Vilém Flusser essentially uses the expression disgust (or nausea) in two senses: an existentialist one, not very original, often used in the 1960s, which goes back to Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical novel Nausea (French original 1938), according to which human beings feel disgust for themselves and their concrete situation in the world. We find similar ideas in Flusser’s works; in essays such as “Do Tempo e de como ele Acabará” [On Time and Its End] (1962), “Do Diabo” [On the Devil] (1963), and “Da Gula” [On Gluttony] (1963). In “Da Gula,” Flusser assigns his own meaning to the idea of disgust, connecting it with a theory that is critical of progress and technology.
The second sense of disgust is more original, but it also falls within a long line of attempts to conceive disgust in anthropological terms. The key idea of Flusser’s theory of disgust can be found in Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: “We belong to the phylum Chordata, that of animals hung by an internal coat hanger. This manifests itself existentially in every encounter with another animal: when we crush under our foot life that has bones that can break, we identify ourselves with this life. When the life crushed is soft, we feel disgust. It is possible to imagine a phenomenology of disgust that supports the hypothesis that ‘disgust recapitulates phylogeny’: the farther an animal is from man, the more disgust it causes.” (Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, 2011, p. 31)
For Sigmund Freud faeces disgust us because they remind us of our animal nature (Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, 1961, p. 52), and for Julia Kristeva, excrement is something that is refused, ejected, vomited; in other words, a primal “object.” It confronts us with those “fragile states where man strays on the territories of animal” (Kristeva, Powers of Horror, 1982, p. 12). With his anthropological theory of disgust, Flusser can be included in this tradition which perceives the feeling of disgust as an expression and mode of dening ourselves in confrontation and tension with the animal.
Original article by Márcio Seligmann-Silva in Flusseriana