In Defence of the Thing with the Aviator Sunglasses

E-mail correspondence between Erika Kvistad and Line Henriksen after the recording of the Monster Talks podcast episode Digital Horror.

March 2021.

Image description: Drops of blood made from red cardboard and attached to red string strewn across tin foil.

Line

Hi Erika!

So in our Monster Talks podcast episode on digital horror stories we talked a bit about what we ended up calling ‘the Thing with the aviator sunglasses’: the creature that haunts the narrator of the untitled Jezebel story by Melwithoudiner5. We were a little tough on the Thing – perhaps too tough? As part of the podcast episode, I narrated and recorded the story and came to a newfound appreciation for the Thing as it disrupts the narrator’s everyday, domestic life, demanding to know if the man of the house is home, because it has prepared something (what???) for him (to eat???). We later learn that the narrator’s boyfriend and the neighbour, Jim – a former police officer – keep information about the Thing secret from the narrator and conspire to find ways to keep it out of the house without the narrator knowing. Could the Thing with the aviator sunglasses be extending an invitation more than a threat – or an invitation in the threat – with the question: “Is Scott home?”

Erika

Hi Line! Yes, it’s definitely one of those stories where it’s not just the anomalous Thing, but the situation surrounding it that’s weird. In some ways the storyteller is setting up a classic Gothic scenario: the heroine is in new domestic surroundings that she’s not quite settled in yet, there’s an unclear and mysterious threat involving her boyfriend, and, most importantly, a secret is being kept from her. Jim’s injunction not to talk about it again is interesting – it obviously suggests that the Thing might gain power from being seen or thought about or talked about, a little like in Algernon Blackwood’s Weird horror story “The Willows”, where the only way to escape these beings is not to think about them. But of course it’s also a not-uncommon communal response to trauma, that you just don’t talk about it.

When the narrator tells Jenny about the incident, she immediately gives the phone to Jim, even though, as we later find out, the original incident happened to Jenny – “late one night when they’d just had their first child”. So in both cases the men take responsibility for interpreting it/defending the house from it/closing down discussion of it, but the Thing apparently shows up only to women, and apparently women in some kind of liminal state – with a new home or a new child. And it seems to want to do *something* to the men. Although I can’t imagine what’s actually on that foil-covered plate.

Continue reading “In Defence of the Thing with the Aviator Sunglasses”

She-Monsters of the Anthropocene!

Celina Stifjell

Image credit: Boris Kasimov. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Find the image here.

Image description: Underwater sculptures at Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park. The sculptures are shaped like humans standing in a circle, facing outwards, and holding hands. The sculptures have the same greenish hue as the water they are immersed in, and they are covered by what looks like alga.

Monster studies and the blue humanities share a common interest in examining the ontologies and ethics that determine encounters between human and more-than-human forms of life. Where monster studies seek to challenge the structures of sameness and difference that determine categories such as the “human” or “nonhuman,” the blue humanities searches for more fluid metaphors to reconcile historical and materialist perspectives and to describe encounters where human bodies and “bodies of water” flow into each other (Neimanis 2017).

In this meeting place between more-than-human bodies, where anthropocentric perspectives fall short, we find many maps and myths depicting the ocean as monstrous, ranging from Olaus Magnus’ fantastic Carta Marina to Homer’s descriptions of Scylla and Charybdis in the Odyssey. Here, I believe we can also find good metaphors to explore both the transformative capacities of water and the ambiguous bodily boundaries that make up the monstrous. Yet so far, I have seen few attempts to bring these two fields together.  

In my own blue humanities PhD project, I therefore seek to explore sea monsters as figurations for unstable Anthropocene oceans. Specifically, I am looking into speculative feminist narratives featuring humans who become one with the water, who eschew bodily integrity and normative notions of futurity in order to merge with the oceanic environment and transform into something more than human. Inspired by Melody Jue’s latest book, I believe that these stories about adaptation and transformation might help estrange us from anthropocentric ways of looking at the world by offering a new “amphibious perspective” on our ever-changing environment (2020). 

