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Translator’s Note Approaching Abjection Something To Be Scared Of From Filth to Defilement Semiotics of Biblical Abomination . . . Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi Celine: Neither Actor nor Martyr • Suffering and Horror Those Females Who Can Wreck the Infinite “Ours To Jew or Die” In the Beginning and Without End . . . Powers of Horror Notes vii i 32 56 90 113 133 140 157 174 188 207 211 Translator’s Note When the original version of this book was published in France in 1980, critics sensed that it marked a turning point in Julia Kristeva’s writing.

Her concerns seemed less arcane, her presentation more appealingly worked out; as Guy Scarpetta put it in he Nouvel Observateur (May 19, 1980), she now introduced into “theoretical rigor an effective measure of seduction. ” Actually, no sudden change has taken place: the features that are noticeable in Powers of Horror were already in evidence in several earlier essays, some of which have been translated in Desire in Language (Columbia University Press, 1980). She herself pointed out in the preface to that collection, “Readers will also notice that a change in writing takes place as the work progresses” (p. x). One would assume such a change has made the translator’s task less arduous; in one sense it has, but it also produced a different set of difficulties. As sentences become more metaphorical, more “literary” if you wish, one is liable to forget that they still are conceptually very precise. In other words, meaning emerges out of both the standard denotation(s) and the connotations suggested by the material shape of a given word. And it emerges not solely because of the reader’s creativity, as happens in poetic language, but because it was put there in the first place.

For instance, “un etre altere” means either a changed, adulterated being or an avid, thirsty being; mindful, however, of the unchanged presence of the Latin root, alter, Kristeva also intends it to mean “being for the other. ” This gives the phrase a special twist, and it takes a reader more imaginative than I am to catch it. As Kristeva’s writing evolves, it also displays a greater variety viii TRANSLATOR’S NOTE in tone. In this essay it includes the colloquial and the formal, the lyrical and the matter-of-fact, the concrete and the abstract.

I resisted the temptation to unify her style and tried as much as possible to preserve the variety of the original. Only in a few instances, when a faithful rendition would in my opinion have sounded incongruous (e. g. , translating petard, which she borrows from the text of a Celine novel, as “gat” or “rod”), did I consciously neutralize her prose. A particularly vexing problem stems from the nature of the French language and its limited vocabulary as compared to English; words tend to point in a greater number of different directions.

Usually, in expository prose, the context removes the ambiguities that poetic language thrives on. Kristeva is not averse to using polysemy to her advantage, as other French theorists like Derrida and Lacan have also done. The French word propre, for instance, has kept the meaning of the Latin proprius (one’s own, characteristic, proper) and also acquired a new one: clean. At first, in Powers of Horror, the criteria of expository prose seemed to apply, but in several instances I began to have my doubts about this. When I asked Kristeva which meaning she intended the answer was, both.

As a result I decided to use the rather cumbersome “one’s own clean and proper body” to render the French corps propre, sacrificing elegance for the sake of clarity and fullness of meaning. Examining my translation carefully, one is apt to notice anomalies in the text of the quotations. There are two reasons for this. When the original is not in French, Kristeva cites a published French translation and I refer to a published English one when available. Discrepancies are inevitable and for the most part inconsequential.

In the case of Freud’s Totem and Taboo, however, the French version, in the excerpts quoted here, contains a couple of mistranslated words: Inzestscheu becomes “phobie de l’inceste” instead of the more accurate “incest dread,” and Genussgefahig gets afflicted with the connotation of “objets comestibles” that belongs to Geniessbar instead of the more general and accurate “capable of enjoyment” of the English version. While this has required some vocabulary adjustment, it does not affect Kristeva’s argument. Where Hegel’s TRANSLATOR’S NOTE ix orks are concerned the situation is even more troublesome, for discrepancies between French and English translations are considerable. Referring back to the German text of Vorlesungen tiber die Philosophic der Religion I find that the English text is faithful to it. What apparently happened is that the French translation was made from an earlier version of the Lectures, which, like Saussure’s famous Cours de linguistique generate, was published by Hegel’s students after his death. The second edition, on which the English version is based, is presumably an improved one—but that need not concern us here.

In the excerpts quoted by Kristeva, the meaning is essentially the same even though the wording differs and in one instance a metaphorical development has been eliminated. When several translations are available, as they are for Sophocles, I used the one that seemed closest to the one used by Kristeva. For the Bible, I relied on the King James version; minor differences between biblical and anthropological terminology should pose no problem, and the reader will readily see that the latter’s pure/impure distinction corresponds to the biblical contrast between clean and unclean.

For an original quotation from the French, I have also used available published translations. Working with Celine’s novels, however, translators have endeavored to produce effective English-language fiction. As a result they were occasionally led to stray from a literal version of the text—and rightly so. On the other hand, for the purpose of Kristeva’s analysis, there are times when close attention to material details of the text is essential.

I have therefore, in a number of instances, had to modify the published translation—but that should not be seen as a reflection on their quality. On a few occasions, though, especially where the early novels are involved, translators have tended to be squeamish; thus, in Journey to the End of the Night, the statement pertaining to women in wartime, “la guerre porte aux ovaires,” becomes, “war goes straight to their tummies. ” I naturally put the ovaries back in. Throughout this essay,

Kristeva plays with the titles of Celine’s novels (and a few others: Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities makes a fleeting appearance toward the end). x TRANSLATOR’S NOTE Journey to the End of the Night is easily recognizable; the title From Castle to Castle, in this connection, needs to be changed to the more literal, “From One Castle to an Other,” which produced the title of an earlier essay, “From One Identity to an Other” (collected in Desire in Language); I have rendered the untranslated Feerie pour une autrefois as “Enchantment for Some Other Time. For some features of her terminology, readers should consult the “Notes on the Translation and on Terminology” that appeared in Desire in Language. Here, however, instead of invariably rendering “ecriture” as “writing,” I have attempted to distinguish between the weak and the strong meanings of the French word. For the latter I used the term “scription,” which I had introduced in my French Fiction Today (Rutgers University Press, 1972). There are in Powers of Horror a few additional items of Lacanian vocabulary that the context should clarify.

The object a is mentioned twice, and it could be puzzling. A few lines from Stuart Schneiderman’s Returning to Freud (Yale University Press, 1980) might prove helpful: “For the psychoanalyst the important object is the lost object, the object always desired and never attained, the object that causes the subject to desire in cases where he can never gain the satisfaction of possessing the object. Any object the subject desires will never be anything other than a substitute for the object a. I should like to thank those who have given assistance in areas I am less familiar with: Stuart Schneiderman for the vocabulary of psychoanalysis, Robert Austerlitz for that of linguistics, Marvin I. Herzog for Hebrew terms, Robert D. Cumming for philosophy, and of course Julia Kristeva herself for clarifying a number of difficulties. I should point out, however, that while I sought assistance whenever I realized I had met with a problem, there may well have been problems I did not identify and on which I foundered.

In such instances and in all others where mistranslations occur the responsibility is mine alone. POWERS OF HORROR An Essay on Abjection I APPROACHING ABJECTION No Beast is there without glimmer of infinity, No eye so vile nor abject that brushes not Against lightning from on high, now tender, now fierce. Victor Hugo, La Legende des siecles NEITHER SUBJECT NOR OBJECT 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, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable.

It lies there, quite close, but it cannot be assimilated. It beseeches, worries, and fascinates desire, which, nevertheless, does not let itself be seduced. Apprehensive, desire turns aside; sickened, it rejects. A certainty protects it from the shameful—a certainty of which it is proud holds on to it. But simultaneously, just the same, that impetus, that spasm, that leap is drawn toward an elsewhere as tempting as it is condemned. Unflaggingly, like an inescapable boomerang, a vortex of summons and repulsion places the one haunted by it literally beside himself.

When I am beset by abjection, the twisted braid of affects and thoughts I call by such a name does not have, properly speaking, a definable object. The abject is not an ob-ject facing me, which I name or imagine. Nor is it an ob-jest, an otherness ceaselessly fleeing in a systematic quest of desire. What is abject is not my correlative, which, providing me with someone or something else as support, would allow me to be more or less detached and autonomous. The abject has only one quality of the object—that of being opposed to I.

If the object, however, through its opposition, settles me within the fragile texture of 2 APPROACHING ABJECTION a desire for meaning, which, as a matter of fact, makes me ceaselessly and infinitely homologous to it, what is abject, on the contrary, the jettisoned object, is radically excluded and draws me toward the place_where meaning collapses. A certain “ego” that merged with its master, a superego, has flatly driven it away. It lies outside, beyond the set, and does not seem to agree to the latter’s rules of the game.

And yet, from its place of banishment, the abject does not cease challenging its master. Without a sign (for him), it beseeches a discharge, a convulsion, a crying out. To each ego its object, to each superego its abject. It is not the white expanse or slack boredom of repression, not the translations and transformations of desire that wrench bodies, nights, and discourse; rather it is a brutish suffering that, “I” puts up with, sublime and devastated, for “I” deposits it to the father’s account [verse au pere—pere-uersion]: I endure it, for I imagine that such is the desire of the other.

A massive and sudden emergence of uncanniness, which, familiar as it might have been in an opaque and forgotten life, now harries me as radically separate, loathsome. Not me. Not that. But not nothing, either. A “something” that I do not recognize as a thing. A weight of meaninglessness, about which there is nothing insignificant, and which crushes me. On the edge of nonexistence and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me. There, abject and abjection are my safeguards. The primers of my culture. THE IMPROPER/UNCLEAN Loathing an item of food, a piece of filth, waste, or dung.

The spasms and vomiting that protect me. The repugnance, the retching that thrusts me to the side and turns me away from defilement, sewage, and muck. The shame of compromise, of being in the middle of treachery. The fascinated start that leads me toward and separates me from them. Food loathing is perhaps the most elementary and most archaic form of abjection. When the eyes see or the lips touch that skin on the surface of milk—harmless, thin as a sheet of cigarette paper, pitiful as a nail paring—I experience a gagging APPROACHING ABJECTION 3 ensation and, still farther down, spasms in the stomach, the belly; and all the organs shrivel up the body, provoke tears and bile, increase heartbeat, cause forehead and hands to perspire. Along with sight-clouding dizziness, nausea makes me balk at that milk cream, separates me from the mother and father who proffer it. “I” want none of that element, sign of their desire; “I” do not want to listen, “I” do not assimilate it, “I” expel it. But since the food is not an “other” for “me,” who am only in their desire, I expel myself, I spit myself out, I abject myself within the same motion through which “I” claim to establish myself.

