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v2.1 Reference

The Hydra's Tale

Imagining Disgust

In The Hydra's Tale, Robert Rawdon Wilson treats the experience of disgust not from the perspective of the disgusting object-in-the-world, but from its representation. Working through the spectrum of human response, culture, and art, Wilson teases out the assumptions that underpin the disgust response.

About the Author

Robert Rawdon Wilson is Professor Emeritus from the Department of English at the University of Alberta. He has also been a visiting professor at Mills College (USA), Deakin University and University of Melbourne (Australia), and the University of Aarhus (Denmark). His other books include In Palamedes' Shadow: Explorations in Play, Game, and Narrative Theory, Shakespearean Narrative, and Boundaries, and Other Fictions, a collection of short stories.


"Though the topic may appear marginal and eccentric (the word enters the English language only in the sixteenth century), this book convinces the reader of its importance. Disgust makes beauty and ugliness a matter of morals. Disgust drives the moralization of racism, sexism, and homophobia. This study is far-ranging, informed by the most complex contemporary psychoanalytic and sociological theories, and written in vigorous and direct language." Alphonso Lingis, Professor of Philosophy, The Pennsylvania State University

"The Hydra's Tale: Imagining Disgust by Robert Rawdon Wilson (Professor Emeritus, Department of English, University of Alberta) is an informed and informative psychological and philosophical study of the experience of disgust: its origin, effect on human behavior, its use as a survival response, and much, much more. Carefully thought out and deftly written so as to be accessible for both scholars and non-specialist general readers alike, The Hydra's Tale is a truly fascinating and recommended look into a human emotion that most people strive to avoid, but inevitably experience within the context of their personal lives." Midwest Book Review

"Wilson.has written an important book on the theory of disgust, the nature of representation and the workings of the human imagination.. Wilson's study of/on the theory of disgust is far from being disgusting. Instead, it is informative, entertaining, engaging, even moving (as one might not expect from a book on theory).. Although he makes demands upon his readers.Wilson's sudden changes in pace, shifting from the rhythms of one world of discourse to another, does not obscure the clarity of the argument.. There are three main movements in the argument: 1) disgust is everywhere, 'roiling' and muck-like, but it also shifts from culture to culture, from one historical period to another; 2) despite the rigid constructions of theory, the human response is metamorphic, always changing from one stage in experience to another; 3) disgust gestates in the imagination which responds to the world, and all its deliquescent sliminess, by creating momentary disgust 'scenarios.'" Aletheia Plankiw, Danforth Review. (See the full review at

"Robert Wilson is Professor Emeritus from the English Department of the University of Alberta. . . Ambitious and provocative, his study of "disgust" is a huge undertaking, the result of an impressive amount of research and consideration. . . . The study is notable for its extraordinary range of references, many of them developed in finely detailed footnotes. Emphasizing the difference between actuality and representation, between first-hand experience of disgust and its representation in art and writing, Wilson proposes five models for its investigation: moral-legal, social constructionist, psychoanalytic, slime-viscosity-dissolution, and transgression. No single model, he suggests, can explain disgust fully and, thereby, there is an appropriate flexibility in his attention to models, writers, and ideas. . . With a cover that uses Moreau's painting of Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra and design details that complement the text, the University of Alberta Press has produced a handsome book." Australian Canadian Studies

"The Hydra's Tale: Imagining Disgust is a richly interdisciplinary book that draws upon research from anthropology, cultural studies, literary theory, philosophy, psychology, and sociology in order to analyze, more fully than in prior studies, the metamorphic properties of a single affect, namely, disgust..Not only does Wilson employ the conclusions of several intellectual disciplines to build his argument and help him toward an original conclusion, he also brings to bear the potential of fiction to illustrate and define human experience. A writer of fiction himself, Wilson employs biofictography to place his often highly conceptual argument in a recognizable Lebenswelt; he also uses fiction, fables, parables, and yarns to illustrate the scope of particular problems. The Hydra's Tale is complex in its use of research and in the development of a multilevel argument. It is a provocative study." Brian J. Edwards, (Deakins University), Poetics Today, Vol. 25, No. 3 KulturPoetik

".the different effects disgust and the disgusting have in the actual and symbolic realms are, in turn, at the center of Wilson's inquiry, significantly shaped by the role of the imagination and hence, the cultural fluidity—as opposed to, say, historical stability or even anthropological universality—of the phenomena of disgust." Hans J. Rindisbacher, "A Cultural History of Disgust", KulturPoetik 

"Robert Rawdon Wilson's study of disgust is handsomely produced, compendious, learned, street-smart. It can be read as a serious meditation on relations between the human sensorium and imagination, an erotic sampler for the middle-aged academic male, or as episodes in the history of the heroic male self - in this case American, middle-class, well educated, far travelled, and intellectually and sensually 'pluralist.' This remarkable book addresses an abundance and an absence: the one attesting to the metamorphic powers of disgust, the other to the lack of effective theorizing about it. Wilson takes disgust to be an unexamined commonplace yet also a version of something close to 'infinite.' It is hence like beauty and imagination in being a favoured residence of presumption and prescription as well as source of some of our most compelling utterances and investigations. Wilson is often as brilliant as he is ambitious in unpacking the 'psycho-visceral and the moral' elements in disgust. He organizes his argument in a deliberately corporeal and transgressive way, refusing to disembody either intellect or imagination, and refusing to suppress a penchant for the rhetorical or referential belch, piss, ejaculation, fart, fidget, grope.. The Hydra's Tale is deep as well as devoutly impure, and I intend to return to its provocations often." Len Findlay, Canadian Literature, Fall 2005, #186

9780888643681 : the-hydras-tale-wilson
Paperback / softback
464 Pages
$34.95 USD

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