I first started thinking about the transformative and strange-making capacities of water after watching a screening of Trondheim-based Sámi artist Sissel M. Bergh’s short film #tjaetise (water) during my first month as a PhD student. Part of the series knowhowknow, this visual poem explores modern and traditional ways of knowing the sea through contrasting film clips—trawler nets, drones, brittle stars, walks on the beach—overlaid with an unearthly soundscape. Toward the end, it shows a woman dressed as the coastal goddess Gorrijh Gujne as she walks out into the sea, the camera fixed on her staring (then bulging) eyes as she plunges into the water and slowly transforms into a fish. 

I find similar scenes in speculative narratives about women and the sea across different media and genres. There is Joan Slonczewski’s ecofeminist utopian novel A Door into Ocean, with its oceanic planet and symbiont Sharers; and Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film The Shape of Water, with its fish-monster romance and reverse fairy-tale transformation. There is Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, a novel that imagines shape-shifting coral-like aliens and a marine biologist who turns into a mermaid; and there is a host of other Afrofuturist texts, from the electronica-mythology of Drexciya to Rivers Solomon’s novella The Deep, that imagine underwater societies formed by the water-breathing descendants of enslaved African women. 

I follow Elizabeth DeLoughrey in referring to these diverse narratives as “submersion stories” (2015). According to DeLoughrey, submersion stories are oceanic narratives about interspecies encounter and transformation that offer a hopeful alternative to apocalyptic imaginaries of the world’s oceanic future. The term originally comes from her reading of New Zealand writer Keri Hulme’s short-story and poetry collection Stonefish—an indigenous reflection on the ordinariness of sea level rise and multispecies kinship—but it seems to fit perfectly as a heading for my odd corpus of feminist, queer, and monstrous texts 

One of the things I like most about these texts is the alternative they offer to long histories within science fiction media of imagining the ocean as an alien realm beyond human history and concern (Alaimo 2014)—from Stanislaw Lem’s inscrutable sentient ocean in Solaris, to H.P. Lovecraft’s xenophobic sea-dwelling nightmare in “The Call of Cthulhu.” I also like that submersion stories’ emphasis on women’s perspectives shifts the focus away from the masculinist narratives that have tended to dominate literary and filmic representations of the sea, from heroic figures like Odysseus or Robinson Crusoe to modern explorers like Jacques Cousteau or James Cameron—all of them participating in a “poetics of adventure” as old as the Western literary tradition itself (Cohen 2010). 

By contrast, women tend to be the ones left behind on shore. Otherwise, they are the monsters lurking in the deep, dark waters below the ship, from abovementioned Scylla and Charybdis and the Sirens that precede them, to Grendel’s mother and (the perhaps less threatening) Melusine. Just like the supposed non-normativity of women’s bodies has led to comparisons with the monstrous (Shildrick 2001), their apparent fluidity and unruliness has caused comparisons to the dangers and unknowability of the sea.  

In submersion stories, this comparison is not contested but rather compounded with indigenous and posthuman critiques that point to the fault lines of human narratives and ideals. It is important that the protagonists here are not conquering heroes and explorers aboard ships, but rather female sea monsters who refuse the call to sacrifice in order to become “part of your world”—as the song goes in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Instead of becoming human, they choose to cross borders and become portentous monsters, signalling futures of transgressive femininity, playful queerness, and more-than-human worldmaking.  

In troubled times, I think the world needs more of these lively and sometimes messy metaphors and stories for learning to swim against (or maybe with) the tides. For Donna Haraway, whose work is thought alongside jellyfish and other Chthulucene monsters, telling new stories adapted to change is a way of “staying with the trouble” of multispecies entanglements and futures (2016). This phrase, almost a slogan for monster studies and the environmental humanities, has already been invoked several times on this blog. I choose to repeat it here to emphasise its value as a rallying point for different fields interested in more-than-human worlds. As I continue to work on my dissertation, mixing metaphors and methodologies, I can only hope to find more stories about adapting to submersion and more studies that recognise the promises of sea monsters.  

Bio 

Celina Stifjell is a PhD student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, where she is part of the HAVANSVAR blue humanities initiative and the Environmental Humanities research group. Her in-progress dissertation is due autumn 2022 (but she keeps getting distracted by theoretical tangents).  

Works Cited 

Alaimo, Stacy (2014). “Feminist Science Studies: Aesthetics and Entanglement in the Deep Sea” in G. Gerrard ed. Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 

Cohen, Margaret (2010). The Novel and the Sea. Princeton: Princeton University Press.  

