Deep South v.2 n.3 (Spring, 1996)
The abject has only one quality of the object - that of being opposed to I. If the object, however, through its opposition, settles me within the fragile texture of a desire for meaning, which, as a matter of fact, makes me ceaselessly and infinitely homologous to it, what is abject, on the contrary, the jettisoned object, is radically excluded and draws me toward the place where meaning collapses.
Seeing Keri Hulme's The Bone People and Jane Gardam's The Queen of The Tambourine in the light of Kristeva's theory of abjection is very illuminating. Although The Bone People and The Queen of The Tambourine deal with very different aspects of the abject, the abject and abjection are present throughout both texts thematically and stylistically. The abject and abjection are used to support and precipitate the texts' themes of transformation and redefinition of identity. The abject functions as a force of simultaneous destruction and construction of the characters' identities.
The Abject and Abjection
The abject exists on the border between the conscious and the unconscious. It is, using Lacan's terminology, the subject's reminder of the pre-Oedipal stage of the infant's life before passing through the mirror phase, entering into the symbolic order and thereby enabling itself to assert its own individuality by differentiating its self from the unity with the mother.
Taking the abject as a reminiscence of the infant's unity with the mother in the pre-Oedipal stage -or, in Kristeva's terms, the semiotic order - it follows that the abject also represents the (m)other which the subject has had to reject - abject- in order to ascertain and establish its own self when passing through the mirror stage. In this way the abject confronts the subject with the spuriousness of the self; the self defined and created by the infant when passing through the mirror stage is established only through a differentiation from what it is not rather than a discovery of what it essentially is.
The abject is therefore a constant threat to the subject's identity. If recognized as other than abject it threatens the subject with annihilation of the self because it draws attention to the Other and therefore to the negative identification with and the illusion of a coherent and essential self. Also, the abject points to the pre-Oedipal stage of the infant's life where the self has not yet been defined. Kristeva describes the abjection the subject experiences when in contact with the abject as confrontations with "our earliest attempts to release the hold of the maternal entity, even before ex-isting outside her, thanks to the autonomy of language" . - By reminding the subject of the non-verbal state of the semiotic order the abject does indeed draw the subject towards the place where language gives up and meaning collapses .
Kristeva sees abjection and the abject as "the primers of our culture" . Abjection of the abject is the subject's safeguard against being swallowed up by the semiotic order and avoiding the threats of annihilation of the self that contact with the semiotic order entails. The repulsion of the abject is what enables the subject to deal with and join in with the Other and the abject without disintegrating. Abjection becomes the way in which the subject can maintain the integrity of its self when confronted with the Other and the semiotic order.
The abject is ambiguous. The abject is the Other that the subject has rejected to establish its self, and therefore, at the same time, the precondition of the subject's autonomy. The subject is simultaneously drawn towards and repelled by the abject and the Other it represents. On the one hand the subject yearns for giving into the Other and the semiotic order and thereby becoming homogenous through reconciling the split between the self and the Other in an experience of jouissance. On the other hand doing this would mean abandoning the differentiation from the Other that establishes the self which would lead to its annihilation.
This suspension between the jouissance and repulsion of the abject is thematized in The Queen of The Tambourine and The Bone People. In these texts contact with the abject does indeed threaten to annihilate identity. At the same time, however, the abject offers the possibility of reconstructing identities. Through abjection, jouissance and by merging with the Other and the semiotic order, the characters of the texts enable themselves to transform; re-enter the symbolic order, re-name their worlds and through this re-define themselves.
The Abject in The Bone People and The Queen of The Tambourine
The Bone People and The Queen of The Tambourine evolve around the presence of the abject. Contact with the abject is what sparks off and indeed enables the process of transformation of the characters which is the central theme of both texts. In this way the abject simultaneously precipitates and supports the themes of the texts.
In The Bone People Simon is the embodiment of the abject. Simon personifies the Other. Coming from outside the text's spatial location and with his origins never fully accounted for he is a stranger and the unknown. Simon's identity cannot be pinned down and he is essentially indefinable. Simon does not adhere to any age or any one name; his precise age is unknown and he has several names, "Himi", "Simon", "Sim", "Haimona", "Clare". Simon's position as the unknown and the indefinable is stressed by Kerewin's referring to him as "it" in 'A Portrait of a Sandal'.
