The Interplay Between Abjection and Juissance: The Overlapping of Abjection and Desire in Angels in America

 The Interplay Between Abjection and Juissance: The Overlapping of Abjection and Desire in Angels in America

    At the core, I anchor on Kristeva and Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory to delve into the manifestation of narcissistic crisis and identity transformation of Joe Pitt in Angels in America with an attempt to scrutinize the boundary-overlapping between desire and abjection and interplay between Jouissance and abjection, which decidedly associate with the territory of sexual intercourse. I am tempted to explore how Joe converts himself from a victim of abject into a “fascinated victim” (Kristeva 9). At bottom, Kristeva’s psychoanalytic theory models on Freud’s psychosexual developmental theory, which is chiefly grounded in his ideas of sexual drive. Angels in America touches on the issues of discriminated sexual orientation, namely, homosexuality. Evidently, Joe Pitt’s identity negotiation and metamorphosis process offer compelling example of a paradoxical momentum between abjection and Juissance. Essentially, I center on psychoanalyzing Joe’s identity formation in deciphering Joe’s inner turmoil and ultimate emancipation. Joe Pitt proceeds through the role of a closeted Marmon homophobia adherent into a confident coming out gay.

Sexual intercourse is a historically biased and stigmatized subject, which conventionally tied up to the issues ranged from shame, transgression to moral corruption. It is a norm that sexuality represents or disturbs an individual’s identity. The contradiction lies in the fact that sexual intercourse is ironically the main source of Juissance for human beings, which is in accordance with Freud’s theory. Sexual need is partly of human nature and instinctually corporeal. Sex drive is essentially reproductive. Hence, when abjection located in the boundary of sexuality, its interruption could be more drastic, intense and recurrent.[1]Sex drive is “ the heterogeneous flow” inherent in the human body” namely, “ a possession previous to my advent, a being-there of the symbolic” (10). I suppose the overlapping of abjection and desire frequently hinges on the boundary of sexual related discourse, such as adultery, role play or SM and so on, which are generally insinuated to the biased conception of perversity.

In Joe’s case, the mainstream homophobia embodies the symbolic order and homosexual identity epitomizes the abjection, the excluded, the horrifying otherness, which has something to do with mortification and inferiority. Trying to disconnect himself from the horrified shame-ridden identity, homosexual identity, Joe fights against his sexual instinct and embraces false identity as a straight men.Hence, he executes erosion of sexual needs, which is an execution of “repression” and defense mechanism proposed by Freud. When it comes to need, need is “the precondition of the individual’s survival and well-being “which demands “real, tangible objects for its satisfaction (60). Joes bears deprivation or hunger of sexual needs before coming out. Instinct denial is an absolutely fatal sacrifice. Before Joe’s coming out, he grapples with sexual hunger and sexual dissatisfaction in life. According to Freud’s pleasure principle, human is born to embrace pleasure by nature. Hence, instinct-denial is terribly unnatural. Also, Joe describes a picture of Jacob wrestling an angel has always stuck with Joe.[2] He describes it to Harper:

Jacob is young and very strong. The angel is… a beautiful man, with golden hair and wings, of course. […] It’s me. In that struggle. Fierce, and unfair. […] Losing means your soul thrown down in the dust, your heart torn out from God’s. But you can’t not lose. (2.2.11)

The picture embodies and reveals his primal repression.

Gay identity is the other dwelt in Joe in the name of alter ego, which is grounded in self-loathing. In denying part of himself, Joe carries a dark negative force, which is deadly destructive. He hides a monster, or even a bomb inside his body and soul. Joe’s Mormon background complicates and multiples “his internal and external conflicts in embracing his sexual orientation as a gay. He is frightened that once he reveals his sexual orientation of being a gay, he will lose his promising career and reputation. It is assured that abjection “disturbs identity, system, and order “(Kristeva 4).

