The Crux of Kristeva's (Non)Abjection: How to improperly define the Abject by becoming the "The"

As opposed to the abject, inhabiting the position of its definer has its perks: s/he has the privilege to sit atop the Panopticon, cast its eyes on the observed, project his/her judgement, proceed to define the observed’s level of Abjection, then move on unscathed


This process happens while the (possibly unassuming) Abject inhabits its position —- and not knowing its definer’s position nor ability to define its own Abjection


In the text ” Approaching Abjection: The Powers of Horrror “, the venerable Julia Kristeva is the definer of said Abject —- albeit a novice one, at best, or simply a repulsed definer at that, since she merely has a “… completely mimetic identification of the analyst, with respect to analysands”; in this sense, the analyst is interchangeable with the definer of the Abject, and the analysand is analogous to the Abject


By positing a divide between the two, Kristeva is already at a disadvantage —- in her poor, narrowly improper attempt to define what an Abject is —- because an Abject is, by nature, indeterminate, disparate, forever in flux


Thus, it is no surprise that she determines the cause of abjection via the entity which “… disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules “


Again, either she simply does not understand nor fails to admit that identities CAN be multiplicitous, that systems are MEANT to be continually disrupted, uprooted & replaced, that orders are also meant to NOT be followed, that borders ARE thin and blurred, that positions are SIMULTANEOUSLY deposited & reposited, that rules WILL eventually be broken


Aside from Kristeva’s inclinations on languange and Semiotics, gender and her eventual, formidable works on Feminism, she couldn’t fully define what Abjection is because she herself has never fully “embraced” her abjection, particularly in the aforementioned contexts, which is likely the main reason why she (in line with most (Post)Structuralists, with the exception of Barthes) changed their overall, politically-based positions when they realized & finally accepted the fact that Stalin was the elephant in the room, whose parasitism quelled their support of Communism


Unlike Kristeva, Georges Bataille embraced his position as an Abject from the very start, starting from his exiles from & fallouts with Breton’s Surrealist camp & Sartre’s intellectual, Marxist circles; unlike those two collectives and Kristeva’s, Bataille refused to align with any idealogy, since he equated the dominant ideologies at that time as a semblance of order &/or nature, the very same manner in which he recognized, by default, that Man was also meant to say “no” to any sort of “nature”, since its “… attitude is one of refusal” (Bataille, Erotism: Death & Sensuality - Affinities between Reproduction & Death)


As opposed to Kristeva, Bataille never saw power in horror, since horror’s powerlessness is as powerful; in his assessment of death, something which invariably connotes a certain degree of horror, Bataille equated it as “sensuous” and consequently recognized that “… man conspires to ignore the fact that death is also the youth of things” 


Kristeva can go on and perceive life and death as two seperate entities which have a “heterogeneous flow” where “the abject”, upon death, “… unnaturally dwells in a human animal that has been highly altered”, but since Kristeva recedes whenever nature/order harkens to be followed & inevitably “demands” her “surrender”, she never, again, fully realizes her full abjection —- by a simple gesture of resistance in saying “no”


In short, the crux of Kristeva’s Non-Abjection is not the repulsion evoked by Abjects —- its her own refusal, her relentless commitment to say no to her own Abjection —- instilled, of course, in her position as the definer, as the Analyst, sitting atop the Panopticon —- that has narrowed her agency to accurately define the Analysand, the Abject, and Abjection


In doing so, she reduced her Abjection, furthermore, by simply becoming the “The”


/Spectacle/Hal Foster/ (hf)

In Society of the Spectacle Guy Debord warns about the consumer society based solely on commodity fetishism stating that “All that was once lived directly has become mere representation.”  Debord was involved in the Situationist International and clearly demonstrates the reproduced “traumatic real” of Andy Warhol that Hal Foster describes:

“…repetitions are in play in Warhol: repetitions that fix on the traumatic real, that screen it, that produce it.  And this multiplicity makes for the paradox not only of images tht are both affective and affectless, but also of viewers that are neither integrated (which is the ideal of most modern aesthetics: the subject composed in contemplation) nor dissolved (which is the effect of much popular culture: the subject given over to the schizo intensities of the commodity-sign).”

By engaging in a repetitive gaze are we not forced into a position of an inability to judge or care about the authenticity of the art or perhaps the real?  Debord goes at great length in his book of thesis about capitalism, schizo-capitalism, consumer culture and the mediation of the real through images.  

