Friday, January 14, 2011

On Disgust, Considered as One of the Fine Arts

"He was fundamentally and outwardly abject, as other men are markedly of a generous, distinguished, or venerable appearance. It was the element of his nature which permeated all his acts and passions and emotions; he raged abjectly, smiled abjectly, was abjectly sad; his civilities and his indignations were alike abject. I am sure his love would have been the most abject of sentiments - but can one imagine a loathsome insect in love? And his loathsomeness, too, was abject, so that a simply disgusting person would have appeared noble by his side."
--Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Ch. 29

In our Dominion, we are much dispos'd to laud & venerate good intentions. Let me pry an example from its native Granite, and set it in a golden Band, as an exemplum

Far from WILLIAMSBURGH, the most candy'd corner of Virginia, there are odious tasks to be done, with daily regularity. One of these is the making of syrup, and the further refining of the maple-tree's Sap till it come to pounds of Sugar. Thus, Saponi Ned & I oft take to the Woods, finding ourselves in the darkest Crevices & Hollows. Here, Dame Nature turns a pale Shoulder to the Sun's warming caress, and the ground holds a monstrous chill through the Seasons. Here we tap the Sap as it rises, and gather the sticky Resin while we may.

Yet, I betook myself 'round Joseph Stauber's fields, passing thro' his wife's Kitchen to enjoy the Biscuits she avails, and cross'd the Ridge back to my lands. Here, I find a line of trees quite Rott'd thro', the branches falling apart of their own, like the blacken'd Limbs of a Corpse.

When I queried Mme. Bainton & Ned about this most unusual development, they gave me a most mournful Stare, and then took a close Study of the Floorboards.

"Well?" ask'd I, "what reason cd be for the pestilential death?"

Ned unseat'd himself from his Haunches, and rose. "Epaph., 'twas my young man, Hyco, who belted the trees. They drain'd little sap, but have died in the year since. He is a boy with more enterprise than sense."

"Epaph., do not fly to one of yr Colics; he is but a boy, and that was another season. And, aside, he only had the best of intentions."

What a mockery of Sense! What counterfeit of Courtesy! Allow Folly to go uncorrect'd - and watch the Land become Waste. I have a hillside now, decorat'd & scour'd with the black Hulks of decaying wood, mold'd o'er with glowing fungus & the writhing bodies of Larvae. Anyone may stand at the Foot of Stauber's Oldfield, and watch scores of good American pounds rot before their very eyes!

An edifying Specktacle, and one produc'd all for the Benefit & instruction of the following sermon: that it is not the Result of an Action, but the Aim, that shou'd be consider'd most in judging its moral Worth. Thus, with a pretty Sentiment, we may fill our Bellies, even tho' we starve, by Error. But, all in good Faith!

Thus, I propose, amidst the Rot, a Revival. I open my Tent to the Mean, that I may give measure to their meanness; I give a path to the shiftless & Imbecile, that I may blast their loping step; I unbar my door to the Vain, that I may strike down their pride. I declare, that I will be an Artist, in Disgust!