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On Words that Exclude and Actions that Destroy

The latest lecture given by Professor Dr. Joachim Küchenhoff in the context of the IPU's public lecture series "Abjections of the Modern Age" was one which crossed borders both geographically and on a expertise level. The scientist Joachim Küchenhoff is Professor of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Basel, as well as the senior consultant in the Psychiatry and Psychology Clinic at the Psychatrie Baselland psychiatry facility. In addition he is the author, co-author and editor of numerous books. He came to the International Psychoanalytic University (IPU) Berlin on 24 January 2013 to talk about his topic of "Discarding, Disposing, Discharging? How Waste Occurs and Recurs. Semiotic and Sociopsychoanalytical Observations" (Wegwerfen, Verwerfen, Ausstossen? Wie Abfall entsteht und wiederkehrt. Semiotische und soziopsychoanalytische Betrachtungen).

Utilising precise descriptions, Professor Küchenhoff outlined his thoughts on interpretative approaches from differing scientific disciplines. These considerations were not only concerned with the ostensibly incomprehensible from a purely scientific perspective (with his talk dealing among others with an installation about the impending atrocities by the nazis), but also exhibited a concrete reference to history and the present (ruling by the German Federal Constitutional Court that the current assistance provided to asylum seekers does not permit the minimum subsistence in line with human dignity and thus has to be increased).

Before going into detail on his topic, he first provided his definition of the concept of the abject: This "term" which is "unpleasant enough and not so easy to grasp". The abject arises with the first dividing lines of the ego. While this is complex, it may be extended and elaborated in various directions. In the opinion of the psychoanalyst, Professor Küchenhoff, what one gains in the confrontation and examination of this concept is the ability to grasp the transitions between numerous areas of experience or, in other words, within the "processes of inclusion and exclusion". What interests him especially, Küchenhoff went on to say, are the processes at these transitions, ones which also have a sociological relevance. For instance, social processes could be examined with respect to which impacts the demarcating of borderlines would have. And it is equally interesting to ask who is sacrificed or forsaken in social exclusion processes. "Which power emanates from that which is excluded or discarded?" was how he worded a further issue here.

Professor Küchenhoff then spoke about psychic (exclusion) spaces, utilising in this respect spatial images of a psychodynamic and, to a further extent, sociodynamic nature in order to represent the forms of exclusion. He examined these metaphors of space from three aspects: (1) Their clinical-psychoanalytical relevance, (2) the sign theory, semiotic mechanism which represents their basis, and, (3) their sociodynamic equivalents.

If one speaks about abjects, one must also speak about power – psychic power to the same extent as social or societal power. "Abjectal spaces are also always spaces of retreat or refuge which we have to take seriously," according to Professor Küchenhoff. Something is always held in abjectal spaces which is lost in the "power of the conscious, the power of barter economies". Spaces are not always immediately negative per se. It is far more a case of the "extent of the maintenance of their symbolic order or their destruction". Consequently, spaces can be abjective to differing degrees of intensity. In order to explain what he meant by this, Professor Küchenhoff took five spatial images (crypt, sanctuary, hermitage, storehouse and rubbish pile) as a basis – with his references extending from haunting and indeed horrific events from the recent past through to current events from the here and now – which were to be grasped in this respect as an "objectification and containment" of the abjective processes described by him.