Maria Dimitrova writes on the LRB blog:
In Laurent Binet’s novel The Seventh Function of Language (2015), Julia Kristeva is cast as a spy for Bulgarian intelligence, responsible for the death of Roland Barthes. Last Tuesday, the Bulgarian Dossier Committee, in charge of examining and declassifying communist-era State Security records, announced that Kristeva had been an agent of the First Chief Directorate.
Kristeva’s dossier has been made available online. It consists of her alleged reports and various secret police documents on her background and activities. It seems that she was forced to feign cooperation so that her parents would be allowed to visit her in Paris and wouldn’t be penalized for her desertion.
I doubt that Bulgaria was an ambitious enough player to recruit talented young intellectuals for their future potential not as informers but as agents of influence, propaganda, and disinformation. That would have been the Soviets’ approach, and there was a time when there was no shortage of suitable candidates for agentship. According to Kristeva’s Bulgarian handler, she told him this (it must have been the early 1970s):
Louis Aragon is getting close to the Surrealists; he is preoccupied by the death of Elsa Triolet; he seems more distant from the PCF.
It’s regrettable that it took the author of C so long to distance himself from the French Communist party, but also notable that it was happening after his wife’s death. Elsa Triolet was Lilya Brik’s younger sister, which leaves one to wonder if and how she influenced Aragon’s political choices, and if she was a Soviet influencer after all. She would have been a perfect candidate for the role in the 1920s and the 1930s.
In May 1973 a decision is made to cease operational contact with Sabina [Kristeva’s codename] because ‘she doesn’t want to work’, ‘doesn’t show up to the scheduled appointments’ and, along with her husband, has adopted ‘Maoist positions’.
The Bulgarian Chekists got this one right – the couple did adopt “Maoist positions.” Adam Shatz (no favorite of mine but hopefully reliable on this point) summed it up:
Rebuffed in their efforts to capture the cultural apparatus of the PCF, in the early 1970s Sollers and Kristeva converted to Maoism.
A lovely résumé – so good that it makes me forget Shatz’s hysterical politics. More than that, he shows (accidentally) why Kristeva was fair game for Binet:
Years later, in her novel The Samurai, Kristeva would mockingly depict Derrida as Saïda, founder of ‘condestruction theory’, a man who was so attractive to American feminists that they ‘all became “condestructivists”’.
The wordplay on “deconstruction” isn’t bad, considering the meaning of “con” in French and in English, but it isn’t tempting me to bin my Houellebecq to free shelf space for Kristeva.