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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 Célin "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


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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 Célin "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

30 review for Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection

  1. 4 out of 5

    Gregsamsa

    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 extin 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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    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 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Eirin

    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 theo 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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Artifice Magazine

    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...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    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 bullshi 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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    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, 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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Neil and Elodie Goodman

    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 pla 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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Arnie Rodriguez

    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 Roudie 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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Carrie Lorig

    EAT THIS THING EAT IT AND BE COVERED IN YOUR OWN

  10. 5 out of 5

    عمران ابن مصر

    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 ال 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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David Williamson

    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 th 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vehbi Görgülü

    A challenging book that compasses the detailed analysis of abjection within the context of psychoanalysis literature, religious cultures and contemporary art. Kristeva extends her distinction of abjection between semiotic and the symbolic that she theorized in Revolution in Poetic Language. In Powers of Horror, she further explores abjection, and its relation with the authority of religion, morality, politics, and language that comes through the repression of horror of the abjected body.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Whitney

    First read in 2008: "Beautifully written and completely impossible to understand at times. I still don't get why sperm isn't abject...I don't know. If you like reading about poop, this is the book for you." Much more comprehensible after reading the Girard, Freud, Lacan, and Bataille she's referencing.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    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 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dajana

    Čitala sam neku grozno prevedenu verziju, prepunu grešaka. Kao da nisam čitala. -.-

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ibtihal Mahmood

    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 wit 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.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Basila Hasnain

    Apprehensive, desire turns aside; sickened, it rejects. Is it aphorism or poetry or philosophy ? or is it magnificence of a mind that can weave a pattern of logic so unique and complex. How can I be without border? abject is a friend who stabs.... I can quote so many things from the book as if it was a long poem a Romantic Ode Cant get myself to praise any less. Its the kind of work you keep reading and never want to chuck it to anyone and yet wish everyone would know what it feels like reading Apprehensive, desire turns aside; sickened, it rejects. Is it aphorism or poetry or philosophy ? or is it magnificence of a mind that can weave a pattern of logic so unique and complex. How can I be without border? abject is a friend who stabs.... I can quote so many things from the book as if it was a long poem a Romantic Ode Cant get myself to praise any less. Its the kind of work you keep reading and never want to chuck it to anyone and yet wish everyone would know what it feels like readings it It is the kind of book I cant critique , because am in love with it , like Woolf's novel I cant lay it out but I can assure absolute Love :)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Johnny

    Kristeva situates the historical fear of 'the abject' within judeo-christian mythology and further illustrates her vision with support from literature, namely the work of french novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline. The last third of the essay is dedicated to a discussion of Céline's writings, but the theory preceding her analysis should benefit anyone interested in queer theory, deconstruction, the horror genre, or any of their intersections.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    If you're able to get past all the Lacanian psychoanalytic gobbledygook and what seems to me to be a very casual understanding of the cultures of several indigenous people groups (I don't have any background on any of the said groups, so I can hardly be critical of Kristeva, but her tone and the sources from which she draws are red flags), there are some very interesting things said about abjection and the self in this book. I look forward to incorporating it into my own research.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Raelene

    Abjection: an incredibly complex, compelling, difficult and compelling idea. Kristeva's text is equal ponderously dense and incredibly beautiful and yields overwhelmingly insightful details at every (re)reading.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Leonard Pierce

    If I could recommend one book on literary theory to people who aren't otherwise interested in the field, it would probably be this one. Moving, thoughtful and well-written; it can change the way you experience reading.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steve Owen

    An interesting spin on the uncanny's darker cousin, abjection.

  23. 4 out of 5

    sologdin

    gotta love the progression of abomination to sin to fascist celine.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

