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Teresa, My Love

Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila

a novel by Julia Kristeva
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 648
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  • Book Info
    Teresa, My Love
    Book Description:

    Mixing fiction, history, psychoanalysis, and personal fantasy,Teresa, My Lovefollows Sylvia Leclercq, a French psychoanalyst, academic, and incurable insomniac, as she falls for the sixteenth-century Saint Teresa of Avila and becomes consumed with charting her life. Traveling to Spain, Leclercq, Kristeva's probing alterego, visits the sites and embodiments of the famous mystic and awakens to her own desire for faith, connection, and rebellion.

    One of Kristeva's most passionate and transporting works,Teresa, My Loveinterchanges biography, autobiography, analysis, dramatic dialogue, musical scores, and images of paintings and sculptures to embed the reader in Leclercq's -- and Kristeva's -- journey. Born in 1515, Teresa of Avila survived the Spanish Inquisition and was a key reformer of the Carmelite Order. Her experience of ecstasy, which she intimately described in her writings, released her from her body and led to a complete realization of her consciousness, a state Kristeva explores in relation to present-day political failures, religious fundamentalism, and cultural malaise. Incorporating notes from her own psychoanalytic practice, as well as literary and philosophical references, Kristeva builds a fascinating dual diagnosis of contemporary society and the individual psyche while sharing unprecedented insights into her own character.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52046-1
    Subjects: History, Philosophy, Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VIII)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. IX-XII)
  3. Abbreviations and Chronology
    (pp. XIII-XVI)
  4. Part 1: The Nothingness of All Things

    • Chapter 1 PRESENT BY DEFAULT
      (pp. 3-28)

      The flung-back face of a woman asleep, or perhaps she has already died of pleasure, her open mouth the avid door to an empty body that fills before our eyes with a boiling of marble folds . . . You must recall that sculpture by Bernini,The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa?¹ The artist’s inspiration was Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada (1515–1582), whose religious name was Teresa of Jesus, better known as Saint Teresa of Avila. At the height of the Renaissance, her love of God quivered with the intensity of thebeatus venterthat Meister Eckhart knew so well....

      (pp. 29-50)

      It’s Christmas. People are buying trees, foie gras, oysters, gifts. Some will go to midnight Mass, millions are already clogging the freeways, apparently London is paralyzed by the weather (shame that the one destination that could tempt me is off limits due to global warming); there’s been a deadly pileup in Gironde, three young people carjacked by a drunk in the 13th arrondissement, two dead, one critically injured. I’m staying put. The MPH ladies are of one mind for the vacation: they are trooping off for some thalassotherapy in Ouarzazate. For some unfathomable reason Morocco at Xmas is a magnet...

    • Chapter 3 DREAMING, MUSIC, OCEAN
      (pp. 51-60)

      At the start of the twenty-first century, under the drones of the new crusades brought to us by globalized satellite TV, that Old Continent of godly lunatics whose memory Teresa is reawakening for me, far from disappearing into abstruse mists, appears strangely contemporary. The commodification of the sacred by various sects, alongside that of hard-core porn DVDs by an industry that does not blush to seek spiritual endorsement from the Moonies, Scientology, or Soka Gakkai, fail to discredit, for me, theregressus animaein search of true interiority. The language I inhabit like a curious foreigner bids to seep into...

    • Chapter 4 HOMO VIATOR
      (pp. 61-74)

      Some five hundred years stand between us, Teresa; your Catholic culture is foreign to me, and I have difficulty in reading your language, Castilian. But none of this is an obstacle. The two French editions of your works, by Marcelle Auclair and by the Carmelites of Clamart, are available to me, along with a wealth of scholarly works harking back to the Spanish source.¹

      Across the centuries and languages and cultures you “speak” to me, because I translate you in my own way. Your moments of illumination, Teresa, my love, your raptures, your hallucinations, your deliriums, your style, your “thinking”...

  5. Part 2: Understanding Through Fiction

      (pp. 77-86)

      Whatever the wellspring of her writing, internal urgency or external urging, Teresa clearly knows that she writes in order to be: to encounter herself, to encounter and understand others, to “serve” as a conduit for “words” so as to “seek herself” and hopefully “find herself.” She writes “almost stealing time, and regretfully because it prevents me from spinning”;¹ “[Saint Martin] had works and I have only words, because I’m not good for anything else!”² And again, “I don’t understand myself . . . So that when I find my misery awake, my God, and my reason blind, I might see...

