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A Dictionary of Critical Theory

Ian Buchanan


That which disturbs the self, by provoking either disgust, fear, loathing or repulsion. Belonging to the realm of the psychic, the abject is the excessive dimension of either a subject or an object that cannot be assimilated. As such, it is simultaneously outside or beyond the subject and inside and 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 us. Thus human faeces are more disgusting to us than dog faeces, despite the fact that there is no real 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 peculiar type of response, the strange power of which seems to suggest we are drawn to that which repels us. According to Julia Kristeva, the Paris-based Bulgarian linguist and psychoanalyst, this is because it recalls—psychically—the moment of our separation from the womb, an occasion that is simultaneously bloody, painful, traumatizing, liberating and beautiful. For this reason, too, the abject tends to be associated more with the feminine than the masculine. For obvious reasons, the concept of the abject has been particularly important in cinema studies, where it is used to explain the appeal of gory horror films and slimy SF films. See also khōra.

Further Reading:

B. Creed The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (1993).Find this resource:

    J. Kristeva Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982).Find this resource: