Differences between Abjection and Projection | Julia Kristeva

What are the differences between abjection and psychological projection?

This question was asked shortly after I released my first video on abjection, where I painted a grim picture about how abjection functions in the way we order our reality, how it affects norms and customs, relationships and how it influences bullying, racism, various phobias and is akin to being a snob.

The difference isn’t apparent immediately as abjection is difficult to grasp as a concept, but if we think of abjection in a less negative sense and take into account how it is a process of individuation, we can then compare it psychological projection, which is always negative. An interesting starting point is the prefixes of these terms. “Ab-” means “away from” and “pro-” means “substitute”. The suffix of both terms, “-ject” means “to throw”.

Abjection sits in between the object and the subject. The object is defined as “that is that outside”, the subject is “I am this inside” and the abject is “that what I am not”, which indicates how it is neither subject nor object, but it does inform what the subject is through negation.

Kristeva describes how she is repulsed by the skin on boiling milk, which is something of substance, an object, yet it does not have anything to do with her subjectivity. That being said, given her rejection of it, her prohibition of this object, she is defining her subjectivity, “I don’t like the skin on milk”, is talking about an object that the subject is rejecting – therefore it is abject. By extension, her parents don’t mind the skin on boiling milk and through this abjection, she separates “away from” her parents as an individual.

The abject defines borders and boundaries, we draw a line between our subjectivity and certain objects through rejection – this is the abject. It stems from disgust, vomiting and nausea are biological expressions of the abject. Kristeva asks if we can exist without borders, or more specifically, can “I” exist without borders. Without the abject, we could not be individuals. We can experience abjection when we encounter bigotry, racism and bullying – we draw a line between the substance and the subject to express our disgust of these actions.

Projection on the other hand is not based on substance and is subject related. If I personally lie all the time and presume that everyone must lie from my experience, thereby declaring that “Everyone is a liar because I too lie”, that is projection. It is more abstract and concept based, rather than something of substance, material or objective. More extreme forms of projection can be seen when a woman accuses a childless mother of being a bad mother, in order to shift the blame from her own failings, or a religious person measures atheists by their own standards. Projection “substitutes” and diverts our values onto others.

Put in even more simple terms – projection diverts boundaries, whereas abjection subverts boundaries. Projection causes (someone or something) to change course or turn from one direction to another and distracts (someone) from something, where abject will undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution), overthrow, unsettle and destabilise the presumptuous, or (of a person or their behaviour) failing to observe the limits of what is permitted or appropriate.

Abject seeks to be definitive, where projection refuses to meet agreement.

This is my attempt to show abjection in principle, where it is a necessary function of our individuality, it defines the self and the other through negation, which then creates the affirmative as a result. The next phase of my inquiry leads to how abjection is related to snobbery and tribalism, excessively defining what we are not, can be seen in a negative view, which either produces empathy, in which case transference and projection can become problematic, or tolerance, which is better described as apathy, lack of care about the other, but not being aggressive towards the other, or ignorance and violence towards the other.

Projection is something that we are and others are not, the abject is what we are not and others are.


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What is Abjection?

Humans in society are in a constant state of flux, an on-going ritual of ordering and re-ordering. Roles, purpose and meaning is often based on tradition, norms and customs, when there is a binary, the rituals are straight forward, unchallenged and acceptable.

There are moments, when ambiguity or disorientation begins to emerge, individuals begin to express themselves outside of these norms and customs, this is the threshold known as liminality.

During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.

This space in between object and subject relation is often revolted against, repelled, prohibited, it is the creation of phobia, the power of horror, something that we identify with, yet we are not what it is. This liminal space is occupied by something that is neither subject nor object, it is occupied by the abject and abjection.

The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established. The place of the abject is where meaning collapses, the place where I am not. The abject threatens life, it must be radically excluded 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.

When we confront the abject we simultaneously fear and identify with it. The presence of a corpse is abjective, it reminds us of life being intemperate and is repulsive to us. The abject has only one quality of the object and that is being opposed to I.

Abjection is concerned with figures that are in a state of transition or transformation. The abject is located in a liminal state that is on the margins of two positions. We are both drawn to and repelled by the abject; nausea is a biological recognition of it, and fear and adrenalin also acknowledge its presence. Consequently it is a manipulator, and as such subverts boundaries, laws, and conventions.

The abject literally means “the state of being cast off” and “rejected”. It informs our reality through appearances, bodily fluids that we excrete, shit and urine are all parts of me, yet they are not me. We wipe it away, discard and find it repulsive. We define ourselves by what we are not, the abject is relational to the super ego, as it is not an object, objects relate to the ego.

