Kristiina Koskentola: Art, Culture, Dirt and Magic

Mentor: John Heymans

External reviewer: Karim Benammar

Enschede, 2007


In this thesis I would like to discuss the philosophical notion of abjection. More specifically, I shall go into two important aspects of this concept: the shifting subject- object relationship with respect to abjection, and the wide context, in which it can emerge.

The ab-ject is not an ob-ject, a thing to name or imagine. It is also not an object, an otherness; we do not have a mutual relationship. It does not allow me to be detached and autonomous.
It has only the one quality of object, that is in being the opposite of me.
The autonomy of the subject is called into a question. It is taken over by the other in such a way that the ‘I’ collapses. It confronts the subject with a process of disintegration of identity, individual and communal, public and private. The border between subject and object is destabilised. The constituted boundaries are not valid, as the abjection appears within and because of the very same boundaries; boundaries constituted by one’s own culture. The subject is dissolving with the object, creating a condition, the abjection. Therefore the abject is not outside the self but it emerges within the subjectivity.
In this thesis I shall focus on two theorists who emerge in the discourse of abjection, mainly Julia Kristeva, with reference to Georges Bataille. I shall discuss the general context of the philosophical term and its appearance in contemporary theoretical writings. I shall use Kristeva’s own words a lot as a compliment to her brilliant language in her book ‘Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection’. I shall introduce the work of different artists such as Mona Hatoum, Kalervo Palsa, Ana Mendieta and Pier Paolo Pasolini, each in their different context and study their relations and interest in abjection.
I shall refer to Thijs Goldsmidt, and his book on shame, in order the compare the abject with this rather common notion.
And, finally, I shall talk about my own practice and research, and the importance of dealing with these issues, in ‘word and flesh’.