The Butcher's Shop: Disgust in Picturesque Aesthetics and Architecture

Macarthur, John (1996) The Butcher's Shop: Disgust in Picturesque Aesthetics and Architecture. Assemblage, 30 32-43.

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Author Macarthur, John
Title The Butcher's Shop: Disgust in Picturesque Aesthetics and Architecture
Journal name Assemblage
Publication date 1996-01-01
Sub-type Article (original research)
Open Access Status File (Author Post-print)
Volume 30
Start page 32
End page 43
Subject 310105 History of the Built Environment
310000 Architecture, Urban Environment and Building
440101 Aesthetics
Abstract The view of a butcher's shop provides picturesque theorist Uvedale Price with a crucial example in his consideration of the role of disgust in aesthetics. This paper analyses Price's theory in light of Derrida's essay on disgust in Kant's aesthetic. Price's ideas are explosively reversible and provide a definite historical instance of the collapse of 'economimesis' onto the socio-political economy which Derrida claims is implicit in Kant. The theme of an aesthetic disgust can be found more generally in aesthetics and in critiques of the aesthetic attitude and this is one reason for the historical success of the picturesque. Price's theory is intended to be applicable to landscape architecture and rural buildings, and it is argued that the butcher's shop in Price is a deferral of the larger question of the relation of architecture to the informe (un-formedness) of vernacular buildings. Cottage hovels and villages are in Price's time so much viscera. Doubly disgusting they are the waste cut from the countryside in the production of idealized landscapes, while their stench of poverty and treason arises from the shortage of food. Certain 19th century architects, reading Price over-literally, indulge the unlikely fantasy of a landlord constructing ornamental butcher's shops for the labourers who could not afford bread. Today the picturesque in architecture disgusts somewhat. It is identified with the sensual pleasing of escape into images, with a lack of the smell and squeals of real urban and contemporary materials. Yet this is an anachronism, a distortion by Nikolaus Pevsner and Gordon Cullen of the historical picturesque which always had a taste for piquancy. If we wish to understand the fascination of modern architects with banality, ugliness, and brutality, and if we thought it useful to distinguish this from Renaissance grotesques and neo-Classical sublimity, then the picturesque will supply us with a cleaver and a knife.
Keyword eighteenth century picturesque theory
John Ruskin
Peter Fredrick Robinson
Uvedale Price
Jacques Derrida
Theory of Disgust
Richard Payne Knight
Rembrandt's The Slaughtered Ox
Humphry Repton
John Nash
architectural theory
architectural history
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status Unknown
Additional Notes Originally published as Macarthur, John (1996) The Butcher's Shop: Disgust in Picturesque Aesthetics and Architecture. Assemblage 30:32-43. Copyright Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved. Single copies only may be downloaded and printed for a user's personal research and study.

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Created: Mon, 05 Jun 2006, 10:00:00 EST by John Macarthur on behalf of The University of Queensland Library