Abjection, art and bare life

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In this essay John Lechte develops the idea of the abject as beyond objectification. Grounding his argument in Immanuel Kant’s conception of the beautiful as that which has no concept, Lechte asks if there can really be an art of the abject given the concept’s elusive status. He answers this question through an analysis of the film Sombre(Dir. Philippe Grandrieux, France, 1998). For Lechte, the abject “represents” a radical immanence. Abject art is therefore art that takes the non-object as its object. Grandrieux’s films, through their chiaroscuro cinematography, comprise works in which the medium of film appears to be foregrounded. The sombre lighting makes objects difficult to discern. This has led some commentators to contend that Grandrieux brings the materiality of film to the screen. Lechte, however, argues that materiality is always already screened, barred from us, by the very process of signification that seeks to capture it. In this light, if there is an abject element to Sombre it can only ever be evoked rather than clearly represented for to represent it would be to abolish it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAbject visions
Subtitle of host publicationpowers of horror in art and visual culture
EditorsRina Arya, Nicholas Chare
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9780719096280, 9780719096297
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Sombre (Dir. Philippe Grandrieux)
  • Kantian aesthetics
  • abjection
  • materiality of film
  • the non-object
  • French cinema
  • Julia Kristeva


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