      (pp. 87-104)

      Teresa began writing for the first time between 1560 and 1562.The Relations or Spiritual Testimonies(1–3) date from 1560–1563; the first draft ofThe Book of Her Life, now lost, is from 1562.¹ By now, aged between thirty-five and thirtyseven, her second “conversion” (1555) was behind her, and the silent and vocal praying that accompanied her early monastic life had become very intense. She meditated on Francisco de Osuna and Juan de Ávila, and in 1562 she met Pedro de Alcántara; her vision of Hell (1560) came to her at much the same time as her decision...

      (pp. 105-118)

      And so I arrived at this conclusion: Teresa’s ecstasy is no more or less than a writerly effect! Spinning-weaving the fiction of these ecstasies to transmute her ill-being into a new being-in-the-world, Teresa seeks to “convey,” to “give to understand” the link with the Other-Being as one between two living entities: a tactile link, about contact and touching, by which the divine gifts itself to the sensitive soul of a woman, rather than to the metaphysical mind of a theologian or philosopher. To sense the sense, to render meaning sensible: in Castilian, Teresa’s writing and her ecstasy overlap.

      Perceived by...

  6. Part 3: The Wanderer

      (pp. 121-150)

      “God forgive you, Brother John, you have made me look ugly and blear-eyed [me habéis pintado fea y legañosa]!” La Madre, at sixtyone years old, doesn’t think much of the portrait which fray Juan de la Miseria painted from life in 1576.¹ She would doubtless have preferred herself in the version attributed to Velázquez: refined, pensive, quite the “young intellectual.” But all is well: she has just “made a foundation” in Seville, celebrated in the streets with flower-strewn processions, music, and canticles. Her conquistador brother Lorenzo, back from the Indies, helped to purchase the house for the new convent and...

    • Chapter 9 HER LOVESICKNESS
      (pp. 151-170)

      It began with a terror that literally broke you. You knew your health must suffer from this complete change of lifestyle, you remember losing your appetite. You were still a young woman who loved clothes and good food, but you went without. You threw yourself with gusto into all of the convent rituals. The practice of devotion brought contentment to replace the inner aridity of the unloved being you were, or thought you were. It opened you up to another life, the higher life of the true Christian, a full life much beyond what laypersons took to be plenitude—for...

      (pp. 171-186)

      Teresa was not averse to self-mortification; but she would not be like those nuns of old, light-headed with fasting and pain, or like the teenagers of today who puncture their skin with nails and needles for the scary thrill of the forbidden. Teresa was not the sort of hysteric who deprives herself of feeling in order to avoid the agony of eternally unsatisfied desires. She certainly knew phobic moments of frozen affect, withdrawal from the world, nausea. But these alternated with hypersensitivity, and heightened perceptions craving words, from which she managed to extract formulations as poised and accurate as they...

  7. Part 4: Extreme Letters, Extremes of Being

    • Chapter 11 BOMBS AND RAMPARTS
      (pp. 189-202)

      July 7, 2005. Castile is baking hot. Cracked earth, stony gullies, parched shimmer of yellow air; a lunar landscape under a sun of fire. Here water is a saint’s dream, a figure of speech. Madrid lies behind us; we’re heading to Avila in a bright-red rental KA from Hertz. I twiddle the dial for the midday news, they’re talking about bombs in London: explosions in subway tunnels near Aldgate, King’s Cross, Edgware Road, and on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square. Aldgate is also one of the stations for the area where the 2012 Olympic Village will be built. Is...

    • Chapter 12 “CRISTO COMO HOMBRE”
      (pp. 203-206)

      This was not yet a vision; it was a carved image, a work representing the Beloved—“In this very place, Juan! You see, Andrew?”—which the approaching feast day caused to be placed in the oratory of the Incarnation, where it caught the nun’s eye. The sight of Jesus moves her, distresses her utterly [toda me turbó de verle tal]. What perturbs her so? His “wounds” and His weals, of course, His sweat and His grief. Teresa interiorizes this bleeding, hurting, body of a man: “Since I could not reflect discursively with the intellect, I strove to represent Christ within...