That detail, perhaps an insignificant one, but one that they ferret out, emphasize, evaluate, that trifle turns me inside out, guts sprawling; it is thus that they see that “I” am in the process of becoming an other at the expense of my own death, During that course in which “I” become, I give birth to myself amid the violence of sobs, of vomit. Mute protest of the symptom, shattering violence of a convulsion that, to be sure, is inscribed in a symbolic system, but in which, without either wanting or being able to become integrated in order to answer to it, it reacts, it abreacts.

It abjects. The corpse (or cadaver: cadere, to fall), that which has irremediably come a cropper, is cesspool, and death; it upsets even more violently the one who confronts it as fragile and fallacious chance. A wound with blood and pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death—a flat encephalograph, for instance—I would understand, react, or accept. No, as in true theater, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live.

These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being. My body extricates itself, as being alive, from that border. Such wastes drop so that I might live, until, from loss to loss, nothing remains in me and my entire body falls beyond the limit—cadere, cadaver. If dung signifies the other side of the border, the place where I am not and which permits me to be, the corpse, the most sickening of wastes, is a border that has encroached upon everything. It is 4

APPROACHING ABJECTION no longer I who expel, “I” is expelled. The border has become an object. How can I be without border? That elsewhere that I imagine beyond the present, or that I hallucinate so that I might, in a present time, speak to you, conceive of you—it is now here, jetted, abjected, into “my” world. Deprived of world, therefore, I fall in a faint. In that compelling, raw, insolent thing in the morgue’s full sunlight, in that thing that no longer matches and therefore no longer signifies anything, I behold the breaking down of a world that has erased its borders: fainting away.

The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life. Abject. It is something rejected from which one does not part, from which one does not protect oneself as from an object. Imaginary uncanniness and real threat, it beckons to us and ends up engulfing us. It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite.

The traitor, the liar, the criminal with a good conscience, the shameless rapist, the killer who claims he is a savior. . . . Any crime, because it draws attention to the fragility of the law, is abject, but premeditated crime, cunning murder, hypocritical revenge are even more so because they heighten the display of such fragility. He who denies morality is not abject; there can be grandeur in amorality and even in crime that flaunts its disrespect for the law—rebellious, liberating, and suicidal crime.

Abjection, on the other hand, is immoral, sinister, scheming, and shady: a terror that dissembles,* a hatred that smiles, a passion that uses the body for barter instead of inflaming it, a debtor who sells you up, a friend who stabs you. *. . . In the dark halls of the museum that is now what remains of Auschwitz, I see a heap of children’s shoes, or something like that, something I have already seen elsewhere, under a Christmas tree, for instance, dolls I believe. The abjection of Nazi crime reaches its apex when eath, which, in any case, kills me, interferes with what, in my living universe, is supposed to save me from death: childhood, science, among other things. APPROACHING ABJECTION 5 THE ABJECTION OF SELF If it be true that the abject simultaneously beseeches and pulverizes the subject, one can understand that it is experienced at the peak of its strength when that subject, weary of fruitless attempts to identify with something on the outside, finds the impossible within; when it finds that the impossible constitutes its very being, that it is none other than abject.

The abjection of self would be the culminating form of that experience of the subject to which it is revealed that all its objects are based merely on the inaugural loss that laid the foundations of its own being. There is nothing like the abjection of self to show that all abjection is in fact recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language, or desire is founded. One always passes too quickly over this word, “want,” and today psychoanalysts are finally taking into account only its more or less fetishized product, the “object of want. But if one imagines (and imagine one must, for it is the working of imagination whose foundations are being laid here) the experience of want itself_as logically preliminary to being and object—to the being of the object—then one understands that abjection, and even more so abjection of self, is its only signified. Its signifier, then, is none but literature. Mystical Christendom turned this abjection of self into the ultimate proof of humility before God, witness Elizabeth of Hungary who “though a great princess, delighted in nothing so much as in abasing herself. 1 The question remains as to the ordeal, a secular one this time, that abjection can constitute for someone who, in what is termed knowledge of castration, turning away from perverse dodges, presents himself with his own body and ego as the most precious non-objects; they are no longer seen in their own right but forfeited, abject. The termination of analysis can lead us there, as we shall see. Such are the pangs and delights of masochism. Essentially different from “uncanniness,” more violent, too, abjection is elaborated through a failure to recognize its kin; nothing is familiar, not even the shadow of a memory.

I imagine a child who has swallowed up his parents too soon, who frightens himself on that account, “all by himself,” and, to save 6 APPROACHING ABJECTION himself, rejects and throws up everything that is given to him— all gifts, all objects. He has, he could have, a sense of the abject. Even before things for him are—hence before they are signifiable—he drives them out, dominated by drive as he is, and constitutes his own territory, edged by the abject. A sacred configuration. Fear cements his compound, conjoined to another world, thrown up, driven out, forfeited.

What he has swallowed up instead of maternal love is an emptiness, or rather a maternal hatred without a word for the words of the father; that is what he tries to cleanse himself of, tirelessly. What solace does he come upon within such loathing? Perhaps a father, existing but unsettled, loving but unsteady, merely an apparition but an apparition that remains. Without him the holy brat would probably have no sense of the sacred; a blank subject, he would remain, discomfited, at the dump for non-objects that are always forfeited, from which, on the contrary, fortified by abjection, he tries to extricate himself.

For he is not mad, he through whom the abject exists. Out of the daze that has petrified him before the untouchable, impossible, absent body of the mother, a daze that has cut off his impulses from their objects, that is, from their representations, out of such daze he causes, along with loathing, one word to crop up—fear. The phobic has no other object than the abject. But that word, “fear”—a fluid haze, an elusive clamminess—no sooner has it cropped up than it shades off like a mirage and permeates all words of the language with nonexistence, with a hallucinatory, ghostly glimmer.

Thus, fear having been bracketed, discourse will seem tenable only if it ceaselessly confront that otherness, a burden both repellent and repelled, a deep well of memory that is unapproachable and intimate: the abject. BEYOND THE UNCONSCIOUS Put another way, it means that there are lives not sustained by desire, as desire is always for objects. Such lives are based on exclusion. They are clearly distinguishable from those understood as neurotic or psychotic, articulated by negation and its modalities, transgression, denial, and repudiation. Their dynamics APPROACHING ABJECTION 7 hallenges the theory of the unconscious, seeing that the latter is dependent upon a dialectic of negativity. The theory of the unconscious, as is well known, presupposes a repression of contents (affects and presentations) that, thereby, do not have access to consciousness but effect within the subject modifications, either of speech (parapraxes, etc. ), or of the body (symptoms), or both (hallucinations, etc. ). As correlative to the notion of repression, Freud put forward that of denial as a means of figuring out neurosis, that of rejection (repudiation) as a means of situating psychosis.

The asymmetry of the two repressions becomes more marked owing to denial’s bearing on the object whereas repudiation affects desire itself (Lacan, in perfect keeping with Freud’s thought, interprets that as “repudiation of the Name of the Father”). Yet, facing the ab-ject and more specifically phobia and the splitting of the ego (a point I shall return to), one might ask if those articulations of negativity germane to the unconscious (inherited by Freud from philosophy and psychology) have not become inoperative.

The “unconscious” contents remain here excluded but in strange fashion: not radically enough to allow for a secure differentiation between subject and object, and yet clearly enough for a defensive position to be established—one that implies a refusal but also a sublimating elaboration. As if the fundamental opposition were between I and Other or, in more archaic fashion, between Inside and Outside. As if such an opposition subsumed the one between Conscious and Unconscious, elaborated on the basis of neuroses.

Owing to the ambiguous opposition I/Other, Inside/Outside—an opposition that is vigorous but pervious, violent but uncertain—there are contents, “normally” unconscious in neurotics, that become explicit if not conscious in “borderline” patients’ speeches and behavior. Such contents are often openly manifested through symbolic practices, without by the same token being integrated into the judging consciousness of those particular subjects. Since they make the conscious/unconscious distinction irrelevant, borderline subjects and their speech constitute propitious ground for a sublimating discourse (“aesthetic” or “mystical,” etc. , rather than a scientific or rationalist one. 8 APPROACHING ABJECTION AN EXILE WHO ASKS, “WHERE? ” The one by whom the abject exists is thus a deject who places (himself), separates (himself), situates (himself), and therefore strays instead of getting his bearings, desiring, belonging, or refusing. Situationist in a sense, and not without laughter— since laughing is a way of placing or displacing abjection. Necessarily dichotomous, somewhat Manichaean, he divides, excludes, and without, properly speaking, wishing to know his abjections is not at all unaware of them.

Often, moreover, he includes himself among them, thus casting within himself the scalpel that carries out his separations. Instead of sounding himself as to his “being,” he does so concerning his place: “Where am I? ” instead of “Who am I? ” For the space that engrosses the deject, the excluded, is never one, nor homogeneous, nor totalizable, but essentially divisible, foldable, and catastrophic. A deviser of territories, languages, works, the deject never stops demarcating his universe whose fluid confines—for they are constituted of a non-object, the abject—constantly question his solidity and impel him to start afresh.

A tireless builder, the deject is in short a stray. He is on a journey, during the night, the end of which keeps receding. He has a sense of the danger, of the loss that the pseudo-object! 1 attracting him represents for him, but he cannot help taking the risk at the very moment he sets himself apart. And the more he strays, the more he is saved. TIME: FORGETFULNESS AND THUNDER For it is out of such straying on excluded ground that he draws his jouissance. The abject from which he does not cease separating is for him, in short, a land of oblivion that is constantly remembered.

Once upon blotted-out time, the abject must have been a magnetized pole of covetousness. But the ashes of oblivion now serve as a screen and reflect aversion, repugnance. The clean and proper (in the sense of incorporated and incorporable) becomes filthy, the sought-after turns into the banished, fascination into shame. Then, forgotten time crops up suddenly and condenses into a flash of lightning an operation APPROACHING ABJECTION 9 that, if it were thought out, would involve bringing together the two opposite terms but, on account of that flash, is discharged like thunder.

The time of abjection is double: a time of oblivion and thunder, of veiled infinity and the moment when revelation bursts forth. JOUISSANCE AND AFFECT Jouissance, in short. For the stray considers himself as equivalent to a Third Party. He secures the latter’s judgment, he acts on the strength of its power in order to condemn, he grounds himself on its law to tear the veil of oblivion but also to set up its object as inoperative. As jettisoned. Parachuted by the Other.