DeLoughrey, Elizabeth (2015). “Ordinary Futures: Interspecies Worldings in the Anthropocene” in E. DeLoughrey, J. Didur and A. Carrigan, eds. Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities. New York and Abingdon: Routledge. 

Haraway, Donna (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham & London: Duke University Press.   

Neimanis, Astrida (2017). Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic. 

Shildrick, Margrit (2001). Embodying the Monster: Encounters with the Vulnerable Self. London: SAGE. 

Writing With

By Aino-Kaisa Koistinen and Line Henriksen

This blog-post is a companion text to the podcast episode Writing With.

Ethos Lab 1
Image description: Table filled with paper, writing utensils and mugs. You can see the hands of the people sitting around the table, holding pens and papers. Photo by Marie Blønd for ETHOS Lab.

Aino-Kaisa:

In academic writing, citations are the obvious sign of who you are thinking with and thus also writing with. Yet, there are always influences and companions in writing and thinking (and feeling) that remain uncited due to the limitations of the academic format. This is why we wanted to make a podcast about our writing companions; the ones we write with that remain uncited, but are maybe heard between the lines (a cat, a ghost, the ghost of the cats of the past)? 

Writing is about making worlds, and it is therefore important to consider, who inhabits those worlds. Who are invited as companions in those worlds? If I write about writing with a cat, who am I writing it for? What is the use of my writing for the cat? As I explain in the podcast, I have recently been living, writing and thinking with a cat, which has raised some pressing questions about what I have come to call cat-writing, inspired by Haraways (2003, 3) “dog writing”. Can words ever describe the attempt to live ethically with a cat – and not just any cat, a particular cat that I live with, Sotku – and the problematics of having to sacrifice others for her to survive? 

Yet, as a human being, I express myself with writing, reaching out to the world with words. The writing must continue, then, as cat-writing; with the cat, about cats, about writing with cats. Even though the cat herself always escapes, always refuses to settle into words. 

As the Monster Network, we have also written texts together. In this process of co-writing, different writing companions – such as disciplinary and theoretical backgrounds, bodily/material realities and life histories – are brought together, even though we all spring from more or less similar interests and indebtedness to, for example, feminist/queer/postcolonial/more-than-human theories. This multiplicity of writing – how one’s “own voice” is always more than one – is what evokes the monstrous in writing. 

Different methods and methodologies can also be used to perhaps tease out the monster, to craft the Frankensteinian creature into existence.

Line:

There is, indeed, a lot of debt in writing (as with all things). The writing ‘I’ owes a debt to past generations who created and sustained (though altered through repetition) the language used to express oneself in, as well as to future generations, who may or may not read the text. As Derrida suggests in Specters of Marx, one must learn to live in the company of such ghosts, as well as acknowledge this debt to the past and to the future as they haunt the present. In this sense, the writing ‘I’ speaks in multiple voices, is being spoken by the ghosts who came before and who come after. 

While preparing the workshop ‘Writing Monsters’, Katrine Meldgaard Kjær and I discussed the figure of the exorcist – to the point of writing ‘exorcises’ rather than ‘exercises’ in our blogpost for this website. The exorcist, not least within popular culture, serves as a figure that gets rid of ghosts and demons, rids not least the female subject of multiple voices, makes sure she no longer speaks in tongues, in languages she has no right to know. There’s a violence in the exorcism, which is excused on the grounds of the humanist understanding of the subject as necessarily singular, as speaking in only one true voice. Katrine and I came up with the figure of the ‘intrasist’ as someone doing the opposite of the exorcist: an intrasist does not get rid of creatures that haunt the speaking, writing subject, but summons them, makes them appear not in order to be exorcised, but to be acknowledge, lived with, as a means of paying back our debt to them (this can never be fully done). A monster writing method may, then, be imagined as a summoning, an intrasism, a thinking with the other voices, not least those that contradict what we thought we wanted to say, or that speaks in tongues impossible to interpret, or that screams till our throats hurt, because what they want to say, what they want to speak through and with their host, is beyond any language, any known means of expression, still to come. 

