, 2004, vol. 10, no. 1, 30–39
The Picture of Abjection: Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘The Celebration’
..] is merely the inability to assume with sufficient
strength the imperative act of excluding abject things (and that act
establishes the foundations of collective existence).
Does cinema render evil banal? Does it authorize perversion? In its exhibition of evil
does it participate in the mystification of evil? Or is it rather the demystification of
evil? Julia Kristeva poses these questions in her recent work.
What happens when the
abject is represented or depicted? What is the aim of such representation? Is it, as Hal
Foster says about some contemporary art, intended to ‘provoke its operation, to catch
abjection in the act, to make it reflexive, in its own right’? Foster goes on, ‘The danger,
of course, is that mimesis may confirm a given abjection’.
Kristeva has investigated the signifying function of abjection in relation to literature,
and in doing so she has raised decisive questions about the mechanism of mimesis and
about the cathartic potential literature has as a signifier of abjection. She has also
opened up a space for rethinking the maternal and feminine associations of abjection.
Even as Kristeva is to be credited with putting abjection on the agenda in provocative
and inspiring ways, I want to note a certain ambivalence her writing exhibits when
it comes to addressing the relation between philosophy and psychoanalysis, between
politics and the individual, between the collective and the singular. This ambivalence
spirals into an anxiety that might be an expression of what she must set aside in order
to be able to sustain her theses about abjection. I am concerned, then, to acknowledge
what could be said to operate as a remainder of Kristeva’s discourse.
The gestures of exclusion that Kristeva makes in the name of exploring the strange,
disturbing, but also necessary, process of abjection, have the effect, I claim, of
bracketing precisely the political and ethical implications of her work with which
the abject confront us. The residue, or remainder, is, as Kristeva acknowledges,
ambivalent. And while I agree that such ambivalence must be maintained, rather than
rendered decidable in its meaning, I am also convinced that abjection offers us a way
of analyzing a tension that Kristeva systematically puts aside, evades, or remainders.
This evasion, this exclusion (this – I’ll say it – abjection) that might be said to operate