Significantly, the interrelationship between desire and abjection is problematic and paradoxical. Significantly, all abjection is “in fact in recognition of want” on which “desire is founded” (Kristeva 5). The boundary of abjection and desire overlaps on occasions because both anchors on the edge of the self and the other. As noted, desire is “in principle insatiable” (67). Hegel posits “desire as a lack and absence, “namely, “a fundamental lack, a hole in being” (64).The fascinated desire is the desire of the other, the excluded. Abject “fascinates desire, which, nevertheless, do not let itself be seduced…desire turns aside, sickened, it rejects (Kristeva 1). If Joe acknowledges his abjection of being a gay, it annihilates him. He is frightened that his compromise would bring him to utmost shame or disgust.[3]

Significantly, abjection is above all ambiguity because abjection is a “composite” of “condemnation and yearning” (Kristeva 10).[4] In Joe’s case, the abjection roots in his gay identity, which is sexually correlative, namely, the infatuation of male-male love. It is a verified fact that the undercurrent of abjection and desire overlaps in the margin of imaginary border. When Joe’s sexual desire rises to the peak, he is propelled into the margin of the abject, and the imaginary border then fragmented and identity interruption follows. His self is besieged by two oppositional poles, which caused violent turmoil and agitation, of which “stemming from an ambiguity” (Kristeva 1, 10). Evidently, abjection is a state of “brutish suffering” because “abject is edged with the sublime” (Kristeva 11). Sublime inspires awe and awe represents a mixed emotion of reverence and dread. In a sense, the territory is wrapped up by mixed state of sublimation and devastation (Kristeva 2). Joe’s subsequent decision of coming out signifies his willingness to traverse the imaginary margins by embracing self- recognition. 

In Kristeva’s The power of Horror, it pointedly alludes that abjection is “an alchemy that transform death drive into a start of life, of new significance” (Kristeva 15). When Joe’s male-male sexual desire attacks him, his identity undergoes the process of becoming the other at the expense of death (Kristeva 3). Ironically, death drive is another source of Juissance. For instance, Harper claims that she felt “like shit” but she” never felt more alive “and she “found the secret of all that Marmon energy” through taste of” Devastation”(Kushner 253). In Power of Horror, it denotes that “secondary repression, with its reserve of symbolic means, attempt to transfer to its own account, which has thus been overdrawn, the resources of primal repression (14-5).

Abjection features for its ambiguity and its perversity and the quality of abjection is essentially “rebellious, liberating” and of” revolts of being, a terror to superego, challenge or crush its superego namely, “an otherness ceaselessly and feeling in a systematic quest of desire (Kristeva 1, 4).[1]Desire “cares little for social approval or the rewards and punishments” and can potentially subvert the “unity and certainty of conscious demand” and aims at obsession of its own pleasures (65). Desire endorses socially improper, repressed infatuation which counters against the social obligations. Likewise, abjection “ignores borders and rules and “drawn attention to the fragility of the law” and amorality is permitted and (4). Male-male love is Joe’s obsessional desire and meanwhile clandestine abjection for decades. In other words, by denying his sexual instinct and sexual satisfaction, Joe resists the possibility of experiencing Jouissance.

In Kristeva’s theory, abjection is an ambiguity-driven unstable mobile territory, which situated in the “ambiguous opposition I/ other” and “ambivalent, a heterogeneous flux marks out the territory,” which forms intense formidable violence to the self (Kristeva 7, 10). Abjection is placed in the imaginary border, in-between the other and the self. At any rate, abject “hovers between the self and the other” (77). When the boundary between the self and the other is attacked by the impetus of abjection, the self is subject to identity crisis.

Evidently, Joe repeatedly claims his identity of a man of decency, which verifies his narcissistic disposition. In Power of Horror, it denotes that abjection is “a kind of narcissistic crisis, namely, narcissistic perturbation“(14).[5]Joe tries to temper the impetus of his self -loathing in the text of narcissistic structure by staying with a more miserable object in his eyes, Harper.[6]Joe’s identity crisis follows in the wake of Harper’s repeated confrontation of his sexual orientation, namely, his hidden abjection of being a gay. In the times of identity crisis, Joe then goes on self-exploration, which is “scary fun” in his terms. Then, while Joe embarks the first love relationship with a man, Louis, his subjectivity is heterogeneous to his former self and he experiences Juissance then. Gay love is Joes’s clandestine obsessional infatuation, which hinted degradation to him. Nevertheless, having sexual intercourse with a man promises unprecedented unspeakable irreplaceable pleasure to Joe in terms of his love relationship with Louis. Joe’s haunting sexual desire potentially evokes energy and sexual drive summons and catalyzes Jouissance. Abjection solicits paroxysmal involuntary contradiction because the impetus is characteristic of the condemnation, degradation and fascination and shaped in the formation of a “vortex of summons and repulsion” (Kristeva 1, 10).

