Eruption of the Real and Understanding the Work of Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror: Analyzing Winnicott’s theory of the mirror and understanding the concept of the self and other in Fydor Dostoevsky’s The Double
“The psychobiological basis of the experience of intimacy starts with ‘utmost experience of inhabiting and sharing another body’ (Eizirik, 2016), which suffuses all of life, making “the human being an animal that depends on a partner.” (1)
In the 1980 book by Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (abject as in the act of casting away or down; the act of humbling or abasing; abasement), she draws on the theories of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan to examine horror, marginalization, castration, the phallic signifier, the “I/Not I” dichotomy, the Oedipal complex, exile, and other concepts appropriate to feminist criticism and queer theory. The abject marks a “primal order” that escapes signification in the symbolic order, the term is used to refer to the human reaction of horror or vomit to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object, or between the self and the other which marks a difference. (2)(3)
The abject is a position that radically excludes and draws toward a place where meaning collapses. It is neither object nor subject, the abject is situated at a place before we entered into the symbolic order. “Abjection preserves what existed in the archaism of pre-objectal relationship, in the immemorial violence with which a body becomes separated from another body in order to be”. The abject marks what Kristeva termed “primal repression,” one that precedes the establishment of the subject’s relation to its objects of desire and of representation, before the establishment of the opposition between consciousness and the unconscious. This “primal repression” is rooted in a time before the acquisition of language, that is the learned capacity to formulate with words to express thoughts, feelings, and perceptions with words. However, on the level of our individual psychosexual development, the abject marks the moment when we separated ourselves from the mother when we began to recognize a boundary between “me” and “not me,” that is, between “me” and “(m)other.” The abject is a precondition to narcissism, which is to say, a precondition for the narcissism of the mirror stage, which occur after we establish these primal distinctions. The abject thus at once represents the threat that meaning is breaking down and constitutes our reaction to such a breakdown; a re-establishment of our “primal repression.” The abject has to do with “what disturbs, identity, system, order.” What does not respect “borders, positions, rules” and, so, can also include crimes like Auschwitz. Such crimes are abject precisely because they draw attention to the “fragility of the law.” (2)(3)
We can take these associations with “the abject” in its relation to such a “breakdown” in what disturbs identity, system, order in actions and events that do not respect borders, positions, and rules, and so we can also include within this category sadistic sexual assault, physical assault, and violent acts of bondage and discipline in BDSM as well as the tethering of a human subject with electromagnetic frequency with which to torture.
Eruption of The Real
Kristeva associates such a response with our rejection of death’s insistent materiality. Kristeva is quite careful to differentiate knowledge of death or the meaning of death (both of which can exist within the symbolic order) from the traumatic experience of being actually confronted with the sort of materiality that traumatically shows one’s own death:
“A wound with blood and pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death — a flat encephalograph, for instance — I would understand, react, or accept. No, as in true theater, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit is what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being.” (2)(3)
The corpse especially exemplifies Kristeva’s concept since it literalizes the breakdown of the distinction between subject and object that is crucial for the establishment of identity and for our entrance into the symbolic order. What we are confronted with when we experience the trauma of seeing a human corpse (particularly the corpse of a friend or family member) is our own eventual death made palpably real. As Kristeva puts it, “The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life. Abject.” (2)(3)
Bridging the connection of Kristeva’s psychoanalytic theory and the eruption of the Real to my macabre dream of death, the corpse, bloody water (fluids), and the flying blue eyeball:
In my dream, everything takes place in darkness, that is, in the absence of daylight. In my dream, a woman, whom I don’t recognize, has died. She has blonde hair and blue eyes and died rather young. I would say somewhere in her 40s. I remember her wearing a red hooded cloak that was worn for warmth. It was made of some plush textile or red velvet. At this woman’s funeral, the embalming process had been terribly botched. In my dream, the funeral arrangements went on as planned and the woman looked terrible, it was terrible work as far as preparing a body after death and for the presentation of viewing, as far as I was concerned. In my dream, you could re-visit this woman’s body. She was placed in a type of stone sarcophagus and the lid could be removed to view the body. Every night I went back to her sarcophagus, and the lid was removed for me, and every night her body became more and more disfigured. Until one of the final viewings of her body, she was completely submerged in water, as the sarcophagus filled with fresh clear water, it had a light illuminating the inside, similar to a light that would illuminate a pool at night. In the last viewing of her body, when the lid was removed, there was blood in the water and the body was gone. All that remained was her severed head. In my dream, one of her eyes was removed from her body and this woman’s eye was “preserved” and turned into a “flying eyeball”. Although the eyeball didn’t look like a left-over body part, it resembled more closely a mechanical Android eye. A computer eyeball that contained and preserved the woman’s personality and her identity as she had presented herself as a human being on Earth. It could fly without the help of wings or a propeller and it could talk to you. It had the preserved intelligence of the dead woman. The eye was blue. In one sequence of the dream, I was accompanied by a male, of whom I did not recognize, and we were alerted by the authorities that there were reports from airplanes of a glowing round object in the night sky and reports claimed this light was growing and getting larger, expanding itself. Well, it turned out that this large, circular growing light in the sky was coming from the blue flying eyeball.
I don’t normally have frightening or terrifying dreams, but one night ago, I felt sacred through this entire dream as I found myself always in darkness, in a void and absence of light, and, also, dealing with mortality and the constant viewing of death, night after night, in what would become the unknown. The unknown of what I would find next, every time the sarcophagus lid was removed.
I’m wondering if Kristeva’s theory on the abject with regard to a “breakdown” and our response to this “breakdown,” as the abject has to do with “what disturbs, identity, system, and order” could be used to theorize a psychoanalytic interpretation to uncover the meaning behind my dream.
