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Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection

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"Kristeva is one of the leading voices in contemporary French criticism, on a par with such names as Genette, Foucault, Greimas and others. . . 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. The sections on Céline, for example, are indispensable reading for those interested in this writer and place him within a context that is both illuminating and of general interest." -Paul de Man

219 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 1980

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About the author

Julia Kristeva

200 books664 followers
Julia Kristeva is professor emerita of linguistics at the Université de Paris VII and author of many acclaimed works. Her Columbia University Press books include Hatred and Forgiveness (2012); The Severed Head: Capital Visions (2014); and, with Philippe Sollers, Marriage as a Fine Art (2016).

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Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,493 reviews2,374 followers
February 8, 2019

As a post-modernist thinker, Bulgarian-French philosopher Julia Kristeva believes that the only way one can relate to or understand the world is through the medium of language, and anything that is completely non-linguistic is literally unintelligible. In Powers of Horror Kristeva examines the notion of abjection through literature, she traces the role the abject has played in the progression of history, most notably in religion which she spends much time contemplating on.
Religion, according to Kristevea, is a natural response to the abject, for if one truly experiences the abject, they are prone to engage in all manners of perverse and anti-social behaviors. Therefore, religion creates a sort of buffer between one's mind and the abject and further represses them. She later turns to the work of Louis-Ferdinand Celine, and the publication of 'Journey to the End of the Night' as an almost ideal example of the purgative, artistic expression of the abject.

She begins though with what she calls a phenomenological investigation of the abject. 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. In order to understand why the abject is not an object, one must under the post-modernist theory of language that Kristeva passionately subscribes to. Kristeva believes that the entire world, including one's self, is understood through language. It is the only lens through which we can see and understand anything. She closes her essay by noting that the usefulness of studying the abject can be found in its immense political and religious influence over the centuries. The institutions which wield power in the modern world, which she believes to be oppressive and inhumane, are built upon the notion that man must be protected from the abject. By facing the abject face-to-face one tears away the support of these institutions and embarks on the first movement that can truly undermine them.

From the basic introduction, she delves into a more rigorous definition through different aspects of her subject matter, which in parts became far too complex and challenging for the likes of me. However, I was at least inquisitive, she got me thinking, even if some of her text did go about putting much strain on my grey matter. I'm sure this would go down better with the highbrow philosophy student or enthusiast. Difficult, but at least I stuck at it.
Profile Image for Gregsamsa.
73 reviews354 followers
September 9, 2015
I have often wondered how long it takes to become desensitized to the material you're working with if your job is to analyze or otherwise handle stool samples. You know, like in a lab.

I also wonder whether this desensitization is dependent upon a clinical context or if it would "adhere" to the material across a spectrum of other hypothetical situations.

When on a roll, I also wonder if the desensitization is permanent: suppose your duties (sorry) change, does the desensitization degrade to extinction over time? Does the matter's repulsive character reassert itself?

Obviously if I wonder stuff like this there is something wrong with me. Psychoanalytic thinkers would likely locate the problem somewhere in that zone where the sexual overlaps with the parental, aka "the ick field."

The word "abject" comes from the Latin roots ab ("away") and jacere ("to throw"), and I'm not bringing that up just to change the subject, but introduction of the abject always changes the subject.

Ah, the subject. In books like this, terms like "subject" and "other" take on meanings quite foreign to their day-to-day usage. Take the usual sense of the gross, the repulsive, the degraded in the abject, haul along the Latin roots for "throw away" (or "make distant" or "define as other than yourself") and name yourself--the thrower--"the subject" and we're well on our way to getting at this book's premise. Remember: it's subject as in subjective, not as in topic.

We don't come out of the womb making sentences or using reason. We have yet to form even a concept of "I." This comes later when we are introduced into the world of the Symbolic Order, where representations of stuff in the big World Out There appear in our brains as Images In Here. Until then we are an unboundaried everything everywhere, undifferentiated from all sounds, sights, smells, skins, sheets, and poop. Oh there's that again.

Please accept my humblest apologies for bringing that up again and, while I'm at it, for seeming to condescend or instruct here. It's just that I want this review to be something other than shop-talk for folks already familiar with this stuff, preferring instead to invite along as many curious readers as care to drink the Kool-Aid check it out. I should make it clear as well that I'm no expert, and I certainly have not read this book in the original language as my French extends no further than the edges of a menu.

