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

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

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

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At a time when simple definitions of human psychology abound this is an unusually deep and rich well and it brings us back to the essential mystery of human beings, who are so much more than flesh, blood and bone.

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. She explores how art and religion each offer ways of purifying the abject, arguing that amid abjection, boundaries between subject and object break down.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. 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. 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.

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 Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva offers an extensive and profound consideration of the nature of abjection. Critics who seek an alternative to sexist and, in general, imperialist practices in psychoanalytic writing will want to read [this book].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. 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 books like this, terms like "subject" and "other" take on meanings quite foreign to their day-to-day usage.

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. 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. 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. Kristeva has the idea that we are 'subjects in process' and that there is no such thing as a fixed or stable identity. 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?Intolerance and prejudice, narrow-mindedness and bigotry, prudishness and hypocritical self-righteousness all have their roots in abjection. You would have the same trouble if you watched someone else expel their spit into a glass and tried to drink that. One aspect of the abject that Kristeva highlights is the fact that its main characteristic is not about sickness or disease, but rather about meaninglessness. In Powers of Horror though she's at her finest, drawing on her dual careers as a practicing psychoanalyst and a linguist.

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. 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 para-philosophical modes of discourse.A renowned psychoanalyst, philosopher, and linguist, she has written dozens of books spanning semiotics, political theory, literary criticism, gender and sex, and cultural critique, as well as several novels and autobiographical works, published in English translation by Columbia University Press. The abject, one can suppose, is the melancholic transition between the pre-symbolic mother to the identification with the father (in the symbolic). 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.



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