Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Filth: Dirt, Digust, and Modern Life

William A. Cohen
Ryan Johnson
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 360
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This book explores the question of what filth has to do with culture: what critical role the lost, the rejected, the abject, and the dirty play in social management and identity formation. Contributors: David S. Barnes, Neil Blackadder, Joseph Bristow, Joseph W. Childers, Eileen Cleere, Natalka Freeland, Pamela K. Gilbert, Christopher Hamlin, William Kupinse, Benjamin Lazier, David L. Pike, David Trotter._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9568-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: Locating Filth
    (pp. vii-xxxviii)
    William A. Cohen

    At the end of the twentieth century, New York City witnessed a propitious conjunction of literal and metaphorical filth. With the imminent closing of the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island—the largest garbage dump in the world—the city faced a crisis over where to send the 12,000 tons of residential municipal waste it generates daily. Garbage barges trolled the waters surrounding New York as various proposals for waste elimination floated through city and state bureaucracies. At the same time, theSensationexhibition of young British artists at the Brooklyn Museum of Art lived up to its name, largely...

  4. Part I. Fundamentals of Filth

    • Chapter 1 Good and Intimate Filth
      (pp. 3-29)
      Christopher Hamlin

      In remarks curiously reminiscent of the adolescent’s observation that the worth of a human can be calculated by summing the market values of the chemical substances it contains, the early nineteenth-century English evangelical preacher Edward Bickersteth reminded his congregation of the “nothingness of man.” They (and he) were only clay, least valuable of earthly materials, “that which is frailest and soonest dissipated.” The sense that we were more was an illusion, the product of a consciousness that existed only so long as the divine spirit continued within us. “God has but to remove his hand from under us and we...

    • Chapter 2 The New Historicism and the Psychopathology of Everyday Modern Life
      (pp. 30-48)
      David Trotter

      The histories of sensory experience produced during and partly as a result of the New Historicism’s irresistible rise to methodological supremacy might be thought of as the supplement that reveals a lack. Justly celebrated studies like Alain Corbin’sThe Foul and the Fragrant(1982) and Peter Stallybrass and Allon White’sThe Politics and Poetics of Transgression(1986) deploy a model of subjectivity not at all incompatible with that which informs the grand New Historical survey of modern disciplining and punishing.¹ We learn from these studies that the sights and smells of the nineteenth-century metropolis gave rise in the bourgeois subject...

  5. Part II. Sanitation and the City

    • Chapter 3 Sewage Treatments: Vertical Space and Waste in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London
      (pp. 51-77)
      David L. Pike

      The exploitation of subterranean space played a formative role in the nineteenth-century city. From the technological novelty of its metropolitan railways, tunnels, arches, and embankments to its mobilization to conceptualize an urban society divided between rich and poor, law abiding and criminal, healthy and diseased, familiar and foreign, the vertical city was a heady mix of physical fact and social fantasy.¹ Different types of underground space combined matter with metaphor in different fashions; this essay focuses on perhaps the most conflicted of them all, the drainage system.² While the underground railway, for example, established the urban underground as a novel...

    • Chapter 4 Medical Mapping: The Thames, the Body, and Our Mutual Friend
      (pp. 78-102)
      Pamela K. Gilbert

      In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark Bridge which is of iron and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.

      These first lines ofOur Mutual Friend(1865) portray all of the iconic elements important to the novel: the degraded man, the pure girl, the Thames, and, most importantly, filth: a dirty boat on a filthy river, with, as Dickens’s Mr. Mantalini would have described it,...

    • Chapter 5 Confronting Sensory Crisis in the Great Stinks of London and Paris
      (pp. 103-130)
      David S. Barnes

      Londoners began to fret in June 1858, Parisians in July 1880. In each case, a prolonged heat wave braised a rapidly expanding metropolis into a state of extreme vulnerability, and an insidious sensory trigger sparked a blaze that threatened to consume the city. The population demanded relief, the press blared its indignation, and the government was momentarily thrown into crisis. It was neither a foreign invasion nor a natural disaster but rather anodor—or, to be faithful to contemporary accounts, not just an odor but an unimaginably foul stench—that caused such an uproar in the British and French...