A ternary structure, if you wish, held in keystone position by the Other, but a “structure” that is skewed, a topology of catastrophe. For, having provided itself with an alter ego, the Other no longer has a grip on the three apices of the triangle where subjective homogeneity resides; and so, it jettisons the object into an abominable real, inaccessible except through jouissancey It follows that jouissance alone causes the abject to exist as such. One does not know it, one does not desire it, one joys in it [on enjouit].

Violently and painfully. A passion. And, as in jouissance where the object of desire, known as object a [in Lacan’s terminology], bursts with the shattered mirror where the ego gives up its image in order to contemplate itself in the Other, there is nothing either objective or objectal to the abject. It is simply a frontier, a repulsive gift that the Other, having become alter ego, drops so that “I” does not disappear in it but finds, in that sublime alienation, a forfeited existence.

Hence a jouissance in which the subject is swallowed up but in which the Other, in return, keeps the subject from foundering by making it repugnant. One thus understands why so many victims of the abject are its fascinated victims—if not its submissive and willing ones. We may call it a border; abjection is above all ambiguity. Because, while releasing a hold, it does not radically cut off the subject from what treatens it—on the contrary, abjection acknowledges it to be in perpetual danger. But also because ab- 10 APPROACHING ABJECTION ection itself is a composite of judgment and affect, of condemnation and yearning, of signs and drives. Abjection preserves what existed in the archaism of pre-objectal relationship, in the immemorial violence with which a body becomes separated from another body in order to be—maintaining that night in which the outline of the signified thing vanishes and where only the imponderable affect is carried out. To be sure, if I am affected by what does not yet appear to me as a thing, it is because laws, connections, and even structures of meaning govern and condition me.

That order, that glance, that voice, that gesture, which enact the law for my frightened body, constitute and bring about an effect and not yet a sign. I speak to it in vain in order to exclude it from what will no longer be, for myself, a world that can be assimilated. Obviously, I am only like someone else: mimetic logic of the advent of the ego, objects, and signs. But when I seek (myself), lose (myself), or experience jouissance—then “I” is heterogeneous. Discomfort, unease, dizziness stemming from an ambiguity that, through the violence of a revolt against, demarcates a space out of which signs and objects arise.

Thus braided, woven, ambivalent, a heterogeneous flux marks out a territory that I can call my own because the Other, having dwelt in me as alter ego, points it out to me through loathing. This means once more that the heterogeneous flow, which portions the abject and sends back abjection, already dwells in a human animal that has been highly altered. I experience abjection only if an Other has settled in place and stead of what will be “me. ” Not at all an other with whom I identify and incorporate, but an Other who precedes and possesses me, nd_ through such possession causes me to be. A possession previous to my advent: a being-there of the symbolic that a father might or might not embody. Significance is indeed inherent in the human body. AT THE LIMIT OF PRIMAL REPRESSION If, on account of that Other, a space becomes demarcated, separating the abject from what will be a subject and its objects, it is because a repression that one might call “primal” has been APPROACHING ABJECTION 11 effected prior to the springing forth of the ego, of its objects and representations.

The latter, in turn, as they depend on another repression, the “secondary” one, arrive only a posteriori on an enigmatic foundation that has already been marked off; its return, in a phobic, obsessional, psychotic guise, or more generally and in more imaginary fashion in the shape of abjection, notifies us of the limits of the human universe. On such limits and at the limit one could say that there is no unconscious, which is elaborated when representations and affects (whether or not tied to representations) shape a logic.

Here, on the contrary, consciousness has not assumed its rights and transformed into signifiers those fluid demarcations of yet unstable territories where an “I” that is taking shape is ceaselessly straying. We are no longer within the sphere of the unconscious but at the limit of primal repression that, nevertheless, has discovered an intrinsically corporeal and already signifying brand, symptom, and sign: repugnance, disgust, abjection.

There is an effervescence of object and sign—not of desire but of intolerable significance; they tumble over into non-sense or the impossible real, but they appear even so in spite of “myself’ (which is not) as abjection. PREMISES OF THE SIGN, LININGS OF THE SUBLIME Let us pause a while at this juncture. If the abject is already a wellspring of sign for a non-object, on the edges of primal repression, one can understand its skirting the somatic symptom on the one hand and sublimation on the other.

The symptom: a language that gives up, a structure within the body, a nonassimilable alien, a monster, a tumor, a cancer that the listening devices of the unconscious do not hear, for its strayed subject is huddled outside the paths of desire. Sublimation, on the contrary, is nothing else than the possibility of naming the prenominal, the pre-objectal, which are in fact only a trans-nominal, a trans-objectal. In the~symptom, the abject permeates me, I become abject. Through sublimation, I keep it under control. The abject is edged with the sublime.

It is not the same moment on the journey, but the same subject and speech bring them into being. 12 APPROACHING ABJECTION For the sublime has no object either. When the starry sky, a vista of open seas or a stained glass window shedding purple beams fascinate me, there is a cluster of meaning, of colors, of words, of caresses, there are light touches, scents, sighs, cadences that arise, shroud me, carry me away, and sweep me beyond the things that I see, hear, or think. The “sublime” object dissolves in the raptures of a bottomless memory.

It is such a memory, which, from stopping point to stopping point, remembrance to remembrance, love to love, transfers that object to the refulgent point of the dazzlement in which I stray in order to be. As soon as I perceive it, as soon as I name it, the sublime triggers—it has always already triggered—a spree of perceptions and words that expands memory boundlessly. I then forget the point of departure and find myself removed to a secondary universe, set off from the one where “I” am— delight and loss.

Not at all short of but always with and through perception and words, the sublime is a something added that expands us, overstrains us, and causes us to be both here, as dejects, and there, as others and sparkling. A divergence, an impossible bounding. Everything missed, joy—fascination. BEFORE THE BEGINNING: SEPARATION The abject might then appear as the most fragile (from a synchronic point of view), the most archaic (from a diachronic one) sublimation of an “object” still inseparable from drives.

The abject is that pseudo-object that is made up before but appears only within the gaps of secondary repression. The abject would thus be the “object” of primal repression. But what is primal repression? Let us call it the ability of the speaking being, always already haunted by the Other, to divide, reject, repeat. Without one division, one separation, one subject/ object having been constituted (not yet, or no longer yet). Why? Perhaps because of maternal anguish, unable to be satiated within the encompassing symbolic.

The abject confronts us, on the one hand, with those fragile states where man strays on the territories of animal. Thus, by way of abjection, primitive societies have marked out a precise APPROACHING ABJECTION 13 area of their culture in order to remove it from the threatening world of animals or animalism, which were imagined as representatives of sex and murder. The abject confronts us, on the other hand, and this time within our personal archeology, with our earliest attempts to release the hold of maternal entity even before_ex-isting outside of her, thanks to the autonomy of language.

It is a violent, clumsy breaking away,”\with the constant risk of falling back under the sway of a power as securing as it is stifling”. The difficulty a mother has in acknowledging (or being acknowledged by) the symbolic realm—in other words, the problem she has with the phallus that her father or her husband stands for—is not such as to help the future subject leave the natural mansion. The child can serve its mother as token of her own authentication; there is, however, hardly any reason for her to serve as go-between for it to become autonomous and authentic in its turn.

In such close combat, the symbolic light that a third party, eventually the father, can contribute helps the future subject, the more so if it happens to be endowed with a robust supply of drive energy, in pursuing a reluctant struggle against what, having been the mother, will turn into an abject. Repelling, rejecting; repelling itself, rejecting itself. Ab-jecting. In this struggle, which fashions the human being, the mimesis, by means of which he becomes homologous to another in order to become himself, is in short logically and chronologically secondary. Even before being like, “I” am not but do separate, reject, ab-ject.

Abjection, with a meaning broadened to take in subjective diachrony, is a precondition of narcissism. It is coexistent with it and causes it to be permanently brittle. The more or less beautiful image in which I behold or recognize myself rests upon an abjection that sunders it as soon as repression, the constant watchman, is relaxed. THE “CHORA,” RECEPTACLE OF NARCISSISM Let us enter, for a moment, into that Freudian aporia called primal repression. Curious primacy, where what is repressed cannot really be held down, and where what represses always 14 APPROACHING ABJECTION lready borrows its strength and authority from what is apparently very secondary: language. Let us therefore not speak of primacy but of the instability of the symbolic function in its most significant aspect—the prohibition placed on the maternal body (as a defense against autoeroticism and incest taboo). Here, drives hold sway and constitute a strange space that I shall name, after Plato (Timeus, 48-53), a chora, a receptacle. For the benefit of the ego or its detriment, drives, whether life drives or death drives, serve to correlate that “not yet” ego with an “object” in order to establish both of them.

Such a process, while dichotomous (inside/outside, ego/not ego) and repetitive, has nevertheless something centripetal about it: it aims to settle the ego as center of a solar system of objects. If, by dint of coming back towards the center, the drive’s motion should eventually become centrifugal, hence fasten on the Other and come into being as sign so as to produce meaning—that is, literally speaking, exorbitant. But from that moment on, while I recognize my image as sign and change in order to signify, another economy is instituted. The sign represses the chora and its eternal return.

Desire alone will henceforth be witness to that “primal” pulsation. But desire ex-patriates the ego toward an other subject and accepts the exactness of the ego only as narcissistic. Narcissism then appears as a regression to a position set back from the other, a return to a self-contemplative, conservative, self-sufficient haven. Actually, such narcissism never is the wrinkleless image of the Greek youth in a quiet fountain. The conflicts of drives muddle its bed, cloud its water, and bring forth everything that, by not becoming integrated with a given system of signs, is abjection for it.

Abjection is therefore a kind of narcissistic crisis: it is witness to the ephemeral aspect of the state called “narcissism” with reproachful jealousy, heaven knows why; what is more, abjection gives narcissism (the thing and the concept) its classification as “seeming. ” Nevertheless, it is enough that a prohibition, which can be a superego, block the desire craving an other—or that this other, as its role demands, not fulfill it—for desire and its sig- APPROACHING ABJECTION 15 ) nifiers to turn back toward the “same,” thus clouding the waters of Narcissus.

It is precisely at the moment of narcissistic perturbation (all things considered, the permanent state of the speaking being, if he would only hear himself speak) that secondary repression, with its reserve of symbolic means, attempts to transfer to its own account, which has thus been overdrawn, the resources of primal repression. The archaic economy is brought into full light of day, signified, verbalized. Its strategies (rejecting, separating, repeating/abjecting) hence find a symbolic existence, and the very logic of the symbolic—arguments, demonstrations, proofs, etc. must conform to it. It is then that the object ceases to be circumscribed, reasoned with, thrust aside: it appears as abject. Two seemingly contradictory causes bring about the narcissistic crisis that provides, along with its truth, a view of the abject. Too much strictness on the part of the Other, confused with the One and the Law. The lapse of the Other, which shows through the breakdown of objects of desire. In both instances, the abject appears in order to uphold “I” within the Other. The abject is the violence of mourning for an “object” that has always already been lost.

