A description of the behaviour and general demeanour of eels might well include the word ‘squirm‘. But it’s not just eels which squirm, humans do too, sometimes when observing eels. Dr Alex Rhys-Taylor BSc, MA, PhD, PGCert, of Goldsmith’s College, London, describes such a scenario in ‘Disgust and Distinction: The case of the jellied eel.’ The Sociological Review, 61(2), pp. 227-246, May 2013.
His ethnological research, carried out while “hanging around at a seafood stand in east London”, explores customers’ and bystanders’ reactions to seeing copious quantities of eels – jellied and otherwise.
“First, it must be noted that on a general level, any favour or smell has the potential to turn the stomach. Smells and tastes by their very nature, smudge a very important taxonomic division disturbing, by way of bodily orifces, a simultaneously psychic and physical sense of corporeal ‘inside’ and ‘out’ (Grosz 1994, 192-198). It is perhaps because smells and food necessarily disrupts this foundational boundary that Kristeva claims that ‘food loathing is … the most elementary form of abjection’
(1982, 4). Yet we know that not all food induces gut-wrenching squirms. Rather, only the movement of certain tastes and textures into the mouth, or smells through the nose, result in the convulsion that ripples from stomach to lips and across the face. The distribution of these squirms, I will argue below, is partially predicated on the particular classifcatory systems through which we sort our every day sensory experiences.”
Further reading : ‘Eels and Humans‘ (Springer Verlag, Japan, 2014)
BONUS: ‘Jellied Eels’ (by Lionel Bart – performed by Joe Brown and the Bruvvers, 1960, Decca Records)