chapter  6
Difficult pleasures: sublimity and disgust
Pages 24

Several examples of feminist art mentioned in the last chapter dramaticallydraw attention to physical, bodily nature, whether by means of the actual body of a performer or the surrogate body of butchered meat. The mortality and facticity of physical being are emphasized in these works, sometimes with unsettling, even revolting effect. One can find many additional instances of art that deliberately disturbs and disgusts, such as Kiki Smith’s Tale, a sculpture of a crawling woman trailing excrement, or Cindy Sherman’s faces which appear to rot into their backgrounds. And there are numerous other examples in contemporary art-both feminist and nonfeministwhere mortality, gross physical effects, and decay are presented, not only by representation in traditional media, but sometimes also through the use of actual blood or urine or body parts, as with Damien Hirst’s vitrines of animal carcasses or Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ.1 The body in all its terrible vulnerability has become a major presence in literature, television, and film as well. The advancement of special effects in film and video has made possible particularly extreme representations of violence, dismemberment, and monstrosities, and has brought death, injury, and decay right before the eyes of the audience. If beauty and the sublime were touchstones of aesthetic value of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, one might wonder if the parallel value at the advent of the twenty-first might be the disgusting.