Friday, July 03, 2009

abjection and the scapegoat: some preliminary reflections

abjection: a term from kristeva -- "Our 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 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 a particularly immoral crime (e.g. Auschwitz)." ( To Kristeva, an experience of abjection is necessary before we enter into the mirror stage with its formation of the specular I, the fictional agency of the ego, and finally a social I. Abjection is a enecessary experience of a divison of subjet and object, of child and mother, of society and its outside.

Foucault notes that the modern subject is fostered through processes of division, but that these practices are radically altered witht he advent of science. While lepers were ostensibly excluded from the community, lodged in camps outside cities, the plague victim was confined and analyzed. The first was shut out -- abjected, as it were --the second was divided from the nomral subjectivity by way of an intense scrutiny. The plague victim became a potentially rich source of knowledge and a cornerstone in the establishment of a new disciplinary order. Foucault: "The leper was caught up in a practice of rejection, of exile-enclosure; he was left to his doom in a mass among which it was useless to differentiate; those sick of the plague were caught up in a meticulous tactical partitioning in which individual differentiations were the constricting effects of a power that multiplied, articulated and subdivided itself; the great confinement on the one hand; the correct training on the other. The leper and his separation; the plague and its segmentations."

The scapegoat treads an uncertain path between these two states of alienation: it performs the fuction of society's abject as it produces reactions of horror and solicits a necessary instinctual rejection. On the other hand the scapegoat's soccal destiny travels a diachronic path from separation to segmentation, from exile to confinement, from mass to individual. Biopower is precicely the secular capacityto solicit from the subject an affirmation -- whathe religiousregime would refer to as a confession -- of his or her status as abnormal. Modernity no longer shuts the scapegoat out from society, but solicits a consent from the subjet to her or his own confinement and subjection to disciplinary power.