The abject shatters the wall of repression and its judgments. It takes the ego back to its source on the abominable limits from which, in order to be, the ego has broken away—it assigns it a source in the non-ego, drive, and death. Abjection is a resurrection that has gone through death (of the ego). It is an alchemy that transforms death drive into a start of life, of new signifiance. PERVERSE OR ARTISTIC The abject is related to perversion^ The sense of abjection that I experience is anchored in the superego.

The abject is perverse because it neither gives up nor assumes a prohibition, a rule, or a law; but turns them aside, misleads, corrupts; uses them, takes advantage of them, the better to deny them. It kills in the name of life—a progressive despot; it lives at the behest of death—an operator in genetic experimentations; it curbs the other’s suffering for its own profit—a cynic (and a psychoan- 16 APPROACHING ABJECTION alyst); it establishes narcissistic power while pretending to reveal the abyss—an artist who practices his art as a “business. Corruption is its most common, most obvious appearance. That is the socialized appearance of the abject. An unshakable adherence to Prohibition and Law is necessary if that perverse interspace of abjection is to be hemmed in and thrust aside. Religion, Morality, Law. Obviously always arbitrary, more or less; unfailingly oppressive, rather more than less; laboriously prevailing, more and more so. Contemporary literature does not take their place. Rather, it seems to be written out of the untenable aspects of perverse or superego positions.

It acknowledges the impossibility of Religion, Morality, and Law—their power play, their necessary and absurd seeming. Like perversion, it takes advantage of them, gets round them, and makes sport of them. Nevertheless, it maintains a distance where the abject is concerned. The writer, fascinated by the abject, imagines its logic, projects himself into it, introjects it, and as a consequence perverts language—style and content. But on the other hand, as the sense of abjection is both the abject’s judge and accomplice, this is also true of the literature that confronts it.

One might thus say that with such a literature there takes place a crossing over of the dichotomous categories of Pure and Impure, Prohibition and Sin, Morality and Immorality. For the subject firmly settled in its superego, a writing of this sort is necessarily implicated in the interspace that characterizes perversion; and for that reason, it gives rises in turn to abjection. And yet, such texts call for a softening of the superego. Writing them implies an ability to imagine the abject, that is, to see oneself in its place and to thrust it aside only by means of the displacements of verbal play.

It is only after his death, eventually, that the writer of abjection will escape his condition of waste, reject, abject. Then, he will either sink into oblivion or attain the rank of incommensurate ideal. Death would thus be the chief curator of our imaginary museum; it would protect us in the last resort from the abjection that contemporary literature claims to expend while uttering it. Such a protection, which gives its quietus to abjection, but also perhaps to the APPROACHING ABJECTION 17 bothersome, incandescent stake of the literary phenomenon itself, which, raised to the status of the sacred, is severed from its specificity.

Death thus keeps house in our contemporary universe. By purifying (us from) literature, it establishes our secular religion. AS ABJECTION—SO THE SACRED Abjection accompanies all religious structurings and reappears, to be worked out in a new guise, at the time of their collapse. Several structurations of abjection should be distinguished, each one determining a specific form of the sacred. Abjection appears as a rite of defilement and pollution in the paganism that accompanies societies with a dominant or surviving matrilinear character.

It takes on the form of the exclusion of a substance (nutritive or linked to sexuality), the execution of which coincides with the sacred since it sets it up. Abjection persists as exclusion or taboo (dietary or other) in monotheistic religions, Judaism in particular, but drifts over to more “secondary” forms such as transgression (of the Law) within the same monotheistic economy. It finally encounters, with Christian sin, a dialectic elaboration, as it becomes integrated in the Christian Word as a threatening otherness—but always nameable, always totalizeable.

The various means of purifying the abject—the various catharses—make up the history of religions, and end up with that catharsis par excellence called art, both on the far and near side of religion. Seen’from that standpoint, the artistic experience, which is rooted in the abject it utters and by the same token purifies, appears as the essential component of religiosity. That is perhaps why it is destined to survive the collapse of the historical forms of religions.

OUTSIDE OF THE SACRED, THE ABJECT IS WRITTEN In the contemporary practice of the West and owing to the crisis in Christianity, abjection elicits more archaic resonances that are culturally prior to sin; through them it again assumes 18 APPROACHING ABJECTION its biblical status, and beyond it that of defilement in primitive societies. In a world in which the Other has collapsed, the aesthetic task—a descent into the foundations of the symbolic construct—amounts to retracing the fragile limits of the speaking being, closest to its dawn, to the bottomless “primacy” constituted by primal repression.

Through that experience, which is nevertheless managed by the Other, “subject” and “object” push each other away, confront each other, collapse, and start again—inseparable, contaminated, condemned, at the boundary of what is assimilable, thinkable: abject. Great modern literature unfolds over that terrain: Dostoyevsky, Lautreamont, Proust, Artaud, Kafka, Celine. DOSTOYEVSKY The abject is, for Dostoyevsky, the “object” of The Possessed: it is the aim ,and motive of an existence whose meaning is lost in absolute degradation because it absolutely rejected the moral limit (a social, religious, familial, and individual one) as absolute—God.

Abjection then wavers between the fading away of all meaning and all humanity, burnt as by the flames of a conflagration, and the ecstasy of an ego that, having lost its Other and its objects, reaches, at the precise moment of this suicide, the height of harmony with the promised land. Equally abject are Verkhovensky and Kirilov, murder and suicide. A big fire at night always produces an exciting and exhilarating effect; this explains the attraction of fireworks; but in the case of fireworks, the graceful and regular shape of the flames and the complete immunity from danger produce a light and layful effect comparable to the effect of a glass of champagne. A real fire is quite another matter: there the horror and a certain sense of personal danger, combined with the well-known exhilarating effect of a fire at night, produce in the spectator (not, of course, in one whose house has burnt down) a certain shock to the brain and, as it were, a challenge to his own destructive instincts, which, alas, lie buried in the soul of even the meekest and most domesticated official of the lowest grade. This grim sensation is almost always delightful. I really don’t know if it is possible to watch a fire without some enjoyment. “2 APPROACHING ABJECTION 19 There are seconds—they come five or six at a time—when you suddenly feel the presence of eternal harmony in all its fullness. It is nothing earthly. I don’t mean that it is heavenly, but a man in his earthly semblance can’t endure it. He has to undergo a physical change or die. This feeling is clear and unmistakable. It is as though you suddenly apprehended all nature and suddenly said: “Yes, it is true— it is good. [. . . ] What is so terrifying about it is that it is so terribly clear and such gladness. If it went on for more than five seconds, the soul could not endure it and must perish. In those five seconds I live through a lifetime, and I am ready to give my life for them, for it’s worth it. To be able to endure it for ten seconds, you would have to undergo a physical change. I think man ought to stop begetting children. What do you want children for, what do you want mental development, if your goal has been attained?

It is said in the gospel that in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are the angels of God in heaven. It’s a hint. Is your wife giving birth to a baby? 3 Verkhovensky is abject because of his clammy, cunning appeal to ideals that no longer exist, from the moment when Prohibition (call it God) is lacking. Stavrogin is perhaps less so, for his immoralism admits of laughter and refusal, something artistic, a cynical and gratuitous expenditure that obviously becomes capitalized for the benefit of private narcissism but does not serve an arbitrary, exterminating power.

It is possible to be cynical without being irremediably abject; abjection, on the other hand, is always brought about by that which attempts to get along with trampled-down law. He’s got everything perfect in his note-book, Verkhovensky went on. Spying. Every member of the society spies on the others, and he is obliged to inform against them. Everyone belongs to all the others, and all belong to everyone. All are slaves and equals in slavery. In extreme cases slander and murder, but, above all, equality.

To begin with, the level of education, science, and accomplishment is lowered. A high level of scientific thought and accomplishment is open only to men of the highest abilities! Men of the highest ability have always seized the power and become autocrats. Such men cannot help being autocrats, and they’ve always done more harm than good; they are either banished or executed. A Cicero will have his tongue cut out, Copernicus will have his eyes gouged out, a Shakespeare will be 20 APPROACHING ABJECTION stoned—there you have Shigalyov’s doctrine!

Slaves must be equal: without despotism there never has been any freedom or equality, but in a herd there is bound to be equality—there’s the Shigalyov doctrine for you! Ha, ha, ha! You think it strange? I am for the Shigalyov doctrine! 4 Dostoyevsky has X-rayed sexual, moral, and religious abjection, displaying it as collapse of paternal laws. Is not the world of The Possessed a world of fathers, who are either repudiated, bogus, or dead, where matriarchs lusting for power hold sway—ferocious fetishes but nonetheless phantomlike?

And by symbolizing the abject, through a masterful delivery of the jouissance produced by uttering it, Dostoyevsky delivered himself of that ruthless maternal burden. But it is with Proust that we find the most immediately erotic, sexual, and desiring mainspring of abjection; and it is with Joyce that we shall discover that the feminine body, the maternal body, in its most un-signifiable, un-symbolizable aspect, shores up, in’the individual, the fantasy of the loss in which he is engulfed or becomes inebriated, for want of the ability to name an object of desire.

PROUST Abjection, recognized as inherent in the mellow and impossible alteration of the ego, hence recognized as welded to narcissism, has, in Proust, something domesticated about it; without belonging to the realm of “one’s own clean and proper” or of the “self evident,” it constitutes a scandal of which one has to acknowledge if not the banality at least the secrets of a telltale snob. Abjection, with Proust, is fashionable, if not social; it is the foul lining of society.

That may be why he furnishes the only modern example, certified by dictionaries, of the use of the word “abject” with the weak meaning it has (in French) at the end of the eighteenth century: In those regions that were almost slums, what a modest existence, abject, if you please, but delightful, nourished by tranquillity and happiness, he would have consented to lead indefinitely. 5 APPROACHING ABJECTION 21 Proust writes that if the object of desire is real it can only rest upon the abject, which is impossible to fulfill.

The object of love then becomes unmentionable, a double of the subject, similar to it, but improper, because inseparable from an impossible identity. Loving desire is thus felt as an inner fold within that impossible identity, as an accident of narcissism, ob-ject, painful alteration, delightfully and dramatically condemned to find the other in the same sex only. As if one acceded to the truth, to the abject truth of sexuality, only through homosexuality—Sodom and Gomorrah, the Cities of the Plain. I had not even cause to regret my not having arrived in the shop until several, minutes had elapsed.