    Kristeva's Powers of Horror delivers a powerful vision that repudiates the criticism of postmodern and psychoanalytic viewpoints of difference and negativity. Kristeva takes aim at the fallacy that disillusion of identity would result in a radically homogeneous space. Take, for instance, the black and white episode of The Fairly Odd Parents where all the characters are reduced to grey blobs, without identity, utterly indistinguishable and interchangeable. This is a mischaracterization of these t Kristeva's Powers of Horror delivers a powerful vision that repudiates the criticism of postmodern and psychoanalytic viewpoints of difference and negativity. Kristeva takes aim at the fallacy that disillusion of identity would result in a radically homogeneous space. Take, for instance, the black and white episode of The Fairly Odd Parents where all the characters are reduced to grey blobs, without identity, utterly indistinguishable and interchangeable. This is a mischaracterization of these theories. This mischaracterization is based on the premise that identity is, in fact, what distinguishes people when it is in fact simply giving a name to (and, in turn, homogenizing) those things that distinguish people. Kristeva offers the image of an anti-identitarian world of radical heterogeneity. Identity is the straightening tool. Identity is the homogenizer, the remover. Theories of negativity ask people to step radically out of line rather than exchange their individuality for convenience. It is, in fact, the identitarian logic of liberal humanism that seeks to produce indistinguishable, interchangeable subjects. Liberal humanism offers a future where differences are recognized and then dismissed as irrelevant, are noted, written down, categorized, archived and summarily treated as curios and meaningless data. The things that separate us are the things that identity can never name. Desire, repression, and abjection. Abjection, almost literally, is that which distinguishes one individual from another. As Kristeva outlines abjection as one of her primary theoretical interests in this text, she defines it in several ways which are incompatible with each other. Kristeva discusses the removal of that which the social order cannot abide, the process by which the abject is abjected as 'abjection'. However, she also considers abjection to be the superegoic force that turns a subject away from the abject. If the abject is somehow dangerous, the drive to turn away from it is a superegoic intervention into the subject to protect 'physical' or mental health depending on the circumstance. Reconciling these two definitions is not easy, but perhaps not necessary. Simply thinking of both as dimensions of abjection and having a relationship to the construction of the social order is crucial. Kristeva also offers powerful accounts of psychoanalytic case studies and literature itself. At the text's conclusion, Kristeva writes, "literature as such represents the ultimate coding of our crises, of our most intimate and most serious apocalypses" (208). There is much to mine beyond these meta-concerns, too. Kristeva articulates a certain kind of anti-identitarian feminism that is a welcome intervention in contemporary conversations surrounding gender. Abjection is an important principle that can guide through the various terrains Kristeva masterfully navigates.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    The notion of abjection is absolutely brilliant and, since being introduced to it, I see it everywhere. This book certainly formed my ideas on it and there are several moments of brilliance contained within it. There were definitely some things I could have done without, namely the analysis of Céline's works. I found that unhelpful and a bit pointless, and mostly skimmed it. I also sometimes found her writing style frustrating - the amount of commas! She feels the need to clarify almost every wo The notion of abjection is absolutely brilliant and, since being introduced to it, I see it everywhere. This book certainly formed my ideas on it and there are several moments of brilliance contained within it. There were definitely some things I could have done without, namely the analysis of Céline's works. I found that unhelpful and a bit pointless, and mostly skimmed it. I also sometimes found her writing style frustrating - the amount of commas! She feels the need to clarify almost every word she uses. Or: she, meaning Kristeva, feels, that is, experiences an emotion or desire, the need, and not a want, but a need, to clarify, to explain, to elucidate, almost, and by almost I of course mean not all, every word, or turn of phrase, that she uses, or, rather, writes. See how frustrating that is!!! I understand that that's the way of theorists but it's so frustrating to extract her meaning sometimes. Despite those frustrations, I love the theory of abjection and her work on it is incredibly important.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Thomaz Amancio

    Meu conhecimento limitado sobre psicanálise e a obra de Céline (o nazista, não a canadense) prejudicou um bocado a minha absorção desse livro. Ainda assim, ele tem uns momentos que me parecem geniais. Infelizmente, estão perdidos no meio de um texto (ao que parece) confuso e desorganizado, que passa por muitos lugares interessantes mas não parece chegar a lugar nenhum, que começa tomando um rumo e de repente muda TOTALMENTE de sentido, mais ou menos como um episódio dos Simpsons, mas não tão eng Meu conhecimento limitado sobre psicanálise e a obra de Céline (o nazista, não a canadense) prejudicou um bocado a minha absorção desse livro. Ainda assim, ele tem uns momentos que me parecem geniais. Infelizmente, estão perdidos no meio de um texto (ao que parece) confuso e desorganizado, que passa por muitos lugares interessantes mas não parece chegar a lugar nenhum, que começa tomando um rumo e de repente muda TOTALMENTE de sentido, mais ou menos como um episódio dos Simpsons, mas não tão engraçado.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    3.5 An Essay on abjection? More like a fancy excuse to talk about your favourite author for literally half of the book. The first half was helpful, interesting and beautifully written, if not easy to read. The rest was an analysis of Celine. I would have found it a lot more helpful had she used different authors to proof her point. But oh well.

  28. 5 out of 5

    ChipperGoth

    I used this for a project in class and probably completely misunderstood it and bit off more than I could chew, but was nonetheless a fascinating read! I am personally not a fan of Freud and tend to automatically lose interest whenever he's mentioned, but this delves into enough gore and gruesome psychology to maintain my intrigue. Read it back in March and completely forgot to add it, whoops! EDIT: I got a really good grade on that essay, thanks Kristeva

  29. 4 out of 5

    vi macdonald

    3.5

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    At times moving and well-written; it might change the way you experience reading but I found it demanding at times. I did enjoy regardless and think this is a thoughtful work.

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