Important to this book and all others in its field is the idea that the identity of things is not just maintained by what they are, but by what they are not. A thing's thingness must be delimited, and that boundary that excludes what it is not is a substantial element of its identity. For a thing to be conceptually isolated, if only to be named, there must first be stuff that it is not, and these things contribute to the definition not only negatively ("I am not you") but positively within a larger category ("We are people") that provokes distinction more than others in the first place ("This neck-tie is not an ascot" as opposed to "This neck-tie is not The Pyramids").

This seems obvious, but if we apply it to the subject it suggests that the conceptualization of other people as such precedes the formation of the "I." This idea is the basis of what is called Jacques Lacan's "Mirror Stage", a theoretical construct he did not invent but sure didn't mind taking credit for.

Uses of the mirror stage have ranged from speculation about the formation of selfhood being dependent upon a baby literally seeing an actual mirror and realizing through this "other" self its own discrete selfhood, to broader theoretical constructs that hold any "others" (mom, dad, a nanny, the cable guy) as the mirrored concept of person that is then applied to the self. In either case the notion of the self coalesces around (and to some degree is conditioned by) representations originating from without, rather than emanating from within like how it feels. At least to me.

The (Anal)ogy of the Turd

Let's return to that repressed scene in the lab at the top as a way of discussing Kristeva's categories of The Real, The Imaginary, and The Symbolic Order; we are organisms; we consume, we metabolize; we poop; this the the irreducible material fact of the matter: This is The Real.

The Imaginary is that mental phase, or that facet of conscious selfhood's structure, where we have representations in our minds of the things in the world around us, of things that are "other," but which have not been totally subsumed by and defined within the context of social consensus, language, law, science, etc. The orphaned turd, once of us, is now abject, viscerally other, yet unlike many other others it has no function; it has no place; it has no purpose: it is shit.

In the context of a laboratory, however, it has found its way into the Symbolic Order. It has been assimilated into the structure of reason; it has been domesticated by function, place, and significance. It may still be a little gross, but no longer abject.

Has it changed on the level of The Real? No, apart from whatever alterations it suffered being stored and processed (some settling may have occurred during shipping).

That is my analogy. Don't blame Julia Kristeva for my turd thing.

Exhibit, O: The Horror

Ostensibly other, the abject is not quite of The Symbolic Order, nor quite of The Real, but lurks within the shadows of The Imaginary where it is best poised to pose a threat to the integrity of that membrane which is the slash (/) in I/Other.

You really don't want stuff causing leaks in that slash, seriously. OK maybe now and then recreationally, but generally: no. That leads to confusion; it leads to madness; it leads to HORROR. So does Kristeva go straight for the horror? No, she dithers with thin demos of "abject" with Dosdoyevski (I'm worth nothing!) and Proust (Don't look behind the curtain!) and Joyce (it Say ain't so!) and Borges (Poverty is exhorbitant), and Artaud (We need not pretend that we're dead).

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). This then poses the initial organizing structure of cognition as a scheme of fear and desire on an axis of presence and absence. Absence=I want (will I have it again?). Presence=I have (but I might lose it again).

That's my theory, but Freudians take this presence/absence thing into that whole Oedipal castration business; how a child knows a father "has" something down there which mom "has not," is no matter for my speculation (see the dep't. of child and family services). I think there is a lot to get from Kristeva's work even if you don't buy a ticket to that psychosexual haunted house.

So the subject/object thing is trembly with the tension between two dangers: to seal off into a regressive narcism, or to overidentify with scattered others for a fragmented ego. In the session section describing "borderline" patients, she notes symptoms of their speech which seem indistinguishable from Kristeva's own in translation, and makes assertions based on such symptoms without citing any studies, so this part seems like an elaborate rationale for confirmation bias, with no nod to controlling for such, but that's just me pressing a hard Anglo-American science waffle-iron on batter whose intended state is batter.... But what batter subject than one whose relationship to waffles commplicates the clean subject/object structure of selfhood and communication, both sides implicit with auto-destruction? Sorry. I'll stop.

Semiotics has a pretty cut-and-dried conceptualization of the sign: (Object--mental image of object--Sound Image--standing for object [heard word]--Visual Version of Sound Image [print/writing]--motor skill representation, spoken and written).

