POWERS OF HORROR An Essay on Abjection
EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES: A Series of the Columbia University Press
POWERS OF HORROR
An Essay on Abjection JULIA KRISTEVA
Translated by LEON S. ROUDIEZ
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS
New York 1982
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Kristeva, Julia, 1941Powers of horror. (European perspectives) Translation of: Pouvoirs de l'horreur. 1. Celine, Louis-Ferdinand, 1894-1961 — Criticism and interpretation. 2. Horror in literature. 3. Abjection in literature. I. Title. II. Series. PQ2607.E834Z73413 843'.912 82-4481 ISBN 0-231-05346-0 AACR2
Columbia University Press New York Guildford, Surrey Copyright © 1982 Columbia University Press Pouvoirs de l'horreur © 1980 Editions du Seuil AD rights reserved Printed in the United States of America Clothbound editions of Columbia University Press books are Smythsewn and printed on permanent and durable acid-free paper.
I. 2. 3456. 78. 912
Translator's Note Approaching Abjection Something To Be Scared Of From Filth to Defilement Semiotics of Biblical Abomination . . . Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi Celine: Neither Actor nor Martyr • Suffering and Horror Those Females Who Can Wreck the Infinite "Ours To Jew or Die" In the Beginning and Without End . . . Powers of Horror Notes
32 56 90 113 133 140 157 174 188 207 211
When the original version of this book was published in France in 1980, critics sensed that it marked a turning point in Julia Kristeva's writing. Her concerns seemed less arcane, her presentation more appealingly worked out; as Guy Scarpetta put it in he Nouvel Observateur (May 19, 1980), she now introduced into "theoretical rigor an effective measure of seduction." Actually, no sudden change has taken place: the features that are noticeable in Powers of Horror were already in evidence in several earlier essays, some of which have been translated in Desire in Language (Columbia University Press, 1980). She herself pointed out in the preface to that collection, "Readers will also notice that a change in writing takes place as the work progresses" (p. ix). One would assume such a change has made the translator's task less arduous; in one sense it has, but it also produced a different set of difficulties. As sentences become more metaphorical, more "literary" if you wish, one is liable to forget that they still are conceptually very precise. In other words, meaning emerges out of both the standard denotation(s) and the connotations suggested by the material shape of a given word. And it emerges not solely because of the reader's creativity, as happens in poetic language, but because it was put there in the first place. For instance, "un etre altere" means either a changed, adulterated being or an avid, thirsty being; mindful, however, of the unchanged presence of the Latin root, alter, Kristeva also intends it to mean "being for the other." This gives the phrase a special twist, and it takes a reader more imaginative than I am to catch it. As Kristeva's writing evolves, it also displays a greater variety
in tone. In this essay it includes the colloquial and the formal, the lyrical and the matter-of-fact, the concrete and the abstract. I resisted the temptation to unify her style and tried as much as possible to preserve the variety of the original. Only in a few instances, when a faithful rendition would in my opinion have sounded incongruous (e.g., translating petard, which she borrows from the text of a Celine novel, as "gat" or "rod"), did I consciously neutralize her prose. A particularly vexing problem stems from the nature of the French language and its limited vocabulary as compared to English; words tend to point in a greater number of different directions. Usually, in expository prose, the context removes the ambiguities that poetic language thrives on. Kristeva is not averse to using polysemy to her advantage, as other...
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