Consumer culture defined through psychoanalysis is a system in which the “lack” (small a) is constantly being fetishized because it is unobtainable to fill a void with commodities such as images and product.  This lack stems from a dissembodied mass of culture which Debord likens to the ongoing desecularization of society.  What was once found through religious ritual is now replaced with consumer ritual.  Andy Warhol states that he likes for things to stay the same so that they become meaningless and he himself becomes meaningless.  This is seemingly a Buddhit frame of mind.  It is interesting to note that Buddhism itself was reintroduced by the Hindus as a means of utilizing the revolution against Brahman to be overcome through spiritualizing the elite.  We can see this same modus operendi in the use of religion and faith and success in money as an equality of suprression of society in late 20th century capitalism and we see it further introduced into churches of spirituality who measure their belief in god by how much money they can make to be “successful.”  

Art in the 21st century needs to reveal these forces and remove itself from the grips of commodity in order for it to become successful.  


Derek Murray and Others

I found Derek  Murray’s talk to be extremely interesting.  I kept thinking about his perspective on Foster and the breakdown he analyzed of Foster’s strategies to implement ideas and notions in the minds of the reader on which arts types should be assimilated into the ivy league art worlds.  It is funny how I now look at the October Journal as some pompous art magazine run by mostly white men that is conservative in its allowance of art medias.  The 1993 biennial sticks out in my mind, because I found it intriguing that though this was coined the most disastrous exhibit ever to come out of the Whitney the impact of the exhibit on the art world was outstanding.  It forced the scholars to reconcile with new forms of art and to accept that the Other was not becoming part of the main stream

The article by Foster “the art of the Ethnographer”  was the first time that I had known what an Ethnographer was and since that reading I have heard the term 5 or six times in different passing conversations.  I find the artists and the ethnographer mixing and melding in many different areas and have a hard time sometimes defining where the line is drawn. 

Ethnographer- understand cultural phenomenon- understanding the history

Technique over theme

Position over tendency


Artist as producer/artist as ethnographer

  1. Political transformation artist transformation
  2. In the field of the other producer model
  3. If not perceived as other limited to access to social cultur

Ideological patronage

Primitive position

Artist and worker

Language makes it real

Chronology of history falls an collapses and then rises.

For not the other can slip into self absorption

Foster and the other,  anthropological sense, subconscious, primitivist

Science of alterity

What is the difference between anthropology and modern art.

ethnographer envy?


In the end, My perspective is who cares?  I find that there is this incessant need to title and categorize people and their actions.  Foster wants  to preserve the sacredness of the artist?  If an artist is making art that reflects on a culture then why can they not be an ethnographer.  And vise versa.  An ethnographer displays his findings in a painting.  Blah blah blah..




The pop artists does not stand behind his work

Referential view



Derek Murray-

Clement Greenberg-  (1909-1994) modernist paintings. Father of abstract expressionism, art critique cultural critique, specifically jewish publication, critical of Jewish nationalism. “jewish shovinism.”  Advocate of assimilation,  moving away from particularity,


Transcend identity, move away from the body.

abstraction was a way form the illusion, political, representational art


pop art and abstract art lived together in time


October 1976-collection of scholars(journal) art history (art forum)

Monopoly of discourse, power of dynamic, the October minions a group of scholars that control the institutions.  Mostly white males.


Hal Foster- was editor of  October a scholarly journal.

Foster critique on the ethnographer

Back lash- international view-post colonialism

Directly from post colonialism scholars.  Takes major concepts and molds

Discredit the art produced by the other, grafting the colonial archt-type, artist of color doing ethnographer work,

Jennifer Gonzalez-“subject to display” exploits.


The ethnographer caused a lot of discourse and there is a lot of back lash from his ideas of exploitation.

Foster is a clever scholar

Binary -content over formal


1993 Whitney Biennial- challenged identity and forum


The other – more legitimate in the art world


Creates tension between the political and formal. 

Focused on Krestevia the power of horror-focuses on the other, objection- primal scene.

Mirror stage primal scene.

Laura Mullvey, visual pleasure


Other-external difference, so profound it cannot be assimilated

Other-internal difference, internal lacking, Objecter objective


Easily indentified. 

Abjection- state of being cast off.  Revulsion traumatic encounter, conflict of body


To be abject- is to embody the position of the social Other

To abject- to be in conflict with physical beings



Jouissance- pleasure and guilt.  Tension and the politics and materiality, desire for repulsion.  Desire for abject materiality.  Desire for the other. Reception of artworks.  Spectacle that causes guilt, but ellicits pleasure of that guilt.


