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In The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection2 Kristeva develops her theory of the abject, its relation to the concept of the mother and its significance in the constitution of the subject.This process starts for the child in the Semiotic, a pre-Oedipal space experienced as an undifferentiated continuum between his/herself, the surroundings and the mother's body.
The archaic-parthenogenetic mother evades this Oedipal logic and the controlling power of the patriarchal, phallocentric order.
She is always depicted as a negative figure, as abyss or monstrous vagina, which threatens to reincorporate that which it once birthed.
Kristeva describes her function as follows: Maternal authority is the trustee of that mapping of the self's clean and proper body; it is distinguished from paternal laws within which, with the phallic phase and acquisition of language, the destiny of man will take shape.4 Since the child experiences himself as one with the mother and with nature, this authority is not yet associated with guilt and shame and is therefore radically different from the 'Law of the Father' which structures the Symbolic.
Kristeva conceptualizes the Semiotic as contrast and precondition to the Symbolic, bound to be overcome and outgrown in order for 'culture,' society and subjectivity to exist.
Abjects threaten stable subject positions, the full constitution of which requires a clear demarcation line between Self and Other.
The abject, however, is that which does not "respect borders, positions, rules", that "disturbs identity, system, order."9 It is a place "where meaning collapses," 10 the "place where 'I' am not,"11 presenting a life-threatening negation that must be radically excluded.
She represents total sexual difference and is no longer 'Other,' but serves as her own point of reference that cannot be incorporated and controlled by the patriarchal-phallocentric order.21 This posits her not only outside the Symbolic, but also beyond conventional representational systems, so that her presence can only be evoked in the mise-en-scene, or otherwise.
Again, the image remains ambiguous because the devouring, reincorporating mother represents not only the "terror of self-disintegration", but also the "desire for nondifferentiation."22 She evokes the erasure of the self, and therefore remains strongly associated with death, the ultimate loss of physical boundaries.23 Horror films react to the threat of the uncontrollable archaic mother by reconstructing her as the mother of the pre-Oedipal dyadic or triadic phase (e.g. The total difference of the mother is negated by making her the subject's Other and by reinscribing her into an Oedipal scenario.24 Such a form of reconstruction can be found wherever the archaic mother is represented in her phantasmagoric aspects.
Her manifestations can usually be found in a film's mise-en-scene as a representation of her phantasmagoric aspects as in the first half of Alien (Ridley Scott, USA, 1979); Creed writes: Although the "mother" as a figure does not appear in [...] the entire film-her presence forms a vast backdrop for the enactment of all the events.
She is there in the images of birth, the representations of the primal scene, the womblike imagery, the long winding tunnels leading to inner chambers, the rows of hatching eggs [...] She is the generative mother, the pre-phallic mother, the being who exists prior to the knowledge of the phallus.20 Because she concentrates solely on her reproductive function and is posited outside morality and the law, she threatens the patriarchal symbolic order and has to be negated and discredited.