“What we call significance is precisely this unlimited and unbounded generating process, this unceasing operation of the drives toward, in, and through language; toward, in, and through the exchange system and its protagonists—the subject and its institutions” (17).
Briefly, Kristeva identifies two modalities of the same signifying process: “the semiotic” and “the symbolic.” These modalities “are inseparable within the signifying process that constitutes language, and the dialectic between them determines the type of discourse (narrative, metalanguage, theory, poetry, etc.) involved; in other words, so-called ‘natural’ language allows for different modes of articulation of the semiotic and the symbolic. On the other hand, there are nonverbal signifying systems that are constructed exclusively on the basis of the semiotic (music, for example” (23-4). Perhaps also breastfeeding or pregnancy?
“Because the subject is always both semiotic and symbolic, no signifying system he produces can be either ‘exclusively’ semiotic or ‘exclusively’ symbolic, and is instead necessarily marked by an indebtedness to both” (24).
Kristeva understands the term “semiotic” in “its Greek sense,” that is, “a distinctive mark, trace, index, precursory sign, proof, engraved or written sign, imprint, trace, figuration” (25).
“…the drives, which are ‘energy’ charges as well as ‘psychical’ marks, articulate what we call a chora: a nonexpressive totality formed by teh drives and their stases in a motility that is as full of movement as it is regulated” (25).
“Our discourse—all discourse—moves with and against the chora in the sense that it simultaneously depends upon and refuses it. Although the chora can be designated and regulated, it can never be definitively posited: as a result, one can situate the chora and, if necessary, lend it a topology, but one can never give it axiomatic form” (26).
“Neither model nor copy, the chora precedes and underlies figuration and thus speculariation, and is analogous only to vocal or kinetic rhythm” (26).
The chora is “subject to a regulating process, which is different from that of symbolic law but nevertheless effectuates discontinuities by temporarily articulating them and then starting over, again and again” (26). This regulation is “dictated by natural or socio-historical contraints such as the biological difference between the sexes or family structure” (27). In other words, sociocultural processes, “always already symbolic,” mediate the chora “not according to a law [..] but through an ordering” (27).
The drives of the chora “connect and orient the body to the mother. […] The mother’s body is therefore what mediates the symbolic law organizing social relations and becomes the ordering principle of the semiotic chora, which is on the path of destruction, aggressivity, and death” (27-8).
“…the semiotic chora is no more than the place where the subject is both generated and negated, the place where his unity succumbs before the processes of charges and stases that produce him” (28). The chora is, in other words, both the birth and the impossibility of the subject.
“Signification exists precisely because there is no subject in signification. The gap between the imaged ego and drive motility, between the mother and the demand made on her, is precisely the break that establishes what Lacan calls the place of the Other as the place of the ‘signifier'” (48).
“The regulation of the semiotic in the symbolic through the thetic break, which is inherent in the operation of language, is also found on the various levels of a society’s signifying edifice. In all known archaic societies, this founding break of the symbolic order is represented by murder” (70). (could we see abortion as a kind of “thetic break”?)
“Poetry shows us that language lends itself to the penetration of the socio-symbolic by jouissance, and that the thetic does not necessarily imply theological sacrifice” (80).
“From its roots in ritual, poetry retains the expenditure of the thetic, its opening into semiotic vehemence and its capacity for letting jouissance come through. Faced with language and society, however, poetry no longer encounters a sacrifice that is suggestive of the thetic but rather thesis itself (logic—language—society). It can therefore no longer remain merely ‘poetry’; instead, through the positing of the thetic, poetry becomes an explicit confrontation between jouissance and the thetic, that is, a permanent struggle to show the facilitation of drives within the linguistic order itself” (81).
Genotext: semiotic processes and the advent of the symbolic (“drives, their disposition, and their division of the body, plus the ecological and social system surrounding the body, such as objects and pre-Oedipal relations with parents. The latter encompasses the emergence of object and subject, and the constitution of nuclei of meaning involving categories” (86). Genotext is “language’s underlying foundation” (87).
Phenotext: “language that serves to communicate, which linguistics describes in terms of ‘competence’ and ‘performance.’ The phenotext is constantly split up and divided, and is irreducible to the semiotic process that works through the genotext. The phenotext is a structure… it obeys rules of communication and presupposes a subject of enunciation and an addressee” (87)
The genotext, on the other hand “is a process” rather than a structure: “one might say that the genotext is a matter of topology, whereas the phenotext is one of algebra” (87).