straightforward question. For each, theory is mother’s milk, abstraction the staff of life. To be sure, bits of concrete information—including the fact, mentioned on the book jacket, that Kristeva and Sollers do not actually live together—appear alongside abstract disquisitions on literature, social history, analysis, you name it. But while their book is characterized by intellectual elegance, not much of what they say has the feel of flesh-and-blood reality.

Kristeva, especially, sins on this score. When asked how she herself would respond to a clear instance of infidelity, Kristeva observes, “In male-female relations, you can engage in ‘outside’ friendships that are sexual and sensual while still respecting the body and sensitivities of your main partner”—and adds that she herself has never known jealousy and thus could never feel betrayed. “To feel betrayed,” she clarifies, “implies zero self-confidence, a narcissism so battered that the slightest affirmation of the other person’s individuality is felt as a crippling blow.” Huh?

Tied in Knots”, Vivian Gornick, The New Republic