cover image Teresa, My Love

Teresa, My Love

Julia Kristeva, trans. from the French by Lorna Scott Fox. Columbia Univ., $35 (624p) ISBN 978-0-231-14960-0

Kristeva, a preeminent French linguist and psychoanalyst, continues her advance into literature with an impenetrable book about psychoanalyst Sylvia Leclercq’s intellectual dissection of Teresa of Ávila, a Catholic saint who flourished during the 16th-century Counter-Reformation. Masquerading as a novel, the text is really an expansive psychoanalytical sketch of Teresa, with brief, opaque forays into Sylvia’s life as a bored academic juggling a bevy of indistinguishable male lovers. Familiarity with both Teresa’s life and with the basics of Freudian-Lacanian theory are required to wade through the dense text, and Kristeva wastes no time on background information before plunging into an esoteric, stream-of-consciousness analysis of the saint’s writings. Halfway through the novel, readers are treated to a few chapters of straightforward history, a breath of fresh air after hundreds of pages of laborious prose (“a suffering-jubilant body turns into characters and visions, a cascade of third persons brought about by the grace of the Other, the better to know oneself in losing oneself”). There are frequent interruptions—a theatrical reimagining of Teresa’s deathbed, song lyrics, authorial commentary by both Kristeva and Sylvia—that add little to the plot or to a deeper understanding of Teresa. Kristeva’s literary experiment is ambitious but the result is disappointing. (Nov.)