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The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms

Chris Baldick


A psychological process of ‘casting off ’, identified and theorized by the Bulgarian‐French psychoanalytic philosopher Julia Kristeva as the basis of horror and revulsion, and so subsequently adopted by literary critics in attempted explanation of the imaginative effects of horror stories, Gothic fiction, and narratives of monstrosity. In her book Pouvoirs de l'horreur (1980; translated as Powers of Horror, 1982), Kristeva proposes that we are especially disgusted by anything that is ambiguously located at the physical boundaries of the self, neither clearly inside nor outside us: thus bodily excretions and secretions excite nausea, and so too, in this theory, do babies and indeed mothers. Such unsettling items are described as abject or abjected insofar as we attempt to maintain our stable sense of self by imaginatively expelling them or projecting them in the form of monstrous aliens, ghosts, or bogeys.