According to Western tradition, the human figure – beautiful, flawless, transcendent – was the original and ultimate subject of art. Why, then, has art so often returned to bodies that are carnal, ugly, disgusting, or horrific? This course will consider artistic modes (grotesque, abject, obscene) and subjects (excretion, mortality, perversion, deformity) that make up this alternative aesthetic history. What different purposes has body horror served across historical contexts? Horror has frequently been leveraged against women, sexual minorities, and nonwhite peoples in order to justify their disenfranchised positions; why, then, have these groups sometimes claimed repulsive identities with pleasure and pride? Is this aesthetic an exclusively Euro-American formation, or does it overlap with traditions of body horror in, for example, Japan or India? Readings will include critical theory (Edmund Burke, Sigmund Freud, Julia Kristeva, Elizabeth Grosz) and fiction (Marquis de Sade, Georges Bataille, Katherine Dunn), as well as art history (Kenneth Clark, Sander Gilman, Amelia Jones) and cinema studies (Carol Clover, Noël Carrol, Vivian Sobchack). Alongside ancient, medieval, and modernist artworks, we will focus on contemporary works by artists such as Kiki Smith, Robert Gober, Paul McCarthy, and Kara Walker, and films by Tod Browning, Ridley Scott, David Cronenberg, and Frank Henenlotter.
Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)