Examples of abjection include the HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 80’s, the fear of bodily fluids and imminent threats of death provoked hysteria, disorder, phobia and prohibitions toward those who we pointed the finger at as “impure and improper”. Abjection is devoid of understanding, as it is outside of the symbolic order of language, it is the unnameable, the horror and the taboo.

Abject crime, abject poverty, abject lies – it informs our disgust and it defines our cultural articulations of morality, yet it thrives on being able to be defined while at the same time being feared. Snobbery, bullying, misogyny, misandry and racism thrive off the abject. The informing presence of abjection keeps disorder in its place, that which is rejected by/disturbs social reason — the communal consensus that underpins a social order viewing the subject as something that is derived from filth.

Within the boundaries of what one defines as subject – a part of oneself – and object – something that exists independently of oneself – there resides pieces that were once categorized as a part of oneself or one’s identity that has since been rejected – the abject.

The 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”: a corpse, having fallen out of the symbolic order, creates abjection through its uncanniness — creates a cognitive dissonance.

“Abjection” is often used to describe the state of often-marginalized groups, such as women, unwed mothers, homosexuals, trans-genders, people of minority religious faiths, prostitutes, homeless people, convicts, poor and disabled people. The term space of abjection is also used, referring to a space that abjected things or beings inhabit. The abjects is the misplaced inversion of empathy thinking of “the me that is not me”, the rejected I, in order to preserve one’s identity they are cast out.

The abject makes some aware of the power, pleasure and pain of being looked at, as our objective sense of self dominates any subjective sense. Abject art is that which “explores themes that transgress and threaten our sense of cleanliness and propriety particularly referencing the body and bodily functions,” The DaDa movement is perhaps the most grotesque example of artistic abjection, a more commonly known presence of its artistic expression resides in a cartoon show from the 90’s, Ren and Stimpy, bringing to our attention scenes of horrific violence, callousness and disgusting actions of teeth being pulled out, bodily fluids spilling everywhere, farts escaping only to return inside an anus, excessive amounts of body hair, misogyny, among other themes that never made it into the prime time childrens’ show that forced us all to absorb the abject, the aesthetic experience of the abject, such as within art and literature, is a poetic catharsis – an impure process that allows the artist or author to protect themselves from the abject only by immersing themselves within it.

As the abject resides in liminality, it expresses how we ‘come together through murder.’ Blood has powerful abjective associations with horror within rituals, vampires sucking the blood out of their victims in order to bring them into a new state of being, one where the victim then is seeking to bring more vampires into the social order. Blood in rituals is abject because of sacrifice and martyrdom, once the blood is spilled, a new message and state of power emerges from it, we feel repulsed, yet intoxicated, as the threshold we stand before runs with the new blood that provokes social change. Religion plays on this power of horror with martyrs who spill blood for the value of good. Blood in social orientation brings with it an agency that can only be described as a hallucination and total hysteria, the spectacle of the scaffold and the guillotine, the abject is used to distil fear, to bring about disorder through shame, guilt and bad conscience.

Those outside of the object being abjected revolt against its gross meaning, aware of th fear that one day, they too could be the message of prohibition, stripped of their rights as a human being, that they will become the “me that is not me”. Thus, it manipulates empathy.

We come together through murder, we define ourselves by what we are not, we outcast and exile that which reminds us of our failures and insecurities, the abject is the shit that is buried under sand in India, it is what goes on, yet it is hidden away from everyday life, it is domestic violence, secular bullying, xenophobia, tribalism, Islamophobia, anti-semetism and rape. If it can happen to them, it can happen to you, but you can’t let it be you, so you reject it as perverse, obscene and vile, as the filth we wash away with the clean and proper, it’s the reaction of vomit to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object, or between the self and the other.


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Are Transgender people ill? | Abjection and Ambiguity

Are Transgender People Ill? |Ambiguity and Abjection

Download the PDF : Are Transgenders Really Ill – Abjection and Ambiguity


I am ambiguous and disjunctive, I wear clothes of what society views as being for the opposite sex and yet I identify myself as male gender, heterosexual and yet I cross dress. If this has you confused, I suggest you forget about it, there is nothing to say really, you have to take me as I come, I am what I am, and things are how they are. If I have to give a reason as to ‘why’; I would object to the inquiry of ‘why’ as it implies a purpose, the truth is I don’t know with certainty and it doesn’t matter ultimately, if anything I have lots of fun and life is interesting for me, which may cover the ‘why question’, I really don’t know. For some people however, apathy just isn’t enough, they have to tell me and others like me how wrong I am, how I ought not, should not be doing what I am doing. This is what this essay is all about.

Continue reading Are Transgender people ill? | Abjection and Ambiguity

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