For from what I heard first at Jupien’s shop, which was only a series of inarticulate sounds, I imagine that few words- had been exchanged. It is true that these sounds were so violent that, if one set had not always been taken up an octave higher by a parallel plaint, I might have thought that one person was strangling another within a few feet of me, and that subsequently the murderer and his resuscitated victim were taking a bath to wash away the traces of the crime. I concluded from this later on that there is another thing as vociferous as pain, namely pleasure, especially when there is added o it—failing the fear of an eventual parturition, which could not be present in this case, despite the hardly convincing example in the Golden Legend—an immediate afterthought of cleanliness. 6 Compared to this one, the orgy in Sade, meshing with a gigantic philosophy, be it that of the boudoir, had nothing abject about it. Methodical, rhetorical, and, from that point of view, regular, it broadens Meaning, Body, and Universe but is not at all exorbitant: everything is nameable for it, the whole is nameable. Sade’s scene integrates: it allows for no other, no unthinkable, nothing heterogeneous.

Rational and optimistic, it does not exclude. That means that it does not recognize a sacred, and in that sense it is the anthropological and rhetorical acme of atheism. Proustian writing, to the contrary, never gives up a judging prerogative, perhaps a biblical one, which splits, banishes, shares out, or condemns; land it is in relation to it, with it and against it, that the web of Proust’s sentence, memory, sexuality, and morality is elaborated—infinitely spinning together differences (sexes, classes, races) into a homogeneity 2 APPROACHING ABJECTION that consists only in signs, a fragile net stretched out over an abyss of incompatibilities, rejections, and abjections. Desire and signs, with Proust, weave the infinite cloth that does not hide but causes the subdued foulness to appear. As lapse, discomfort, shame, or blunder. As permanent threat, in short, to the homogenizing rhetoric that the writer composes against and with the abject. JOYCE How dazzling, unending, eternal—and so weak, so insignificant, so sickly—is the rhetoric of Joycean language.

Far from preserving us from the abject, Joyce causes it to break out in what he sees as prototype of literary utterance: Molly’s monologue. If that monologue spreads out the abject, it is not because there is a woman speaking. But because, from ajar, the writer approaches the hysterical body so that it might speak, so that he might speak, using it as springboard, of what eludes speech and turns out to be the hand to hand struggle of one woman with another, her mother of course, the absolute because primeval seat of the impossible—of the excluded, the outside-of-meaning, the abject. Atopia. he woman hides it not to give all the trouble they do yes he came somewhere Im sure by his appetite anyway love its not or hed be off his feed thinking of her so either it was one of those night women if it was down there he was really and the hotel story he made up a pack of lies to hide it planning it Hynes kept me who did 1 meet ah yes I met do you remember Menton and who else who let me see that big babbyface I saw him and he not long married flirting with a young girl at Pooles Myriorama and turned my back on him when he slinked out looking quite conscious what harm but he had the impudence to make up to me one time well done to him mouth almighty and his boiled eyes of all the big stupoes I ever met and thats called a solicitor only for I hate having a long wrangle in bed or else if its not that its some little bitch or other he got in with somewhere or picked up on the sly if they only knew him as well as I do yes because the day before yesterday he was scribbling something a letter when I came into the front room for the matches to show him Dignam’s death6 APPROACHING ABJECTION 23 The abject here does not reside in the thematic of masculine sexuality as Molly might see it. Not even in the fascinated horror that the other women, sketched out in back of the men, imbue the speaker with.

The abject lies, beyond the themes, and for Joyce generally, in the way one speaks; it is verbal communication, it is the Word that discloses the abject. But at the same time, the Word alone purifies from the abject, and that is what Joyce seems to say when he gives back to the masterly rhetoric that his Work in progress constitutes full powers against abjection. A single catharsis: the rhetoric of the pure signifier, of music in letters—Finnegans Wake. Celine’s journey, to the end of his night, will also encounter rhythm and music as being the only way out, the ultimate sublimation of the unsignifiable. Contrary to Joyce, however, Celine will not find salvation in it.

Again carrying out a rejection, without redemption, himself forefeited, Celine will become, body and tongue, the apogee of that moral, political, and stylistic revulsion that brands our tide. A . time that seems to have, for a century now, gone into unending labor pains. The enchantment will have to wait for some other time, always and forever. BORGES According to Borges the “object” of literature is in any case vertiginous and hallucinatory. It is the Aleph, which appears, in its transfinite truth, at the time of a descent, worthy of Mallarme’s Igitur, into the cellar of the native house, condemned to destruction—by definition. A literature that dares to relate the dizzying pangs of such a descent is no more than mediocre mockery of an archaic memory that language lays out as much as it betrays it.

The Aleph is exorbitant to the extent that, within the narrative, nothing could tap its power other than the narration of infamy. That is, of rampancy, boundlessness, the unthinkable, the untenable, the unsymbolizable. But what is it? Unless it be the untiring repetition of a drive, which, propelled by an initial loss, does not cease wandering, unsated, deceived, warped, until it finds its only stable object—death. Handling 24 APPROACHING ABJECTION that repetition, staging it, cultivating it until it releases, beyond its eternal return, its sublime destiny of being a struggle with death—is it not that which characterizes writing? And yet, dealing with death in that manner, making sport of it, is that not infamy itself?

The literary narrative that utters the workings of repetition must necessarily become, beyond fantastic tales, detective stories, and murder mysteries, a narrative of the infamous (A Universal History of Infamy). And the writer cannot but recognize himself, derisive- and forfeited, in that abject character, Lazarus Morell, the frightful redeemer, who raises his slaves from the dead only to have them die more fully, but not until they have been circulated—and have brought in a return— like currency. Does that mean that literary objects, our fictional objects, like the slaves of Lazarus Morell, are merely ephemeral resurrections of that elusive Aleph?

Does this Aleph, this impossible “object,” this impossible imagination, sustain the work of writing, even though the latter is merely a temporary halt in the Borgesian race toward death, which is contained in the chasm of the maternal cave? The stealing of horses in one state and selling them in another were barely more than a digression in Morell’s criminal career, but they foreshadowed the method that now assures him his rightful place in a Universal History of Infamy. This method is unique not only for the popular circumstances that distinguished it but also for the sordidness it required, for its deadly manipulation of hope, and for its step by step development, so like the hideous unfolding of a nightmare. [. . . ] Flashing rings on their fingers to inspire respect, they traveled up and down the vast plantations of the South.

They would pick out a wretched black and offer him freedom. They would tell him that if he ran away from his master and allowed them to sell him, he would receive a portion of the money paid for him, and they would then help him escape again, this second time sending him to a free state. Money and freedom, the jingle of silver dollars together with his liberty—what greater temptation could they offer him? The slave became emboldened for his first escape. The river provided the natural route. A canoe; the hold of a steamboat; a scow; a great raft as big as the sky, with a cabin at the point or three or four wigwams—the means mattered little, what counted

APPROACHING ABJECTION 25 was feeling the movement and the safety of the unceasing river. The black would be sold on some other plantation, then run away again to the canebrakes or the morasses. There his terrible benefactors (about whom he now began to have serious misgivings) cited obscure expenses and told him they had to sell him one final time. On his return, they said, they would give him his part of both sales and his freedom. The man let himself be sold, worked for a while, and on his final escape defied the hounds and the whip. He then made his way back bloodied, sweaty, desperate, and sleepy. [. . . ] The runaway expected his freedom.

Lazarus Morell’s shadowy mulattoes would give out an order among themselves that was sometimes barely more than a nod of the head, and the slave would be freed from sight, hearing, touch, day, infamy, time, his benefactors, pity, the air, the hound packs, the world, hope, sweat, and himself. A bullet, a knife, or a blow, and the Mississippi turtles and catfish would receive the last evidence. Just imagine that imaginary machine transformed into a social institution—and what you get is the infamy of fascism. ARTAUD An “I” overcome by the corpse—such is often the abject in Artaud’s text. For it is death that most violently represents the strange state in which a non-subject, a stray, having lost its non-objects, imagines nothingness through the ordeal of abjection.

The death that “I” am provokes horror, there is a choking sensation that does not separate inside from outside but draws them the one into the other, indefinitely. Artaud is the inescapable witness of that torture—of that truth. The dead little girl says, I am the one who guffaws in horror inside the lungs of the live one. Get me out of there at once. 9 Once dead, however, my corpse was thrown out on the dunghill, and I remember having been macerated I don’t know now many days or how many hours while waiting to awaken. For I did not know at first that I was dead: I had to make up my mind to understand that before I could succeed in raising myself.

A few friends, then, who had completely forsaken me at first, decided to come and embalm my corpse and were joylessly surprised at seeing me again, alive. 26 APPROACHING ABJECTION I have no business going to bed with you, things, for I stink more than you do, god, and going to bed does not mean getting soiled but, to the contrary, clearing myself, from you. 11 At that level of downfall in subject and object, the abject is the equivalent of death. And writing, which allows one to recover, is equal to a resurrection. The writer, then, finds himself marked out for identification with Christ, if only in order for him, too, to be rejected, ab-jected: For, as ball-breaking as this may seem, I am that Artaud crucified on Golgotha, not as christ but as Artaud, in other words as complete atheist.

I am that body persecuted by erotic golosity, the obscene sexual erotic golosity of mankind, for which pain is a humus, the liquid from a fertile mucus, a serum worth sipping by one who has never on his own gained by being a man while knowing that he was becoming one. 12 These different literary texts name types of abjects that are answerable to, this goes without saying, different psychic structures. The types of articulation (narrative and syntactic structures, prosodic processes, etc. in the different texts) also vary. Thus the abject, depending on the writer, turns out to be named differently when it is not merely suggested by linguistic modifications that are always somewhat elliptic. In the final part of this essay I shall examine in detail a specific articulation of the abject—that of Celine.

Let me just say at this point, as an introduction, that contemporary literature, in its multiple variants, and when it is written as the language, possible at last, of that impossible constituted either by a-subjectivity or by non-objectivity, propounds, as a matter of fact, a sublimation of abjection. Thus it becomes a substitute for the role formerly played by the sacred, at the limits of social and subjective identity. But we are dealing here with a sublimation without consecration. Forfeited. CATHARSIS AND ANALYSIS That abjection, which modernity has learned to repress, dodge, or fake, appears fundamental once the analytic point of view APPROACHING ABJECTION 27 is assumed.