      (pp. 207-214)

      Loving recollection cuts loose from the gaze that prompted it, to excite all of the senses: from now on the Carmelite will be engulfed by an allinclusive sensibility, in the fusion of touch and sight. “I tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ, our God and our Lord, present within me.”¹ The efforts she had made from the beginning of her monastic life were finally crowned with success. Now she beholds Him, but not as an image; she alone sees Him thus, and her solitude curves ever more inward, toward that interiority where He dwells for her,...

      (pp. 215-224)

      It is in the fourth degree of prayer, then, that what Teresa calls “this exile” of the soul [este destierro]¹ is accomplished. Banishment extirpates the person at prayer from the understanding, will, and memory that set so many traps for her, the very same as our desires set for the neurotic subjects we are—Andrew, Juan, Bruno, myself, to name a few.

      Teresa deals with it differently from us. Or rather she doesn’t deal with it, she throws herself in, she plummets to the bottom, but she is then reborn by writing about it: writing the adventure of abandonment and...

    • Chapter 15 A CLINICAL LUCIDITY
      (pp. 225-232)

      Voice message from Bruno on my cell: “Hiya! Not too hot down your way? How’s it going? Found a title yet?” (Long pause. Clink of ice cubes swilled in JB. It’s probably not my book that’s on his mind.) “Everyone well, I hope . . . Listen, so what does a woman like your Teresa think about jealousy? I mean, no big deal, it just occurred to me. I imagine God comes in very handy for shielding her from that kind of human emotion, a bittoohuman, right?” (He can hardly expect an answer to this kind of provocation.)...

    • Chapter 16 THE MINX AND THE SAGE
      (pp. 233-238)

      “Intellect, Sister, what have you done with the intellect?” (Her confessor, Fr. Vicente Barrón, treading carefully.)

      Bruno is not altogether in error, I’m making progress. This trip to Spain with Andrew and Juan has helped me gather up the threads of Teresa’s story, which continues to haunt my reading and my dreaming. Her encounters are fleshed out before my eyes, I can feel her living her life.

      Teresa has need of the spiritual direction of Fr. Barrón, on condition of diluting it with the more amicable advice of Francisco de Salcedo, who picked up the relay of her young soul...

    • Chapter 17 BETTER TO HIDE . . . ?
      (pp. 239-248)

      Teresa is agitated, sure, she’s into splitting hairs, that’s clear; at the moment, however, the excesses of body and soul are far from being the chief cause of her unhappiness. In 1547, the chapter of the Cathedral of Toledo, soon followed by other powerful authorities, had decreed theestatuto de limpieza de sangre, the Statutes of Purity of Blood, which banned the descendants of converted Jews from holding ecclesiastical office.¹ Anybody might suddenly be required to prove thelimpiezaof their ancestry and their soul! But who is truly pure,sin mancha, “without stain”? An Old Christian? Don Quixote, the...

    • Chapter 18 “. . . OR ‘TO DO WHAT LIES WITHIN MY POWER’”?
      (pp. 249-260)

      When Teresa’s Dominican confessor, García de Toledo, asked her in 1565 to complete the second draft of theBook of Her Life, the author replied that since she had had no time to re-read it, he must feel free to proceed “by tearing up what appears to you to be bad”; meanwhile she would “do what lies within my power” (hacer lo que es en mí).

      I ask you to correct it and have it transcribed if it is to be brought to Padre Maestro Ávila, for it could happen that someone might recognize my handwriting. I urgently desire that...

      (pp. 261-266)

      We are in 1560, and Teresa, despite being taken out of herself in raptures and overwhelmed by the love of the Lord, is not at peace: she frets about whether she is truly fulfilling her vocation. The Convent of the Incarnation seems awfully big, despite its cramped conditions, and far too agreeable: the Mitigated Rule, that governs the Carmelite order following the papal bull of 1247, is downright lax. And yet some find the regime too frugal: meat no more than three times a week, a single meal on other days, fasting during Lent and Advent—to hear them complain,...

