Julia Kristeva on the Legacies of the Severed Head

Julia Kristeva, The Severed Head


In the concluding chapter to The Severed Head: Capital Visions, Julia Kristeva speculates on some of the meanings and legacies of representations of sacrifice and the severed head:

Because the sacred, or the nostalgia for it that remains, turns out to reside not in sacrifice after all, or in some aesthetic or religious tradition, but in that specifically human, unique, and bitter experience that is the capacity for representation.

And the mother goddess, in these capital visions pushed to their ends? What becomes of the fabulous mirage, the archaic source of the depressions that call us to speech and thought, the primordial prehistoric figurine, the heads of Medusa, Gorgon, Jezebel, and, in the form of their phallic conspiracy, the woman masters, the Judiths and Salomes? What remains of the final depths of the sacred? And what do they make of it, the man and the woman, when they know where that comes from?

They remember. They pass it and pass it again. And they laugh at it. “The Woman with 100 Heads” of Max Ernst may not be the most inspired figuration of that indispensable allusion, in which the sacred gets frankly tiresome, whereas its absence resigns itself to robotics. But this horrible, naive, vulgar, surrealist cartoon, which mocks women, heads, decapitations, fascinations, horrors, and their capital of beliefs, still allows us to remember our capital visions. And maybe to die of laughter, while keeping a cool head, in the grip of our fantasies, our ancient or modern religions, ever tenacious and thoroughly ridiculous. Let us not finish it off too quickly, this sacred vision. Let us remove the head, let us keep on passing.

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