Powers Of Horror. An Essay On Abjection New York 1982

Powers Of Horror. An Essay On Abjection New York 1982-75
So-called abjects point towards the impossibility of such an ideal transcendence of the physical.In a literal sense the expression refers to abject secretions like excrements, blood, or puss; elements that threaten the subject's 'own,' proper body (corps propre) and therefore have to be expelled.5 This re-drawing of boundaries creates a sense of security, of inside/outside.

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In The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection2 Kristeva develops her theory of the abject, its relation to the concept of the mother and its significance in the constitution of the subject.

This process starts for the child in the Semiotic, a pre-Oedipal space experienced as an undifferentiated continuum between his/herself, the surroundings and the mother's body.

Barbara Creed explains: The abject [...] must be "radically excluded" (p. K.]) from the place of the living subject, propelled away from the body and deposited on the other side of an imaginary border which separates the self from that which threatens the self.

6 For the child, abjects are closely linked to the figure of the mother of the semiotic chora.

Abjects threaten stable subject positions, the full constitution of which requires a clear demarcation line between Self and Other.

The abject, however, is that which does not "respect borders, positions, rules", that "disturbs identity, system, order."9 It is a place "where meaning collapses," 10 the "place where 'I' am not,"11 presenting a life-threatening negation that must be radically excluded.It surfaces as the treacherous mother, the oral-sadistic mother, or as mother as primordial abyss; in images of blood, of the 'all-devouring' vagina, of the vagina dentata, and of the vagina as Pandora's box; in the representation of the monster as fetish of (or for) the mother and in the presence of the archaic, parthenogenetic mother.18 Over and over again, the horror film depicts "reworking[s] of the primal scene in relation to the representation of other forms of copulation and procreation."19 They center on the question of the origin of life, or - in its most extreme patriarchal form - the fear that the archaic mother could be the sole source of life.This conceptualization of the archaic mother presents a stark contrast to Kristeva's mother of the semiotic chora, who is a pre-Oedipal figure and can therefore only be theorized in her relationship to her family and to the Symbolic.Her manifestations can usually be found in a film's mise-en-scene as a representation of her phantasmagoric aspects as in the first half of Alien (Ridley Scott, USA, 1979); Creed writes: Although the "mother" as a figure does not appear in [...] the entire film-her presence forms a vast backdrop for the enactment of all the events.She is there in the images of birth, the representations of the primal scene, the womblike imagery, the long winding tunnels leading to inner chambers, the rows of hatching eggs [...] She is the generative mother, the pre-phallic mother, the being who exists prior to the knowledge of the phallus.20 Because she concentrates solely on her reproductive function and is posited outside morality and the law, she threatens the patriarchal symbolic order and has to be negated and discredited.In modern societies, this once religious cathartic function is being partly fulfilled by the horror film.13 In her essay "Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection", Barbara Creed uses Kristeva's concept of the mother of the semiotic chora to take it a step further and to discover the traces of a more radical maternal presence in myth and popular culture.For Creed, it is above all the representation of the mother as abject that links the horror film to Kristeva's theory.14 In her conceptualization, the mother's relationship to the child is always problematic because of her reluctance to let him/her go.As described above, that body is inextricably linked with the repressed world of the mother, so that defilement rites such as the horror film visualize the frontier between the repressed maternal-semiotic authority and the symbolic Law of the Father as in The Exorcist (William Friedkin, USA, 1973), etc.16 In traditional conceptualizations of the genre, its fascination with blood, especially the bleeding female body (said to symbolize not only her own 'castrated' state, but also the possibility of castration for the male) points towards castration anxiety as one of the basic motives of the horror film.17 Barbara Creed, however, demonstrates that the representation of the monstrous-feminine in the genre could also be based on entirely different anxieties, situated beyond the phallocentric patriarchal order.Such dangerous femininity can be found in representations of the primal scene, of birth and death.She needs her child to justify her own existence and to keep up some kind of connection to the Symbolic, from which she has effectively been expelled.Her refusal to let the child go makes her dangerous and she becomes the 'bad' mother as in Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1960) or in Dressed To Kill (Brian De Palma, USA, 1980), who denies her child the 'necessary' transition to the Symbolic.15 The semiotic maternal can be found in the representation of abject elements that refer to the instability of the world of the Father by reverting to the 'unclean' and repulsive body.


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