Lacan says so when he links that word to the saint1 liness of the analyst, a linkage in which the only aspect of humor that remains is blackness. 13 One must keep open the wound where he or she who enters into the analytic adventure is located—a wound that the professional establishment, along with the cynicism of the times and of institutions, will soon manage to close up. There is nothing initiatory in that rite, if one understands by “initiation” the accession to a purity that the posture of death guaranteed (as in Plato’s Phaedo) or the unadulterated treasure of the “pure signifier” (as is the gold of truth in The Republic, or the pure separatism of the statesman in the Statesman).

It is rather a heterogeneous, corporeal, and verbal ordeal of fundamental incompleteness: a “gaping,” “less One. ” For the unstabilized subject who comes out of that—like a crucified person opening up the stigmata of its desiring body to a speech that structures only on condition that it let go—any signifying or human phenomenon, insofar as it is, appears in its being as abjection. For what impossible catharsis? Freud, early in his career, used the same word to refer to a therapeutics, the rigor of which was to come out later. WITH PLATO AND ARISTOTLE The analyst is thus and forever sent back to the question that already haunted Plato when he wanted to take over where Apollonian or Dionysiac religion left off. 4 Purification is something only the Logos is capable of. But is that to be done in the manner of the Phaedo, stoically separating oneself from a body whose substance and passions are sources of impurity? Or rather, as in the Sophist, after having sorted out the worst from the best; or after the fashion of the Philebus by leaving the doors wide open to impurity, provided the eyes of the mind remain focused on truth? In such a case, pleasure, having become pure and true through the harmony of color and form as in the case of accurate and beautiful geometric form, has nothing in common, as the philosopher says, with “the pleasures of scratching” (Philebus 51). 28 APPROACHING ABJECTION

Catharsis seems to be a concern that is intrinsic to philosophy, insofar as the latter is an ethics and unable to forget Plato. Even if the mixture seems inevitable towards the end of the Platonic course, it is the mind alone, as harmonious wisdom, that insures purity: catharsis has been transformed, where transcendental idealism is concerned, into philosophy. Of the cathartic incantation peculiar to mysteries, Plato has kept only, as we all know, the very uncertain role of poets whose frenzy would be useful to the state only after having been evaluated, sorted out, and purified in its turn by wise men. Aristotelian catharsis is closer to sacred incantation. It is the one that has bequeathed its name to the common, esthetic concept of catharsis.

Through the mimesis of passions—ranging from enthusiasm to suffering—in “language with pleasurable accessories,” the most important of which being rhythm and song (see the Poetics), the soul reaches orgy and purity at the same time. What is involved is a purification of body and soul by means of a heterogeneous and complex circuit, going from “bile” to “fire,” from “manly warmth” to the “enthusiasm” of the “mind. ” Rhythm and song hence arouse the impure, the other of mind, the passionate-corporeal-sexual-virile, but they harmonize it, arrange it differently than the wise man’s knowledge does. They thus soothe frenzied outbursts (Plato, in the Laws, allowed such se of rhythm and meter only to the mother rocking her child), by contributing an external rule, a poetic one, which fills the gap, inherited from Plato, between body and soul. To Platonic death, which owned, so to speak, the state of purity, Aristotle opposed the act of poetic purification—in itself an impure process that protects from the abject only by. dint of being immersed in it. The abject, mimed through sound and meaning, is repeated. Getting rid of it is out of the question— the final Platonic lesson has been understood, one does not get rid of the impure; one can, however, bring it into being a second time, and differently from the original impurity.

It is a repetition through rhythm and song, therefore through what is not yet, or no longer is “meaning,” but arranges, defers, differentiates and organizes, harmonizes pathos, bile, warmth, and enthusiasm. Benveniste translates “rhythm” by “trace” and “conca- APPROACHING ABJECTION 2Q tenation” [enchainement]. Prometheus is “rhythmical,” and we call him “bound” [enchaine]. An attachment on the near and far side of language. Aristotle seems to say that there is a discourse of sex and that is not the discourse of knowledge—it is the only possible catharsis. That discourse is audible, and through the speech that it mimics it repeats on another register what the latter does not say.

PHILOSOPHICAL SADNESS AND THE SPOKEN DISASTER OF THE ANALYST Poetic catharsis, which for more than two thousand years behaved as an underage sister of philosophy, face to face and incompatible with it, takes us away from purity, hence from Kantian ethics, which has long governed modern codes and remains more faithful to a certain Platonic stoicism. By means of the “universalizing of maxims,” as is well known, the Kant of the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Ethics or of the Metaphysical Principles of Virtue advocated an “ethical gymnastics” in order to give us, by means of consciousness, control over our defilements and, through that very consciousness, making us free and joyous. More skeptical and, from a certain point of view, more Aristotelian, Hegel, on the contrary, rejects a “calculation” that claims to eliminate defilement, for the latter seems fundamental to him. Probably echoing the Greek polis, he conceives of no other ethics than that of the act.

Also distrustful, however, of those fine aestheticizing souls who find purity in the elaboration of empty forms, he obviously does not hold to the mimetic and orgiastic catharsis of Aristotle. It is in the historical act that Hegel sees fundamental impurity being expended; as a matter of fact, the latter is a sexual impurity whose historical achievement consists in marriage. But—and this is where transcendental idealism, too, sadly comes to an end—here it is that desire {Lust), thus normalized in order to escape abject concupiscence (Begierde), sinks into a banality that is sadness and silence. How come? Hegel does not condemn impurity because it is exterior to ideal consciousness; more profoundly—but also more craf- 30 APPROACHING ABJECTION ily—he thinks that it can and should get rid of itself through the historico-social act, If he thereby differs from Kant, he nevertheless shares his condemnation of (sexual) impurity. He agrees with his aim to keep consciousness apart from defilement, which, nevertheless, dialectically constitutes it. Reabsorbed into the trajectory of the Idea, what can defilement become if not the negative side of consciousness—that is, lack of communication and speech? In other words, defilement as reabsorbed in marriage becomes sadness. In so doing, it has not strayed too far from its logic, according to which it is a border of discourse—a silence. 15 It is obvious that the analyst, from the abyss of his silence, brushes against the ghost of the sadness Hegel saw in sexual normalization.

Such sadness is the more obvious to him as his ethics is rigorous—founded, as it must be in the West, on the remains of transcendental idealism. But one can also argue that the Freudian stance, which is dualistic and dissolving, unsettles those foundations. In that sense, it causes the sad, analytic silence to hover above a strange, foreign discourse, which, strictly speaking, shatters verbal communication (made up of a knowledge and a truth that are nevertheless heard) by means of a device that mimics terror, enthusiasm, or orgy, and is more closely related to rhythm and song than it is to the World. There is mimesis (some say identification) in the analytic passage hrough castration. And yet it is necessary that the analyst’s interpretative speech (and not only his literary or theoretical bilingualism) be affected by it in order to be analytical. As counterpoise to a purity that found its bearings in disillusioned sadness, it is the “poetic” unsettlement of analytic utterance that testifies to its closeness to, cohabitation with, and “knowledge” of abjection. I am thinking, in short, of the completely mimetic identification (transference and countertransference) of the analyst with respect to analysands. That identification allows for securing in their place what, when parcelled out, makes them suffering and barren.

It allows one to regress back to the affects that can be heard in the breaks in discourse, to provide rhythm, too, to concatenate (is that what “to become conscious” means? ) the APPROACHING ABJECTION 31 gaps of a speech saddened because it turned its back on its abject meaning. If there is analytic jouissance it is there, in the thoroughly poetic mimesis that runs through the architecture of speech and extends from coenesthetic image to logical and phantasmatic articulations. Without for that matter biologizing language, and while breaking away from identification by means of interpretation, analytic speech is one that becomes “incarnate” in the full sense of the term.

On that condition only, it is “cathartic”—meaning thereby that it is the equivalent, for the analyst as well as for the analysand, not of purification but of rebirth with and against abjection. This preliminary survey of abjection, phenomenological on the whole, will now lead me to a more straightforward consideration of analytic theory on the one hand, of the history of religions on the other, and finally of contemporary literary experience. -%- SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF A regal soul, inadvertently surrendering to the crab of lust, the octopus of weakmindedness, the shark of individual abjection, the boa of absent morality, and the monstrous snail of idiocracy! Lautreamont, Les Chants de Maldoror

THE OBJECT AS TRIMMING OF ANGUISH When psychoanalysts speak of an object they speak of the object of desire as it is elaborated within the Oedipian triangle. According to that trope, the father is the mainstay of the law and the mother the prototype of the object. Toward the mother there is convergence not only of survival needs but of the first mimetic yearnings. She is the other subject, an object that guarantees my being as subject. The mother is my first objectboth desiring and signifiable. No sooner sketched out, such a, thesis is exploded by its contradictions and flimsiness. Do we not find, sooner (chronologically and logically speaking), if not objects at least pre-objects, poles of attraction of a demand for air, food, and motion?

Do we not also find, in the very process that constitutes the mother as other, a series of semi-objects that stake out the transition from a state of indifferentiation to one of discretion (subject/object)—semi-objects that are called precisely “transitional” by Winnicott? 1 Finally, do we not find a whole gradation within modalities of separation: a real deprivation of the breast, an imaginary frustration of the gift as maternal relation, and, to conclude, a symbolic SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF 33 castration inscribed in the Oedipus complex; a gradation constituting, in Lacan’s brilliant formulation, the object relation insofar as it is always “a means of masking, of parrying the fundamental fund of anguish” (Seminar of 1956-1957)? The matter of the object sets in motion, or implicates, the entire Freudian structure.

Narcissism—beginning with what, or when, does it allow itself to be exceeded by sexual drive, which is drive toward the other? Repression—what type of repression yields symbolization, hence a signifiable object, and what other type, on the contrary, blocks the way toward symbolization and topples drive into the lack-of-object of asymbolia or the auto-object of somatization? The connection between the unconscious and language—what is the share of language learning or language activity in the constitution of object relation and its transformations? It is with respect to the phobia of Little Hans that Freud tackles in the clearest fashion the matter of the relation to the object, which is crucial for the constitution of the subject. From the start, fear and object are linked. Can that be by accident? The unending and uncertain identifications of hysterics did surely not throw light on Freud’s work on this topic. This obsessional rumination—which ceaselessly elaborates signs so as better to protect, within the family vault, a sacred object that is missing—was probably of greater avail to him in dealing with the question. But why is it phobia that best allows one to tackle the matter of relation to the object? Why fear and object? Confronted with states of distress that are evoked for us by the child who makes himself heard but is incapable of making himself understood, we, adults, use the word “fear. Birth trauma, according to Otto Rank, or the upsetting of the balance of drive integration elaborated by the maternal receptacle (Wilfred R. Bion) in the course of uterine life and by “good mothering,” are theoretical artifacts: they rationalize a “zero state” of the subject, and also probably a zero state of theory as confronted with what the child has not uttered. Fear, therefore, in a first sense, could be the upsetting of a bio-drive balance. The constitution of object relation might then be a reiteration 34 SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF of fear, alternating with optimal but precarious states of balance. Fear and object proceed together until the one represses the other. But in which one of us is that fully successful?