    Homosexual’s victimized experience is the consequence of historicalization. Angels in America is set against the 1980s conservative homophobic American mainstream society with the occurrence of rampant plague of AIDS. In the 1980s, people frequently make derogatory comments against homosexual and queer culture. Evidently, anxiety sets the tone of the story and the political landscape of 1980s is radically conservative under Regan’s administration, which conflate homosexual, sexual transgression and moral corruption. In this respect, Regan could be deemed as the myth maker of homophobia social phenomenon of the age.

Marmon is a relatively conservative religion which pits against gay sentiments and views homosexuality unnatural or socially unacceptable in the least. Homosexuality is the despised, namely, the excluded margin and be shaped as the invisible disempowered subject.  Afflicted with mainstream discrimination and prejudice, homosexuals tend to degrade themselves and Joe’s case decidedly unmasks the ordeal many gay encounters. Raised by codes of Marmon, Joe is keenly aware that being a man of decency is socially desirable, which is associated with sense of superiority.[7]Joe tried to be a man of decency and assimilates into the heterosexual mainstream society.

    It is very true that identity crisis denotes the chance of identity transformation. Self-loathing and disavowal of sexual instinct or needs are energy-consuming. Significantly, coming out is essentially a rite of passage by liberating from social oppression and social constraint. Joe ultimately shakes off the social stigma the homophobic mainstream imposed upon him. Abjection and desire both possess a rebellion momentum, which catalyzes the route to emancipation. The inner turmoil grinds to the ends. Hence, the energy-consuming process nullified. Further, the negative force of his former repression transfers into resources of added nourishment.[8]

Works Cited

Groze, Elizabeth. Sexuality and the Symbolic Order in Jacques Lacan. 55-80

Kristeva, J. Powers Of Horror: An Essay On Abjection. Columbia University Press, 1982. Page 1-13.

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995.

[1] When his sexual desire inflames, he can’t help visiting central park.

[2] As proposed by Freud, a baby’s experience of sucking his mother’s breast” must have familiarized him” with pleasure ” and the memory of this joyful experience serves as a ” prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction”( 55).

[3] The symbolic order in Angels in America refers the law, the convention, namely, the social expectation and social constraints imposed upon the individuals. Abjection is essentially something unspeakable, terrifying and menacing, which is intolerable to the symbolic order. In Angels in America, abjection includes multiple biased identities, ranged from PWD, homosexuals, Marmon and colored people.

[4] As noted, “ one does not desire it, one enjoy in it violently and painfully. A passion. And, as in Juissance where the object of desire, known as abject a [in Lacan’s terminology]…it is simply a frontier, a repulsive gift that the other, having become second ego, drops so that” I” does not disappear in it but finds, in that sublime alienation, a forfeited existence. Hence a Juissance in which the subject is swallowed up but in which the Other, in return, keeps the subject from foundering by making it repugnant from foundering. One thus understands why so many victims of abject are its fascinated victims” (Kristeva 9).

[6] By marring a helpless ~ wife Harper, he elevates his esteem in acting the role of a saver, which in fact is a manner of selfishness.

[7] Homosexual is an identity links with gross mortification, sin and sense of guilt. Homosexuals are doomed to bear mortification and humiliation. Marmon is very conservative and they expect to abide by the codes raised by Joseph Smith, to be a man of decency.

[8] In Power of Horror, it denotes that “ that secondary repression, with its reserve of symbolic means, attempt to transfer to its own account, which has thus been overdrawn, the of primal repression” (14).



Margaret W. Lavigne 司馬儀

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