The abject does not respect borders in the same way as the semiotic order cancels out the borders between the subject and the (m)other. The abject is continually challenging the subject with its presence and thus threatening the subject with annihilation. Like the abject Simon does not respect borders. He breaks into houses, smashes windows, and breaks social taboos of being violent and being the victim of violence. Simon's crossing of borders is not confined to things external to him. Joe's violence is an invasion of Simon's bodily space and Simon himself is continually transgressing the borders of his own body; the text is saturated with his blood, vomit, shit, flesh. - Almost archetypal elements of the abject and abjection.
Simon's continual transgression of borders points to the fact that Simon inhabits a liminal space analogous to that of the abject. Simon exists between his actual presence and his continual strangeness and otherness. Simon is born into the text by being washed up on the beach - a liminal space metaphorically similar to the space between the conscious and the unconscious, between knowledge of his physical presence and the unknown of his past, between the inarticulate and the ability to communicate - between the Other, strangeness and non-verbal state of the semiotic order, and the entry into language and identity of the symbolic order represented by his writing on the notepad. Simon's mutism reinforces his existence in a liminal space; he cannot speak but can easily communicate through writing, screaming, "singing", violence and kissing, which Joe describes as part of Simon's language .
Like Simon in The Bone People the abject and abjection are personified by Eliza and her madness in The Queen of The Tambourine. Madness is abject in itself. However, unlike The Bone People Eliza's madness does not affect the people surrounding her but represents an internalization of the abject. Contact with and abjection of the abject happens inside Eliza's head only. The abject is what reminds Eliza of the traumas that caused her madness; her miscarriage, her hysterectomy, Harry's affair with Annie and their child. The abject becomes what cannot be named and what has to be evaded and controlled through being "sublimated", labelled and named as something else. For example, Eliza's feelings of abjection when confronted with the turtle represents a repression of her memories of her miscarriage and Joan is in reality "the family I wished was mine" . Eliza's diary is precisely such an attempt to sublimate her traumas and maintain sanity.In her diary Eliza tries to ascertain her self by literally writing herself into the symbolic order and thereby avoiding being swallowed up by the madness that threatens to dissolve her identity and leave her in a state similar to that of the semiotic order.
As in The Bone People the abject in The Queen of the Tambourine does not respect borders. Eliza's madness places her in a liminal space between madness and sanity, and between fiction and reality. Eliza exists between the non-coherence between signifiers and signifieds of the semiotic chaos that madness represents (for example, Joan does not in fact exist) and her attempts to adhere to the symbolic order and maintain a connection between the signifier and the signified are represented by her diary writing. Eliza's descriptions of herself abound in images of a malfunctioning or broken body and one of the main reasons for her madness, her miscarriage, precisely cancels out the border between the inside and the outside of her body. Similarly, the characters surrounding Eliza cross the borders between the inside and the outside of their bodies; women explode, Professor Hookaneye dissolves, Sarah continually vomits and Eliza can see inside people's heads. This transgression of borders is paralleled by a disintegration of names. "Joan" is reduces to "DJ" and "Humpty Dumpty piddle and pie" and Dr. Sepsis appears under the synonyms "Sepulcher", "Septimus" and "Seneca". The borders of the signifier disintegrate as the signified dissolves. This disintegration of signifiers and signifieds and the lack of borders mark the disintegration of the symbolic order and Eliza's ability to sustain her self in relation to the Other. Eliza's madness confronts her with the semiotic order, the archaic state of the pre-symbolic order, and makes her notion of identity dissolve.
The A b j e c t ' s Influence on the Form of The Bone People and The Queen of The Tambourine
In The Bone People and The Queen of The Tambourine the abject appears in the texts as thematic omissions, silences and evasions. That which cannot be named, and the reasons for Eliza's madness are precisely what she lacks; her womb, her family, her miscarried child, a self which is not split between Joan and Eliza. Similarly, in The Bone People Simon's silence and mutism, his strangeness and unknown background, the secrecy surrounding the violent relationship between Joe and Simon are central elements running through the text.
