Mamleev’s Shatuny as a Negotiation of the Absolute and the Abject

Jan Terence Peters, Northwestern University

Mamleev's Shatuny exemplifies what might be termed a “postmodern” reworking of Western canonical notions of the absolute whereby the upwardly transcendent is mirrored in the downwardly monstrous, or abject. In parallel with this insight, Kristeva, for instance, even goes as far as asserting that the absolute, the divine, and the monstrous or abject are often virtually indistinguishable. On this account, the abject, the unspeakable are just as ineffable as the vertical transcendence of God, thereby rendering the "groundlessness" of the monstrous, the abject analogous to the "groundlessness" of the divine or the absolute.

However, it would be a major error on our part to identify this duality of the absolute and the abject as a uniquely “postmodern” phenomenon, despite the fact that postmodernism may be regarded as the modernist project driven to its logical extreme. Put simply, the monstrous has always been with us, and will continue to haunt us even as instrumental reason appears unstoppable in its bid to conquer the life world. Monstrosity thus represents an experience of excess that effectively subverts our efforts to become godlike by reminding the ego that its sovereignty is never entirely secure.

The central insight of Mamleev's Shatuny may be stated thus: In its endeavour to partake of the divine, the absolute and the celestial, the ego is compelled to feed from the same wellsprings as the abject, chthonic and creaturely. Indeed, Kristev’s concept of the abject derives its potency from the same mystical antecedent that haunts the self-positing, sovereign I of the Enlightenment. In short, Mamleev's Shatuny unites these two theoretical strands by showing them to be essentially two sides of the same coin.