Aino-Kaisa: 

The idea of intrasism is really intriguing, and I think that the practice of cat-writing can also be seen as a form of intrasism. Living with a companion animal, a carnivore, summons up the complex histories and possible futures between humans and their companion animals – as well as the messy entanglements of love and violence that these relationships entail also in the present. In this sense, cat-writing is what Donna Haraway (2016) might call “staying with the trouble” in the present. Perhaps, monstrous writing is also something that, as a process, asks us to be mindful of the troubles that occur in the present, at the present moment of the writing? 

Line:

I definitely think that monster writing can be understood as the ethical urgency of ‘staying with the trouble’, that is, staying with troubling, haunting voices rather than exorcising them. I also like the idea of cat-writing as intrasism; the voices we speak or attempt to speak are not necessarily human, and our writing companions may be teaching us how to challenge the borders and boundaries between the human and the nonhuman as we write. That would, perhaps, be the cat as intrasist. 

Sotku (28.10.2020, revising a document): 1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq1qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq

“Sotku working as a writing companion.” In the image, there is a laptop with a bright screen in the background and, in the foreground, a cat’s head that blocks the keyboards and some of the screen. Image: Aino-Kaisa Koistinen.

Readings:
Haraway, Donna J. (2003), The Companion Species Manifesto. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.


Haraway, Donna J. (2016), Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Spider Conversations I (or: TERRIFYING SCARY CREATURES WILL ATTACK YOU!!!!)

By Ingvil Hellstrand, Donna McCormack and Line Henriksen

In 2013, a conversation about spiders and monstering helped spawn the start of The Monster Network. As part of our unruly origin story, we revisit our thinking and conversation after the Somatechnics Conference – Missing Links (2013) in this blog post. This was an event where Line, along with other organisers, brought together a panel that consisted of herself, Ingvil and Donna. We didn’t quite realise that this was the start of the Monster Network; we couldn’t predict the future, and the future was unpredictable, but this thread was the start of a dialogue that would grow beyond anything we initially thought about spiders.

Image description: small spider suspended against the backdrop of a window with blue sky outside and a bit of a curtain to the left. Photo by Line Henriksen. Made part of the conversation 26 August 2013

Ingvil, 25 June 2013 

A little story first: in the evening of the day we had our panel, I went to the bathroom in Wärdshuset Gamla Linköping (where the conference dinner was being held), and as I sat there a little spider came creeping up very close to my left foot. I was startled, and, not being particularly afraid of spiders, felt that it came a bit too close. And I remember thinking “please don’t let it crawl into my bag!”. However, the spider, having become aware of me at the same time as I became aware of it, stopped dead in its tracks. And I thought, “well, now, who’s monstering whom?”  

I liked the way our monsters came together at the same time as our presentations brought to the fore something about the monster not being just “monster”, as if there is something in the figuration of the monster that needs re-addressing. As in monster theory in general, the monster-figuration is useful for talking about difference and recognition. The ethical aspects of understanding the monster as something in proximity to ourselves is a very interesting discussion, partly because it requires a kind of self-reflexivity, but also because (and this is what I found so intriguing in our conversation), the monster itself is not a fixed or static thing. All of us ascribed agency and potential to “our” monsters; they were not just the symbolic Other that signifies what is not normal or normative, but they were agents in their own existence. Both Donna and I talked about how the non-human monsters take pride in being precisely that; not human. There is a double-bind here somewhere: that the monster, having gotten rid of its monstrosity and become more able to “pass” as human makes it simultaneously more eerie/uncanny and domesticated. The hopeful monsters in pop-culture contribute to make the monster into a subject, more than object (Heroes, Twilight, X-men, Battlestar Galactica) because we can recognise them as contemporary political (and perhaps ethical?) agents. At the same time, the unknowable monster, the impossible monster (smile dog) perpetuates the idea of the monstrous as something that cannot be grasped (neither bodily or as idea). The monster is somehow caught in between a kind of domestication in popular culture and a (conventional?) unknowability of the monster. How do you recognise the monster? And how does it recognise you?  

Continue reading “Spider Conversations I (or: TERRIFYING SCARY CREATURES WILL ATTACK YOU!!!!)”

