Lecture 4: The Abject Zombie English 165EW Winter 2013 16 January 2013And no-one proved rightAnd no-one was wrongWe weren’t left aloneAnd we didn’t belongWhen the end of the world cameIt passed like an awkward remark. — The Jane Austen Argument, “When the End of the World Came” (2012)
The word “abject” means ...1. utterly hopeless, miserable, humiliating, or wretched: abject poverty.2. contemptible; despicable; base-spirited: an abject coward.3. shamelessly servile; slavish.4. Obsolete. Cast aside. From dictionary.com; based on the Random House Dictionary.
For Julia Kristeva, “the abject” ...● incorporates all of the elements of the previous definition.● is not the same as an “object,” though it is also appears in a binary opposition to a subject. “The abject has only one quality of the object – that of being opposed to I.” (1)● is related in fundamental ways to embodiment and the horrors of that state. “Along with sight-clouding dizziness, nausea makes me balk at that milk cream.” (3)
Some examples of the abject● “skin on the surface of milk” (“I experience a gagging sensation”)● “the corpse, the most sickening of wastes, is a border that has encroached upon everything.” “The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life. Abject.” (4)● “A wound with blood and pus”● “body fluids”● “defilement”● “shit” (except where noted, all are from pp. 2-3)
Some characteristics● “It lies outside, beyond the set, and does not seem to agree to the latter’s rules of the game.” (2)● Serves as a referent that helps to position the superego by being an integral part of its definition through a binary opposition. “to each ego its object, to each superego its abject.” (2) … and therefore: “On the edge of non-existence and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me. There, abject and abjection are my safeguards. The primers of my culture.” (2)
● The experience of abjection is “in fact recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language, or desire is founded.” (5) ● Among other things, this is an effect of recognizing the relative scale of the individual life and the vast network of relationships in which it is entangled. ● “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.” (6)● Abjection results, in part, from partial exclusion of repressed material from conscious mental activity. (7)● “Abjection is therefore a kind of narcissistic crisis: it is witness to the ephemeral aspect of the state called ‘narcissism’ with reproachful jealousy.” (14)
● Abjection is also related to the recognition that the self is not a totalized, organic, monadic unity. ● “when I seek (myself), lose (myself), or experience jouissance--then ‘I’ is heterogeneous.” (8) ● “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, and through such possession causes me to be.” (10) ● “In the symptom, the abject permeates me, I become abject.” (11)
“the law”“It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health thatcauses abjection but what disturbs identity,system, order. What does not respect borders,positions, rules, the liar, the criminal with a soundconscience, the shameless rapist, the killer whoclaims he is a savior . . . Any crime, because itdraws attention to the fragility of the law, is abject,but remeditated crime, cunning murder,hypocritical revenge are even more so becausethey heighten the display of such fragility.” (4)
Repression● For psychoanalysts, repression is always present in the human psyche as a necessary component of the structure of consciousness itself.● Repressed content is dealt with by various mechanisms depending on the structure of the psyche: Neurosis → Denial Psychosis → Rejection Abjection → Transgression
Troubled borders“For the space that engrosses the deject, theexcluded, is never one, not homogeneous, nortotalizable, but essentially divisible, foldable,and catastrophic.” (8)“abjection is above all ambiguity.” (9)“the abject confronts us, on the one hand, withthose fragile states where man strays on theterritories of animal.” (12)“the abject is perverse because it neither givesup nor assumes a prohibition, a rule, or a law.”(15)
George Romero’s zombies …● are not particularly interested in eating brains.● are never explained in a way that is fully endorsed by any of Romero’s Dead movies. ● Some explanations proposed in Romero’s Dead movies: – “When there’s no more room in Hell …” (Peter, ch. 17) – “They’re working on an analysis of this whole phenomenon from the point of view of a viral disease …” (TV announcer, ch. 12) – “Some kind of radiation” that a space probe brought back from Venus. Romero as TV producer at the (Night of the Living Dead) beginning of Dawn of the Dead.
Romero’s zombies are probably bestseen in terms of class and consumerism
Francine: What are they doing? Why do they come here?Stephen: Some kind of instinct. A memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives. (ch. 6)Roger: We’re in! How the hell are we going to get back?Peter: Who the hell cares? Let’s go shopping first! (ch. 8)Stephen: You should see all the great stuff we got, Frannie. All kinds of stuff! This place is terrific! It really is, it’s perfect! All kinds of things! We’ve really got it made here! (ch. 10)Peter: They’re after the place. They don’t know why, they just remember … remember that they want to be in here.Francine: What the hell are they?Peter: They’re us, that’s all. (ch. 17)
TV Scientist: Cannibalism in the true sense of the word implies an interspecies [sic] activity. These creatures cannot be considered human. They prey on humans. They do not prey on each other. (ch. 12)TV Scientist: Intelligence? Seemingly no little or no reasoning power, but basic skills remain – or more remembered behaviors from, uh, normal life. There are reports of these creatures using tools, but even these actions are the most primitive. The use of such external articles as bludgeons and so forth – I might point out to you that even animals will adopt the basic use of tools in this manner. These creatures are nothing but pure, motorized instinct. Their only drive is for food. […] We must not be lulled by the thought that these are our family members or our friends. They are not. They will not respond to such on such emotions. They must be destroyed on sight! (ch. 12)Roger: You’ll take care of it, won’t you, Peter? […] I don’t want to be walking around like that. (ch. 17)
“The individual is entirely nullified in the face ofthe economic powers. These powers are takingsociety’s domination over nature to unimaginedheights. While individuals as such are vanishingbefore the apparatus they serve, they areprovided for by that apparatus and better thanever before. In the unjust state of society thepowerlessness and pliability of the massesincrease with the quantity of goods allocated tothem.”– Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, preface to Dialectic of Enlightenment (xvii)
A final questionHow shall we handle the Adams this quarter?
Media credits● Stills from Dawn of the Dead are probably under copyright, but have been selected for their unique value as a teaching tool, and are low-resolution copies not suitable for producing quality reproductions. They also account for only about a dozen of the film’s tens of thousands of frames and thus constitute a tiny fraction of the film. I believe that, taken all together, these stills fall under the rubric of “fair use.”