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Word wanted: body- and matter- hatred

February 16, 2012

This is bothering me. A lot. There must be a good word for this but I’m drawing a blank, and my internet researches haven’t helped. Granted, this is hard to research–how do you tell the internet “give me a word that fits this definition”?–but I’ve even done stuff like visit the Wikipedia page on Gnosticism; there I find the phrase “body- and matter-hatred,” all in an encouraging hyperlink color–with “body,” “matter,” and “hatred” each linking to a separate page (the ones on body, matter, and hatred, respectively). Very frustrating.

How do I define the word I’m looking for? It would mean something like “way of seeing the human body as inherently evil”, in its physicality, its animality, in its sexuality. It’s often associated with gnosticism, dualism, and the explicit denial of Christian ideas of sacramentality, but it’s not equal to those; it’s a possible symptom of them. It can manifest as misogyny, specifically what Freud called a madonna-whore complex, but it won’t necessarily do so; it could just lead to asceticism (our body is evil and must be punished!), or hedonism (our body is evil so it might as well enjoy itself!). It’s related to psychoanalytic ideas of repression, but I want a word for the position, not what causes it.

Anyway, for a while now I’ve been using the word “angelism” for this purpose. But that’s not even in the OED, and Merriam-Webster says it means “the regarding of human affairs from an unrealistically sanguine point of view, as though a man were an angel,” which is related to what I’m talking about but not the same–I mean a view that recognizes that man is not an angel and despises the part of him that is not. Now I suspect that behind everyone who holds Merriam-Webster angelism there’s someone who (perhaps unconsciously) holds Ironical-Coincidings angelism, but the reverse is not necessarily true. My use of “angelism” was inspired by Marshall McLuhan, who also uses “discarnality,” but that word has the same problems as “angelism” really–it has to do with (particularly electronic-age man’s) denial of the importance of the body, but not necessarily with hatred of it–but maybe that distinction isn’t worth drawing.

Well, “angelism” doesn’t seem to be in common use, so I guess I’ll keep using it, but I’m not happy. If anyone knows what word I should be using, or wants to dispute that I’m talking about a phenomenon worthy of a name, post a comment.

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