Oh but not the Freudians. No. They've got to load up the structure of signification with all this inherent gender stuff: sign, meaning, and discourse is the real of The Law of the Father, while all that indeterminate iffyness of the imaginary is all on Mom which nowadays makes us chuckle and shake our heads gently with an amused mutter: oh, those Freudians. How responsible were they for the 50's?

So where's all the HORROR? Where the integrity of that slash (/) in the self/other mental construction is threatened by representations which collapse or disrupt the sign/referent template underpinning it. The material version of that slash (SKIN!) in turn becomes a representation of the inside/outside demarcation and assertions of selfhood bring forth all it contains, the juicy stuff:

"Urine, blood, sperm, excrement then show up in order to reassure a subject that is lacking its 'own and clean self'."

But how could she forget phlegm and bile? Someone needs to read her Burton. Whenever I see that stuff I'm like Eeyw that is seriously abject.

What is the opposite of abject? Sacred. This would be a more intense example of things meaning what they do by what they do not. 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. Or: diners becoming ill when they learn their soup had a cross dipped in it, or local disgust prompting a hotel owner to burn a bed after learning Ghandi had used it. OK much of my inner life is a Bunuel movie but I admitted something was wrong at the outset.

Oh but here's the deal: the gross juicy parts that should reside on the inside this-side boundary of the Me/Other demarcation are realized as like totally icky Other (who is not grossed out by their own guts, snot, pus, etc?) right when the true real innerness is grasped for when that in/out distinction is troubled.

So, see: the real tension is between our careful Me/not-me mental construct of selfhood and the abject within.

Some nuns are used to recouping this misiteration by claiming self-abjection for the Sacred team, cheering for its triumph in the big Symbolic Order Finals coming up next Fall. But who will take an abject nun to the Homecoming dance?

Eternity. Language. Nations. History. Etc.

The glamorous flip-side of the sacred is of course the profane, and the possibility of ritual defilement is created by sacred prohibitions themselves through naming the excluded and/or symbolically expelling it in ritual purification.

"Defilement is what is jettisoned from the 'symbolic system.' It is what escapes that social rationality, that logical order on which a social aggregate is based, which then becomes differentiated from a temporary agglomeration of individuals and, in short, constitutes a classification system or a structure." (her emphases)

This is where things stray from Freud and into the distinctly Lacanian deal: it's all linguistic. Anyway, re filth:

"A threat issued from the prohibitions that found the inner and outer borders in which and through which the speaking subject is constituted--borders also determined by the phonological and semantic differences that articulate the syntax of language."

Yeah and but some such threateners (like poop!) contain no merely metaphorical contaminants (uh, e coli?) and present threats to the subject on the level of The Real like for real, a lesson learned long before science. Seems obvious, but...

"...one question remains unanswered. Why does corporeal waste, menstrual blood and excrement... represent--like a metaphor that would have become incarnate--the objective frailty of symbolic order?"

What amuses me about Lacanians, especially the main one, Jacques Lacan, is that they (and especially he) will go to great lengths trying to mimic the rhetoric and rigor of science but not notice the real thing when it's close enough to smell.

Kristeva answers the above question with no banal bothering with a topic so small as germs and instead posits that the poop's threat comes from the ego being "threatened by the non-ego, society threatened by its outside," while blood "stands for the danger issuing from within the identity (social or sexual); it threatens the relationship between the sexes withing the social aggregate and, through internalization, the identity of each sex in the face of sexual difference."

See? So it's not about disease. It's about dis-ease. Interestingly, her pre-AIDS argument posits tears and sperm as non-threatening excresences, but I feel if she'd been born later the sperm-threat would involve Patriarchal Authority or somesuch rather than The Real reasons.

She continues in this vein with subject headings that I want to make short-story titles:

*Maternal Authority as Trustee of the Self's Clean and Proper Body

*Semiotics of Biblical Abomination

*Sin as Requisite for the Beautiful

*Oedipus the King or Invisible Abjection

This is all largely a rewrite of Freud's Taboo and Civilization, through a Lacanian syntacticization (hee hee, sorry) of self/other arrangements. The general themes: Societies seek clarity and stability by adhering to divisions and heirarchies ordered by purity/impurity binary concepts informed by gender, caste, and/or other differentiations I don't have room to go into. I could go on, trust me.

