The Anatomy of Disgust Miller, W.I. 1998
The title of William Ian Miller’s book is a play on Robert Burton’s 17th-century classic The Anatomy of Melancholy, an examination of human emotion. In his modern Anatomy, Miller narrows the focus to the function of disgust in human life. Disgust, Miller posits, is a kind of protection; just as fear causes us to flee danger or loyalty prompts us to support one another, disgust draws boundaries and insulates the individual from outside incursions—anything from the unhygienic hair in our soup to the frightening explosion of homelessness in our cities. Among his theories is one that democracy depends on the even distribution of disgust across class lines.
Mr. Miller is not afraid to explore the darker side of disgust as well—the fact that we may feel it in conjunction with contempt toward people, objects, or concepts that do not warrant it. Nevertheless, disgust serves an important role in humanity’s complex emotional and social makeup, and The Anatomy of Disgust is novel in its approach to uncovering just what that role might be.