  8. Part 5: From Ecstasy to Action

    • Chapter 20 THE GREAT TIDE
      (pp. 269-276)

      Now the tide’s breath gusts over the island, there’s a confetti of rose and wisteria petals whirling toward the waters of the Fier, the birds have vanished, and I am looking out from my veranda, which defies the winds as stoutly as the Baleines lighthouse. Here on the Île de Ré, the late August storms tear through the nonchalance of summer, and none too soon. I’m used to them. Is it because my roommate never leaves me for a second? I tend increasingly to the view that repose is not a thing of this world, and everything else is a...

      (pp. 277-288)

      To found her house of God: Teresa’s desire, irrepressible and majestic, had altered course. But what house, hers or His? The difference is a matter of voice: henceforth Teresa hears His Voice becoming hers. No longer is there a loving Spouse, the vision of whom carries her toward exile in Him body and soul, and whose presence envelops her here and now—both things simultaneously and alternately. Instead a third person intervenes, more overwhelmingly than ever: His Majesty or the Lord speaks to the foundress at crucial moments of the enterprise and buoys her up; indeed, He often dictates the...

      (pp. 289-312)

      Now everything can be speeded up, it’s time to leave the footdraggers, the ill-wishers, the antagonists behind: let’s get moving!

      On August 15, 1561, Teresa settled her sister Juana and brotherin-law Juan de Ovalle into a small house she had bought in their name, located west of Avila outside the walls. The couple would live on the ground floor—the future chapel—while thirteen monastic cells were planned for the upper story, as well as service areas. The first Convent for Discalced Carmelites, to be called after Saint Joseph, was about to see the light. Money had been found: Aldonza...

    • Chapter 23 CONSTITUTING TIME
      (pp. 313-329)

      To make foundations, to constitute, to write a constitution: but how? In the event, your reform of the Carmelite order would rest on two pillars: constitution and fictions. On one side, the strict regulation and jurisdiction whose great purpose was to guarantee the right conditions for theoutside-timeof contemplation in worldly time. On the other, the “account” or narrative of inner experience, linking the journey toward the infinity of the Other with the humdrum trials of dealing with the passions of women and the history of men.

      On completing theConstitutionsby writing (yes, that again!),¹The Way of...

    • Chapter 24 TUTTI A CAVALLO
      (pp. 331-374)

      I’m daydreaming, eyes wide open beneath their lids: I can see and hear her now, Teresa’s on her way, twenty years stretch ahead, counting from the first lines of theLife, and the only thing that will stop her is death. She’s got clean away from the family, from yesterday’s sisters, from the fathers of here or there, in order to be exiled in the Other and to carve Him a new place—invisible, impregnable, segregated from the world—in the world. She writes of transforming herself into God, uniting with God. At any rate, His Majesty cannot be winkled...

  9. Part 6: Foundation – Persecution

      (pp. 377-386)

      No news from you for ages, what’s up? Indian summer, lazing about on the warm sands of the Île de Ré? It’s All Saints, who’d have thought it, no computer and no Internet! Unless that “civil war” in your Parisianbanlieueshas pitched you back into politics! Are you giving up on the microcosm of dreamy introspection? I wouldn’t believe that even if I saw it; I expect you’re still galloping along with your flatmate, with no time to think about old Juan. So, to remind you who I am, I’m attaching a few articles by yours truly and other...

      (pp. 387-406)

      “I love because I am loved, therefore I am”: that seems to be your credo, Teresa, my love, but this solar face of your rapture is dependent on a bizarre figure: the man who loves you and whom you love is both suffering son and suffering father, scourged and put to death before resuscitating. As you will have guessed, my dialogue with you is also a dialogue with Freud: the founder of psychoanalysis believed that the “beaten child” we are in fantasy can (sometimes) resort to the paradoxical solution (as in your case) of another fantasy: a son-father is put...

    • Chapter 27 A RUNAWAY GIRL
      (pp. 407-420)

      “That saint of yours is going to kill you, give it a rest! When you’re not scouring her writings like a Benedictine, or a damn lunatic I should say, you’re on her trail! On foot, by plane, on wheels and online, from castle to castle, from convent to monastery . . . So where are you now? Salamanca? Toledo? Burgos? Pastrana? Slow down, for Pete’s sake, do you hear? Don’t patronize me, either. You’ve turned into a complete workaholic!*” [*“Workaholic,” like “runaway girl” in the title and passim, appear in English in the original.—Trans.] I’m not kidding. Just my...