The last third of this book has the most beautiful writing (in translation, anyway) but for that go to Kristeva on Proust, cuz here she just does it on Celine the Nazi. Haven't read him. Don't care to.
Profile Image for Keith.
93 reviews67 followers
April 30, 2008
Reading this book makes you feel like you're uncovering the darkest, most sinister secrets of the universe. In fact, I'm fairly certain I read somewhere that the first edition of Powers of Horror was bound in human flesh and inked in blood, but I might be thinking of something else.

Admittedly, parts of it will be near-incomprehensible the first time through (unless you wrote your dissertation on Lacan, I suppose). But you'll more than likely be goaded into a second reading anyway by Kristeva's fucking gorgeous writing. The final chapter alone justifies the work it takes to get through the preceding ten. I'm pretty much convinced at this point that the French language is syntactically incapable of rendering anything other than constant poetic beauty, even when translated. Lucky bastards.
Profile Image for Eirin.
108 reviews19 followers
October 29, 2009
One of the heaviest theory-books I've ever read; starting the first chapter I was ready to give up, but couldn't, due to the fact that I had to write a report on it. At times I felt like crying, especially after having dragged myself through fifty pages in six to eight hours and I felt like I'd understood nothing at all.

But it was so gratifying to get through it. Kristeva's language is beautiful (even translated into English), so that made a lot of it almost delightful to read. Some of the theory went absolutely over my head, and some I thought were absolutely nonsense, but I actually enjoyed a lot of it. That which I understood and agreed with were so eloquently put I kept exclaiming "That's how it really is!". So all in all, pretty good, I think.

And I managed to write that report.
Profile Image for Andrew.
2,024 reviews730 followers
October 7, 2013
Kristeva starts strong, with a fascinating idea-- the abject-- and then seems to signpost the way to some very interesting research, contrasting it with the sublime and relating it to the close relationship between the human ideal and the human body, and what happens when those two don't really sync up.

Then she flushes that idea with a chapter of Lacanian jargon, pretty much the sole academic vocabulary that just reads in my mind as "Bullshit bullshit bullshit. Bullshit bullshit can also bullshit."

And then, to a certain extent, she turns it around with an account of horror and prohibition in the Old Testament, how that relates to Judaeo-Christian and Platonic concepts. Then she takes it to even higher heights with this simultaneously adulating and excoriating criticism of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and it's one of the few pieces of literary criticism that reaches the brilliance of a Susan Sontag or a Walter Benjamin.

So just ignore that crap in the middle, even if it's supposed to be a theoretical underpinning. The rest is great.
Author 6 books117 followers
July 15, 2023
One of the book's most compelling aspects is Kristeva's exploration of the abject as a force that blurs the boundaries between self and other. She states, "The abject is not an ob-ject facing me, which I name or imagine. Nor is it an ob-ject that has been consciously, desiringly, or fantasizedly built or elaborated as an ob-ject." This concept challenges our notions of identity and reveals the fragility of our constructed self-image.

An essential read for those interested in exploring the darker and more unsettling aspects of the human condition.
Profile Image for Artifice Magazine.
279 reviews52 followers
May 13, 2009
The only real downside to this book is that reading it requires you to translate every damn thing from Freud to Makes-Sense. To be clear: there's a high amount of Makes-Sense in this book, but it requires you to read each instance of the word "phallus," for example, as "concept of the law," etc.

I'd be interested in seeing what someone from a non-psychoanalytic background could do with the basic ideas in this book...
Profile Image for Keith Wilson.
Author 5 books43 followers
February 11, 2019
There is a psychological mechanism that isn’t very well known yet is involved behind the scenes in many emotions. It plays a part in disgust, revulsion, repugnance, aversion, distaste, nausea, abhorrence, loathing, detestation, horror, contempt, weird, outrage, terror, fear, fright, panic, dread, trepidation, hatred, hate, abomination, execration, odium, antipathy, dislike, hostility, animosity, ill feeling, bad feeling, malice, animus, enmity, aversion, shame, humiliation, mortification, chagrin, ignominy, embarrassment, indignity, discomfort and repugnance, among others. Really, just about any negative emotion has this mechanism involved.

What is this mysterious power behind the curtain of so many intense, uncomfortable emotions? It’s called abjection. It is the subject of Julia Kristeva's book, The Powers of Horror. Abjection is what happens when there is a breakdown of the distinction between self and other. It’s necessary for your development into an independent, functioning human being.

To illustrate abjection at its most elemental, do this simple thing. Get a glass of water. Spit in it. Now drink it. If you’re like most people, you’ll be grossed out just by the thought.