Death and assisted suicide definitely disturb the living order of things and this dream re-counts portions of the order of my father’s passing. He had blue eyes. During my father’s funeral, the undertaker used a machine that manipulated his face, based on a photo my family had provided the funeral home, and it cause him to lose one of his eyes during the embalming process. His right eye. My father’s hospice care was botched. My father’s embalming process, as far as I am concerned, was botched. He had an immediate burial and there was never a “viewing sarcophagus,” but I was terrified by the entire ordeal; of my father’s declining health and the foreboding process of his impending state-assisted suicide. What terrified me the most about my father’s death was that a person could leave such a delicate procedure to incompetent people within an incompetent state healthcare apparatus. I certainly was not in my right frame of mind as I have past issues with trauma and this was a very traumatic experience for me and I didn’t want to take part in “killing” anyone, even if it was that person’s wish to die. In my dream, I am forced to “face death” repeatedly. That is, face the death of this middle-aged woman, by viewing her decaying, decomposing, and ultimately disfigured body night after night. And the only connection to my reality, regarding this fact, is the memory of my father’s death that I have often revisited, night after night and to which I am tormented. Facing death is something that frightens everybody but these details are even more frightening. I am “in the presence of signified death. . . No, as in true theater, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit is what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being.” Here I stand at the edge of experimental psychotherapy that forces me to embrace death and accept its reality as the pendulum tik toks the moments away to my ultimate demise under the tyrannical reign of some deranged lunatic; my targeted electronic assaults.
According to Julia Kristeva, “On the level of our individual psychosexual development, the abject marks the moment when we separated ourselves from the mother when we began to recognize a boundary between “me” and other, between “me” and “(m)other. The abject is a precondition to narcissism.” But it could also be postulated that “on the level of my individual psychosexual development, because I identified with my father and not my mother, ushering in the moment of separation (death) between a child and her father, not only marks the establishment of a “breakdown” and a re-establishment of an “alternate order and system of things.” It recognizes the similarity found between “me” and “other.” “What does not respect borders, positions, rules” and, so, can also include crimes not only like Auschwitz or state-assisted suicide in the annihilation of Objects through an abject reality, it can also explain when one who does not respect borders, boundaries, or rules of the natural order of things in relation to, and respect for, the Object, but rather establishes “the abject mark” or “separation” defining the inception to which the resulting breakdown began.
But who is the middle-aged woman with the blonde hair and blue eyes? Since her death possesses similarities to my father’s death, and I identified with my father, does she actually represent me? Am I the one being forced to “face my own death?” The fact that this woman’s death represented an initial “disfigurement,” a derangement, and thereafter, I was forced to preview her decomposing and disfigured body, night after night, could this be connected to Winnicott’s theory of “the mirror.” Winnicott was influenced by Lacanian theory and he gave us the concept of “the mirror.”
“Revealing a Lacanian influence, Winnicott (1967) refers to the mother’s face as a precursor of the mirror “when I look, I am seen; therefore, I exist,” we find our truth in the face of others in dynamics of absence/presence, existence/non-existence (Ogden) which are essential for the creation of subjectivity. It is a paradoxical process, ‘on the one hand, there are . . . exchanges and communication pathways between two subjects, on the other hand, it is also necessary to coexist with the idea the Other’s interior is ultimately intangible and inaccessible. . . the fundamental role in intimacy . . . [includes] our work as a double (Botella and Botella). . .” (1)
This brings us to the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Double in literary analysis. In an article entitled, A Reading of Dostoevsky’s The Double Through The Psychoanalytic Concepts of The Self and The Other by David Lane, Lane writes:
“Lacan’s development of the imaginary register traces back to some of his earliest writings on the topic of the mirror stage. In his description of the neonate’s captivation at the sight of its own reflection, Lacan provides a theory for the origins of the ego. He claims that the subject, while still “sunk in his motor incapacity and nursling dependence” — biological inadequacy due to the prematurity of human birth — “originally identifies himself with the visual Gestalt of his own body . . . [which] represents an ideal unity, a salutary imago.” (4)
To explain, Gestalt Principles are principles or laws of human perception that describe how humans group similar elements, recognize patterns, and simplify complex images when we perceive objects. Designers use the principles to organize content on websites and other interfaces so it is aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand. (5)
Here I am confronted with questions surrounding my own experiences regarding electronic targeted assaults and electronic torture I have been forced to endure and the Truth they represent. By utilizing a fundamental understanding in the literary interpretation of Dostoevsky’s The Double and Winnicott’s mirror, and utilizing Gestalt Principles in psychology, my dream has uncovered the unconscious symbolism rooted in my electronic torture as the presentation of a unknown phallic signifier through a mode of castration and we can prove this by using Kristeva’s theory put forth in her book Powers of Horror.
(1) Levy, R. (2017). ‘Intimacy, the drama and beauty of encountering the Other’. The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 63(4), 546–549.
(2) Kristeva, Julia. (1982) Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. trans. by Leon S.Roudiez. New York. Columbia University Press. Originally published in Pouvoirs de l’horreur (Paris: Seuil, 1980)
(3) Power of Horrors. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved on February 18, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Horror
(4) Lane, D. (2004). A Reading of Dostoevsky’s the Double Through the Psychoanalytic Concepts of the Self and the other. The Dostoevsky Journal: A Comparative Literature Review, 5(1), 1–11.
(5) Gestalt Psychology. Wikipedia.org https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestalt_psychology
Other source references to consider but not cited:
Irina Paperno. (1997). “Dostoevsky’s Fiction: The Metaphysics of Suicide,” in Suicide as a Cultural Institution in Dostoevsky’s Russia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 123–66.
Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover, “Dostoyevsky, Freud and Parricide; Deconstructive Notes on The Brothers Karamazov, New Zealand Slavonic Journal (1993), pp 7–34.