Lacan- pleasure principle, spectacle in


Steven Schivera-torture porn









S&M is self fashioning, Strong poets commit matrecide- Derek

Ethics of self fashioning is a central notion of Foucault Aesthetic of Existence.  It hovers on an almost Nietzschean greedy authorship of self governed and created identity.  “Foucault’s contemporary take on the art of the self entails a certain kind of care of the contingent self ,one which demands that one engage in practices of the self which both reveal the conditions under which one’s identity has been produced and make possible one’s self-transformation.” 577 It is based on Foucault’s notion of the Ironized:

The Ironist believes: “Nothing has an intrinsic nature, a real essence.”  Ironism is our inheritance of fixed and given in the world, including our language, social practices, and institutions, moral vocabulary, and sense of our selves(.)578  Foucault would have us usurp the authority of these Irons and look deeper…. well there is no deep self that’s just an illusion of a real essence.  As usual for Foucault  its hard to say what we are looking for but easy to reject that which we could improve.  

(T)he extent to which one cultivates a critical and reflexive awareness of its largely constructed nature(Ones Identity), or not- inevitably bears on one’s relationship with others.    591  

  Foucault takes the ancient Grecian notion of ethical development of the self first before relation to others, but also that the self is drastically interwoven with the others for the perfections of most every role an “individual” could have.  The word “idiot” means asocial!  Foucault has a notion of identity that can recreate or reform itself to the extent that a notion of continuous identity is rejected.  This certainly brings some split personality questions of responsibility to the forefront.  “(I)nsofar as he or she continuously disavows his or her identify as continuous, the decentered subject faces grave difficulties constructing a narrative of his or her past for a failure, let alone a guilty failure.” 590
But equally protective of the opposite extreme Foucault posits “Everything is Dangerous, and his consequent refusal to pass over in silence the dangers accompanying every assertion of identity.  “ 590

“Foucault always saw greater risk of harm endorsing particular moral codes than in supplying the means of criticizing them all.”  589   In his attempt to do “as little harm as possible”  he would critique and dismantle but not posit or assert as many would wish he would in the crumbled field of intellect that was left in his wake.

“(A) system of constraint becomes truly intolerable when the individuals affected by it don’t have the means of modifying it.” 588

Rorty has a notion of Strong Poet to counter Foucault’s Aesthetic of Existence.  Rorty and many others go to great lengths to argue “A of E” as a solipsism that justifies the abuse of society and the other for the advancement of one’s own expression and empowerment.  “We run the risk of such a Sorelian nightmare, Rorty argues, when we infuse our public lives with the essentially private ethic of self fashioning.” 585

“Rorty tells us, defines failure in life as the acceptance of someone else’s description of the world and of oneself, which is to live life according to a “poem” one has not composed for oneself” 582  Interestingly in Foucault’s description of a homicidal maniac that constantly redefines himself to justify his acts to the court we see a strong poet.  “And yet, this whole tragic scene and disturbing rationalization emerged out of Riviere’s self creative bid to transcend the banality and frustration of his existence on the margins of French Society in one theatrically violent grand gesture. 581

I see trite philosophical syntax as a center of this argument.  Give any philosopher an serial killer’s biography that seems to follow their philosophical guidelines and they will weasel out from under that microscope with reinterpretations.  Unless you are Nietzsche and really promote the abuse of power. The focus of this work is the embedded social state of the human being.  In what way can emancipation from societies blunders and drudgeries be permissible elevation of the artist, but at the same time stepping on the notions of your compatriots can look very similar to disrespect and exploitation.  Certainly hurtles like this can arise as in this reading when Foucault characterizes S&M sex acts as positive expression and new potential from human connection and intimacy.

Longford defends Foucault’s formulation:  “Failure to take care of ourselves in this sense, that is when we are tempted to actualize or transcendentalize what we have become relationally and contingently, more often than not produces the kind of domination and tyranny about which Foucault’s critics worry.” 588
Longford concludes “ the predatory Nietzschean most fears by Foucault’s critics is actually Rorty’s strong poet.  “ 584     Otherwise referred to as the “Nietzsche’s rehabilitation of the right of the stronger.” 583

This quote below sums up the article in my eyes.  Strong Poet sufferes from abusive consent that was the original critique to Foucault’s notion of Self fashioning.

“The double imperative of recognizing oneself as a product of a web of relations and contingent events, and of remaining open to self-transformation, militates against the imperiousness and cruelty inherent in the strong poet’s project of self transcendentalization.  The strong poet’s drive to consolidate and glorify identity, even at the expense of others, is incompatible with the kind of ontological awareness of the lack of necessity underlying all identities, including one’s own, cultivated by Foucaulian care of the contingent self” (580)


Foster on the "Real" (Heller)

Note: this essay has been difficult to articulate, as it blends many thematic streams that I’ve struggled to keep contained… if not restrained.