HANS IS AFRAID OF THE UNNAMABLE And yet, the fear of which one can speak, the one therefore that has a signifiable object, is a more belated and more logical product that assumes all earlier alarms of archaic, non-representable fear. Spoken fear, hence subsequent to language and necessarily caught in the Oedipus structure, is disclosed as the fear of an unlikely object that turns out to be the substitute for another. Another “object”? That is what Freud believes when he hears the story of little Hans who is afraid of horses. He detects the fear of castration—of his mother’s “missing” sexual organ, of the loss of his own, of the guilty desire to reduce the father to the same unmanning or to the same death, and so forth. This is astonishingly true, and not quite so.

What is striking in the case of Hans, as little as he might be, what Freud does not cease to be astonished by, is his stupendous verbal skill: he assimilates and reproduces language with impressive eagerness and talent. So eager is he to name everything that he runs into the unnamable—street sounds, that ceaseless trade activity involving horses in front of the house, the intensity with which his father, a recent convert to psychoanalysis, is interested in his body, his love for small girls, the stories and fantasies that he (the father) sexualizes to the utmost; the somewhat elusive, somewhat frail presence of his mother. All of this, which has already considerable sense for Hans without having found its significance, is doubtless distributed, as Freud says, between narcissistic conversation drive and sexual drive.

It all becomes necessarily crystallized in the epistemophilic experience of Hans who wants to know himself and to know everything; to know, in particular, what seems to be lacking in his mother or could be lacking in himself. More generally, however, the phobia of horses becomes a hieroglyph that condenses all fears, from unnamable to namable. SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF 35 From archaic fears to those that accompany language learning, at the same time as familiarization with the body, the street, animals, people. The statement, “to be afraid of horses,” is a hieroglyph having the logic of metaphor and hallucination. By means of the signifier of the phobic object, the “horse,” it calls attention to a drive economy in want of an object—that conglomerate of fear, deprivation, and nameless frustration, which, properly speaking, belongs to the unnamable. The phobic bject shows up at the place of non-objectal states of drive3 and assumes all the mishaps of drive as disappointed desires or as desires diverted from their objects. The metaphor that is taxed with representing want itself (and not its consequences, such as transitional objects and their sequels, the “a” objects of the desiring quest) is constituted under the influence of a symbolizing agency. That symbolic law is not necessarily of the superego type, but it can also seep into the ego and the ideal of the ego. PHOBIA AS ABORTIVE METAPHOR OF WANT Metaphor of want as such, phobia bears the marks of the frailty of the subject’s signifying system.

It must be perceived that such a metaphor is inscribed not in verbal rhetoric but in the heterogeneity of the psychic system that is made up of drive presentations and thing presentations linked to word presentations. The infancy of little Hans does not entirely explain the frailty of the signifying system that forces metaphor to turn into drive and conversely. One must also conclude, and phobic adults confirm this, that within the symbolic law accruing to the function of the father, something remains blurred in the Oedipal triangle constituting the subject. Does Hans’ father not play a bit too much the role of the mother whom he thrusts into the shadows? Does he not overly seek the surety of the professor?

If phobia is a metaphor that has mistaken its place, forsaking language for drive and sight, it is because a father does not hold his own, be he the father of the subject or the father of its mother. Freud understands this perfectly. After the first accounts by 36 SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF Hans’ father, he suggests to such a Hermes that he remember himself to his son and try, if only by means of his mustache and pince-nez, to take the horses’ place. The treatment obviously succeeded, up to a point at any rate, for Hans plays along and ventures to produce other metaphors of his fear of the unnamable in the framework of a rhetoric that on occasion clears itself of drive or, better, hysterizes it. Fear, as a matter of fact, retreats to the benefit of a loathing for raspberry syrup, the color of which alone vokes the edge of a gash. But has phobia really disappeared? It does not seem to have. For at least two reasons. First, the Freudian treatment, by referring to the apices of the family triangle what we have seen to be a fear of the unnamable—fear of want and of castration? —actually revives the phobia. The treatment justifies the phobic child. Freud tells Hans that he is right; you cannot not be afraid of castration, and upon your fear I found the truth of theory. In so doing, he rationalizes that fear and, even though such a rationalization is also, in effect, and because of transference, an elaboration, it remains in part an anticathexis of phobia.

A certain handling of the analytic cure runs the risk of being nothing else but a counter-phobic treatment, if that cure remains at the level of fantasy and does not enter, after having traversed the latter, into the more subtle workings of the metaphoric elaboration constituted by the statement and the phobic “object,” to the extent that this “object” is the representative of drive and not of an already present object. Indeed, as Freud is first to admit, the analytical apparatus is no match for that phobic condensation, for it cannot open it out: In the process of the formation of a phobia from the unconscious thoughts underlying it, condensation takes place; and for that reason the course of the analysis can never follow that of the development of the neurosis. 4 Obviously such an acknowledgment does no more than establish the difference between the analytic process and the neurotic condensation process. But one could also understand it as neglecting, through the linear, transferential approach of SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF 37 nalysis (the more so as analysis is often undertaken on the level of the imaginary and even of the superego), the processes of condensation that oversee phobic work. In order to deal with such processes, it would be necessary to revive the work of introjection as well as to pay particular attention to displacements and condensations within the signifying chain. On the other hand, taking that metaphoricalness into account would amount to considering the phobic person as a subject in want of metaphoricalness. Incapable of producing metaphors by means of signs alone, he produces them in the very material of drives—and it turns out that the only rhetoric of which he is capable is that of affect, and it is projected, as often as not, by means of images.

It will then fall upon analysis to give back a memory, hence a language, to the unnamable and namable states of fear, while emphasizing the former, which make up what is most unapproachable in the unconscious. It will also fall upon it, within the same temporality and the same logic, to make the analysand see the void upon which rests the play with the signifier and primary processes. Such a void and the arbitrariness of that play are the truest equivalents of fear. But does it not amount to diverting the analytic process towards literature, or even stylistics? Is this not asking the analyst to be rhetorical, to “write” instead of “interpreting”? Does this not also imply holding up a fetishist screen, that of the word, before a dissolving fear? The fetishist episode peculiar to the unfolding of phobia is well known.

It is perhaps unavoidable that, when a subject confronts the factitiousness of object relation, when he stands at the place of the want that founds it, the fetish becomes a life preserver, temporary and slippery, but nonetheless indispensable. But is not exactly language our ultimate and inseparable fetish? And language, precisely, is based on fetishist denial (“I know that, but just the same,” “the sign is not the thing, but just the same,” etc. ) and defines us in our essence as speaking beings. Because of its founding status, the fetishism of “language” is perhaps the only one that is unanalyzable. One might then view writing, or art in general, not as the only treatment but as the only “know-how” where phobia is 38 SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF concerned. Little Hans has become stage director for an opera house.

Finally, and this is the second reason why phobia does not disappear but slides beneath language, the phobic object is a proto-writing and, conversely, any practice of speech, inasmuch as it involves writing, is a language of fear. I mean a language of want as such, the want that positions sign, subject, and object. Not a language of the desiring exchange of messages or objects that are transmitted in a social contract of communication and desire beyond want, but a language of want, of the fear that edges up to it and runs along its edges. The one who tries to utter this “not yet a place,” this no-grounds, can obviously only do so backwards, starting from an over-mastery of the linguistic and rhetorical code.

But in the last analysis he refers to fear—a terrifying, abject referent. We encounter this discourse in our dreams, or when death brushes us by, depriving us of the assurance mechanical use of speech ordinarily gives us, the assurance of being ourselves, that is, untouchable, unchangeable, immortal. But the writer is permanently confronted with such a language. The writer is a phobic who succeeds in metaphorizing in order to keep from being frightened to death; instead he comes to life again in signs. “I AM AFRAID OF BEING BITTEN” OR “I AM AFRAID OF BITING”? Nevertheless, does not fear hide an aggression, a violence that returns to its source, its sign having been inverted?

What was there in the beginning: want, deprivation, original fear, or the violence of rejection, aggressivity, the deadly death drive? Freud abandoned the vicious circle of cause and effect, of the chicken and the egg, by discovering a complex being completely alien to the angelism of the Rousseauistic child. At the same time as the Oedipus complex, he discovered infantile, perverse, polymorphic sexuality, always already a carrier of desire and death. But, and this is the master stroke, he accompanied that “given” with a completely symbolic causality that not only balances it but destroys it as fundamental determinism. I refer to the mod- SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF 39 ling and, in the final analysis, determining role of symbolic language relation. From the deprivation felt by the child because of the mother’s absence to the paternal prohibitions that institute symbolism, that relation accompanies, forms, and elaborates the aggressivity of drives, which, consequently, never presents itself in a “pure” state. Let me say then that want and aggressivity are chronologically separable but logically coextensive. Aggressivity appears to us as a rejoinder to the original deprivation felt from the time of the mirage known as “primary narcissism”; it merely takes revenge on initial frustrations. But what can be known of their connection is that want and aggressivity are adapted to one another.

To speak of want alone is to repudiate aggressivity in obsessional fashion; to speak of aggressivity alone, forgetting want, amounts to making transference paranoidal. “I am afraid of horses, I am afraid of being bitten. ” Fear and the aggressivity intended to protect me from some not yet localizable cause are projected and come back to me from the outside: “I am threatened. ” The fantasy of incorporation by means of which I attempt to escape fear (I incorporate a portion of my mother’s body, her breast, and thus I hold on to her) threatens me none the less, for a symbolic, paternal prohibition already dwells in me on account of my learning to speak at the same time.

In the face of this second threat, a completely symbolic one, I attempt another procedure: I am not the one that devours, I am being devoured by him; a third person therefore (he, a third person) is devouring me. PASSIVATION Syntactical passivation, which heralds the subject’s ability to put himself in the place of the object, is a radical stage in the constitution of subjectivity. What a fuss was made over “A Child Is Being Beaten,” what efforts exerted to write passive sentences in those languages that have such a mood. I should point out here that the logic of the constitution of the phobic object also requires such a procedure of passivation.

