cover image The Samurai

The Samurai

Julia Kristeva. Columbia University Press, $54 (341pp) ISBN 978-0-231-07542-8

In a quote on the cover of Kristeva's first novel, Elaine Showalter equates the Bulgarian-born critic and psychoanalyst with Simone de Beauvoir. Like de Beauvoir, Kristeva was at the center of an intellectual movement, and like de Beauvoir she has written a roman a clef about French intellectuals, the ``brave samurai . . . fueled by an extreme of tension, an expenditure of energy, that may threaten one's vital equilibrium.'' Unfortunately, an ``extreme of tension'' does not fuel this novel, which by all rights should be a gripping account from the intellectual front. As an integral part of the magazine Tel Quel (she was married to its editor, Phillipe Sollers), Kristeva knew firsthand the likes of Barthes, Derrida, Foucault and Lacan--all of whom appear here. But no matter how often Kristeva writes ``what you say is marvelous,'' no character--not even her fictional stand-in, Olga--is as compelling to the reader as they evidently were to the writer. The image left by Kristeva's account of the various intellectual posturings--through Paris, China and the U. S.; through love, adultery, sex and even childbirth--is one of self-congratulatory narcissists unimpeded by any real concern for enlightenment. (Oct.)