Foster’s chapter on realism and illusionism has been the most insightful and thought-provoking material – both in fact and analysis/opinion. After having traversed the material once, I revisited it again, looking up many of the references, both written and visual forms, which provided yet another layer of perspective. Such in-depth knowledge of works, artists, philosophies, and analyses, all revealed an insight that can only be gained from a life’s dedication to the field.

I believe what made this piece so profound for me, was that I have had similar perspectives and conclusions on all these subjects, albeit at a far less developed level, and from an amateur perspective. I felt all at once emboldened and humbled.

A focal reason for my passion stems from the long interest I’ve held on the topic itself, both philosophically, and artistically. As a philosopher, I trend towards the most basic roots of ideas: the origin of concepts, of existence, of reality, both in the conventional sense, and in this new (to me) Freudian/Laconian interpretation of it. And for me, I see similarities in both—at a metalevel, I don’t think they necessarily needs to be separated. As an artist, my main medium is photography, so I will naturally see these two realms as more similar than dissimilar.

From this perspective, I see “reality” as more a term of art that expresses, ironically, a symbolic reference to a “mode of perception.”. There are aspects of our minds and psyche that are unattainable, or at least, difficult and fleeting, at best. We can see infinite possibilities, but at the cost of stepping just beyond the reach of the real. Reality is not symbolic – the two words and concepts are antonyms. A symbol “represents” something, whereas reality is something. Humans think in symbols and abstracts; regardless of the data our senses may pick up, even within the confines of our minds. That which we cannot comprehend remains stuck in our conscious, like a puzzle we cannot figure out. Such limitations were observed by Freud: the id, the ego and the superego are all constructs that result in the manner in which we think. For me, this “thinking process” manifests itself into every aspect of our sensual interpretations. Our eyes may gather light, but our minds interpret it. And our minds are wired for abstractions and symbols, even if they are shaped by the id and the ego. By this definition, we cannot see the real, either in the Freudian sense, or in the more traditional, physical sense. Yet, in both cases, we can sense the real. Therefore, we seek it. And sometimes, to our horror, we experience it.

Philosophers have always struggled with notions of reality, including whether we have the capacity to see it. Early religious texts say that the true name of God is not possible to speak by the human tongue, a symbolic acknowledgment of humans’ limitation of knowledge, understanding, and perception of the real (Karen Armstrong, “A History of God”). Plato discussed the “shadows in the cave,” where our perceptions of the world are merely shadows of a reality, one step removed from a dimension we cannot sense. Buddhists have come to similar observations in the concept of achieving Nirvana: the ability to sense the world for what it is, untainted by the filters of the human condition. Innumerable references are dedicated to the idea that the human mind is simply incapable of perceiving reality, let alone understand it. While Freud might have articulated a cogent model that explains these themes using the id and ego, I see nothing to suggest the same thesis be limited to only those caverns of our minds.

To wit, Foster alludes to the punctum, which pierces through the screen that normally stands between our senses and reality (again, both physical and cognitive). Here, Foster channels Lacan, calling “a traumatic encounter with the real, a thing that resists the symbolic… the touched.” (Tuché) Foster alludes to “Warhol’s repetition that fix on the traumatic real … that makes for the paradox not only of images that are both affective and affectless, but on the viewers, that are neither integrated or dissolved.” Another common notion is that reality is not only impossible for us to physically see, but its true nature is unbearable for our minds.

Freud’s notion that trauma causes our minds to shut down is another source for artistic expression, especially in pop art, where disturbing themes were becoming more readily accepted. Freud’s notion that we don’t “understand” trauma (reality), forces us to play it over and over again, all in a futile attempt to grasp the real, a common theme in Warhol’s works (among others).

The physiological responses we have upon observing photographs of death, disfigurement, and other excessive visuals, are all profound experiences, which introduce the themes of “obscene” and “pornographic.” Even the act of viewing inside the body is repelling. Catholicism prohibited most medical practices in the middle ages, largely because it required examining the inside of the body, which was an affront to God—a violation of the most sacred of His creations, a notion that evolved, no doubt, from the instinctive human tendency to avoid the objectionable.

The perpetual examples throughout this reading, each of which artfully draw new perspectives on the topic of the real, will be cornerstones for my future appreciation, articulation and motivation as an artist.