"ACCORDING TO JULIA KRISTEVA in the Powers of Horror, the abject refers to the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other. The primary example for what causes such a reaction is the corpse (which traumatically reminds us of our own materiality); however, other items can elicit the same reaction: the open wound, shit, sewage, even the skin that forms on the surface of warm milk." [Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Kristeva: On the Abject."]
"Barbara Creed writes: The place of the abject is where meaning collapses, the place where I am not. The abject threatens life, it must be radically excluded from the place of the living subject, propelled away from the body and deposited on the other side of an imaginary border which separates the self from that which threatens the self." [Samantha Pentony, "How Kristeva's theory of abjection works in relation to the fairy tale and post colonial novel: Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, and Keri Hulme's The Bone People."]
The word "ABJECT" has been mentioned one too many times in class that it deserves my attention. In Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, physical abject seem to stand in for, or symbolises the social abject. I read of the physical abjects - the "sticky substance" and "brown liquid" that came out of Gregor, who is both a physical and social abject himself. Firstly, he is neither a cockroach nor human. His fall to abjection is supported by the fact that no one sought medical help for Gregor despite the hospital being situated just across the street. He falls deeper into abjection among the dirt and rubbish is his room when his sister no longer cleaned his room as thoroughly as she used to. Secondly, ever since his partial transformation, he has been kept away within the confines of his room - away from society. He was no longer able to perform his duty as the provider of the family. Everytime Gregor attempts to leave his room, he was chased back in.
On one occasion, I see Gregor being chased into his room by his own father by "throwing apple after apple" in his direction."A weakly thrown apple grazed Gregor's back but skidded off harmlessly. However, another thrown immediately after that one drove into Gregor's back really hard." Later we learn that "no one ventured to remove the apple, it remained in his flesh as a visible reminder." Kafka wrote that the wound "seemed by itself to have reminded the father that in spite of his present unhappy and hateful appearance, Gregor was a member of the family, something one should not treat as an enemy, and that it was, on the contrary, a requirement of family duty to suppress one's aversion and to endure - nothing else, but endure."
I immediately scribbled along the margin the word "GROTESQUE". The way Gregor's father treated him disgusts me. No father should simply endure the presence of his son irregardless of the condition his son is in. And having left an apple in his son's back, Gregor's father could have shown a little bit more care and concern for his son instead of "endure - nothing else, but endure". I find Gregor's father more disturbing and grotesque than the physically disturbing and partially transformed Gregor. It's also useful to note that other sources of the grotesque in The Metamorphosis include Gregor's own thoughts and perspective after the transformation as well as the way his sister and mother reacted to his transformation.
I've been figuring out the reasons for the use of abjects in literary works like The Metamorphosis and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Of Love and Other Demons throughout the course. Perhaps, the following best decribes one of it's many uses: "The use of abjection ... provides a forum for the exploration of the subconscious. It is provocative because it forces the reader to contemplate that which is uncomfortable to face. This both disorients the reader and encourages us to actively interact with the text in order to ascribe meaning to the place where it collapses." (Pentony)
Hence in The Metamorphosis, I find that abjects highlight and amplify the grotesque to make readers truly feel for the suffering protagonist, make us hate the way his family treated him and hopefully, make us treat our own family and loved ones that little bit better.
The use of abjects is also present in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Of Love and Other Demons. However, they play a slightly different role as compared to those in Kafka's The Metamorphosis. "Then Delaura witnessed the fearful spectacle of one truly possessed. Sierva María's hair coiled with a life of its own, like the serpents of Medusa, and green spittle and a string of obscenities in idolatrous languages poured from her mouth." Here, the green spittle that came out from Maria's mouth amplifies her rage and anger towards Father Delaura.
The concept of abject was applied when describing the state of Bernarda Cabrera, Sierva Maria's mother, a mestiza. "Her Gypsy eyes were extinguished and her wits dulled, she shat blood and vomited bile, her siren's body became as bloated and coppery as a three-day-old corpse, and she broke wind in pestilential explosions that startled the mastiffs." Here, the abject is used to degrade the indigenous people to the lowest possible status - to reflect the degradation they were subjected to as the colonized.