In parallel fashion to the setting up of the signifying function, phobia, 40 SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF which also functions under the aegis of censorship and repression, displaces by inverting the sign (the active becomes passive) before metaphorizing. Only after such an inversion can the “horse” or the “dog” become the metaphor of my empty and incorporating mouth, which watches me, threatening, from the outside. Overdetermined like all metaphors, this “horse,” this “dog” also contain speed, racing, flight, motion, the street, traffic, cars, walking— an entire world of others towards which they escape and where, in order to save myself, I try to escape. But rendered culpable, abashed, “I” come back, I” withdraw, “I” meet with anguish again: “I” am afraid. Of what} This sort of question appears only at that moment, laden with all the meanings of object and pre-object relations, with all its weight for a correlative “ego,” and not as an empty sign. This means that an object that is a hallucination is being made up. The phobic object is a complex elaboration, already comprising logical and linguistic workings that are attempts at drive introjection outlining the failure to introject that which is incorporated. If incorporation marks out the way toward the constitution of the object, phobia represents the failure of the concomitant drive introjection.

DEVOURING LANGUAGE The phobia of a little girl, discussed during Anna Freud’s seminar,5 gives us the opportunity to measure the importance of orality in this matter. The fact that it is a girl who is afraid of being eaten up by a dog is perhaps not without importance in the emphasis on orality and passivation. Moreover, the phobia followed upon a separation from her mother and a reunion when the mother already belonged to another. Curiously, the more phobic Sandy got, the more she spoke: the observer noted, as a matter of fact, that she spoke with a rural accent, that she was talkative, that at the age of three and a half “she talks a lot, has an extensive vocabulary, expresses herself with ease and enjoys repeating strange and difficult words. ” SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF 41

Through the mouth that I fill with words instead of my mother whom I miss from now on more than ever, I elaborate that want, and the aggressivity that accompanies it, by saying. It turns out that, under the circumstances, oral activity, which produces the linguistic signifier, coincides with the theme of devouring, which the “dog” metaphor has a first claim on. But one is rightfully led to suppose that any verbalizing activity, whether or not it names a phobic object related to orality, is an attempt to introject the incorporated items. In that sense, verbalization has always been confronted with the “ab-ject” that the phobic object is. Language learning takes place as an attempt to appropriate an oral “object” that slips away and whose hallucination, necessarily deformed, threatens us from the outside.

Sandy’s increasing interest in language, in proportion as her phobia grows, the verbal games in which she indulges, are on a par with the intense verbal activity of little Hans, which I discussed. One might contrast with this relation between phobia and language in the child the commonplace observation on adult phobic discourse. The speech of the phobic adult is also characterized by extreme nimbleness. But that vertiginous skill is as if void of meaning, traveling at top speed over an untouched and untouchable abyss, of which, on occasion, only the affect shows up, giving not a sign but a signal. It happens because language has then become a counterphobic object; it no longer plays the role of an element of miscarried introjection, capable, in the child’s phobia, of revealing the anguish of original want.

In analyzing those structures one is led to thread one’s way through the meshes of the non-spoken in order to get at the meaning of such a strongly barricaded discourse. The child undergoing a phobic episode has not reached that point. His symptom, because he utters it, is already an elaboration of phobia. By means of the logical and linguistic work he undertakes at the same time, his symptom arrives at a complex and ambiguous elaboration. The phobic hallucination then stands halfway between the recognition of desire and counterphobic construction: not yet a defensive, over-coded discourse that knows too much and manipulates its objects wonderfully 42 SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF well; nor is it a recognition of the object of want as object of desire.

The phobic object is precisely avoidance of choice, it tries as long as possible to maintain the subject far from a decision; this is not done through a superego blocking of symbolization or through asymbolia, but to the contrary through a condensation of intense symbolic activities that results in the heterogeneous agglomeration we call phobic hallucination. HALLUCINATION OF NOTHING It is, I said it earlier, a metaphor. And yet more than that. For to the activity of condensation and displacement that oversees its formation, there is added a drive dimension (heralded by fear) that has an anaphoric, indexing value, pointing to something else, to some non-thing, to something unknowable. The phobic object is in that sense the hallucination of nothing: a metaphor that is the anaphora of nothing. What is “nothing”? The analyst wonders and answers, after “deprivation,” “frustration,” “want,” etc. : “the maternal phallus. ” That, from his point of view, is not false.

But such a position implies that, in order to bring fear to the surface, the confrontation with the impossible object (the maternal phallus, which is not) will be transformed into a fantasy of desire. On the trail of my fear I meet again with my desire, and I bind myself to it, thus leaving stranded the concatenation of discourse with which I have built my hallucination, my weakness and my strength, my investment and my ruin. It is precisely at such a point that writing takes over, within the phobic child that we are, to the extent that we speak only of anguish. It is not into a fantasy of desire that writing transforms the confrontation with the ab-ject.

It unfolds, on the contrary, the logical and psycho-drive strategies that make up the hallucination metaphor improperly called “the object of phobia. ” If we are all phobics in the sense that it is anguish that causes us to speak, provided that someone forbids it, we are not all scared of large horses or biting mouths. Hans has quite simply written earlier than others, or rather he has been stage director within a scription that encompassed his living space SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF 43 with all its extras, putting into flesh (a horse) those logical constructs that set us up as beings of abjection and/or as symbolic beings. He was a “writer,” a precocious one, and also a failure.

The mature writer, whether a failure or not (though perhaps never losing sight of those two alternatives), never stops harking back to symbolization mechanisms, within language itself, in order to find in a process of eternal return, and not in the object that it names or produces, the hollowing out of anguish in the face of nothing. / PHOBIC NARCISSISM Phobia literally stages the instability of object relation. The lability of the “object” within the phobic “compromise”— which may also be seen in some psychotic structures—can lead us to consider the formation in question from the point of view not of object relation but of its opposite correlative, narcissism.

There, too, we come up against difficulties of analytic theory that are linked, this time, to its postulating a primary narcissism following upon autoeroticism and to what amounts to a forcing of thought—the assignment of a subject to archaic, pre-linguistic narcissism, taking us back, in short, to the mother-child symbiosis. Freud accepted that difficulty: in postulating the existence of two kinds of drives, sexual drives directed toward others and ego drives aimed at self-preservation, he appears to have granted, in the phobic symptom, preponderance to the latter. But however clear may have been the victory in Hans’s phobia of the forces that were opposed to sexuality, nevertheless, since such an illness s in its very nature a compromise, this cannot have been all that the repressed drives obtained. 6 Thus, even if sexual drives gain the upper hand again with Hans, and this with the obsessed and obsessive help of the father and the psychoanalyst, we are witnessing a victory of “the forces that were opposed to sexuality. ” Such a narcissism presents us with at least two problems. How can one account for its strength, which hands over the object drive? How does it happen that, dominating as it may be, it does not lead to autism? 44 SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF A particular biological makeup, imaginable although enigmatic, could provide a partial answer to the first question.

And yet it is the failure of the triangular relationship, which alone posits the existence of an object, that seems to be implicated here. In the final analysis, the so-called narcissistic drive dominates only if instability of the paternal metaphor prevents the subject from finding its place within a triadic structure giving an object to its drives. That means that the object relationship of drives is a belated and even nonessential phenomenon. And it is not by accident that Freud subordinates the question of the drive object to the smoothing, if not the quenching, of the drive. The object of a drive is the thing in regard to which or through which the drive is able to achieve its aim.

It is what is most variable about a drive and is not originally connected with it, but becomes assigned to it only in consequence of being particularly fitted to make satisfaction possible. 7 This is easy enough to understand if one takes the word object in its strongest acceptation—as the correlative of a subject in a symbolic chain. The paternal agency alone, to the extent that it introduces the symbolic dimension between “subject” (child) and “object” (mother), can generate such a strict object relation. Otherwise, what is called “narcissism,” without always or necessarily being conservative, becomes the unleashing of drive as such, without object, threatening all identity, including that of the subject itself. We are then in the presence of psychosis.

THE “OBJECT” OF PHOBIC DESIRE: SIGNS The point, however, of the hallucinatory metaphor of the phobic is precisely that, while displaying the victory of “the forces that were opposed to sexuality, ” it finds a certain “object. ” Which one? Not the object of sexual drive; the mother, or her parts, or her representatives; no more than some neutral referent or other, but symbolic activity itself. If the latter is often eroticized, and if the phobic, in that case, cumulates with the obsessive, SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF 45 this does not detract from the originality of the structure, which consists in the following: symbolicity itself is cathected by a drive that is not object-oriented in the classic sense of the term (we are not dealing with an object of need or desire), nor is it narcissistic (it does not return to collapse upon the subject or to cause its collapse).

Since it is not sex-oriented, it denies the question of sexual difference; the subject that houses it can produce homosexual symptoms while being strictly speaking indifferent to them: that is not where the subject is. If it is true that such/cathexis of symbolicity as sole site of drive and desire is a means of preservation, it is obviously not the specular ego— the reflection of the maternal phallus—that sees itself thus preserved; on the contrary, the ego, here, is rather in abeyance. Strangely enough, however, it is the subject that is built up, to the extent that it is the correlative of the paternal metaphor, disregarding the failure of its support—the subject, that is, as correlative of the Other. A representative of the paternal function takes the place of the good maternal object that is wanting. There is language instead of the good breast.

Discourse is being substituted for maternal care, and with it a fatherhood belonging more to the realm of the ideal than of the superego. One can vary the patterns within which such an ascendency of the Other, replacing the object and taking over where narcissism left off, produces a hallucinatory metaphor. There is fear and fascination. The body (of the ego) and the (sexual) object are completely absorbed in it. Abjection—at the crossroads of phobia, obsession, and perversion—shares in the same arrangement. The loathing that is implied in it does not take on the aspect of hysteric conversion; the latter is the symptom of an ego that, overtaxed by a “bad object,” turns away from it, cleanses itself of it, and vomits it. In abjection, revolt is completely within being.

Within the being of language. Contrary to hysteria, which brings about, ignores, or seduces the symbolic but does not produce it, the subject of abjection is eminently productive of culture.. Its symptom is the rejection and reconstruction of languages. , ”f3$&t 46 SOMETHING TO BE SCARED OF AIMING AT THE APOCALYPSE: SIGHT To speak of hallucination in connection with such an unstable “object” suggests at once that there is a visual cathexis in the phobic mirage—and at least a speculative cathexis in the abject. Elusive, fleeting, and baffling as it is, that non-object can be grasped only as a sign. It is through the intermediary of a representation,



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