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Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (European Perspectives) (European Perspectives Series)

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When mentally feeling my way about such matters, I like to switch stuff out: (a version of Roland Barthes' "commutation test") imagine pious believers bowing before a grand plinth holding up a revered brown coil of crap, or tourists lined up in an American museum to look at glass boxes containing the preserved vomit of our Founding Fathers. The person you’re going to hate the most, and be the most abjected by, is going to be that big, fat person, eating an ice cream cone, waddling down the street. Closely related to narcissism, abjection can thereby be equated to Lacan's mirror formation, and women, not men, are even more structurally closer to abjection throughout their lives.

The abject marks what Kristeva terms a "primal repression," one that precedes the establishment of the subject's relation to its objects of desire and of representation, before even the establishment of the opposition between consciousness and the unconscious. Powers of Horror is an excellent introduction to an aspect of contemporary French literature which has been allowed to become somewhat neglected in the current emphasis on paraphilosophical modes of discourse.

Therefore, religion creates a sort of buffer between one's mind and the abject and further represses them.

Not so much that I don’t notice when someone is missing a leg; but to the extent it doesn’t give me nightmares. In phobia, Kristeva reads the trace of a pre-linguistic confrontation with the abject, a moment that precedes the recognition of any actual object of fear: "The phobic object shows up at the place of non-objectal states of drive and assumes all the mishaps of drive as disappointed desires or as desires diverted from their objects". That said, she could have taken things further: the book is slim in translation (I've yet to see the French original but have no reason to believe it was longer) and there's ample ground she could still cover. Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror , which theorizes the notion of the 'abject' in a series of blisteringly insightful analyses, is as relevant, as necessary, and as courageous today as it seemed in 1984. If differentiation is the most fundamental act of cognition, then maybe our first such act is noticing the difference between mom-is-here and mom-is-not-here (but not our complicated idea of "mom," just a warm food-source presence filling eyes and mouth).Likewise, there are many more literary examples she could approach: it would not be hard to produce a 500+ page book from this topic at all. In theory this simply means that Kristeva uses her personal experience, and the expressed experiences of others to get some idea of what the abject really is. When you get right down to it, abjection is an immature psychological mechanism, useful in beginning stages of differentiation, but less useful thereafter.

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