A glance at Taboo

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Throughout history, ethics, morals and general social conduct have been around in a situation of constant flux, to such an extent that numerous practices that had been considered unacceptable during the past are actually a typical constituent of our daily lives. The social conventions which govern many facets of a period are essentially an amalgamation of tradition, innate morality (if this will be conceived as existent); which are generally somewhat enforced by ideological state apparatus from the ilk with the church and racial heritage; and the laws of the time make, as upheld from the governing body through repressive state apparatus like the police and therefore the judicial system. A most forceful and fascinating example of this is to be found in our understanding of the term 'taboo'.

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Inside a number of his essays entitled "Totem and Taboo" first published in 1919,Sigmund Freud posits amongst other items, his interpretation with the role of taboo both in past and the modern day, ultimately linking it together with the actions and views of neurotics. Freud, in Chapter 2: Taboo along with the Ambivalence of Emotions is definitely the intriguing paradox that: "For us this is of taboo branches off into two opposite directions. On the other hand it means to all of us sacred, consecrated: but conversely it indicates, uncanny, dangerous, forbidden, and unclean." (P41)

Simply because this apparent contradiction of definitions indicate; the common notion of taboo: in the eyes of Freud focuses upon prohibitions and desires. From the text, Freud elaborates that in ancient civilisation, especially in Polynesia; taboo served several functions. Not merely that guard those invoved with power against assassination by way of a network of superstitions which prevented direct contact between a chief as well as a common man, but also fulfilled an identical task in protecting the vulnerable. Simultaneously, taboo as is also mentioned in the quotation from Northcote W. Thomas' article about the subject within Totem and Taboo, protected someone's property from theft, prevented this device particular animals and substances and barred interaction using the corpses in the dead. Consequently it may be judged that taboo is usually held to be considered whatever through threat of negative repercussions, is bound or prohibited.

As part of his summary of the sumptuous little tome: 'The Wordsworth Dictionary of Obscenity and Taboo', James McDonald gives an outline of methods through which taboos operate in contemporary society as opposed to being a universal concept: "In practice, therefore, our chosen taboos reflect our communal attitudes, has recently English speakers have tended to stigmatize sex and excretion must say something about our collective mentality." (p6 1988) As McDonald suggests; taboo leads inevitably to the imposition of euphemisms to counteract direct utterance of particular socially prohibited terms. Subsequently these euphemisms themselves gain taboo status as a result, one could presume, with the familiarity resulting from persistent usage, which in turn grants them an even closer connection to the experience or object of taboo as opposed to term they served to replace.

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