AskDefine | Define abject

Dictionary Definition

abject adj
1 of the most contemptible kind; "abject cowardice"; "a low stunt to pull"; "a low-down sneak"; "his miserable treatment of his family"; "You miserable skunk!"; "a scummy rabble"; "a scurvy trick" [syn: low, low-down, miserable, scummy, scurvy]
2 most unfortunate or miserable; "the most abject slaves joined in the revolt"; "abject poverty"
3 showing utter resignation or hopelessness; "abject surrender" [syn: resigned, unhopeful]
4 showing humiliation or submissiveness; "an abject apology"

User Contributed Dictionary



From abjectus, past participle of abjicere to reject, formed from ab- + jacere, to throw

Pronunciation 1

  • , /ˈæbdʒɛkt/, /"

Extensive Definition

The term Abjection literally means "the state of being cast off." The concept of abject exists in between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject, something alive yet not. In contemporary critical theory, it is often used to describe the state of often-marginalized groups, such as people of color, prostitutes, homosexuals, convicts, poor people and handicapped persons. 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.
Following Kristeva's formulation of abjection in Powers of Horror - An Essay on Abjection, abjection can be seen as letting go of something we would still like to keep. In the case of blood, semen, hair and excrement/urine, we recognize these as once being a part of ourselves, thus these forms of the abject are taken out of our system while bits of them remain in our selves. When one encounters blood, excrement, etc. outside of the body, one is forced to confront what was once a part of oneself, but no longer is. Dismemberment compels the same kind of heightened reaction when one confronts the horror of detachment. A dismembered finger or limb is identified as belonging to one's own body and is 'missed' while at the same time repulsive to the viewer for no longer being a part of the whole. Because humans frequently shed skin and blood etc. there is a higher tolerance to it and we are not as horrified as we would be in the case of dismemberment, yet most are not willing to engage with excrement or blood due to its detached nature. In a way, we exist in abjection: the process of creating our self (identity) is never-ending. The act of "selfing" ("identifying") ourselves is the only common feature of all people.
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.

The Post-Kristevan Meta-Order of Abjection

In Kristeva’s works, abjection explains how beings in the cultural symbolic order would be repulsed, traumatised upon facing an abject entity. In addition to this system, it has been suggested that abject entities do not just float outside of the symbolic order but form their own sub-order, that co-exist alongside the symbolic order, creating a greater meta-order. In an ideal illustration, a large galaxy would represent the social cosmos and would contain one central swirling mass (a microcosm of cultural order), an empty or grayed space (representative of the abject's distance from social acceptance) and many, smaller, somewhat-attached masses, the pseudo-order of the many instances of the abject which are often only related by their shared location within abject space. All of these revolve around and are influenced by the force of the gravity (the force of the human condition) which originates from the central-most point (the phenomena created by human necessity and nature).
Representation of the post-Kristeva order of abjection (above)

The abject in fiction

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.'

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