Some notes on disgust

Disgust is a fertile state from which we can explore body/knowledge intersections. From Deborah Durham’s 2011 article in Ethos, “…disgust is part of an array of sensations that are seen to be beyond reason and rationality. To ‘feel something in one’s gut’ or ‘know something in one’s gut’ is to know it surely and incontrovertibly: like gut-knowledge, disgust in American is both non-rational, yet also a form of knowledge.”

‘Non-rational knowledge’ seems an overly complicated, and morally-laden, description for an ordinary practice. Is there a way to heal the cleave between ‘feel’ and ‘know’ so that we can discuss a closer-to-whole beast of knowledge? Are there singular words and meanings we can use to replace the go-to divided choices that have become an unproductive formula?

Taking an anthropological turn away from the assumption of the individual sovereign self, can lead us to reach for intersubjective, inclusive paradigms like ‘atmosphere’, ‘quality’, ‘vibration’ and ‘empathy’. Yet these meanings of assembly and inclusive connection have not yet borne the resolution, beyond Cartesianism, that is recognisably possible.

In a phenomenological exploration of pain, Frederik Buytendijk characterises the state of being ‘in’ pain as a severing of the self from the world. Aurel Kolnai, in a phenomenology of disgust, says disgust extends the self into the world. Disgust is a bridge. To experience disgust entails a real or imagined intimacy with the object of disgust.

Kolnai’s use of ‘intimacy’ places us into a more productive register than ‘non-rational knowledge’. Firstly, intimacy itself is a knowledge, an understanding of the strongest kind. And, second, intimacy is an ‘active’ knowledge in contrast to the passivity of non-rational knowledge concepts such as ‘atmosphere’, etc.. Intimacy is a knowledge known in the atmosphere of experience.

Durham asks us to think of disgust as an act of embodied imagination in the company of an intimacy-distancing dynamic (both in and out, both near and far, both push and pull, etc.). Yet, imagination cannot be anything other than embodied. (E.g., what would a dis-embodied imagination entail? Arial maps? House plans? What could an unembodied imagination be? A ghost’s story? A trans-human unseeable vision?)

Imagine eating fresh human faeces. Warm, waxy on your lips. Your teeth slide into the dark, soft cigar. The smell of shit feels like a thick cloud attached to you from within. Are you experiencing ‘non-rational knowledge’? Do you have an array of sensations ‘beyond reason and rationality’?

I didn’t think so.

Doesn’t the power of ‘gut-knowledge’ demand the engagement of an appropriate gut-knowledge language? Would not that simple act alone indicate the deserved respect for the unspoken supremacy of our body, flesh; gut-intimate both delicate and undeniable?

 

[Buy me a coffee]

 

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