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Thinking the obscene and the obscene in thinking

Dubious Matters

Stefan Hertmans

The obscene in this book refers to more than only the sexually offensive: the forbidden generates fear and contains a mixture of fear and lust. Nowadays, ‘the obscene  is a disappearing act: it is showing all in such a way, there is nothing left to be seen, perfect emptiness of significance and pure form—flat truth without content or signification, and because of that no longer truth.’ Starting from this paradox Hertmans concludes there is much obscenity in the morals of contemporary society.

Cultural products marked as obscene always also make food for thought
Rudi Laermans

In the next chapters, he treats this paradox in concrete cases. In ‘On gerontophobia’, he discusses  our relationship with death, in ‘On repetition’ he treats the human fear for repetitiveness, in ‘On the hidden’ he analyses our fascination for hidden places and  in ‘On images’ he reflects on irrational violence. All these chapters make use of cultural references from popular and high culture. 

At the end Hertmans becomes aware of the dubiousness of thinking: ‘Because there is no escaping from the dubiousness of thinking, one can only think  against better knowledge—thinking that acknowledges there is a point where one just has to start, a point where one has to run the risk of being dubious.’