on 31 January 2006
The author starts by pointing out that linguistically the word "disgust" in English is linked to the word "taste" ("gustus" in Latin). It describes actions or things which are repulsive, revolting or abhorrent principally because they become polluting by being out of place. Freud's theories are efforts to overcome a deep disgust with sex which is often the cause for anxiety, neurosis and psychosis. Disgust is also a psychic need to avoid reminders of our animal origins and it is accompanied by ideas of some sort of danger like pollution, contamination or defilement. It has the function of protecting our organism from dangerous matter. And disgust is culturally and socially determined.
The author argues that disgust has powerful image-generating capacities and that it plays a part in organising and internalising many of our attitudes toward the moral, social and political domains. He also demonstrates how the conceptualisation of disgust varies by virtue of the sense doing the perceiving: touch, smell, taste or vision. The body's orifices and wastes are not forgotten either: mouth, anus, genitals, nose, ears and skin. Moving away from the visceral, Mr Miller takes up the delicate issue of the relationships of disgust to desire and desire to prohibition. He also discusses the changing styles of disgust and the disgusting through time and then moves to the issue that disgust is a moral sentiment. Finally he concentrates on disgust in the political and social realms where it confronts democracy and the idea of equality.
A fascinating study with plenty of references to famous writers like Orwell, Shakespeare, Sartre or Darwin. There is also an exhaustive bibliography which will help readers find related studies to the concept of disgust.