You have spit in your mouth all the time and frequently swallow it; but, by expelling it from your body, you make it an object apart from you; sort of. It’s not like any other external object because before you spit it out, it was a part of you. You had no trouble with it then and you would have no trouble drinking the water before you spit in it, even though the water was not a part of you, an other. After you expelled the spit, it became other; but a special kind of other, an other that has been abjected. Try to drink it again and the concepts of self and other become all mixed up and confused. That’s when the trouble begins.

You would have the same trouble if you watched someone else expel their spit into a glass and tried to drink that. Even though it’s not your spit, it’s still spit, an abjected thing. No one wants to drink something abjected by anyone.

The psychological mechanism is there for a reason. Its purpose is to help you differentiate. Differentiation, another psychological mechanism, is the lifelong process of changing from a cell in your mother’s body to becoming an independent and distinct human being. At every stage of this process, there’s a whole lot of abjection going on.

For instance, when you were a baby, you likely sucked milk from your mother’s breasts. Think about doing that now as an adult. It turned your stomach a little, didn’t it? In this case, the act of sucking milk from your mother’s breasts has been abjected. Abjection is what drives and confirms differentiation. It’s there, too, when, after a certain age, your mother wants to dress you in certain clothes, but you have your own stuff; when your father wants to know how your date went last night, but it went so well that you don’t want to tell him; and when you think about moving back home and sleeping in your old bed with the Spiderman pillowcases. If you are horrified at the thought of wearing clothes your mother picked out for you, telling your father about your sex life, and living once again in your childhood home, it’s because you have differentiated yourself. You have abjection to thank for that and abjection to face if you try to turn back.

When you know about abjection, it’s not hard to find yourself abjecting all over the place. Think about any part of yourself you would really rather not have. Let’s say you hate your big, soft belly. If you could just cut it off and remove it, you would; but what you settle on doing is exercising and trying to eat right, but mostly just hating it. Of course, you will not only hate your belly, you’re going to hate other people’s big bellies, too. 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. You’re going to think that person is disgusting. What are you disgusted by? You’re looking at an abjected version of yourself.

It’s not hard to see how abjection can be implicated in all kinds of bad thoughts and behavior. Intolerance and prejudice, narrow-mindedness and bigotry, prudishness and hypocritical self-righteousness all have their roots in abjection. But, before you abject your abjection, thank it for what it does for you. It shaped you into the unique individual you are.

If you look at abjection closer, there’s more to see. The abjected has a weird kind of grip on you. You find it difficult to turn away. An accident on the highway is an example. Emergency vehicles, wrecked cars, injured motorists, lifeless corpses are all things you don’t like to see. Why then do you slow down to see them? It’s the abjection. Emergency vehicles, wrecked cars, injured motorists, lifeless corpses are all abjected objects. Because you can see yourself as part of an accident, you’re drawn to it even though you dread the thought. You have an affinity for it, despite your disavowals.

To be precise, you are ambivalent regarding your abjected objects. You experience both a revulsion from and attraction towards them at the same time. Abjection, an exception to the distinction between self and other, is a puzzle to be solved. Who doesn’t like a good puzzle?

The reason for this ambivalence is because differentiation is not the only good thing to be pursued. In the epic journey you are on from being an egg, indistinguishable from your mother, to an adult, you are becoming someone who can change things to suit you. That’s all well and good, but wouldn’t it be better if things just suited you from the beginning? It did suit you in the beginning when you were a fetus, swimming in your mother’s womb, all your needs provided before you even knew you had them. While there is a pull to become independent, there is an almost equal pull back to the womb. At times, the pull in the womb’s direction is stronger.

This pull towards the womb is another psychological mechanism, but we won’t get into that now. That’s a whole other can of worms that will require at least another post to explain.

How can you mitigate some of the harmful effects of abjection? For instance, how can you reduce your belly without hating your belly and all those who have big bellies?

Drink that glass of water with your spit in it and you’ll demonstrate to yourself how. If you were to succeed, you would do so by telling yourself it’s all right and forcing it down. Do that repeatedly and, in time it’ll be no big deal. It’s not that you’ll learn to relish spit, but you���ll be able to drink it if you needed to. This is how garbage men and sewage workers come to tolerate their jobs, how a nurse can clean your wound of pus, and how a shrink can listen to hours of crazy talk without going crazy himself, most of the time.

