Thursday, 6 September 2007


One way of reading the modern world is to see in it an enormous expansion of Freud's taboo--as a contemporary category, and as the root-term behind a range of items of discourse absolutely central to the modern world: pollution in its presentday environmental sense; transgression, particularly the legal and sexual transgressions that occupy the media so hugely; and totem, which is to say icon--commodity--celebrity. Indeed, it could be argued that science, rather than reducing the power of taboo by dispersing the cloud of unknowing that surrounds its magical rationale, has actually reinforced taboo. Science has shown us that we are indeed surrounded by invisible (strictly, microscopic) forces and agencies, viruses, germs, poisons, toxins, as well as many other invisible (strictly, psychological) occasions for stress, trauma and so on ... all these are gifted a reality that was by definition lacking from the earlier 'magical' or 'influencing' taboo objects. By 'by definition' I mean two things: one the obvious point that taboo previously was a symbolic rather than real action (there's nothing really wrong with eating pork, or with handling a dead body, although there may be something symbolically wrong with these things). But I also mean that, being magical, taboo formerly depended upon a degree of lack of clarity in its operation. That's changed now. There's reason, now, in the category of the taboo. That's an alarming thing.

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