The libertine fiction of Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (1740-1814) has been examined largely in terms of its contribution to philosophical ideas, or for its emphasis on human sexuality and violence. Very little has been written about Sade’s work in terms of disgust. This is despite the fact that Sade’s libertine writing includes representations of the obscene, pornographic, transgressive and transgressed body, which often manipulate and coerce the disgust response. In this thesis, I use knowledge from the evolutionary sciences about disgust combined with a fictocritical method to explore the effects of disgust on the form and interpretation of Sade’s libertine fiction. My thesis focuses on the effects of the disgust response on the reading of ‘dirty’ literature such as Sade’s. I ask two questions: how does disgust constrain what is written, and how does it expand and transform understandings of human experience? My research proposes that disgust evokes two responses, both of which influence the creation and interpretation of transgressive and obscene texts. First, the avoidance response results in a need to implement strategies to avoid overwhelming of writers and readers through excessive displays of the oozing, leaking and contaminated body. These strategies not only “sanitise” writers of fiction and their readers, these strategies are also used by scholars to hygienically impart experiences and knowledges related to disgust and disgusting acts. Much scholarship on disgust focuses on this ‘no’ of disgust, while at the same time acknowledging that disgust is a source of fascination. My thesis contributes to the understanding of the fascination for the disgusting through what I have termed ‘curiosity-disgust’. Curiosity-disgust is the protective impetus for the return to disgust after the initial avoidance response in order to know more about it. It allows an individual to be “in” disgust and to experience the knowledge that that embrace offers. This enables is a shift in the significance of boundaries and divisions, so that established binaries and expectations continue to exist, but they no longer matter. In this sense, disgust is an emotion that paradoxically and ambiguously harnesses embodiment, but facilitates a transcendence of the body through the processes of the body. Therefore, it evokes both a desire to sanitise and censor images of disgust, while at the same time a desire to revel in the obscene, pornographic and transgressive.
Submitted in the fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of the Sunshine Coast, 2015.