Without a sign for him , it beseeches a discharge, a convulsion, a crying out […] it is a brutish suffering […] A weight of meaninglessness, about which there is nothing insignificant, and which crushes me. On the edge of non-existence and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me. Kristeva, As such, as West explained to Amanda Smith in an interview, Poussif experiences not only the ontological shock of birth that we all experience, but also the most infamous historical trauma of the last century Smith, How does one find salvation from apocalypse born out of abjection?
Having witnessed his parents and entire village murdered by the Nazis, he is continually haunted by the memories of the items of personal identity the debris of his abjection left behind in the burned-out rubble:. One letter they found, though stained with blood, read: I am quite well at the present and enjoying the sunshine. Plus lipstick holders.
Corset stiffeners. Belt buckles. Powder compacts. I resolve never to do others harm My Recollection. Any teleology to the world of the abject is non-existent, or incomprehensible, or worst of all, frighteningly malignant.
Who, then, drew the circle? Who stabbed the village center with the almighty needle while the marker scribed the radius of death? He regularly gets himself into trouble sitting in the Metro seats reserved for the official war Veterans. It promoted him to an even higher plane of non-belonging. He coasts through history. He browses the grasslands of time. Nothing detains him much. He can still glimpse these marvels, their dangers and possibilities, because, as Kristeva points out, even with abjection, there is the seed of rebellion against that very state:.
There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, […] thinkable.
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Powers , 1. So, Poussif creatively reinserts himself— though only partially, still meaningfully—into the world from which he was othered.
Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection Summary & Study Guide
Thus, by acting, he becomes the conscience of society, a reminder of its abject state, and of its need to create and make things different. Not to act, no matter how damaged we are, is an act of mauvaise foi. His efforts are meant to redefine himself existentially, and for a while his efforts produce results: his popularity grows, the citizens of Paris anticipate his appearances, applaud his dedication, ponder the meaning of his behavior. The newspaper picture of the extradited war criminal sends him reeling, because he is sure it is Boche, the commandant who led the Nazis who torched his village and wrecked his life.
His show gets more extravagant with its ratfilled pram, ostentatious decorations, and Boche posters. But the trauma of recovered memories plunges him back and deeper into abjection. She has to leave. She is involved in the world in its conscienceless onrush. She gets paid.
Powers of Horror by Julia Kristeva, Leon S. Roudiez | Waterstones
His ritualistic performance art, with its climactic immolation of the Boche poster, is a psychological projection of the confl agration he witnessed all too literally and personally. His art aims to exercise his demons and simultaneously exact revenge in order to restore normalcy and meaning to his life. However, exacting vengeful death, even symbolically, does not resurrect life, does not set his world back in order again, does not unfragment the fragmented.
Instead, the voices of the dead, of his past, overwhelm him. I have grown forward, onward, in time, but my heart is backward. An echo. A carbon copy. One of those xerox copies I use. What does not respect borders, positions, rules.
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Increasingly resembling Boche in dress, Poussif loses his identity further because his engagement becomes inseparable from the source of his abjection. To be saved from permanent destruction, Poussif must redefine himself existentially, apart from that moment of childhood apocalypse. Consequently, Poussif can only recover a present identity or, more precisely, an identity of the present by actually recovering his childhood identity without the abject trauma of that moment in time.
Certainly, the innocence of childhood, that period meant for undisrupted and undamaged development of our identity and the integration of the Self, is what gives us a reserve of psychic strength for our inevitable confrontation with the forces of abjection. So, if one does not escape childhood psychological trauma, one must later confront it, contextualize it, find ways of coping with it, and find forms of action that move one beyond it. Only then can one reintegrate identity and reestablish the Self.
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Instead, Poussif must acknowledge time, find his place in it, and above all create in it. Theirs is the assertion of life and personal art over the earlier failure of his mimetic reenactment of the horrors of his abjection. Polidori as an illustration of a character who does not survive abjection. But the abjection that troubles me the most in that novel, indeed in some ways haunts my heart, is powerfully portrayed in the Ladies themselves, for whom West shows such poignant compassion and affection.
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And, for a variety of reasons—political, social, class, personal—these ladies are examples of those humans who will not survive abjection—and not just because the Ripper dispatches them—but perhaps because there are just too many obstacles to an engagement that will find or create meaning in their lives. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.
We see his abjection manifested most strongly in his relationship to Byron. Polidori suffers from an ego trapped in a state of primary narcissism, and as Kristeva points out, such states are filled with fear and a sense of impurity Pouvoirs, ; Powers , Granted, embedded in this remark is Byron rationalizing his own excesses, but he does believe what he says, and in fact, lives and dies implementing this philosophy.
To Polidori, God, or whatever universal force, when it is not being indifferent and detached, lays traps for us and sets us up for disappointment and failure. Universes make themselves not by hanging back. Polidori simply does not have the strength of will to assert a vital Self and significance in a universe that trivializes both. He will not survive his abjection because his struggle with his sexual identity complicates his self-perception, his interpersonal relationships, and his professional activities.
Polidori protests a bit too much, and the experience at the piano bench with Byron has a far more alluring memory to him than his expressions of discomfort suggest. Something to Be Scared Of3.
Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (European Perspectives Series)