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Grant, M. (1995). Psychoanalysis and the horror film. Free Associations, 5(4):483-491.

(1995). Free Associations, 5(4):483-491

Psychoanalysis and the horror film

Michael Grant


An approach to some of the questions posed by the relation between popular culture and psychoanalysis is suggested by Barbara Creed's article “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection,” first published in Screen in 1986. Creed turns to Ridley Scott's film Alien in an attempt to clarify issues of otherness and the monstrous-feminine. By “monstrous-feminine” she refers to woman seen from the point of view of Freud's understanding of castration—as shocking, terrifying, horrific, as the site of abjection. Her theoretical underpinnings derive from Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror, a book whose project is to establish the abject as a new theoretical entity beyond meaning, beyond the confines of the human (as understood within patriarchal society), but which nonetheless can be given significance within a psychoanalytic understanding of the formation of the subject. Creed's aim is to show the inescapable relevance of this to an analysis of dominant culture and the subordination of women within that culture.

Kristeva pictures the abject as a place where meaning collapses, where I, the subject, am not. The abject is thus to be identified with what threatens life, and it must, therefore, be radically excluded from the place of the living subject. The abject, in other words, is all that the subject excludes in order to be what it is, to have the identity that it does. The abject is, for Kristeva, what in Judaism is characterised as “abomination”: sexual perversion, murder, the corpse, incest and the feminine body. In effect, the abject concerns everything that figures in the archaic relation to the mother. Hence, the equation between what is abject and the “monstrous-feminine.”

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