Since this disgust project seems to be gathering steam, I thought I'd take it to the next level and share the in-progress bibliography I've been putting together. I'm nearing the end of William Ian Miller's The Anatomy of Disgust at the moment, and it's given me some places to start both in terms of further reading and of organizing my thoughts. Since "the literary treatment of disgust" is such an unlimited category, I've been thinking about how to narrow things down and I've come up with the categories below. They're just a starting point and may change if they prove more of a hindrance than a help. I may make a little button for this post
in my side-bar, since I'm sure this list will continue to grow and change along with the project.
(Theoretical works on disgust)
- Cohen, William A. Filth: Dirt, Disgust, and Modern Life (2005). A look at the role of "filth" in modern life, and suggested by Litlove.
- Darwin, Charles. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). According to Miller, Darwin was one of the first Westerners to write specifically about disgust, and his account is rich in racial and gustatory elements.
- Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (1966). Although Miller spends much of his book dismantling Douglas's arguments, her idea of a disgust theory based on the uncanny or out-of-place (rather than the contaminating) is sufficiently intriguing to me that I'd be interested to pick this up.
- Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process (1939). Read and reviewed back in 2008, pre-blogging. An interesting analysis of pre-Renaissance manners and what they imply about the process of becoming "civilized" in the Western World. Miller and many modern-day medievalists take issue with Elias's rather cartoonish portrait of medieval life, but much remains relevant and his citing of primary-source documents (etiquette manuals across 300+ years) makes this a fantastic resource.
- Freud, Sigmund. WHERE TO EVEN START. Suggestions are welcome; I have only read On the Interpretation of Dreams, which is not the most useful here. I need to seek out his discussions of "reaction formations" and the repression of primal instincts. Isn't that, like, ALL his work? Help with a starting point would be appreciated.
- Gigante, Denise. Taste: A Literary History (2005). Considering my particular weakness for food-based disgust, this is a must-read.
- Halberstam, Judith. Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (1995). I'm looking for a book that addresses the tendency of people to seek out gross-out experiences, and horror film is a prime way in which we do that. (And I mean "we" in the larger cultural sense, as I personally do NOT seek out horror movies.) This may not be quite what I'm looking for, but I liked Halberstam's Female Masculinity, so I doubt I'll regret reading this.
- Herwitz, Daniel Alan. Aesthetics: Key Concepts in Philosophy (2008). As I have very little general background in aesthetics, Anthony was kind enough to recommend this primer on the subject.
- Herz, Rachel. That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion (2011). Upcoming from Norton, this looks to be a volume of popular nonfiction on the science of disgust, from an researcher on the psychology of smell. Thanks to Teresa for alerting me to its existence!
- Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Aesthetic Judgment (1790). Recommended by Frances, along with the Kristeva.
- Kelly, Daniel. Yuck! The Nature and Significance of Disgust (2011). Kelly was interviewed in Salon recently about his upcoming book on disgust.
- Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics (2011). My partner David pointed me in the direction of Korsmeyer, and I am interested in her focus here on aesthetics and the less extreme forms of disgust. The common impulse seems to jump immediately to the most extreme manifestations of the emotion, but as with anything there are shades of grey.
- Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982). Suggested by Litlove. I will totally be reading Kristeva in English; from what I hear she will be plenty difficult enough.
- Meninghaus, Winfried. Disgust: Theory and History of a Strong Sensation (2003). I know nothing about this study, but it was one of only a very few that I unearthed in my initial bout of disgust research.
- Miller, Susan Beth. Disgust: The Gatekeeper Emotion (2004). Suggested by Litlove as a theory book worth a gander.
- Miller, William Ian. The Anatomy of Disgust (1997). Miller lays out a helpful introduction to different types and categories of disgust, and some of the social functions it serves and problems it creates.
- Morton, Tim. Shelley and the Revolution in Taste (2006). A recommendation from my former Romantics professor Kurt, this looks spot-on, particularly with my interests in food-related disgust. From the publisher's blurb: "Morton shows how food in the social and literary text provided complex and ambivalent ways of signaling ideological preferences." Excellent.
- Ngai, Sianne. Ugly Feelings (2005). Ngai examines the political and representational dilemmas represented by "ugly feelings," with a specific afterword on disgust.
- Nussbaum, Martha C. Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2005). Another Litlove recommendation; this looks fascinating.
- Parker, Robert. Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion (1983). Recommended by Goodreads friend AC as "a masterpiece of classical scholarship" and relevant to the project, after reading my Mary Douglas post.