      (pp. 421-436)

      A total transformation into God, as what Teresa went through—albeit momentary and climaxing with a translucent castle—is still a living sculpture carved out with blows of programmed death. Andrew admires the edifice and the haste; my pleasure lies in detecting the survival that germinates in the work of death. Ah, the space-time of women! As a child I never cared for snowmen, I used to dig with frozen fingers into the thick, crisp crust in order to free the snowdrops. There had to be some.

      To merge with the murdered Lord until the husband-Father becomes a brotherhusband, a...

    • Chapter 29 “WITH THE EARS OF THE SOUL”
      (pp. 437-450)

      Your visions, Teresa, are not perceived with the eyes of the body, you often insist on this point; rather they are built by a listening that avails itself of touch. Does this relate to the infrastructure of language, the gradual intelligibility of sensation, the primary molding of meaning which Julia Kristeva calls “the semiotic”?¹

      She never saw anything with her bodily eyes, as has been said. But what she saw was so delicate and intellectual that sometimes at the beginning she thought she had imagined it; at other times she couldn’t think such a thing. Nor did she ever hear...

  10. Part 7: Dialogues from Beyond the Grave

    • Chapter 30 Act 1 Her Women
      (pp. 453-492)

      Although La Madre had wished to go up to Heaven in a flash, her niece Teresita will testify that her death was neither easy nor quick. And yet Teresa is not distressed at entering into her final agony. The twilight of her awareness fills her with blue-tinted voluptuousness, blue as the wintry dawn over Avila, blue as the Virgin’s cloak in the picture her mother bequeathed to her before she died.

      She knows she’s not alone. Ana de San Bartolomé, the young conversa nun who is nursing her, and Teresita—now in the bloom of her sixteen years—keep watch...

    • Chapter 31 Act 2 Her Eliseus
      (pp. 493-515)

      The soul in agony here enters a terrain that rather resembles that of my MPH, were it not for the way the Holy Mother’s faith has changed it into a well-watered, flower-filled garden. Here, at the extreme of being, extreme beings trail their sufferings and raptures, their obsessions and exaltations, deliriums and OCDs, hysterical passions, manic self-punishments, dull melancholies, and searing moments of lucidity. Filtered through the body and the word, these states at the limit—hers, theirs—appear as alluring as passion, as beautiful as Paradise, as necessary as ideals.

      La Madre has rallied a little: it’s the upturn...

    • Chapter 32 Act 3 Her “Little Seneca”
      (pp. 517-546)

      The scene takes place in the ground-floor parlor of the Convent of the Incarnation in Avila. This is where, according to legend, the levitation of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross occurred. The two future saints are seated in the very chairs concerned (today on display to the public). Instead of the bluish light of preceding scenes, a fiery glow bathes the room.

      John of the Cross. Without support and with support,

      Living without light, in darkness,

      I am wholly being consumed.¹

      Teresa of Avila,after a pause.“We belong to the party of the Crucified One.” Somos...

    • Chapter 33 Act 4 The Analyst’s Farewell
      (pp. 547-564)

      The diamond of the previous act retreats into the background, where it refracts the anonymous portrait of Teresa of Avila commonly attributed to Velázquez. The left side of the stage represents Sylvia Leclercq’s office. There are a couch, an armchair, and a desk. The analyst is writing. Her voice follows the rhythms of her thoughts, and sometimes the movements of her hand. She is bidding La Madre farewell, from the first to the third person.

      Sylvia Leclercq. It’s infectious, this journeying to the far depths of private dwelling places, like a sort of self-analysis. . . . (Mocking smile.) I’ll...

  11. Part 8: Postscript

      (pp. 567-596)

      You beganThe Nunas a farce, because there was no question of publishing such a thing in 1760. (You’d have been off to the Bastille—worse than the jail at Vincennes where theLetter on the Blindput you!) And you ended it in tears, or rather not at all, because the text published in 1796, as it has come down to us, is unfinished.

      YourNunhas been on my mind throughout my journey with Teresa. Please don’t take this admission for a piece of persiflage. I am incapable of that, and besides, I should never dare to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 597-630)
  13. Sources
    (pp. 631-632)