The Age of Disgust: The Coming Civil-War of the World


Kant in paragraph 48 of the Critique of Judgment will make a distinction between the beautiful and the ugly as tied to the distinction between taste and genius; yet, there is one form which lies outside the distinctions and cannot be reduced to taste (judgment) nor genius (aesthetic supremacy), and that is disgust. As Kant will stipulate:

“There is only one kind of ugliness that cannot be presented in conformity with nature without obliterating all aesthetic liking and hence artistic beauty: that ugliness which arouses disgust. For in that strange sensation, which rests on nothing but imagination, the object is presented as if it insisted, as it were, on our enjoying it even though that is just what we are forcefully resisting; and hence the artistic presentation of the object is no longer distinguished in our sensation from the nature of this object itself, so that it cannot possibly be considered beautiful.”1

For years I’ve been collecting, collating, and discovering the secret history of the Ugly and Disgust, the Grotesque and the Macabre, Parody, Satire, Lambast, Polemic, Farce, etc. from ancient threads begun in Mennipean satire or even Aristophanes attic comedies, all of which detail the long deep history of critique, social and political, this outlier of ‘disgust’ – the abject horror or resistance to the most revolting aspects of the human condition crop up over and over through painting and texts. The ever present battle between the Sublime and the Ridiculous plays itself out in many secret forms even now. One is all those sub-cultural texts and parodic, pastiche, hybrid forms from pulp to anti-art etc. that have pricked the representational bubbles of the Sublime in all its disguises, cast it down into the slime worlds of disgust to let it wallow in the truth that it will not admit into its world.

This Anti-World of Disgust has been with us under various aspects of the cultures that lie between Shame and Guilt. Our secular culture is a Shame culture, and political correctness is its tool. All the various religious cultures of monotheism in our world are Guilt cultures, and for them it is not PC but rather Sin that is the central concept. Between these two tools lies the gamut of our strange battles between the political Left and Right and their inability to understand one another: they live in two different worlds, two different approaches to their modes of being in those worlds. At times this enters a stage of extreme disgust: a moment or transition in which all taste and judgment gives way to the monstrous abjectness, the Manichean expulsion of the one by the other, or both at the same time in some amalgam of apocalyptic doom. A moment of cultural self-annihilation and utter expulsion…

In such times civil-war ensues. Yet, this time it will not just encompass one nation but rather the world at large, the first planetary death march unlike the previous World Wars this one will entail much more than some well-defined dictator and their regime; this time it will be a war of between modes of existence, ways of being in the world.

As I look at the number one sellers of fiction on the markets I see titles of apocalypse, post-apocalypse, zombies, YA dystopia, etc…. as if the psyches of the world were envisioning in their literature the very thing they are fearing may be arising in their midst. It is as if the paranoia that is pulling us two-ways between one world and its opposite are coming to a head, as if the Left and Right like some Manichean throwback were about to stretch the distance between them to the point of no return, a tearing asunder of our world’s Symbolic Order.  Are we entering such an age?

Frank Ruda defends a form of comic fatalism, not fate; a Zizekian anti-substantive vision of Less Than Nothing:

“Modern comedy thereby eliminates every objective ground, even the last grain of givenness, by emphasizing the necessity of contingency and the contingency of necessity at the ground of subjectivity. What is achieved thereby is no longer nothing, as in ancient comedy, but even less: less than nothing, a nothing that is deprived even of its substance, of its nothingness. We can thus see why the fatalism defended here cannot but be comic: Nothing, less than Nothing  .  .  . Fatalism, the pure comic fatalism.3

Comic fatalism recoils back upon itself and thus turns the apocalypse into a category of comedy. Comic fatalism follows one ultimate— paradoxically foundational— rule, and the paradoxical structure of this rule is also what makes it comic. This rule is that there is no there is. (ibid.)

One can approach the future as a comedy of apocalypse, thereby realizing one is not helpless before fate, but rather that as a comic fatalist one is able to realize the contingent possibilities of every action one takes as that which is not given, not substantive. As Ruda will argue:

“There is no there is” assumes a position of articulation that the proposition itself consequently invalidates. One is within the movement of this proposition thrown back to its very beginning that will have been altered due to this very move. After reaching the predicate, we are thrown back to the very place of its articulation, which will have become different, always already lost within the movement of the proposition itself. Comic fatalism affirms such an impossible position of articulation as both absolutely necessary and impossible. Only such a gesture liberates us from all givenness, from all possibilities of realizing a given capacity. Only such a gesture can provide a precondition for thinking and enacting freedom. (ibid. KL 2685)

To be a Comic Fatalist is to affirm both the necessary and the impossible, to accept and act on the gestural movement that provides both the precondition for thinking and our ability to enact freedom by accepting the contingency of necessity and the necessity of contingency.

“One first step is to defend the idea that freedom can exist only if there is no there is.” (ibid., KL 2692)

  1. Kant, Immanuel; Werner S. Pluhar; Mary J. Gregor. Critique of Judgment (Hackett Classics) (Kindle Locations 5208-5212). Hackett Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  2.  Ruda, Frank. Abolishing Freedom: A Plea for a Contemporary Use of Fatalism (Provocations) (Kindle Locations 2657-2660). UNP – Nebraska. Kindle Edition.


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