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Theory and History of a Strong Sensation

Winfried Menninghaus, Howard Eiland, Joel Golb

Publication Year: 2003

Disgust (Ekel, dégoût) is a state of high alert. It acutely says “no” to a variety of phenomena that seemingly threaten the integrity of the self, if not its very existence. A counterpart to the feelings of appetite, desire, and love, it allows at the same time for an acting out of hidden impulses and libidinal drives. In Disgust, Winfried Menninghaus provides a comprehensive account of the significance of this forceful emotion in philosophy, aesthetics, literature, the arts, psychoanalysis, and theory of culture from the eighteenth century to the present. Topics addressed include the role of disgust as both a cognitive and moral organon in Kant and Nietzsche; the history of the imagination of the rotting corpse; the counter-cathexis of the disgusting in Romantic poetics and its modernist appeal ever since; the affinities of disgust and laughter and the analogies of vomiting and writing; the foundation of Freudian psychoanalysis in a theory of disgusting pleasures and practices; the association of disgusting “otherness” with truth and the trans-symbolic “real” in Bataille, Sartre, and Kristeva; Kafka’s self-representation as an “Angel” of disgusting smells and acts, concealed in a writerly stance of uncompromising “purity”; and recent debates on “Abject Art.”

Published by: State University of New York Press

Front Cover

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Series Information, Title Page, Copyright

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Introduction. Between Vomiting and Laughing: Baselines of a Philosophy of Disgust

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pp. 1-24

“Disgust” is accounted one of the most violent affections of the human perceptual system. Kant, one of the first theoreticians of disgust, called it a “strong vital sensation.” 1 Such sensations “penetrate the body, so far as it is alive.” Whether triggered primarily through smell or touch, eye or intellect, they always affect “the whole nervous system.” 2 Everything seems at risk in ...

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1. The Disgust Taboo, and the Omnipresence of Disgust in Aesthetic Theory

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pp. 25-50

In the short essays in footnote form that Johann Adolf Schlegel attached to his translation (1751; second edition, 1759) of Les beaux arts réduits en unmême principe by Charles Batteux, “disgust”—Ekel (or Eckel)—is defined, for the first time in full, systematic sharpness, as the outer limit of the aesthetic: “Disgust alone is excluded from those unpleasant sensations whose nature can ...

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2. Disgusting Zones and Disgusting Times: The Construction of the Ideally Beautiful Body

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pp. 51-102

With a quantitative culmination in the 1760s, the focus on “disgust” in aesthetic theory unfolds between 1750 and 1790—which is to say during the very emergence of both “aesthetics” as a philosophical discipline and the classical ideal of art. “Disgust” here assumes a key negative role in definitions of (aesthetic) pleasure and displeasure, mixed sensations, beauty, and the transformative ...

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3. "Strong Vital Sensation" and the Organon of Philosophy: The Judgment of Disgust in Kant

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pp. 103-114

Among the early theorists, disgust appears mainly in marginal textual positions, its literally deciding role as border and taboo notwithstanding. J. A. Schlegel assigned his reflections on disgust to a footnote of his Batteux-translation. Mendelssohn’s prominent disgust-theory is not located in his more substantial treatises on the beautiful and the sublime, the arts and the sciences, but in a very ...

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4. Poetry of Putrefaction: "Beautiful Disgust" and the Pathology of the "Romantic"

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pp. 121-146

The birth of aesthetics and the ideal of the beautiful body generates a network of intersections and common features whose field is negatively demarcated through the rules of disgust-avoidance. The mutual interference of these elements can be dated, at the most, to the period between 1740 and 1790, with the greatest density lying in the 1760s and 1770s. From its onset, this configuration ...

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5. The "No" of Disgust and Nietzsche's "Tragedy" of Knowledge

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pp. 147-182

Among the yelping and howling, carrion-eating and poisonous monsters in the realm of our vices, one in particular is stressed by Baudelaire at the end of his poem “To the Reader.” This vice is both nastier and more gentle than the others: C’est l’Ennui! Kant had named this evil “disgust at one’s own existence,” caused by boredom and weariness of life.1 In ennui, disgust becomes self-referential: ...

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6. The Psychoanalysis of Stinking: Libido, Disgust, and Cultural Development in Freud

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pp. 183-226

Darwin’s study of the expression of feelings in tones, facial expressions, and gestures (1872) is generally seen as the first significant work of empirical research on disgust. Drawing on reports of various informants from across the world, Darwin comes to the conclusion that a wide open mouth—accompanied by other facial expressions that signify spitting, retching, and vomiting—...

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7. The Angel of Disgust: Kafka's Poetics of "Innocent" Enjoyment of "Sulphurous" Pleasures

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pp. 227-342

The figure of the female in Kafka’s writings typically combines features of the disgusting vetula of classical aesthetics with features of the perverse maidservant, or perverse prostitute of the Freudian family romance. The hyperbolic representative of all these women is Brunelda: an evil-smelling, gigantic mass of flesh and a filthy prostitute, whose eating habits and other practices are ...

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8. Holy Disgust (Bataille) and the Sticky Jelly of Existence (Sartre)

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pp. 343-364

“I believe that nothing is more important for us than to recognize that we are bound and sworn to what provokes our most intense disgust.” 1 With changing nuances, Georges Bataille’s thinking can be understood to gravitate around this credo: the anti-aesthetic thinking from the years of the journal Documents (1929–1930); the sociological from the late 1930s, especially the ...

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9. Abject Mother (Kristeva), Abject Art, and the Convergence of Disgust, Truth, and the Real

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pp. 365-402

In the 1980s, a new buzzword entered political and (in the wider sense) critical discourse—above all, critical discourse in the U.S. The word is “abjection,” and it represents the newest mutation in the theory of disgust.Oscillating, in its usage, between serving as a theoretical concept and precisely defying the order of concentual language altogether, the term “abjection” also ...


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pp. 403-452


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pp. 453-471

E-ISBN-13: 9780791486313
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791458310
Print-ISBN-10: 0791458318

Page Count: 480
Publication Year: 2003