Photo by Michael Bracco.

Asifa, Alaska Contreras Ponce, Charleena Lyles, Sandra Bland. #SayHerName. A Hanging Chad, All Caps Twitter fornication with a potted plant #MeToo a child’s body on a beach in Greece a child and her mother’s legs a space between her legs scratched with red lines carrying her up north across the border high grasses. Here I come that wave of nausea a wave of fear Grab ’Em by the . . . wave your hands and crouch at the crossing Hands Up, Don’t Shoot a feeling washing over you when you press play on that video you don’t really want to see press play you have to see what that video brought a burning beating crashing down a lynching a murder and shots fired Rohingya Assam and Muslim Sri Lankan and Dalit Eric Garner Diamond Stephens Drones revulsion at the thought of people being slaughtered on the street for maybe eating a cow I am the choke at the sight of a cow being slaughtered in a factory the blood in the milk of the milking machine milked cow. In every cell a piece of plastic and who cares about the bears turn from polar to grizz children perched on piles of refuse of your cell phone’s old parts they are obsolete they coil and recoil. Marsh and bog ...

Disgust. Original artwork by Michael Bracco.

... you will know yourself through me what will you do with what you know I am the yuck that brands what I touch. I am like the skin on scalded milk. Don’t you think that those people over there, who do that thing, who live that way, are vile when you think that watch out watch for the ticking over of life living life by taking a side side with those people over there over there those people are like pollutants so what so what if I toss her from the aquarium so what if I spill her new world with this nasty immigrant fish

I am a moral sentiment I provide a cosmic ordering: the high and the low, the worthy and the contemptible. Give me elbow room

without me, how would you know who you are and who you’re not? Basket of deplorables. Libtards. Siculars. The others and the other sex. The lower classes smell. Wear me like a badge. I am dispersed disperse me through the social fabric a weapon I am like a weapon weaponize me in your social media mediation on what I touch I lower I lower what I touch when I am lead I am the parody of gold, not its opposite. I defile I do not oppose and in that defilement I undo the very notion of the standing apart of things the truth of things pure Terror, Horror, and the Gross-Out

I am there with you from the beginning, for some the passage through the birth canal ringed by blood, and I am there for all at the end, the passage into death marked by blood and excrement that smell of the sickroom and the antiseptic yawn of the hospital ward. The IV laying its mark on the skin long after the machines have been quieted and darkened

what I touch becomes formless. I am there to degrade the world. What I denigrate has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. Abjection. Can you overcome nausea? Some would replace me with anger. Anger leads to action, indignation, introspection it registers harm. We don’t vomit at subordination and inequity we get mad. But, can you write me out of the social law so completely how do I regulate your emotions? I am sensory, in the smell, the sight, the touch of things. In the fantasized taste and distaste. Maybe less in their sound. How often have you heard a disgusting sound?

I can be used to train citizens in the norms of bodily comportment, what to look out for and how to behave I am part of the distribution of what’s sensed and that sensing indexes status without me, I doubt those lessons in power would make much of an impression. But there is a triumph in nausea this heaving, fetid, tepid matter, frightful to look at, site of fermenting life, this material teeming with eggs, germs, and worms, celebrating in me, anticipating the end and the life to come

do you try to domesticate me? Have I become cute cute like a pink poop emoji covered in glitter become commodity rolling in the pleasures of domestic consumption consuming closeness. Glitter makes me tender makes me cute reduces threat threatening a paint job do you need me to be cleansed to let me into your home is this the way you can deal with your own shit? Let’s put the matter back in place if you can’t be rid of me then dust me dust me with powdered sugar and lip gloss unicorn snot does a pink glitter poop still stink?

Unsettle our disinterestedness bringing the object near replacing hard blocks of superiority and meanness of being with specificities that hold no absolute models of human nature how can I do this for you extend hold so that I never crystalized into a blech a spitting out a discarding but hold my place as a queasy little oh an oh that there is so much to do to make a queasy a little an unsettling oh prolong all our eeeewwws

Author’s Note

“Marsh and bog” is how Susan Miller (2004, 19) describes the two facets of disgust, that which teems with life and that which teems with death. Julia Kristeva (1980) uses the skin on milk metaphor to describe the feeling of disgust in her work on abjection. “So what if I toss her from the aquarium, so what if I spill her new world with this nasty immigrant fish?” asks Dunya Mikhail in her poem “Tablets IV.” “Cosmic ordering, high and low, and elbow room” describe how William Ian Miller (1998, 9) analyzes the social function of disgust. “The lower classes smell” is the reason George Orwell (1937) gives for the failure of socialism to take root in England. Stephen King (1981) aims first for terror, then for horror, and then for the gross-out in his writing, as he explains in his nonfiction work Danse Macabre. Formlessness and the absence of rights for the spider and the earthworm come from Georges Bataille’s (1985, 1986) discussion of the anti-aesthetic. His is also the idea that the disgusting anticipates things to come. “We don’t vomit at subordination and inequity, we get mad,” says Martha Nussbaum (2004, 106). Sianne Ngai (2012) describes the cute as one of a cluster of emotions, also including the interesting and the zany, that mediate our relationships to late capitalism. Sylvia Wynter (1989) writes of moving from absolute models of human nature, generated from natural science and the humanistic definition of Man, toward specificities. “A queasy little oh” comes from Carolyn Korsmeyer (2011, 136).


Bataille, Georges. 1985. Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939. Edited by Allan Stoekl and translated by Allan Stoekl, Carl R. Lovitt, and Donald M. Leslie, Jr. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

_____. 1986. Erotism: Death and Sensuality. Translated by Mary Dalwood. San Francisco: City Lights. Originally published in 1957.

King, Stephen. 1981. Danse Macabre. New York: Everest House.

Korsmeyer, Carolyn. 2011. Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press. Originally published in 1980.

Miller, Susan. B. 2004. Disgust: The Gatekeeper Emotion. Hillsdale, N.J.: Analytic Press.

Miller, William Ian. 1998. The Anatomy of Disgust. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Ngai, Sianne. 2012. Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Nussbaum, Martha C. 2004. Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Orwell, George. 1937. The Road to Wigan Pier. London: Left Book Club.

Wynter, Sylvia. 1989. “Beyond the Word of Man: Glissant and the New Discourse of the Antilles.” World Literature Today 63, no. 4: 637–48.