Rencontre épistolaire

Charlotte Casiraghi and Julia Kristeva


In the lead-up to the Rencontres Philosophiques de Monaco, president Charlotte Casiraghi, and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, member of the honorary committee, discuss this year’s theme: love.

Charlotte Casiraghi
to Julia Kristeva

Dear Julia Kristeva,
Your most recent book, about Simone de Beauvoir, provided an opportunity for me to rediscover her work. I found your comments on maternal passion thrilling, and they were a reminder of the need to reflect on this experience from a different perspective.

I wanted to start out by telling you a bit about my initial encounter with philosophy, through Robert Maggiori, one of my teachers in my senior year who encouraged me to continue studying philosophy. A few years later, I felt the urge to share this passion and make it more accessible and alive and more popular, hence the Rencontres Philosophiques de Monaco, featuring monthly workshops, an award, an international symposium and many other educational initiatives in the principality. I felt it important to have the term rencontre (“encounter”) as part of this endeavor.

The word connotes something unexpected; something that happens when you least expect it. Encountering philosophy can affect one as deeply as encountering another person, because it forces you, as Foucault put it, to “think differently,” to free yourself from yourself—and allow a more authentic self to emerge. No doubt the same thing can happen with art and literature, but philosophy holds that “nothing is self-evident” and requires digging deep down to the deepest self. For that to happen, you inevitably have to transform its language: if philosophy uses nothing but technical terminology and an arid conceptuality, it will have no relevance whatsoever for you. It has to try and rid itself of this technicality, drawing instead on the infinite resources inherent in everyday language, so that its meaning can be conveyed and shared.

Julia Kristeva to
Charlotte Casiraghi  

I am delighted by our encounter, in the context of this philosophical project launched in Monaco. Any encounter, as you say, should be perceived in its most wonderful sense: as unexpected and surprising. Indeed, nothing foreshadowed the encounter between two such different women—the beautiful muse and spirited equestrian, and the psychoanalyst-writer devoted to language and new maladies of the soul. Nothing, that is, save a passion for philosophy, which you are seeking to make accessible and alive. As you know, philosophy is not really very “trendy” these days. The reason not only has to do with the “melancholic tribe” teaching it, which Hannah Arendt mocked; nor with the supercharged connectivity that takes us far and wide in a flash but fails to touch our “deepest self,” which you find so crucial. Like you, I also firmly believe that a passion for reflection remains a vital need. To wonder, to challenge, to transmit: we need to take these philosophical fundamentals and rehabilitate them to stave off pleasure-seeking becoming the norm. But where, by whom, for whom? There is no better laboratory for “thinking differently” than an individual’s own inner experience, irreducibly singular yet able to be shared. What I call “inner experience” is the journey that begins with the “big” questions—life, death—and takes me outside myself toward others: giving and encountering. Love is another word for this alchemy between body and language. Mad love, illusory love, unhappy love, ecstatic love, talkative love, nameless love... Passion and tenderness; wildness and purity; maternal, paternal, infantile, childish; sexual difference and the transformations of parenting... I prefer to think of them as life’s states of emergency. May we hear truly singular voices at the Rencontres Philosophiques de Monaco as they share their experiences and touch upon this vital state of emergency. I could tackle maternal passion. What about you?

Charlotte Casiraghi to
Julia Kristeva

I too am delighted with our unexpected encounter. I completely agree with you in this idea of a passion for reflection as a vital necessity for fully opening up to “otherness,” in all its irreducible singularity. Undertaking to question life and death, as well as everything that opens us up to others, seems to be on the decline in a society that normalizes the cult of performance and self-worship, where we are forced to develop a contrived, micro-managed identity, shaped into a role or profile in ways to enhance its value and appeal. The “other” is often reduced to a mirror function. Cultivating one’s irreducible singularity, unburdened by the norm and the notions of power and appropriation that govern human exchange, is a challenge requiring a fundamental freedom. Exercising this freedom is not easy for women who are still crushed by the weight of precon-ceptions about what a wife, lover or mother should be—the roles they play in succession.

Although you can define yourself in ways other than through this “biological destiny,” or in your capacity as the “other” sex, to use Simone de Beauvoir’s term, there is no reflection that integrates this maternal passion as a vocation into the lives of modern women, to experience an encounter with another that is deeply woven into the self. There is a great need to reflect on the maternal experience, which must be developed through the uniqueness, the creativity, the personality and the body of every woman. But for that to happen, we have to distance ourselves from this cult of performance, and from the body being seen as an instrument of power and pleasure, or merely as a simple framework for an individual. Being a mother is precisely what leads toward giving, toward this other being and its mystery, who has to be accepted and loved. This initial encounter offers a space for exchange and creativity, both essential for forging bonds of love, tenderness and trust. How can we rethink this experience given the great number of changes that parenthood has undergone?

Julia Kristeva to
Charlotte Casiraghi  

I think of you, as a young mother, and I fully agree with your reasoning. Indeed, the modern secularized world is the only civilization lacking discourse about motherhood. Of course, denial of the female body is why some feminists revolt against anything maternal. Beauvoir herself talks about this when she describes a “second sex” terrorized by her belly enclosing hostile elements. But women’s struggle for the freedom to control their bodies did shake things up. Even if the laws are not always applied, and closed-minded factions oppose them, motherhood can be not only a choice but can bring creativity at all times. This is the bridge between the body and the meaning it carries, biology and the “other,” what I call the bond, the maternal bond. Freud thought it was impossible to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Did he forget the mother?

Charlotte Casiraghi to
Julia Kristeva

I am touched by your comments about the “maternal bond.” This initial encounter shapes and molds all encounters to come. If this meeting between mother and baby is not acknowledged as an encounter, as a passion, and if “what inevitably must be lost” is not accepted, the infant will have difficulty separating from the mother, and will find it hard to build its own relationship to the world within this transitional space, where bonds are forged and human creativity is generated.



This series of monthly philosophy workshops, created on the initiative of Charlotte Casiraghi, ambassador for Gucci and Montblanc, closes with an international conference on the theme of the Encounter, June 8 and 9. Open to all.


Spare parts in the Greenford factory. The store-workshop in Covent Garden, London.


The origami artist