These thematic omissions are reinforced and paralleled by omissions and ellipses in the form of the texts. Joe and Kerewin's discourses in connection with the abuse of Simon are characterized by blank spaces, ellipses and broken down syntax of the sentences. Joe describing his abuse of Simon stresses this, "It left a gap."  In the same way, the abject manifests itself as absence in The Queen of The Tambourine. The text is an epistolary novel without an addressee. Also, although dialogue is recorded within the letters, the epistolary novel form in itself excludes the presence of spoken dialogue.
The representation of the abject as absences and silences in the texts reinforces its status as something belonging to the non-verbal state of the semiotic order. The abject escapes the codes and definitions of the symbolic order while its presence in the symbolic order draws attention to the absence of the Other and the lack of a coherent self underlying the symbolic order. The abject is, as I will show, the pivotal point and the thematic catalyst of the texts. In this respect The Bone People and The Queen of The Tambourine thematize and echo Macherey's, 'The Text Says What it Does Not Say' .
The Abject as Destruction and Construction of Identity
Contact with the abject marks the turning points of The Bone People and The Queen of the Tambourine. Through
the confrontation and embrace with the abject the characters "joy in" the Other and the semiotic order . Contact with the abject is thus not only a threat of annihilation of identity, it is also an opportunity to reexperience the semiotic order, reenter the mirror phase and the symbolic order and thereby recreate identity. This is precisely the function of the abject in The Queen of The Tambourine and The Bone People.
Eliza's madness culminates on the common with her throwing Henry's money in the lake and performing the reverse baptism of the baby Mick whom she wheels there in his pram. The common is another space of the abject; a liminal space between fiction, carnival and the world upside-down that carnival embodies, and the reality of Rathborne Road. It is in this liminal space that Eliza eventually symbolically confronts and rejects the reasons for her madness, her self-identification the abject, and the semiotic chaos surrounding her. This abjection of the abject enables Eliza to reenter the mirror phase through "using [Joan] as mirror image" and from there to re-enter the symbolic order. Eliza becomes able to redefine her self as a new person in a new context where signifiers and signifieds adhere, by letting go of Barry who took up the position of the name-giver whilst she was mad and beginning to name and label things herself. Now, Eliza can diagnose herself as being mad, she can name and discuss the reasons for her traumas, communicate with Harry and indeed write real letters to a real Joan.
Joe's beating of Simon and Simon's consequent hospitalization marks the pivotal point of The Bone People. The events culminating in the beating described in Chapter 8 accumulate elements of the abject and of abjection. Here, Joe and Kerewin momentarily let go of the repulsion and abjection of the abject and give into the Other in jouissance. Joe embodies jouissance; his hands are healing and destructive, "he loves and hates too much" and he is described as being "of love and pain". These descriptions of Joe and of the beating echo Kristeva's definition of jouissance where one "joys in" the Other in an experience of combined violence, pain, passion and desire .
Following this culminating point of Joe's (and also Kerewin's) attempt to annihilate the abject, in the form of Simon, the lives and identities of the characters in The Bone People disintegrate. By abandoning the abjection of the abject that sustained the identities of the characters their selves dissolve in the face of the Other and the semiotic order. Simon, Joe and Kerewin have to go through a period of healing in order to reenter the symbolic order, transform and re-establish their identities.
In the beginning of his stay in the hospital Simon finds himself bereft of all his means of asserting his self. He cannot hear, see, communicate, reach or be reached by the outside world. Later he voluntarily excludes the surrounding world - he is in the depths of the semiotic order in a metaphorical chora . Simon's healing and recreation of his identity go through the process of renaming himself and his world. Dr. Sinclaire reaches Simon by reminding him of his private identification of his self, "Clare", and Simon begins redefining and reasserting his identity by entering into another and for Simon more compatible symbolic order.
