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

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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. 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.

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".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. So, see: the real tension is between our careful Me/not-me mental construct of selfhood and the abject within. Kristeva has the idea that we are 'subjects in process' and that there is no such thing as a fixed or stable identity. Julie Kristeva’s Powers of Horror is a massively important text for any scholar interested in horror or the abject. 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.

I'd be interested in seeing what someone from a non-psychoanalytic background could do with the basic ideas in this book. Kristeva also associates the abject with jouissance: "One does not know it, one does not desire it, one joys in it [on en jouit].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. An essential read for those interested in exploring the darker and more unsettling aspects of the human condition. 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.

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. A thing's thingness must be delimited, and that boundary that excludes what it is not is a substantial element of its identity.

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. Kristeva was the inaugural recipient of the Holberg International Memorial Prize in 2004 “for innovative explorations of questions on the intersection of language, culture, and literature.

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.It has been assimilated into the structure of reason; it has been domesticated by function, place, and significance. 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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