I apologise for the relative silence of late – normal service will be resumed as soon as is possible but for now, I’ve unearthed an essay from several years ago – not a favourite by any means, but it may stimulate some discussion. Keep safe.
Throughout a night without images but buffeted by black sounds; amidst a throng of forsaken bodies, beset with no longing but to last against all odds and for nothing; on a page where I plotted out the convolutions of those who, in transference, presented me with the gift of their void – I have spelled out abjection. Passing through the memories of a thousand years, a fiction without scientific objective but attentive to religious imagination, it is within literature that I finally saw it carrying, with its horror, its full power into effect…on the fragile border (borderline cases) where identities (subject/object etc.) do not exist or only barely so – double, fuzzy, heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed, altered, abject.
― Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror
Julia Kristeva holds the position throughout Powers of Horror that the abject’s horrific status is not so simply indicative of material deemed threatening for any aetiological reason; indeed, neither excrement nor food may be treated, in her esteem, as abject for its poisonous potential but rather the existential threat it may pose via its relation to difference and borders. She thus describes culinary traditions in India and Polynesia in which cooked food “must be surrounded with a series of taboos” due to its newly-established simultaneity within the realms of the natural and the cultural, coming “close to excremental abjection, which is the most striking example of the interference of the organic within the social.” Beyond what enters our body and onto what leaves, however, Kristeva remarks:
Excrement and its equivalents (decay, infection, disease, corpse, etc.) stand for the danger to identity that comes from without: the ego threatened by the non-ego, society threatened by its outside, life by death. Menstrual blood, on the contrary, stands for the danger issuing from within the identity (social or sexual)’ it threatens the relationship between the sexes within a social aggregate and, through internalization, the identity of each sex in the face of sexual difference.
Thus, abjection relates specifically to the wilfully, psychically repressed permeability of the gestalt of human subjectivity. It is the challenge to the integrity of the Symbolic walls that separate life from death, culture from nature, male from female, human from animal, even wet from dry. It is my intention in this essay to investigate vampire fiction and lore, with particular emphasis on the Czechoslovak coming-of-age fantasy-horror Valerie a týden divů / Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jireš, 1970) in relation to Kristeva’s discourse of abjection, using the vampire story as a site of indeterminacy, femininity, and bodily fluids.