The Anatomy of Disgust

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Harvard University Press, 1998 - Literary Criticism - 320 pages
6 Reviews

William Miller embarks on an alluring journey into the world of disgust, showing how it brings order and meaning to our lives even as it horrifies and revolts us. Our notion of the self, intimately dependent as it is on our response to the excretions and secretions of our bodies, depends on it. Cultural identities have frequent recourse to its boundary-policing powers. Love depends on overcoming it, while the pleasure of sex comes in large measure from the titillating violation of disgust prohibitions. Imagine aesthetics without disgust for tastelessness and vulgarity; imagine morality without disgust for evil, hypocrisy, stupidity, and cruelty.

Miller details our anxious relation to basic life processes: eating, excreting, fornicating, decaying, and dying. But disgust pushes beyond the flesh to vivify the larger social order with the idiom it commandeers from the sights, smells, tastes, feels, and sounds of fleshly physicality. Disgust and contempt, Miller argues, play crucial political roles in creating and maintaining social hierarchy. Democracy depends less on respect for persons than on an equal distribution of contempt. Disgust, however, signals dangerous division. The high's belief that the low actually smell bad, or are sources of pollution, seriously threatens democracy.

Miller argues that disgust is deeply grounded in our ambivalence to life: it distresses us that the fair is so fragile, so easily reduced to foulness, and that the foul may seem more than passing fair in certain slants of light. When we are disgusted, we are attempting to set bounds, to keep chaos at bay. Of course we fail. But, as Miller points out, our failure is hardly an occasion for despair, for disgust also helps to animate the world, and to make it a dangerous, magical, and exciting place.

  

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Review: The Anatomy of Disgust

User Review  - Adrienne Kiser - Goodreads

This was certainly an interesting book! I've never really given any thought to the idea of disgust before (other than thoughts along the line of "oh my god what did I just step in"), so I was ... Read full review

Review: The Anatomy of Disgust

User Review  - Deborah - Goodreads

love involves a notable and non-trivial suspension of some, if not all, rules of disgust Disgust rules mark the boundaries of self; the relaxing of them marks privilege, intimacy, duty and caring ... Read full review

Contents

DARWINS DISGUST
1
DISGUST AND ITS NEIGHBORS
24
THICK GREASY LIFE
38
THE SENSES
60
ORIFICES AND BODILY WASTES
89
FAIR IS FOUL AND FOUL IS FAIR
109
WARRIORS SAINTS AND DELICACY
143
THE MORAL LIFE OF DISGUST
179
MUTUAL CONTEMPT AND DEMOCRACY
206
ORWELLS SENSE OF SMELL
235
NOTES
257
WORKS CITED
300
INDEX
314
Copyright

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About the author (1998)

William Ian Miller is Professor of Law at the University of Michigan.

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