Tag Archives: Abjection

Abjection | I stray in order to be |

What is abjection?

The general usage of the term ‘abject’ is an adjective for the most depraved, low, disgusting forms of ways of life, or individual and societal acts. We might say ‘the crime in that particular area is abject’; or ‘those people live in abject poverty’. In any case, wherever it is used, it is referring to something outside of a norm of goodness.

In it’s philosophical usage, it denotes a state of ‘being cast off’; or ‘excreted’ and ‘rejected’. Language informs our reality, it represents it and so abjection defines a boundary between two states of being, the pure and the impure, me and not me.


Liminality is a key term when describing the abject. To be liminal is to relate a transitional or initial stage of a process, like a ritual. It also explains an occupied position at, or on both sides of a boundary and a threshold. Liminality is the process of ‘in-between’ moments in space between an inciting incident and a solution. The term is most commonly used in literature, the solution is from a protagonist.

It is often a period of discomfort, of waiting, and of transformation. Your characters’ old habits, beliefs, and even personal identity disintegrates.

The term sub-liminal refers to existing or operating below the threshold of consciousness; being or employing stimuli insufficiently intense to produce a discrete sensation but often being or designed to be intense enough to influence the mental processes or the behavior of the individual: a subliminal stimulus; subliminal advertising.

When we talk about abjection, we are talking about an ordering of boundaries that leads to a transformation of both sides, it operates in-between the boundary and the boundary between self and other, even the boundary of subconsiousness. The abject is something instinctual, primal and prior to language itself. It can be manipulated and reshaped through emotions.


The abject is niether object or subject. It occupies the liminal space between the two. It subverts and perverts boundaries. It is ‘the me that is not me’. We define ourselves and others through the abject, we cast off a part of ourselves in order to redefine the new boundaries and identity of either side.

Abject as a protection

It’s biological expression is one of nausea and disgust, anxiety and spasms. It protects us from what we loathe. We spit ourselves out. Food loathing is perhaps the best example of the abject. Jellied eels are a common delicacy in some London pubs, just watching others scoff and swallow those slimy, gross eels with a pint of lager makes me wretch and purge. When I can’t hide my repulsion from others, they seek to proffer the loathed food and I refuse. ‘I’ do not want to listen.’I’ refuse to assimilate it. ‘I’ expell it.

To each ego it’s object, to each superego, it’s abject.

A corpse is another way of understanding abjection, a corpse shows you the boundary of life itself, what we push aside in order to live.

Formation of individuality

If we think of desire (want) as something prior to signification, preliminary to being and object, we can understand abjection as something intimate and unapproachable. It means that lives are not sustained by desire, but through exclusion. It is how territories are formed. The abject is phobia and the splitting of the ego. We are not subjects, but rather, dejects, we place ourselves, seperate ourselves and situate ourselves and therefore stray.

Strayed to salvation

Whenever we become disgusted with our own actions and thoughts, we begin to deject and stray, we are literally beside ourselves. We refuse to assimilate the part of ourselves that provokes such nausea and phobia, we protect ourselves from ourselves and form the ‘I’.

When we cross the threshold of individual territory into society, we can see the abject forming borders, casting-off that which it does not tolerate and loathes, yet the deject also finds the others in those groups counter to their desires and so excludes themselves in order to grow as an individual.

I stray in order to be. Shakespeare’s famous line from Hamlet best captures the abject – ‘to be or not to be, that is the question’, as Hamlet is cast-off and dejects what he finds repulsive within his family, ‘something is rotten in Denmark’. Thus, Elizabethan England was a time of revolt against old traditions and rebellion, it was the birth of the individual in modern literature.

One could argue that Odysseus was the first individual, as he was cast-off and excluded only to return with a solution to reorder the changes while he was away with violence.

What is abject is in constant battle and revolt with what it excludes and rejects it. It cannot be assimilated, it establishes itself and protects itself from the shameful.

Bodily fluids

The abject is that which is excreted from a body, be it a social body or an individual deject/subject. These excretions are me, yet not me. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is the best example of this rejection of the other that reordered liminal space. The 80’s were a time of hysteria about bodily fluids as they were percieved as diseased and so people who were ill and dying were rejected from society. This extended to anyone who was outside of the territory of norms and customs in general, punks, drug users who shared syringes, black people due to a racist view of the genesis of the virus, homosexuals, queers, transgender and many more out-casts were in constant revolt against the exclusion.

We can think of the abject as a power of horror that works in a ritualistic way, it’s sole desire is to save itself from what it considers intolerable. It reveals a subliminal power in the horror that power is a two way street and the abject produces symbols and actions of defiance, re-turning, detournment and revolution as it subverts these hidden boundaries.

Situationaist International thinker, Guy DeBoor used French Detournment. It gave a name to what youth sub-cultures had always been doing, taking a style, symbol or form of life and hacking it, subverting it, perverting it from it’s intentions. For example, Teddy boys took Edwardian fashion and turned it into working class machismo, while punks and queers took derogatory labels and turned them into symbols of defiance.

His intent on using this ‘re-turning’ was to address the assimilation of capitalism into our thoughts and desires, since advertising took off in the 20th century, it replaced thoughts with a collection of images that enclosed the subject body into a consumer society.

Domination and resistance

Wherever there is domination there will always be a continuing resistance. The abject is the dark revolt of the soul.

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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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