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Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (Chapter 1 “Approaching Abjection”) In horror films especially, though often showing up in psychological thrillers, is a moment on the screen that disrupts the rolling of the film—a growing crack in the wall, the movement of an inanimate object, the ominous glance of a distant character which up until now we thought nothing of.We have come to expect these moments now as cinematic and formulaic clichés, about how these kinds of films are to be made, but they are, no matter how well prepared we think we are, no less jarring and disruptive to the flow of our expectations.
Thus, a baby cannot distinguish itself from the world and experiences the world as a part of itself, “The breast is a part of me, I am the breast” (Freud).
The experience of the abject forces us into this liminal experience of infancy once again.
This distinction of course is one of the fundamental differences in politics—the difference between conservatives and progressives.
But more fundamentally the distinction pushes us further inwards toward questions of ethics that I’d like to try to uncover in this first chapter.
Here, is the case of the child who has yet to distinguish itself from the father or mother.
Freud calls this “primary identification”, the first form of emotional attachment to something or someone, which comes before any defined and conscious distinction between subject and object.
The abject is the moment in the film, when you come to realize that the flow of logic unrolling before you, is about to be halted by something other, or, when you come to realize that you were tricked into that logic, but in fact were on a very different trajectory from the beginning.
The abject is that “twisted braid of affects and thoughts” which we call by such a name, but it skirts our need to define it as a definable object right there, in front of us (Kristeva, 1).
The Prince Gautama’s story as he left his palace, or Neo waking in the pods, or Cronenberg’s body horror, or Kafka’s Metamorphosis and so on are examples of this destabilization by the abject. By contrast, Sade’s orgies, cartoon logic, as well as fantasy and adventure stories all miss the mark.
They are “methodical, rhetorical and…regular”, they make everything nameable, and their scenes integrate, in other words, they “allow for no other, no unthinkable, nothing heterogeneous” (Kristeva, 21).