In thinking counter-hegemonic disgust

Heidi Kosonen

In the first episode of HBO’s science fiction television series Westworld (2016), dealing with the uprising of non-human-machines waking to consciousness, a disgust-reaction towards a house fly marks the awakening consciousness of the android “host”, a monstrous creature in its human-non-human hybridity. In the beginning of the episode, the android character Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the oldest and sweetest of them all, does not mind the fly walking on her face; yet at the end of the episode, she instinctively slaps the insect dead against her neck. She has been programmed to please, and her sudden aggression towards the harmless creature proposes a developed sense of borders pertinent to disgust, and a need to protect the skin and its orifices as a border between one’s own self and the ”contaminating filth” of the world. Her reaction against the insect also anticipates the androids’ violent revolt against the system that oppresses them.

The emotion disgust has been connected to animal defence mechanisms towards such dangers that threaten a being with death, intoxication, infectious diseases and decay (e.g. Kolnai 1929). Yet the visceral emotion has been recognized for its moral, political and symbolic qualities that blur this association to danger and reveal the base emotion’s culturally constructed nature and its instrumentalization. The borders disgust protects can also be abstract ones, such as those of nation states or those constituting the imagined ideal humanity, separating selves from others and “us” from “them”.

Starting from Aurel Kolnai’s pioneering work on disgust (1929), scholars have also recognized disgust’s relationship to collectively agreed values that the expressions of the base emotion seek to protect and studied disgust as a moral emotion necessary to the social collective. In his argument against cloning, bioethicist Leon Kass (1997) coins the term “the wisdom of repugnance” and argues that disgust conveys instinctual knowledge against that which lacks goodness or wisdom. In this sense he sees disgust to indicate towards boundaries that we should not cross: boundaries that, morally, ought to be held onto and protected.

Dangerous in arguments like the aforementioned is that the borders and the entities that disgust protects as essentially good, wise or pure are culturally constructed and hegemonic. Moreover, as Robert Rawdon Wilson (2002) and Ian Miller recognize (1997), repugnance and its expressions often punch downwards towards those who have been rendered lower in the social ladder or denied existence and livable lives. The encounter between a white woman and a black child in Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider (1984), that Sara Ahmed reads in her Cultural Politics of Emotion (2014, p. 53, 84) is an evocative illustration of the power of the power-holding to define something as disgusting and to express their repugnance toward it. In the android’s reaction against the house fly in Westworld the dangers of essentializing disgust as a moral reaction come visible: the insect, rendered powerless in comparative size, irritates and represents filth but does no harm, and it is merely its tickling feet, causing a quick feeling of revolt in the android, that justify it’s treatment with deadly violence.

In the real world, responses like these are even cultivated. in human history disgust has over and over been encountered in xenophobic, misogynistic and trans- and homophobic functions. In two high-profile occasions, the Rwandan genocide saw tutsis dehumanized and named cockroaches to justify their killing, as artists Laura Gustaffson and Terike Haapoja point out in their activist art installation Museum of Nonhumanity (2016), and in Hillary Clinton’s campaign for presidency the opposers sought to defamate her by connecting the female politician to taboo bodily functions and reducing her to her menstruating body, as Martha Nussbaum discusses in Monarchy of Fear (2017).

In instances like these, the disgustingness of a group of people or a political enemy is enhanced through their association to “disgusts-objects” of varied sorts — disgust-evoking insects, disease, the decaying body, cultural taboos —  in Ahmed’s “sticky” chains of representation. Also in 2020 such “revolting tactics” have been witnessed on several high-profile occasions. A recent example of the use of disgust in conservative political rhetoric comes from a Finnish Party Perussuomalaiset (The Finns Party; previously called True Finns) 420-page manifesto, marketed as an academic survey published in June. In the manifesto, heinous language expressing and seeking to arouse disgust is used in accusing feminism and feminists for the increase of several sexual behaviors, seen as cultural taboos and condemned by the public.

More globally, tracing the origins of the global covid19-pandemic to a Beijing wholesale market sparked a demonizing discussion of Chinese food customs, perceived as disgusting and unethical, and visualized in the news illustrations as evocative images of putrescent meat and dangerous animals in unsavourable heaps. The blaming of Chinese food customs for the pandemic can be seen to have responded to the original suspicions tracing the virus to Norwegian salmon, a Western delicacy, and to have bypassed a more common discussion of the ethics of meat-eating customs also in the Occident. Subsequently, as Black and Asian individuals have been witnessing a higher mortality rate for the virus, ”racial genetics” instead of the effects of structural racism has offered explanations for these deaths in the public discussions, which has also led to further racist measures in the virus’s containment.

