The term Abjection literally means "the state of being cast off." In usage it has connotations of degradation, baseness and meanness of spirit.

Abjection in Critical Theory

In contemporary critical theory, abjection is often used to describe the state of often-marginalized groups, such as people of color, prostitutes, homosexuals, convicts, poor people and disabled people. In this context, the concept of abject exists in between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject, something alive yet not. This term originated in the works of Julia Kristeva. Often, the term space of abjection is also used, referring to a space that abjected things or beings inhabit.

According to Kristeva, since the abject is situated outside the symbolic order, being forced to face it is an inherently traumatic experience. For example, upon being faced with a corpse, a person would be most likely repulsed because he or she is forced to face an object which is violently cast out of the cultural world, having once been a subject. We encounter other beings daily, and more often than not they are alive. To confront a corpse of one that we recognize as human, something that "should" be alive but isn't, is to confront the reality that we are capable of existing in the same state, our own mortality. This repulsion from death, excrement and rot constitutes the subject as a living being in the symbolic order.

This act is done in the light of the parts of ourselves that we exclude: un-namely – the mother. We must abject the maternal, the object which has created us, in order to construct an identity. This is done on the micro level of the speaking being, through her subjective dynamics, as well as on the macro level of society, through "language as a common and universal law." We use rituals, specifically those of defilement, in order to maintain clear boundaries between nature and society, the semiotic and the symbolic. This line of thought begins with Mary Douglas' important book, "Purity and Danger", as well as in Kristeva's own "Black Sun".

The concept of abject is often coupled (and sometimes confused with) the idea of the uncanny, the concept of something being "un-home-like", or foreign, yet familiar. The abject can be uncanny in the sense that we can recognize aspects in it, despite its being "foreign". An example, continuing on the one used above, is that of a corpse, namely the corpse of a loved one. We will recognize that person as being close to us, but the fact that the person is dead, and "no longer" the familiar loved one, is what creates a sort of cognitive dissonance, leading to abjection of the corpse.

Abject Art

In the 1980s and 1990s many artists became aware of this theory and reflected it in their work. In 1993 the Whitney Museum, New York, staged an exhibition titled Abject Art: Repulsion and Desire in American Art, which gave the term a wider currency in art. Cindy Sherman is seen as a key contributor to the abject in art, as well as many others including Louise Bourgeois, Helen Chadwick, Paul McCarthy, Gilbert and George, Robert Gober, Carolee Schneemann, Kiki Smith and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

The Abject other Works

According to Barbara Creed in "Horror and the Monstrous Feminine" a male's relationship with the mother and other females is complicated by the use of the feminine in horror and science fiction as we are forced to confront it as horrific and abject. Through an analysis of the film Alien (1979) and the female roles and representations, Creed explains how females are often related to the object of horror, be they as the object of horror or the object of the actual horrors' desire/hatred. The conclusion is that through monstrous representations of the female or the Mother, the audience is drawn into viewing them as abject rather than subject or object. The aliens themselves from the film in question are often described as having phallus-like appendages in the shape of their head and tongue, while maintaining an almost female form. Their interaction with the human crew takes on very abject roles as one crew member, a male, is forcibly impregnated (clearly as a product of rape) with an alien that eventually rips itself from the male 'womb' in a horrific scene of blood and gore. The process of a male being impregnated through the mouth with a creature that gestates -- in a being that has no womb -- and rips itself free in a shower of blood is one way in which this film abjectifies female roles.

Abjection is also a major theme of the 1949 work The Thief's Journal (Journal du Voleur) by French author Jean Genet. As a criminal outcast from society, during a fictionalised account of his wanderings through Europe in the 1930s, he claims to actively seek abjections as an existentialist form of 'sainthood.'

See also


External links

* [http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/wyrick/debclass/krist.htm Julia Kristeva, "Approaching Abjection"] . This is an extensive excerpt of (most )chapter one of Kristeva's, "Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection".
* [http://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/psychoanalysis/kristevaabject.html Modules on Kristeva II: on the abject]

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  • abjection — [ abʒɛksjɔ̃ ] n. f. • 1372; lat. abjectio 1 ♦ Extrême degré d abaissement, d avilissement. ⇒ avilissement, indignité, infamie. Vivre dans l abjection. « La complaisance célinienne pour l abjection humaine » (Kristeva). 2 ♦ Comportement, discours… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Abjection — Ab*jec tion ([a^]b*j[e^]k sh[u^]n), n. [F. abjection, L. abjectio.] 1. The act of bringing down or humbling. The abjection of the king and his realm. Joye. [1913 Webster] 2. The state of being rejected or cast out. [R.] [1913 Webster] An… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • abjection — Abjection. s. f. Abbaissement, état de mépris, où est une personne. Il est tombé dans une telle abjection, que &c. Il signifie aussi Rebut, en cette phrase de l Ecriture sainte. L opprobre des hommes & l abjection du peuple …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • abjection — (n.) early 15c., from Fr. abjection (14c.), from L. abjectionem (nom. abjectio) dejection, despondency, lit. a throwing away, noun of action from pp. stem of abicere (see ABJECT (Cf. abject)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • abjection — I noun abasement, baseness, debasement, decadence, degeneracy, degradation, demoralization, dishonor, disrepute, humiliation, ignominy, meanness, servility, vileness II index bad faith, bad repute, degradation, dishonor ( …   Law dictionary

  • abjection — [abjek′shən, abjek′shən] n. 1. an abject state or condition 2. Bot. the projection of spores from a sporophore …   English World dictionary

  • abjection — (ab jèk sion) s. f. 1°   État abject. Tomber dans l abjection. Il vécut dans la débauche et l abjection. L abjection des sentiments. Pour abaisser notre orgueil et relever notre abjection. •   On ne remarque chez cette nation [espagnole] aucun de …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • ABJECTION — s. f. Abaissement, état de mépris où est une personne. Il est tombé dans une telle abjection, que... Vivre dans l abjection. Il s est relevé de l abjection, de l état d abjection où il était tombé.   Il se dit également De choses basses et… …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 7eme edition (1835)

  • ABJECTION — n. f. état d’abaissement qui attire le mépris de tous. Vivre dans l’abjection. Il s’est relevé de l’abjection, de l’état d’abjection où il était tombé. Il se dit également de Choses basses et méprisables. L’abjection de ses sentiments et de ses… …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 8eme edition (1935)

  • abjection — noun /æbˈdʒɛkʃən/ a) The act of bringing down or humbling. The abjection of the king and his realm. b) The state of being rejected or cast out. An abjection from the beatific regions where God, and his angels and saints, dwell forever …   Wiktionary

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