How does this work with the belly? Instead of making your belly an abjected belly, one you’re ashamed of; make it a respected one. It’s not your belly’s fault it’s big; it’s just doing what bellies do. Appreciate it for its ability to expand to contain everything you put in it. That’ll go down as easy as spit, but it’s true; your belly is a wonderous thing. When you learn to cherish your belly, maybe you’ll learn to take better care of it; maybe not. The point is, you don’t have to hate your belly for it to get smaller. You just have to eat less.

When I was about five, my parents took me on a trip to New York City. We did all the usual tourist things, but what I remember best was my first sight of a man with a missing leg, struggling to get through the subway turnstile. I had nightmares of that image afterwards. I had never seen an amputee before and I was horrified in the same way you might be if you slowed down to look at an accident. Yes, you’re right; I was abjecting.

Do I still feel this way when I see an amputee? Of course not. I’ve gotten used to it. Not so much that I don’t notice when someone is missing a leg; but to the extent it doesn’t give me nightmares. I have claimed this abjection; not as something fully a part of me, but as an abjection. I have created a third class. Where there was once me and not me; now there’s me, not me, and abjected me on the border of me with only one leg, stuck in the turnstile.

When you get right down to it, abjection is an immature psychological mechanism, useful in beginning stages of differentiation, but less useful thereafter. It was good when it turned you away from your mother’s breast and made you interested in eating solid food, but when it gets you repulsed by anyone with a big belly, including yourself, the side effects start to outweigh the benefits.

The problems abjection causes are really the problems that are created whenever we only have two categories in which to sort things. Having two categories is twice as good as having one, in which everything is a single, undifferentiated mass, but it’s not as good as having many categories in which you can capture subtle differences. In other words, recovering from abjection involves recognizing that the world is more gray than black and white and the border between what is you and not you is not as solid as you’d like.

Keith Wilson writes about the intersection of psychotherapy and philosophy in his blog series, The Reflective Eclectic
Profile Image for Fede.
209 reviews
July 30, 2021
Few original ideas, but plenty of interesting references to diverse sources (Freudian psychoanalysis, the Bible, anthropology, semiology, modern literature) to which Kristeva's essay is too heavily indebted to be regarded as a truly groundbreaking work. Freudianism is indeed omnipresent here; as a result, some of the author's concepts sound at the very least far-fetched when compared to her otherwise clever approach - especially to the Judeo-Christian religion(s) and Scriptures.

Enjoyable and informative, though hardly memorable in itself.
Profile Image for Virga.
233 reviews56 followers
May 8, 2020
Labai gera pradžia, kur iškart aiškinama abjekcija, ir kiek tas veiksmas apima, tiksliau, kaip ir iki kiek Kristeva ją išplečia. Paskui ties viduriu nusibosta biblijos analizė, kas be ko, ir dar labiau - Céline'o analizė. Nors abi tos analizės reikalingos – pirmoji abjekcijos veiksmą rodo esantį paveldėtoj/ išmoktoj kultūroj, antroji – geroj literatūroj, kitaip sakant, kūryboj. Žodžiu, visur. Siaubas, šlykštėjimasis, trauka ir grožis viename.
23 reviews1 follower
June 12, 2022
reading this felt like wading through muck. truly challenging read for me, but finishing felt like renewal
Profile Image for Mohammed omran.
1,651 reviews148 followers
Want to read
November 5, 2017
إن اللاشعور كما هو معروف مكان الرغبة والأحداث المكبوتة،وبالتالي سيكون الرمزي نتاج لما هو اجتماعي على مستوى العلاقة بالآخر مُتأسِّساً من خلال الاختلافات البيولوجية (الجنسية مثلاً)، والبنى الاجتماعية والتاريخية للعائلة، وكذلك ما تفرزهُ من اشتراطات وحدود موضوعية، وكأننا أمام لغة ثانية تحدِّدها الظروف الأخرى التي يجد الكائن فيها ذاته وسيكون الرمزي هنا أداة لهذه الأطر وسيكون متداولاً بين أفراد هذه البيئة.
إن الرمزي عند كريستيفا مرتبط بقانون الأب كما عند جاك لاكان، حيث ترى أن الأم كانت تضطلع بالمهمة الذكورية، وعندما أصبحت هذه الوظيفة رمزية فقدت الأم منزلتها الأولى، وبالتالي فقدت الذات الإنسانية ما كانت تعتمد عليها لتصبح الوظيفة القضيبية وظيفة رمزية وهذا جعل الرمز يستكمل تشكله الخاص به ويجعل الذات وكأنها شيء تحت التجربة، ولنجد التداول قد نُمِّط من خلال الرمز معضداً العلاقة بين الدال والمدلول من خلال التوليد السيميائي أو السيميوزيس.

