29 September 2012

The Egg

In Powers of Horror (which, full disclosure, I have not bothered to attempt to read because there is no point in attempting something if you already know you will fail), Kristeva defines the abject as something that horrifies and repulses us, but also attracts us. It is located at the imaginary border between subject and object, and to confront the abject is to suffer the breakdown of this border, and thus a breakdown of our concept of our own identity. We draw imaginary borders between our self (subject) and what is not our self (other) by ejecting what is not us in the early stages of development (i.e. we eject the mother and draw a border between our self and her)--but it can never be fully expelled and remains on the periphery of our consciousness. Because the breakdown of this border would bring us back to a primordial state--a state of assumed “wholeness,” prior to the separation of subject/object (you guys, WOMBS! Do you see where I’m going?)--the abject at once compels and repels us. To give in to the abject is to submit to a kind of reckless abandon, or jouissance if you want to get fancy about it; therefore “one thus understands why so many victims of the abject are its fascinated victims--if not its submissive and willing ones” (Kristeva 9).

How can anyone eat something that looks like a wart?
Kristeva likens the abject to corpses, shoes found at Auschwitz, shit, and most relevant to our purposes here, certain foods (in this case, skin on milk):
“I experience a gagging sensation and, still father down, spasms in the stomach, the belly; and all the organs shrivel up the body, provoke tears and bile, increase heartbeat, cause forehead and hands to perspire” (2 - 3).
Eggs are my milk-skin.* Eggs inspire in me a kind of horror that is not realised in any other kind of food. While I can watch another person consume an egg with an air of removed disapproval and rapt interest, if I am confronted with the possibility of having to eat one myself, I am gripped by an anxious nausea and brought to the brink of tears.

The only kind of “good egg” is a baked egg. Eggs can be used to make meringues or cakes and other delectable treats, but that is the extent of their purpose. All eggs that stand alone as a meal unto themselves are “bad eggs.” 
Oh my God. Look at this. Look at how revolting this is. It
looks like one of those creepy wild mushrooms you sometimes
encounter in the woods that are always bursting apart, and your
first reaction is to panic because you can't understand why nature
would create something so horrifying. THESE ARE BORDERS
Of the various ways to prepare an egg, scrambled seems to me the most harmless. The process of scrambling destroys  any semblance of the egg’s original form and we are left with clods of yellow, rather than the truly terrifying egg/yolk dynamic. Boiled eggs, although perhaps easier to digest visually, strike me as the most offensive to our nostrils and taste buds, and the process of peeling the shell and slicing into the liquid that is now solidified is panic inducing. The poached egg specifically is where we approach the abject, and actually comes to symbolize it: the tenuous border that contains the yolk is as tenuous as the border that separates the subject/object and is just as easily transgressed.

Despite my totally rational fear of poached eggs, I nevertheless feel myself drawn to them. If I am with someone who is about to consume a poached egg, I cannot tear my eyes away and feel compelled to watch the first instance when the fork punctures the bulb of the yolk and the yellow liquid oozes forth, disrupting any former boundary between white and yolk. What’s more, every once in a while, I want to engage in this depraved act myself. I want to revel in my own depravity, just as I have watched countless others do before me; I want to observe as my own identity oozes out of itself and as meaning collapses.

But I have resisted because we must remain vigilant against the abject and struggle to retain some scrap of meaning and concept of our self if we are to survive. And for the record, I have eaten eggs before. I have eaten fried and scrambled eggs, and I remember with stark horror the one day a week my mum would prepare a poached egg for breakfast, and I would beg her to cook it to the point where the yolk could no longer ooze. Rumours have been circulating that there was a time in my life when I devoured eggs with apparent relish, but it was a time before the mirror stage and before I entered into language and the symbolic order, and please God, don’t let me go back there.
*Someone should be turning this sentence into a meaningful piece of art.
Ugh! On toast!? Thick yellow liquid soaking into crispy toast?
That's disgusting.

Scrambled, fried, poached, or boiled,
Our identity the egg has spoiled.
It lures us towards its traps,
Towards the place of meaning-collapse.

More than the shoes found at Auschwitz
Or the corpse pocked with bloody slits
It complicates the subject/object,
And that is why the egg is abject.


  1. I felt so sleepy last night, I thought I would just peek at your blog before going straight to bed, but I couldn't stop reading this egg post. How thoughtful you are about eggs. It is so beautiful and informative about you, eggs, you and eggs, everyone and eggs, Kristeva, and importantly, Kristeva and eggs. A masterwork.

  2. I agree with the D-Bag. But can't we at least agree that what really makes these poached eggs so terrifying is the perfection they present before those borders are violated? Isn't it that the greek mathematicians were wrong, and it is really the egg, and not the circle, that are the very form of beauty and perfection? Aren't we really alternating between fear and pleasure as we contemplate the absolute totality of the egg, and our absolute freedom to abort and engulf and destroy what seemed to be its incomprehensibly infinite perfection and it's comfortably limited purposeiveness?

    I submit that we are dealing here less with the Abject of Kristeva and more of a lopsided Sublime that we can attribute to Kant because you can attribute anything to Kant because he was, if anything, *performing the sublime rather than explaining it.

    But maybe you are right after all. I think we can all agree we want to at least lick the salt and pepper off the slippery top, and flirt with the danger of breaking the yolk with the tongue, but so gently that it doesn't touch the tongue. To pierce but not penetrate the veil. That is the fascination. But I'm just not convinced it has anything to do with identity per say. (See The Function of Food at the Present Time, Butterfield, sept. 2012).