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date: 02 July 2020


A Dictionary of Critical Theory

Ian Buchanan

That which disturbs the self by provoking an *uncanny feeling of disgust, fear, loathing, or repulsion. The abject is the excessive dimension of either a subject or an object; it is that which cannot be assimilated—i.e. we cannot make it part of ourselves. The paradox of the abject is that it is simultaneously outside or beyond the subject and a product of the subject. Our own bodily fluids are for the most part loathsome to us, but the intensity of that loathing owes precisely to the fact that they come from inside us. Thus, human faeces are more disgusting to us than dog faeces, despite the fact that there is no real material difference between them. The abject is not, therefore, an intrinsic quality of a thing, a being, or a state of affairs; it is rather a disturbance in a state of affairs characterized by matter being out of place (e.g. faeces in the toilet do not bother us as much as faeces on the kitchen floor). The abject tends to be subject to moral, religious, and cultural laws of taboo and proscription. It is not merely considered dirty in other words, but also profane and profaning. It manifests as a peculiar type of response, an inherently ambiguous and ambivalent ... ...

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