  6. Part III. Polluting the Bourgeois

    • Chapter 6 Victorian Dust Traps
      (pp. 133-154)
      Eileen Cleere

      In 1889, Wyke Bayliss, F.S.A., confronted his audience at the Hastings and St. Leonard’s-on-the-Sea Health Congress with the same unlikely topic I take up in this essay: sanitation and decoration.¹ Somehow, by the last decades of the nineteenth century, the apparently dichotomous topic of art and sanitation had become “obvious and trite” to artists like Bayliss, as well as to some of the most influential advocates of British aesthetic reform. I have argued elsewhere that aesthetic philosophy was significantly transformed in the years immediately following the 1842 publication of Edwin Chadwick’sSanitary Report, when the Romantic celebration of sublime decay...

    • Chapter 7 “Dirty Pleasure”: Trilby’s Filth
      (pp. 155-181)
      Joseph Bristow

      Trilby, George Du Maurier’s bestseller of 1894, assuredly counts among the dirtiest and most disorderly of those well-known fin-de-siècle novels whose grease and grime besmear their decadent and naturalist worlds. But unlike the bulk of such fictions from the late nineteenth century,Trilbyhardly deplores the working-class deprivation associated with urban squalor. Du Maurier’s initially humorous narrative wishes to preserve a variety of filth belonging to a particular place and time: Paris’s less than salubriousquartier latinof 1856–57. These were the years immediately before Imperial Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, whom in 1853 Louis Napoleon appointed prefect of the Seine,...

    • Chapter 8 Merdre! Performing Filth in the Bourgeois Public Sphere
      (pp. 182-200)
      Neil Blackadder

      It was “the word” which, greeted by the spectators with laughs or whistles, with applause and boos, played the starring role. It fluttered about from the stalls to the circle, and was exchanged from seat to seat.¹

      The word to which Henri de Régnier refers, in his 1933 memoir about Alfred Jarry, ismerdre, the young writer’s playful and provocative deformation ofmerde, which figured prominently both in Jarry’s playUbu Roiand in the audience response when the play premiered in Paris in December 1896. The two performances were among the most uproarious in the history of the French...

    • Chapter 9 Foreign Matter: Imperial Filth
      (pp. 201-222)
      Joseph W. Childers

      By the middle of the 1870s, many Victorians were convinced that the influx of immigrants into England was a direct cause of the vice, degradation, and filth that plagued its cities. Focus had shifted from the northern 1840s shock cities, such as Manchester, with its large Irish population, to the East End of London, that bottleneck of empire, where streets, alleys, homes and businesses were clogged by thousands of refugees and immigrants, as well as travelers simply passing through on their way to points west. The presence of these foreigners was palpable, and as the century advanced, the press, in...

  7. Part IV. Dirty Modernism

    • Chapter 10 The Dustbins of History: Waste Management in Late-Victorian Utopias
      (pp. 225-249)
      Natalka Freeland

      Victorian futurists have their minds in the gutter. One after another, utopian novels describe improved systems for waste management as cornerstones of their fantasies of alternate worlds. This impulse is so strong that, faced with a future lacking any evidence of rubbish removal, the narrator of H. G. Wells’sThe Time Machine(1895) imagines it must be just out of sight:

      A peculiar feature, which presently attracted my attention, was the presence of certain circular wells. . . . I was at first inclined to associate it with the sanitary apparatus of these people. It was an obvious conclusion, but...

    • Chapter 11 The Indian Subject of Colonial Hygiene
      (pp. 250-276)
      William Kupinse

      Of all the writings on filth produced during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of the most eclectic collections on the subject is the thirty-odd-year run of the journalThe Sanitary Record. Published in London from 1874 to 1905, theRecordusually fulfilled the promise of its subtitle, “A Monthly Journal of Public Health and the Progress of Sanitary Science,” in a straightforward fashion. TheRecordoffered lengthy discussions of “scavenging,” plans for “refuse destructors,” papers on the practice of the ocean disposal of “sewerage,” and a fairly regular series of articles entitled “Soaps”; occasional pieces featured such...

    • Chapter 12 Abject Academy
      (pp. 277-302)
      Benjamin Lazier

      What, strictly speaking, is a fart? Does the fart inhabit the realm of the spiritual or the sensual, the sacred or the profane, the ethereal or the base? How are the human sciences to contend with the recalcitrance of this unclassifiable spirit of the body? What are the conditions for the possibility of knowing flatulence? Or on a more prosaic note, how best to gauge the caliber of gas? By wind speed, volume, resonance, or tone? And what of the many grades of stink?

      For twenty-nine weeks toward the end of 1938, these questions and others like them earned the...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 303-306)
  9. Index
    (pp. 307-317)