on May 23, 2001
One more "I loved it!" review? Yes, and here's goes. Mr. Miller does a marvelous job, writing in laid back but eminently readable prose that is also judiciously scholarly, describing, explaining, or just tossing up speculations about a culturally modified body of reaction that provokes the "Ee~oo,gross!". The subject has been handled before, obviously, judging by all the references he makes to the various studies, some recondite, some classic, including Mary Douglas' and Freud's. The book reads like an intimate seminar, with the author citing immediate examples from his own life, and casually but appropriately pointing out things done by his own children. Miller makes it clear from the get go that his study is necessarily restricted to the study of the phenomenon as shaped and defined by the culture and class to which he belongs: WASP with a roundedly informed grasp of his own tradition and values. In that sense, the book makes no claim to be universal, a disclaimer that stands out as an act of virtue in contrast to much of disgustingly pompous academic sweepers out there. Nonetheless, the author does manage to bowl pretty well, getting a strike here and there in terms of observation concerning the qualities that, for all practical purposes, are universally recognized to be those of the disgusting. I use the term 'universal' as it applies today, what with globalization and all. Yes, coprophagy (eating of feces) is indulged in by some for thrills, but I doubt anyone practices drooling saliva into a cup and then drinking it back up. The author suggests that it may not be too much to credit the invisible structure of human social evolution to the distancing of two points, YUCK and YUM. The culturo-environmental determination of the length between those two points may very well contain much of what it takes to delimit a culture's potential for art, science, and language as well. The book contains what everyone already knows (too well!) but never bothered to articulate for him/herself. There is much here to delight the inner pre-pubescent in us all, but it is a serious book, nevertheless. After all, in the grown-up world, it is not the gooey, slimy stuff so much as the ethical defect in the form of gooey, slimy character and corresponding actions that make us think,"EE~oo! Gross!" A nice companion to Sloterdijk's The Critique of Cynical Reason.
on December 11, 1998
An absolute winner. Miller has unflinchingly analysed the disgusting and found a complex universe of overlapping emotions and instincts. Almost every sentence is worth reading out at dinner parties. The index alone is worth the price. Buy the book.
on May 27, 2003
The unique genius of Professor Miller's work lies not in his ability to give new information to the reader. Indeed, most of his observations are instantly recognized by any perceptive reader as being things he or she already knew about the world. The genius of The Anatomy of Disgust, as with his other works, is his ability to recognize fundamental truths that most people never think about at all, or would prefer not to, and to organize these truths into a coherent system by which human behavior can be analyze and understood.
I strongly recommend this book!
on December 30, 1999
Miller's analysis of one of our most overlooked emotions/insticts is a vital addition to the corpus of contemporary thought and study. Although filed under "Sociology", Miller's work has relevance on the whole of academic studies, tying in with Icelandic Sagas, George Orwell, and ethics, with splashes of personal anecdotes thrown in to spice things up. If anything, some chapters are a little heavy handed, and others too sparse, as if Miller grosses himself out before he does the reader. As such, for those in need of a real study of disgust, there may be better venues -- but for those with a purely academic interest, Miller should more than suffice.
on June 9, 2009
Law professor William Miller gives us an absorbing, fascinating treatment of the neglected topic of disgust. Though a law professor, Miller is extraordinarily widely read, and draws on an extensive knowledge of literature, psychology, history, biology, and philosophy (he even has a footnote referring to an extremely disgusting scene in the obscure cult movie Pink Flamingoes). The treatment of disgust is creative, original, sophisticated, and intellectually engaging (Miller also deftly avoids the shock value that would be all too tempting in an analysis of disgust, yet without becoming prudish). The author rightly resists the reductionist treatment of disgust that is all too common in the social and natural sciences, whether it be the Freudian dogma or the latest fad of "evolutionary psychology," yet also steers clear of trendy relativism. This is a genuinely philosophical treatment in the best sense, drawing on all areas of human wisdom and experience. One might quibble with some of his interpretations; he is a bit thin on the moral philosophy section, doesn't do enough with the carnival/rabelais/Bakhtin topic, and presents in my view a caricature of honor cultures (strangely, since that's his primary expertise). But these flaws do not take away from the overall excellence of the work. It is extremely well-written and intelligently presented, though the argument is difficult to summarize. Miller demonstrates the complexity of the disgust reaction; it cannot be reduced to mere biological instinct, but is deeply connected with religion, morality, and politics. This is a challenging work, but well worth the effort; indeed it reminds us just why there is nothing like a good book to stimulate the mind.
on January 30, 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.
on October 8, 2010
Details, details, details; this book has them. A rare example of a book that has changed my mindset, prompting me to consider my own feelings, attitudes and reactions.
The first 3rd or so of the book is a bit of a slog, but entirely necessary for the development of the subject. And, when Miller gets to the real puke-inducing bits I had to force myself to keep reading rather than just hurl (me and then the book).
That said, reading Miller's expose on what disgust does to our actions and attitudes, and how deeply it is intertwined with contempt has indeed prompted me to confront what I might delicately describe as my own BS. That last is a humbling experience, in a good way.
I have (like most people I would guess) many times been guilty of exactly what Miller describes: I have felt/generated/used emotions of disgust and contempt in regard to other people, and while this seemed entirely right and just at the time, in the end it doesn't make me a more superior person, exact great revenge or really do anything at all except create unnecessary confusion and stress for me.
on November 7, 2015
I strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in sociology, social psychology, social control, and human behavior in general.
My only regret after buying this book is that I didn't buy the Kindle edition. Now I will buy the Kindle edition and add my notes to it.
Miller hits upon human emotions and their variations while bringing the emotion of "discus" to his central investigation of learned revulsion. His intellectual leanings and academic training give us more than we bargained.
I intend to use resources learn from this book on a web site known as "climatedeception.net" to posit one major idea among others. Humanity must instill a sense of discuss in children as it does a sense of disgust for their own fecal and urine matter. This sense of discussed must apply to those who would soil, those who would pollute the commons and wild habitat for profit or any other reason. Anything less and we must expect more Eearth altering behavior by corporate executives, government bureaucrats, and others yet to be identified.
on January 3, 2011
fabulous introduction to theory of disgust. easy and enjoyable enough to read for fun - but useful for purposes of thinking more about disgust. also great for thinking about why we feel disgust about different things. recommended it to many people and they have always loved it
on July 17, 2005
Do not be mistaken, this book reads almost as a literature review. He covers very little Psychology of disgust; what he mentions of Paul Rozin and Jon Haidt, two of the primary "Psychology of disgust" researchers, he tends to disagree somewhat with their assessments. Most of his "Psychological" queries reflect Freud and the Psychoanalytic tradition; this makes sense because he assesses disgust more as a Philosophical issue than an experimental issue, and Freud reads better as a Philosopher than as a Psychologist. As an undergraduate (and soon to be graduate) spending a great deal of time researching disgust, I had to take this into consideration when perusing the different chapters.
However, as part Literature review, part Anthropological study, part Philosophical question, part Psychological reflection, and part Anatomy lesson, this book makes for a very fascinating read. Even though he writes for more of an academic audience, his prose flows very smoothly; someone with an advanced degree would enjoy the discussion as much as someone who doesn't have any degree. He ties his sources together very well (many of which he's spent a great deal of academic time writing about) and puts forth various positions on issues that could be used for future academic research. Most importantly, he elicits many of the emotions he talks about just through his descriptions. When he illustrated the sensational results of disgust, I had visceral reactions; nothing makes a point better than identifying with that point through emotion or sentiment.