Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics

Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics

Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics

Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics

Synopsis

Disgust is among the strongest of aversions, characterized by involuntary physical recoil and even nausea. Yet paradoxically, disgusting objects can sometimes exert a grisly allure, and this emotion can constitute a positive, appreciative aesthetic response when exploited by works of art - aphenomenon labelled here "aesthetic disgust." While the reactive, visceral quality of disgust contributes to its misleading reputation as a relatively "primitive" response mechanism, it is this feature that also gives it a particular aesthetic power when manifest in art. Most treatments of disgust mistakenly interpret it as only an extreme response, thereby neglecting the many subtle ways that it operates aesthetically. This study calls attention to the diversity and depth of its uses, analyzing the emotion in detail and considering the enormous variety of aestheticforms it can assume in works of art and - unexpectedly - even in foods. In the process of articulating a positive role for disgust, this book examines the nature of aesthetic apprehension and argues for the distinctive mode of cognition that disgust affords - an intimate apprehension of physical mortality. Despite some commonalities attached to the meaning of disgust,this emotion assumes many aesthetic forms: it can be funny, profound, witty, ironic, unsettling, sorrowful, or gross. To demonstrate this diversity, several chapters review examples of disgust as it is aroused by art. The book ends by investigating to what extent disgust can be discovered in artthat is also considered beautiful.

Excerpt

I began the work that became this book a number of years ago, and I have accumulated many debts along the way. The first lecture I delivered on aesthetic disgust was in 1998 at the International Congress of Aesthetics in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Subsequently, I presented lectures on various aspects of the topic at a number of professional meetings, including a conference on Ethics and the Arts at Arizona State University; the Society for Literature and Science; the Nordic Society for Aesthetics, Uppsala; the American Philosophical Association; and the American Society for Aesthetics. In addition, I delivered lectures at Siena College; Baruch College, CUNY; Queen’s University, Ontario; Loyola College in Maryland; the University of Missouri, St. Louis; Trinity University, San Antonio; Alfred University; and my home institution, the University at Buffalo (SUNY). I thank my hosts and the members of those audiences, whose interest and queries helped to hone my thinking about matters disgusting and pleasant. I also thank the students in two courses I taught as a guest lecturer at the University of Helsinki and the Jagiellonian University, Krakow.

Certain ideas in this book originally were developed in article form, though they have been redistributed and revised here. A pilot study, “Disgust,” appeared in Aesthetics as Philosophy: Proceedings of the XIV Congress for Aesthetics, ed. Ale č Erjavec. Some of chapter 3 was published as “Delightful, Delicious, Disgusting,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 69, no. 3 (2002). Portions of chapters 5 and 6 were developed in “Fear and Disgust: The Sublime and the Sublate,” Revue Internationale de Philosophie 62, no. 246 (December 2008). And the . . .

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