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What is Disgust?

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Tom Warren

on 12 May 2015

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Transcript of What is Disgust?

Carolyn Korsmeyer. Section 1 : What is Disgust ?
What?
What is Disgust?
Critical Receptions
Carolyn Korsmeyer Attractive Aversions
Tom Warren : Sublimity-Monstrosity- Disgust
Friday 27th, 2015

Art Works
Chris Ofili. Shit head, 1993. Elephant Dung, Human teeth and artists hair.
Millie Brown. LiveStudio (Edit), 2011.

The Chapman Brothers. DNA Zygotic, 1997. Mixed-media, Wigs and trainers.
What can
be defined as
disgust?
Pus
Sexual Fluids
When disgust lingers in the face of contrary knowledge, it displays the old rivalry between reason and emotion.
Those objects include aspects of the human body that operate at its margins, such as its orifices and fluids - holes and leakages that appear to comprise the intact, self contained clean body.
Many of the traits that define disgust qualify it as a basic emotion strongly inflected by sensory reactions and automatic physical responses. This is a feature of disgust that needs foregrounding in order to account for both the aesthetic power of this emotion.
Parasites
Feces
Kiki Smith, Tale, (1992)
Kiki Smith. Untitled, 1990, Bees Wax,
(Breast milk and seamen)

Evidence for this surmise can be found in the fact that objects identified as disgust elicitors across the globe such as:
Marcel Waldorf. Petra, 2010. Mixed Media
Andres Serreno . Piss Christ, small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's urine.
Disgust manifests its own characteristic
bodily changes.
Both the embodied appraisal approach and the cognitive-evaluative theory place emphasis on the engagement of the body with emotions.
Some instances of disgust clearly are grounded in beliefs, and those beliefs themselves are embedded in cultural values. Living with a religious milieu that prohibits the eating of pork, for example, inculcates the belief that pork is inappropriate food. The relevant cognitive assessments become exceptionally strong evaluations, such as, "pig products are abominable." The assessment also takes a strong visceral form: the smell of bacon is nauseating, the sight of pork chop is repulsive. Upon discovering that one has accidentally eaten pork, perhaps in the form of a hot dog or other composite food believed to be made from something else, one may feel retrospective nausea and be disgusted by past events of eating pork. In this sort of case, the emotion depends on preexisting belief that certain substances are foul and in the inedible category.

What is more, emotions may occur despite the presence of a countervailing belief. One may experience fear in the presence of a snake that one knows to be harmless, for instance, or apprehension in a bouncing airplane even though one believes the situation to be no more dangerous than a bumpy road.

Can disgust, like other aversions such as fear and dread, actually be transformed by art into some powerful, positive aesthetic quality?
If we know that we are confronting something imaginary, as is the case with art or with fictions of any kind, we also know that it poses no real concern to us. So how can emotions, at least genuine, full-bodied emotions, be aroused by art in the first place? The paradox of fiction is most acute for a strong cognitivist theory of emotion that maintains a belief requirement for the arousal of a genuine emotion, because it is precisely belief in the existence of fictional objects that is missing when art arouses emotions. But even without commitment to cognitivism, emotional engagement with fictions (or falsehoods, as Plato would have it) may seem puzzling.

Our dislike did not arise from the supposition that the evil was real, but from the mere mental image of it, which is indeed real. Feelings of disgust are therefore always real and never imitations.
Does a reader truly experience grief at the death of Anna Karenina under the wheels of a train? The reader of the novel closes the book, blows his nose, and goes about his daily tasks. It felt a bit like grief for a while, perhaps, but the fictionality of the object shields the reader from the aftereffects of the emotion to such a degree that one suspects the aesthetic affect to be not quite the same as the emotion experienced in nonfictional circumstances.
The context for Kant’s dismissal of disgust is his exploration of the nature of artistic genius, by which term he refers to artists of exceptional talent who are so original that they set standards for their genres.
Fine art shows its superiority precisely in this, that it describes things beautifully that in nature we would dislike or find ugly. The Furies, diseases, devastations of war, and so on are all harmful; and yet they can be described, or even presented in a painting, very beautifully. There is only one kind of ugliness that cannot be presented in conformity with nature without obliterating all aesthetic liking and hence artistic beauty; that ugliness which arouses disgust. For in that strange sensation, which rests on nothing but imagination, the object is presented as if it insisted, as it were, on our enjoying it even though that is just what we are forcefully resisting; and hence the artistic presentation of the object is no longer distinguished in our sensation from the nature of this object itself, so that it cannot possibly be considered beautiful.
Selected Points
Made from human teeth and bunches of the artist’s hair affixed to a small clump of elephant dung, it is, for my money, infinitely more disturbing than anything Ofili has made in the 21 years since. - Benjamin Sutton
Marc Quinn, Self, 2011, Frozen Blood
During Gaga's performance of Swine at the SXSW conference in Texas, Brown drank a bottle of luminous green milk, which she then vomited on to Gaga's breasts, before drinking a bottle of black milk, climbing onto a mechanical bull with the singer, and doing it again, the two of them writhing in the mess. "Puke isn't art, you ugly whore," is one of the messages Brown has since received on Twitter. "You are a piece of shit like Gaga," is another.... The reaction from the media has been more jaded. We've already had Artist's Shit after all, and Piss Christ, and Marc Quinn's Self made with his own blood, and Tracey Emin's My Bed and its medley of stains. When you hear about Brown, it's natural just to shrug and say: well, a cheque was waiting for whoever ticked the vomit box. - The Guardian
Peter de Bolla describes encounters with
Self
: I have come across viewers who, on seeing
Self
for the first time, describe a sensation akin to tingling, a kind of spinal over-excitation, or a curious shudder - that involentary somatic spasm referred to in common speech by the phrase " walking on someones grave." - Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics
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