The maintenance of the status quo and the defamation of the political rival through instrumentalized disgust has been common to populist, conservative and majoritarian instances, and in several studies sensitivity to disgust has been related to conservative values and majoritarianism, due to their higher concern with “purity” and “order. Thus, in her afterword to Ugly Feelings Sianne Ngai (2004) enquiries for the possibility of liberal or minoritarian instances instrumentalizing moral disgust as a way of resistance. The central paradox in counter-cultural disgust is surely this: Could such individuals, who celebrate or represent such forms of life that have been expelled from the majoritarians’ taboo-ruled categories, reiterate the disgust-driven rhetorics of those, who wish to deny equal rights from anything that does not fit their tight conceptions and order of things? Their ”upward contempt” (Miller 1997) is devoid of the historical and sticky genealogies that make the majoritarian’s emotion so powerful, and their “disgust-ability” is easily paired with the awareness of the constructed nature of disgust and knowledge of what being rendered disgusting feels like.

Yet no doubt, in encountering The Finns Party’s hateful text I feel repulsed, both as a woman-identified individual concerned about human rights and as an academic wishing to protect the image of science against these hateful and harmful opinions (although in some of its aspects academia also represents patriarchal and colonial oppression to me). I also feel disgust in watching the images of the poached animals going to waste in the Chinese food market, although I detest the scapegoating of the “oriental other” and recognize my emotion’s relationship to my worldview, against the essentialization of disgust in to the “wisdom of repugnance” arguments. Moral disgust and a will to protect the purity of things I hold dear thus live in me too, a liberal academic and a monstrous being in the several nodes where I do not fit the prevailing categories and demands for purity. The endorsement of the repulsive nature of these topics, misogyny, racism and the use of non-human animals, is also strong enough in the current moment for me to express my disgust, if I so wished.

Another question is whether I should instrumentalize this emotion: if making disgust my countercultural weapon against the hegemonic politics of hate and disgust would help? In thinking of, in particular, disgust’s psycho-moral qualities it has been my recurring thought, that in feeling disgust I reject from myself that which I do not want to be or want to become. In this, it is an emotion that seeks to expel such qualities from myself that I know to cause harm to others, an emotion building borders between myself and such phenomena I do not wish to embrace, but also — out of necessity, even if temporarily — between myself and the others who embrace them, or represent that which I do not want to be. In Nussbaum’s book (2017) the ability to coexist with people holding contrary views and leading different lives is gained through transforming negative emotions like rage, envy and fear into hope without denying these emotions. In thinking of instrumentalizing my disgust, unaccustomed to doing so, I am thinking of in what ways my disgust would stick to the ones whose behavior repulses me; if in voicing my disgust I was able to distinguish “the insect” from what it represents and substitutes for, unlike the newly-awakened android in Westworld.

 

** Remember to also listen to our Monster Talks podcast on disgust  featuring Heidi Kosonen!

 

Bio

Heidi S. Kosonen is a visual cultural researcher and a co-founder of the Jyväskylä-based Disgust Network. In her doctoral dissertation (to-be-defended fall 2020) Kosonen studies biopower and taboo in the context of Anglophone suicide cinema. Kosonen is perpetually  interested in all things affective and obscene. She sometimes writes a research blog.

 

Works cited

Ahmed, Sara. (2004). The Cultural Politics of Emotion (reprint 2014). New York: Routledge.

Kass, Leon R. (1997) “The wisdom of repugnance: why we should ban the cloning of humans.” New Republic June 2 1997; 216(22):17-26: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/23d1/37cd00dbb33f0531e1a71541e45da1a27d12.pdf

Kolnai, Aurel (2004). “Disgust” in On Disgust: Edited and with an introduction by Barry Smith and Carolyn Korsmeyer. Chicago: Open Court.

Miller, William Ian (1997). The Anatomy of Disgust. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ngai, Sianne (2004). Ugly Feelings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Nussbaum, Martha C. (2017). The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis. London: Simon & Schuster.

Wilson, Robert Rawdon (2002). The Hydra’s Tale: Imagining Disgust. Edmonton: Alberta University Press.