- Pizarro, David et al. "Conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals." Cognition & Emotion, vol. 23, no. 4 (2008). Thanks to Kaveri for a reminder of this interesting Cornell study indicating that a higher level of physical squeamishness correlates to more conservative politics in a large sample group. (I am linking to the reference at my alma mater library for easy retrieval later.)
- Smith, Anne-Marie. Julia Kristeva: Speaking the Unspeakable (1998). In case I need a bit of a Kristeva primer.
- Wilson, Robert Rawdon. The Hydra's Tale: Imagining Disgust (2002). Rawdon's book is a study of the artistic representation of the disgusting over time, and as such sounds like absolutely essential reading for this project. A big thanks to Anthony for tipping me off to this one.
Disgust as Human Experience
(The work is interested in analyzing the experience of disgust from a subjective, personal point of view. I'd love more examples of this category.)
- Heaney, Seamus. "Death of a Naturalist" (1966). Chronicle of the boundary between horror and disgust in the life of a young boy.
- Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2004). Suggested by Rebecca, this nonfiction study focuses on the treatment of human remains, historically and in the modern day. I suspect this book might belong in a separate category, something like "Disgust Unveiled" or "Disgust as Everyday Life," but we'll see once I read it.
- Suleri, Sara. Meatless Days (1989). Contains the essay that sparked this whole project, on Suleri's childhood experiences of food.
Standard-Bearers of Disgust
(The work endorses a disgust which the reader is expected to share [although may not], often using said disgust to make a larger moral point.)
- Dworkin, Andrea. Intercourse (1987). I've read only a few selections from Dworkin's notorious treatise, but based on those it is a perfect example of this category. Readers who feel less keenly the sexual oppression of women by men will find Dworkin's disgust at heterosexual intercourse totally insane.
- Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary (1856). Flaubert is disgusted by the Bovary wedding cake, the Bovary hat, the Bovary style of reading, and the Bovary penchant for kitsch—and he wants the reader to share that disgust. This novel is a great example of Miller's argument that late in the seventeenth century (in both French and English), the term "goût"/"taste" acquired overtones relating to aesthetic judgment, and from there became enmeshed in morality.
- Milton, John. Paradise Lost (1667). The grotesque appearances of Sin and Death in Paradise Lost are a prime illustration of disgust that is transparent from the physical to the moral realm. They are conceived incestuously and as a direct result of Satan's fall; the moral repugnance of their existence is echoed graphically by the fact that Sin's womb is perpetually giving birth to, and being devoured by, a pack of dog-like monsters. The reader feels disgust when she reads of their appearance, and that disgust is immediately justified.
- Solanas, Valerie. The SCUM Manifesto (1968). Suggested by Violet; based on the fragments of Solanas I have read, disgust may function for her largely like it does for Dworkin, but to an even more extreme degree.
- Swift, Jonathan. "The Lady's Dressing Room" and other poetry. Here readers who do not idealize the physical forms of their desired sexual partners may not find it so repulsive that "Celia shits." In fact, they may find Swift's own tendency to obsess on the facial contortions of ladies mid-poop to be more troubling or disgusting than the ladies themselves.
- ——. Gulliver's Travels (1735). I can't improve on Dorothy's excellent synopsis of Gulliver's Travels: "He feels lots of disgust when confronted with the Brobdingnagians and the Lilliputians are disgusted by him, and then he's disgusted by himself." It's true; Swift runs the gamut of disgust here and may actually be doing some things that take him out of the Standard-Bearer category. I would have to re-read.
(The work problematizes a disgust that the reader or a character may feel)
- Joyce, James. Ulysses (1922). Ulysses is the prime example of this category. Joyce chooses to include many things in the novel that are often considered disgusting: a bowel movement, menstruation, masturbation, nose-picking, flaccid penises, sadomasochism, the cooking and eating of organ meats. Yet his purpose is not to disgust the reader, but to argue for an acceptance or even a celebration of these oft-maligned elements of life. They are all a part of being human, all part of the great passionate muck.
- Gaitskill, Mary. Veronica (2005) and other works. Gaitskill takes Joyce's philosophy of disgust-acceptance to a whole other level in Veronica, which I would argue actually insists on incorporation of the disgusting aspects of life as essential to human dignity.
- Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). Contrast with Jonathan Swift's horror at the idea of his lover shitting, Mellors's statement to Connie: "'Tha'rt real, tha art! Tha'rt real, even a bit of a bitch. Here tha shits an' here tha' pisses: an' I lay my hand on 'em both an' like thee for it. I like thee for it."
- Nabokov, Vladimir. King, Queen, Knave (1928). Franz's extreme fastidiousness in this, Nabokov's retelling of Madame Bovary, is much of what makes him such an unlikeable character.
- Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1818). The problem with including Frankenstein here is that the monster is never satisfyingly disgusting. We can believe he's frightening and repulsive to the humans who see him, but to the reader he seems an incredibly sympathetic guy (my point: Shelley makes it too easy for us to admire his inner beauty and simply ignore his outward ugliness). Nevertheless, it is an example of a work that opposes outward repulsiveness to inner beauty in a direct denial of the parallel often drawn between the two.
- Williams, Tennessee. The Night of the Iguana (1964). Hannah Jelkes: "Nothing human disgusts me, Mr. Shannon, unless it's unkind, violent."
(Works that use disgust in seemingly complex and interesting ways, but don't fit into my nascent categories)
- Bataille, Georges. Histoire de l'oeil (1928). Recommended by Violet and certainly sounds disgusting. What function the disgust plays, I'll have to see.
- Boll, Heinrich. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1974). Recommended by Litlove for its take on moral disgust with the media.
- Cabrera Infante, Guillermo. Three Trapped Tigers (1967). Classic 20th-century Cuban novel recommended by David Auerbach as pertinent to the project.
- Card, Orson Scott. Ender's Game trilogy (1985-1991). As I recall from my long-ago reading of this sci-fi trilogy, they feature an institutionalized form of OCD used by the government to control the otherwise ruling class, including a pivotal coming-of-age ritual which involves forcing the OCD sufferer into a confrontation with strong contaminants. Disgust as culture-control?
- Despentes, Virginie. Baise moi (1993), and her work in general. Despentes comes recommended by Litlove and Caroline as "the queen of disgusting with a feminist slant."
- Donoso, José. The Obscene Bird of Night (1970). Recommended by Richard and David Auerbach as possibly crossing "multiple categories of disgust/deformation/etc."
- Duras, Marguerite. Le Vice-Consul (1965). Recommended by Litlove, who knows that I need very little encouragement to read more Duras. Duras's treatment of "various forms of disgust for humanity" in this novel certainly intrigues me; it is interesting that Hiroshima mon amour (on which she collaborated with Alain Resnais) largely avoids the disgust impulse, despite showing some devastating footage of destruction and disfigurement.
- Ellis, Bret Easton. American Psycho (1991). I have actually been avoiding this book for the very reason that I felt it might disgust me, but it was only until Caroline suggested it that I thought to add it to this list.
- Gainsbourg, Serge. Evguéni Sokolov (1998). The only novel by French singer/provocateur Serge Gainsbourg. Recommended for the project by Caroline.
- Genet, Jean. Notre-Dame des fleurs (1943). Suggested by Litlove, Genet's debut novel deals with life in the Parisian underworld, including life in prison and homosexuality. Also on my general TBR list, and possibly relevant, is Genet's Les bonnes.
- Grass, Günter. The Tin Drum (1959). A rotting horse's head swimming with eels figures in a key scene in this novel, providing a character with an idea about how to commit suicide. The closest I can get to a categorization here is "Disgust as Attention-Getter." There's nothing inherently morally bad about the horse head or the eels, but they suggest to the character a way out of her difficulties.
- Grossman, David. See Under: Love (1989). Suggested by commenter Kate M. for several different takes on disgust in a post-WWII Israeli context.
- Hazlitt, William. "On Gusto" (1816). Suggested by my former Romantics professor Kurt: an aesthetics based on power and passion rather than beauty does make room for the disgusting in art. I'll revisit for a more careful reading.
- Houellebecq, Michel. Les particules élémentaires (1998), and his work in general. Recommended by Caroline as fitting in with this project; also described by none other than Michiko Kakutani as "a deeply repugnant read."
- Jarry, Alfred. Ubu roi (1896), Ubu cocu, Ubu enchaîné. Discussed at length at the link above, I might categorize Jarry as "Digust as Rebellion" or "Disgust as Confrontation." As far as the function of disgust within the plays, I think in a way they're quite similar to the "Standard-Bearers" category: Père Ubu's physical grotesqueness reinforces his moral repugnance, and neither is really brought into question.
- Lautréamont, Comte de. Les chants de Maldoror (1869). Richard reminds me that not only have I intended to read this pre-surrealist piece of ultra-misanthropy for quite some time, but it contains potential stores of disgust-related riches waiting to be mined.
- Leduc, Violette. La bâtarde (1964). Recommended by Caroline as having possible ties with disgust, and also one I've been meaning to finish for ages.
- Lovecraft, H.P. At the Mountains of Madness (1936), The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1936), and his work in general. Recommended by David Auerbach (and indirectly by EL Fay) as part of the early-20th-century American pulp attitude toward disgust.
- McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian (1985). My mom reminded me of this book, which surely remains "the most grotesquely violent novel I have ever read," as I said back in 2009. The gang members' own desensitization to the disgust (or horror) that almost any reader is bound to be feeling at their actions, works to reinforce their amorality, and in this sense McCarthy could be grouped with the Standard-Bearers. On the other hand, the cocktail of emotions he elicits in the reader, which juxtaposes revulsion with extreme aesthetic pleasure in the beauty of his language, is doing something less cut-and-dried.
- Nothomb, Amélie. Hygiène de l'assassin (1992). Recommended by Frances for strongly disgusting and "slyly intentional" food-related scenes. As gustatory disgust is one I personally strongly relate to, this is not to be missed.
- Orwell, George. The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). William Ian Miller calls Orwell "the twentieth century's real poet of disgust," and discusses at length the way Orwell's socialist ideals run up against his unavoidable disgust at the living conditions of the urban poor.
- Poe, Edgar Allen. "The Tell-Tale Heart" (1843), "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), "The Masque of the Red Death" (1842), and his work in general. David Auerbach pointed out that Poe and Lovecraft deal in disgust quite frequently, and I'm not at all sure that these three stories are an ideal representation of Poe's top disgust-related concerns (I've read quite a bit of Poe, but not very recently). Specific suggestions are welcome.
- Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity's Rainbow (1973). Recommended by Mel, with the interesting implication that the book uses disgusting acts as a purgative or cleansing agents. This would be a pretty unusual literary use of disgust, a kind of double-reverse that makes use of digust's role as policer of purity and impurity to restore a state of cleanliness to the humiliated party. Definitely intriguing!
- Sade, Marquis de. (1740-1814). I'm not sure where to start with de Sade but he's certainly famous for disgusting his contemporaries and, I would expect, playing with the boundary between disgust and...something more pleasurable? Any insight would be appreciated. In the absence of other feedback I would probably start with Justine.
- Saer, Juan José. The Witness (1983). Recommended by David Auerbach as an Argentine take on disgust.
- Sartre, Jean-Paul. La nausée (1938). Disgust as indicator of existential truth? It's possible this might relate to the function disgust plays in The Tin Drum: essentially, one of either getting a character to sit up and take notice, or as an indicator that they have done so. Or, I may be way off on that idea. Recommended by my fellow Sartre-and-Beauvoir fan Anthony.
- Shakespeare, William. Complete Works, but I'm thinking particularly of King Lear, where some of the disgusting elements, like the blinding of Glocester, reinforce the rotten morality of the perpetrators (so would fit in the "Standard Bearers" category), but other disgusting elements do not (for example, the murky mires in Edgar's "mad" speeches). Lady Macbeth's "Out, damn spot" monologue is a good example of the intersection of horror, disgust and guilt.
- Suskind, Patrick. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2001). Recommended by Jenny as evoking the scent of the human body as both disgusting and somehow encapsulating our essential humanity/individuality. Sounds like a rich possibility.
- Travis-Henikoff, Carole A. Dinner with a Cannibal: the Complete History of Mankind's Oldest Taboo (2008). Suggested by Stefanie, this nonfiction study deals with a subject that's extremely relevant to the subject of disgust, but this isn't exactly disgust theory...so not sure where to categorize it. Looks interesting, though!
- Tournier, Michel. Le roi des Aulnes (1970) or La goutte d'or (1986). Recommended by Litlove as blending disgust with philosophy and spirituality in interesting ways.
Of course there's also the "Disgust as source of amusement" category—the belching slugs scene in the second Harry Potter book, for example, or the Walter the Farting Dog series of kids' books. Although I enjoy a good laugh as much as the next person, I don't think I'm particularly interested in this modality unless it's doing something a little more unusual or subversive than just playing the gross-out for laughs.
On the other hand, there are a few things I'm looking to add...
Things I'm particularly interested in adding to the list:
- Subjective descriptions of the experience of disgust (the "Disgust as Human Experience" category);
- Works that confront or problematize the easy equation of physical and moral repulsiveness (books which, for example, feature a physically disabled or deformed person with a non-predatory sex drive and/or healthy sex life);
- Works which, on the other hand, present an extreme parallel between moral and physical disgustingness, in a way that's either a solid "typical" example or goes far beyond the norm (I want examples of this but it's so common that I can hardly do an exhaustive catalog);
- A book of theory that looks into the human desire to seek out "gross-out" experiences (one assumes it's about the thrill of transgression, but why that type of transgression in particular?);
- Works that portray disgusting things neutrally, as a simple fact of life.
And really, anything that leaps to mind after reading through this early bibliography, I'd love to hear it!