Darwin's Nausea: Disgust and the Descent of Man


Since the Enlightenment, thinkers, writers, and artists have been preoccupied with the emotion of disgust, asking whether our expressions of revulsion are learned cultural responses or rather signs of an innate animal nature. Are emotional reactions—and disgust in particular—distinct from the capacity to reason, or do they form the basis for it? Taking Charles Darwin’s idiosyncratic theory of disgust in his 1872 work The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, as our point of departure, this talk will focus on the ways in which knowledge and nausea, belly and brain, have historically been intertwined in modern thought.