The Literature of Disgust, Rabelais to Nausea

Spring 2016-2017


Zach Samalin

This course will survey a range of literary works which take the disgusting as their principle aesthetic focus, while also providing students with an introduction to core issues and concepts in the history of aesthetic theory, such as the beautiful and the sublime, disinterested judgment and purposive purposelessness, taste and distaste. At the same time, our readings will allow us to explore the ways in which the disgusting has historically been utilized as a way of producing socially critical literature, by representing that which a culture categorically attempts to marginalize, exclude and expel. Readings will engage with the variety of aesthetic functions that the disgusting has been afforded throughout modern literary history, including the carnivalesque and grotesque in Rabelais and the bawdy and satirical in Swift; revolted Victorian realism and gruesome Zolaesque naturalism; Sartre’s existential nausea and Kafka’s anxious repulsion; as well as Thomas Bernhard’s experiments with contempt and William Burroughs’ hallucinogenic inversions of pleasure and disgust. Prerequisite: Strong stomach. (F, G, H)