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“Disgust, Virility and Caste: A Few Notes on Brahminical Patriarchy”

Mr Arijeet Mandal

Assistant Professor of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, West Bengal, India

When we look at something disgusting, we immediately turn our eyes and nose away from it. Until we steal a second look at it the second time. Disgust is not boring; it is a strange attractor that pulls and repels conscious beings as humans all the time.

We are disgusted by slime, rotting, odorous and putrid things. We are also disgusted by bloated, maggot-ridden, pungent dead bodies, but not death in-itself. We are even disgusted by dust or rust on things we want clean. We are not disgusted by food unless it is on the beard or on the floor, nor are we disgusted by hair unless it is on the food. It is after all, a mis-placed object in the order of things. We kiss and hold the hands of our loved ones, but it is definitely harder to do so if the beloved’s hand has advanced necrosis. It is not that love has lessened, nor is it contagious, but we are compelled because of the power of the vision of peeling and rotting skin. At the border of life and death, disgust haunts us as a reminder of the fragility of order. The fragility of order is also felt when we are disgusted by other castes, races, genders, sexualities and classes. It is this reason that disgust also becomes so political in nature. Disgust, therefore, is not just because of an existential anxiety of the failing of order of things, but also about the ordering of the society itself. Thus, we need to look at it both phenomenologically and politically.

This paper will look into this specific problem of the order of organic bodies, primarily because both in Western philosophy and in Indian Rasā theory, there is a hierarchy of bodies. In terms of continental philosophical understanding of disgust, it can be noticed that the major studies arrived once in contact with the colonial “other”. A look through history will tell us that the bodies from the ruling classes are generally without external stimuli for disgust, that is, for the ruling classes themselves. In contrast, the lower classes (later the colonial other and the immigrant) are considered chaotic and disgusting. Similarly, the ruling castes have a mandate where the codeman of the universe (Brahma) had imprinted every object with inherent codes (gunā and doshā), thereby separating the “disgusting castes” with false ontological positions. Nonetheless, the sexual and physical exploitation of women from across marginalised castes has been exempt from the economy of touch, taste and violation. The exemption by Brahmanism in this case is also present in the core concept of the Brahminical understanding of women’s identity and sex in general. Only through careful consideration of the inner workings of these philosophical positions, along with a materialist look into the history of class and caste, can we identify the role of disgust in contemporary society.

The work shall follow the methodologies of phenomenology and occasionally draw parallels from the works of the historian of emotions and senses like Rob Boddice, Uma Chakravarti, Meena Dhanda and a more experimental Marxist approach to the history of emotions. It will also occasionally refer to literary works by mostly Indian authors to accentuate the finer points of the arguments.

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