Nina Strohminger tears Colin McGinn's The Meaning of Disgust a new . . . .
In disgust research, there is shit, and then there is bullshit. Colin McGinn’s book belongs to the latter category.
McGinn’s theory does not merely bypass the received wisdom amongst empirically-minded scholars of disgust; it bypasses the received wisdom amongst moms and schoolmarms about basic hygiene. Our revulsion at corpses, feces, and open wounds is genuinely puzzling to him: “Why should we be so averse to what is actually not intrinsically harmful to us?” Is this a joke?
Another property of the book, of which potential readers should be aware, is its unintentional hilarity. The humor derives less from the unblushing content than from the unblushing purpleness of his prose. Of the male genitalia, McGinn writes: “Life and death coexist in complex and subtle ways in the penis and testicles,telling a story of triumph and tragedy.” On feces: “I have no wish to romanticize the turd.” Pubic hair is referred to as “nature’s furry bounty.” Semen is a “pointless sticky daub once it is spilled on the ground, only to be consumed there by unfussy insects or whatever.” Or whatever. Unfussy cavemen, perhaps.
Sex (that is, penis-vagina sex) is characterized thusly: “a tumor and a wound are violently combined in a vital act to produce a fresh life, itself redolent of death.” (He assures us, though, that sex is nonetheless “entirely enjoyable. In combining those opposite extremes lies its peculiar charm.” Phew.)
McGinn is not optimistic that disgust could play a favorable role in aesthetics: “the anus has still not found its Picasso or Matisse. There is just no market for it.”