“Something horrible to see”:
Abjection and its imaginary confusions
Since the publication of Powers of Horror in the early eighties, Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection has been influential in art practice and cultural theory, while it has had relatively little impact in the field of psychoanalysis. One main approach in cultural theory to Kristeva’s work is to read it as a corrective to the supposed phallocracy and misogyny of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, in which castration defines women as inferior to men, as lacking in terms of the social symbolic order. A second, complimentary approach is to criticise Kristeva’s work for its latent or manifest Lacanian orientation. The question of how Kristeva’s work engages with Lacanian psychoanalysis has thus become determined by a critical impasse where there is either approval for her rejection of Lacan or condemnation for her allegiance to Lacan. These debates reduce the usefulness of the applied theory by not attending to the specificity of psychoanalytic theories and models of practice. In this seminar, I will present two alternatives to this critical impasse, by Charles Shepherdson (2000) and Judith Feher-Gurewich (2007) who in different ways propose that Lacan’s work retroactively helps to explain Kristeva’s theoretical and clinical orientation.
Lucille Holmes is a lecturer at Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland, a psychoanalytic-psychotherapist with a clinical practice, and an analyst-in-training with the Centre for Lacanian Analysis. Her research is in the fields of psychoanalysis and the visual arts. She is an associate editor of Journal for Lacanian Studies and an executive member of the Centre for Lacanian Analysis.