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The Masses are RevoltingVictorian Culture and the Political Aesthetics of Disgust$
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Zachary Samalin

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9781501756467

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501756467.001.0001

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The Odor of Things

The Odor of Things

(p.37) Chapter 1 The Odor of Things
The Masses are Revolting

Zachary Samalin

Cornell University Press

This chapter demonstrates how this specifically aesthetic disgust was integral to the collective revulsion catalyzed by the Great Stink of 1858. Analyzing hundreds of newspaper articles, parliamentary speeches, and other documents of this shared olfactory panic, the chapter examines what it means for an experience of collective emotion to have played such a pivotal role in the rationalization of modern society — a process traditionally understood to involve the exclusion of emotion and subjectivity from public affairs. It focuses particularly on the extent to which mid-nineteenth-century rationalizing appeals to disgust depended, contra Weberian accounts, on ascribing to the emotion a total irrationality nevertheless characterized by its utter calculability, a reflexive dependability that was often taken as a kind of ersatz or pseudo objectivity. The chapter then shift to discuss a portrait of this structure of unwanted feeling, within which disgust was simultaneously invoked and disavowed as a foundation for social agreement. It ultimately traces the underlying conception of revulsion as a negative sensus communis back to its proximal origin in debates in Enlightenment aesthetics, where the disgusting was excluded from artistic composition as the antithesis of the beautiful.

Keywords:   aesthetic disgust, collective revulsion, collective emotion, Great Stink, modern society, revulsion, Enlightenment aesthetics

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