Following the contact with the abject and thereby the contact with the semiotic order Kerewin and Joe are precipitated into similar crises of identities. The confrontation with the semiotic order and the annihilation of identity and the self which this entails, manifests itself in a physical death wish for both characters. Joe's jump from the cliff is a mock representation of the death of his identity, which enables him to be reborn into new significance and meaning through his new Maori identity as the keeper of the god, the Mauriora who guards the canoe. Kerewin's conquering her stomach cancer is an acting out of a destructive and negative pregnancy enabling her metaphorically to give birth to a new life of creativity as an artist and a new identity. The confrontation with the semiotic order and with the Other makes Kerewin reject her old identity and see the differentiation of her self as being arbitrary and inadequate, "No more communion with the mirrored self or the uncaring stars" . Also, it makes her aware of her need to redefine her self in a new context, "Away with the mirror and the horrid scrutiny, and arrange a spring clean." . Equipped with a book of spiritual and religious writings, a diary and the Concise Oxford Dictionary Kerewin embarks on a quest for a new self differentiation and definition which goes through a renaming of her self and her world. She reenters the symbolic order by learning "to label with new names, for a small start" and literally writing herself into a new context in her diary.
"Unnaming" and Renaming
The symbolic order sustaining the identities of Eliza, Simon, Joe and Kerewin in the first part of The Queen of The Tambourine and The Bone People respectively is preconditioned by a continual rejection and abjection of the Other and the semiotic order in order to sustain identity through differentiation. However, contact with the semiotic order also enables the characters to transform and re-establish and -differentiate identities and selves through a reentry into the symbolic order.
In The Bone People this reentry into the symbolic order is constituted by a recreation of language and codes comprising singing, Maori, English, art, myths, and reenacting of Maori rituals. This new language and these new codes are more compatible for Simon, Joe and Kerewin and enable them to redifferentiate and recreate their selves, their values and worlds in a more flexible, post-colonial context.
In The Queen of The Tambourine the reentry into the symbolic order does not consist of a creation of a new language but of a renaming of Eliza's identity and surroundings. This renaming makes signifiers adhere to signifieds and enables Eliza to redefine her self and her world in a new personal and social context.
The characters of The Bone People and The Queen of The Tambourine thus fill the ellipses, omissions and gaps left by the abject through what Hamelin describes as an "unnaming" and a "rejection of old labels" and the following reentry into the symbolic order . However, in spite of this unnaming, renaming, and redefinition of the characters' selves and identities into new and more compatible contexts, the process of naming continues. The characters' newly constructed identities are precisely constructs dependent on rejections and differentiations from what they are not. Kristeva describes the subject as a "subject-in-process" which is continually recreating itself. - The characters of The Queen of The Tambourine and The Bone People are constantly differentiating their identities in relation to the Other.
In The Queen of The Tambourine Eliza is defining her newly constructed identity in relation to memories of her mother and despite having learned "to label with new names" Kerewin is "the wordless one" when reunited with Joe and Simon. The subject-in-process continually constructing itself can be summed up by the concluding words of The Bone People,
TE MUTUNGA - RANEI TE TAKE
 Kristeva, J., The Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection,
 Ibid., p. 1 and p. 13.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 Hulme, K., The Bone People, p. 265.
 Gardam, J., The Queen of The Tambourine, p. 218.
 Hulme, K., The Bone People, p. 173.
 Macherey, P., 'The Text Says What it Does Not Say'. In Walder,D., Literature in The Modern World. Critical Essays and Documents, pp. 215-223.
 Kristeva, J., The Power of Horror. An Essay on Abjection, p. 9.
 E.g. Hulme, K., The Bone People, p. 219 & p. 318.
 Kristeva, J., The Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection, p. 9.
 Moi, T., The Kristeva Reader, p. 13.
 Hulme, K., The Bone People, p. 310
 Ibid., p. 425.
 Ibid., p. 434.
 Hamelin, C.,'"Fitted into his own web of music": Art as renaming in The Bone People'. In Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada. 10, (December, 1993), pp. 109-110.
Gardam, J., The Queen of The Tambourine, 1995.
Hulme, K., The Bone People, 1986.
Hamelin, C., '"Fitted into his own web of music": Art as renaming in The Bone People'. In Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada, 10, (December,1993), pp.
Kristeva, J., The Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection, New York; Columbia University Press, 1982.
Macherey, P., 'The Text Says What it Does Not Say'. In Walder, D., Literature in the Modern World. Critical Essays and Documents, Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1990, pp. 215-23.
Moi, T., The Kristeva Reader, Oxford; Basil Blackwell, 1996.
Moi, T., Sexual/Textual Politics. Feminist Literary Theory, 1995.