Retching on Rome

Vomitous Loathing and Visceral Disgust in Affect Theory and the Apocalypse of John

In: Biblical Interpretation
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The Apocalypse of John is an affect-intensive text. What Revelation reveals above all is an immense loathing for Rome, and it aims to infect its audiences in turn with disgust for that intimate Other. Impelled by Sara Ahmed’s work on the cultural politics of emotion, this article reconceives Revelation’s “great whore” as a circulating (sex) object that is supremely “sticky” or saturated with affect. It explores how Revelation’s affective economy works by sticking “figures of hate” together like Jezebel, the whore, and the beast. It argues that Revelation’s impossible project is the vomitous ejection of a loathsome alien entity (Rome as Jezebel) that has somehow gotten inside, but in whose monstrous body (Rome as Babylon) one is also somehow contained. It explains why the expulsion or annihilation of the intolerable Other is contradictorily combined with its incorporation or ingestion: the devouring of the whore; the ghastly “great supper of God.” It also ponders why nauseous food (“sacrificed to idols”) taken into the (social) body figures the fear of contamination in this book, and why the intimately encroaching empire is figured in intensely sexualized terms: the intolerable cultural closeness of Rome requires representation in ways that evoke intimate contact felt on the surface of the skin.

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