إن الذات المتكلِّمة عند كريستيفا هي ''ذات نصية'' تنهل من اللا شعور وتتناص مع ذوات الآخرين، وهي تتعامل مع الذات بوصفها نصاً قائماً بذاته، وهي بذلك تتقاطع بحق مع الذات المتكلِّمة عند ميرلوبونتي، والتي هي ذات صامتة، وقال في هذا الصدد: إذا أردنا أن نفهم اللغة باعتبارها عملية أصلية، فعلينا ألا نتظاهر بالكلام مطلقاً، وأن نخضع اللغة لاختزال من دون أن نجعلها تروغ منا بأن تحيلنا على ما تدلُّ عليه، وأن ننظر إلى اللغة بوصفنا صُمَّاً ينظرون إلى أولئك الذين يتكلَّمون، وأن نقارن فن اللغة بفنون التعبير الأخرى، أو أن نجرِّب رؤيتها باعتبارها أحد الفنون الصامتة.

ولكن يبقى كل منهما يفهم اللغة سواء ما يُسميه ميرلوبونتي باللغة المباشرة أو ما تسميه كريستيفا بالرمز كوظيفة شعرية أو تصويرية دون محدِّدات أو اشتراطات سواء أكان ذلك توكيداً تنظيمياً أم شكلياً.
Profile Image for Arnie Rodriguez.
Author 1 book3 followers
September 2, 2013
After reading some of the reviews here I was a little worried that I was not going to like this "essay". Kristeva is one of my favorite scholars so I took the plunge and bought it. I must say that I really enjoyed reading it. I challenge anyone to read this and not come away with a new perspective. Some of the negative reviews have focused on how challenging the book is to read. I did not find this to be true at all. The theory itself is not challenging but rather the translation is. Leon Roudiez (who died in 2004 I believe) translated several of Kristeva's works and I did enjoy reading those but the translation he did for this book seems a little off. There were too many instances where the translation was repetitive, felt embellished and was just plain wordy. I found myself having to re-read some sentences as a result. Other than the translation issue (I am sure Kristeva could write an entire book on translation theory), I consider this to be one of Kristeva's best works.
Profile Image for David Williamson.
170 reviews15 followers
January 21, 2012
I’m a little nonplussed here, after reading two pages I thought this was going to be a good read, a slow read, but a good one. After the two pages my enthusiasm, interest, and attention wandered all over the place. I couldn’t find an argument, so I ventured on in search of pathos, after not really giving much kudos to any of the readings to writers I am very fond of – Dostovesky, Proust, Celine – I skim read the rest looking for anything of interest.

After spending several years reading French theoretical texts I no longer lack the stamina or patience to care about what half of what is said in them. However, I would quite appreciate anybody to respond with a summary of anything interesting in this book, as I found very little; and I'm very intrigued to find this book got such a high rating from so many readers.

Profile Image for Zach.
143 reviews31 followers
February 1, 2021
"does one write under any other condition than being possessed by abjection, in an indefinite catharsis?"

the topic is in depth beyond any capacity i was imagining, took me two full weeks of attentive reading and rereading just to get through the two hundred pages. abjection and the long human recourse with it is not only a psychoanalytic approach to disgust, horror, rejection and violence but also a cultural genesis from which all literature and religion can be seen as exhale and spell. especially delightful are the sequences on piss and vomit. the way kristeva describes digestion is unlike any other writer on earth and it left me rattled for days; any verbosity or over-reliance on freud is nothing in the face of how sickening kristeva can make seem the act of swallowing and expelling.
Profile Image for Caspar Bryant.
812 reviews32 followers
April 11, 2022
Difficult and chaotic, Lacanian and menstrual this is a good one to smash brain against. Kristeva you delight
Profile Image for madison.
63 reviews8 followers
August 30, 2023
will now forever associate lactoderm with the existential thoughts of my consciousness.
Profile Image for Mike.
315 reviews42 followers
October 11, 2011
Kristeva, like most of the French theorists of her era, is somewhat hit or miss: at times, as in her analysis of Proust or her work on the early novel, she's amazing. Other times, such as her own works of fiction, she's quite lackluster and some of her scholarship on the social psychology of contemporary Europe seems like overly obvious observations cast into florid language. In Powers of Horror though she's at her finest, drawing on her dual careers as a practicing psychoanalyst and a linguist.

