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.
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.