Abject Design: a Psychoanalytic/Structuralist Analysis of Julia Kristeva’s “the Old Man and the Wolves”

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Abject Design
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A psychoanalytic/structuralist analysis of Julia Kristeva’s “The Old Man and the Wolves”

Julia Kristeva’s The Old Man and the Wolves details the gradual degeneration of the fundamentally corruptible community of Santa Varvara. As described by the novel’s namesake, the Old Man Septicious Clarus, in terms of singularity, morality and—both metaphorically and palpably—humanity, each individual’s marked decay is seen as the horrific transformation into a wolf with regard to both physical and psychological form. While the Old Man, he denotative of a purer set of morals, remains in adamant opposition to the wolves—which themselves represent a society built upon materialism and unscrupulous innards—all others, including even the most hopeful of his understudies, Alba, find themselves overwhelmed. Ultimately, when faced with the realized futility of his resistance and eventual loss of any uninfected audience to hear his soapbox pleas, the Old Man accepts a death indirectly caused by the wolves.

The novel as a whole provides and analytic lens through which the reader may begin to understand the Kristevan concept of abjection as it applies to the perceived “evils” of the world. As defined by Kristeva in The Powers of Horror, “the abject refers to the human reaction…to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of distinction between subject and object or between self and other"(Felluga). This concept, of Kristeva’s own design, implies both the severance of object and subject, such that two insubstantial entities remain, the physical object and its purely representative signifier, as well as the loss of distinction in terms of one’s self. The abject refers not markedly to the actual “breakdown” of an entity but rather to its systematic redefinition as something more banal, specifically noted by a distinct lack of previously existent individuality among surrounding entities. Existing in direct contrast is Lacan’s objet petit a, or “object of one’s desires,” which by title alone implies a physical object coordinated around a subject’s select desires, “thus allowing for [an]…intersubjective community to persist” (Felluga). Lacan’s entity is one without standardized meaning; characteristics such as one’s moral code and attractions are singular and self-defined. Kristeva’s abject “[draws] towards the place where meaning collapses” and definition is achieved through somewhat deterministic processes, the result of which is singularity (Felluga).

The application of abjection as a concept is seen in Kristeva’s dynamic descriptions of her characters—each an object to be fleshed out with a chosen, iterated subject. Whether intentionally or not, Kristeva constructs her characters with specific regard to semiotics, or more specifically, about her communicated definition of the discipline, which falls again in opposition of, or put more mildly, as a variation of Jacques Lacan’s concept of symbolic order. Symbolic order is described as a part of Lacan’s attempt “to distinguish between those elementary registers whose grounding [was] later put forward in these terms: the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real…” (Lacan 65). In terms of characterization and descriptors, however, a focus upon “the symbolic” is all that is explicitly necessary. This subunit has been compared in many ways to “Levi-Strauss’s order of culture” which posits that “Man speaks…but it is because the symbol has made him man’” within a culture defined particularly by the restraints of language (Lacan 65). Likewise, in accordance to Lacan’s order, “the symbolic dimension of language is that of the signifier, in which elements have no positive existence but are constituted by virtue of their mutual differences” (Macey xxii). Through a lens which views characters as nothing more than individual objects possessing individual definitions vis-à-vis each...
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