Kristeva's main thesis here is that what we call "horror" as a literary genre or a device in literature, film, or associated arts is really an outward manifestation of abjection, yet not the only manifestation of Lacanian abjection. Disjust, also, would be such a manifestation. The power of her work however is that she is able to connect the appeal of horror, of the abject, to the concept of the sublime in a way that finally investigates why we enjoy an attraction to things that would seem only to repulse any sane creature.

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. For one, the attraction of adolescents to horror—and let's face it, they are the primary horror genre demographic for films and to an extent for literature—is something I would like to see her examine, and for that matter, she could even look into the comparative biology of mammals to be either repulsed or attracted to various forms of danger. We tend to think that animals flee from danger or repulsion, but many are curious to a degree just as humans are, and any psychobiological connections someone as adept on the topic as Kristeva could draw might be very useful. 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. Kristeva's one of the greatest scholars of her generation, and she could—and should—mine this fascinating yet oft-overlooked topic of abjection further.
Profile Image for Wicked Owl.
23 reviews
February 10, 2008
In Pouvoirs de l'horreur Kristeva explores abjection, a condition which is fundamental in the formation of identity, where the "abject" subject acts in a transgressive revolt of the Oedipal (sexual) identity and of the sexual specificity. 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. Abjection for women is an ongoing struggle, one that brings into play (or plays within?) borderline states. For Kristeva, abjection is that which can be experienced as disgust (le dégoût), the body's reaction, phobic or revolting, against the polarization of fusion and separation. Questions of identity, boundary crossing, and exile, Pouvoirs de l'horreur, states that the abject subject prevents the return to the archaic maternal figure, for it revolts itself against the boundaries that separates it from her. The abject, one can suppose, is the melancholic transition between the pre-symbolic mother to the identification with the father (in the symbolic).

Reading this book helped form, in part, the subject of my Pages Arrachées, for she is just as torn, and rebellous, and yet attracted to those abject boundaries as the abject subject in formation.
Profile Image for I. Mahmood.
Author 3 books47 followers
September 17, 2014
I became interested in the "abject" after I started reading the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, where "abjection" was the first entry, and Kristeva's phenomenal and insightful work was referenced in the definition. In this essay, Kristeva contrasts Lacan's "objet petit a." She writes, "It is not the white expanse or slack boredom of repression, not the translations and transformations of desire that wrench bodies, nights, and discourse; rather it is a brutish suffering that, "I" puts up with, sublime and devastated, for "I" deposits it to the father's account [verse au pere—pere-uersion]: I endure it, for I imagine that such is the desire of the other." Religion and art, says Kristeva, are two ways of "purifying" the abject. She concludes her essay by revealing the importance of the abject in its ties to politics and religion; the most powerful - yet inhumane and oppressive - institutions built on the notion that we must be protected from the abject.
Profile Image for Jessica.
2,096 reviews62 followers
May 16, 2018
Gave up around the halfway point. The good stuff reminded me of Anzaldúa's Borderlands. The rest was Freud. Unfortunately, there was a lot of Freud. I gave up when JK started referencing non-European cultures' gender dynamics... without acknowledging that some of those cultures include non-binary genders. Whether she wasn't aware of that information or left it out because it didn't fit her argument, I have no idea.

Another reviewer mentioned that once you get past this middle but, the good stuff comes back and her critiques become as brilliant as Sontag's--I've never read Sontag, but exploring her work sounds like a better use of my time at this point.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,316 reviews972 followers
November 28, 2021
Publié pour la première fois en 1980, et tristement pas exactement courante ou d'actualité, cet essai ou plutôt ce livre de Julia Kristeva n'est pas son meilleur. Je crois qu'elle était trop piégée par les règles grammaticales françaises concernant le sexe, les genres, le masculin et le féminin. Deux autre livres d'elle, Visions capitales : arts et rituels de la décapitation et Le désir dans la langue : une approche sémiotique de la littérature et de l'art, je les préfère beaucoup plus que ce livre-ci.
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