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Korsmeyer, Carolyn, and . The Magnetism of Disgust

2010, In: Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics. New York: Oxford University Press. 113-136.

Summary: Korsmeyer’s account of disgust and the role it plays in art appreciation starts with a treatment of what she calls the “paradox of aversion” – the apparent incompatibility between humans’ disposition to seek pleasure and their frequent voluntary exposure to unpleasant and even painful art-related experiences. Korsmeyer’s provisional solution to the paradox is based on the realization that pleasure is not an emotion but rather “an intense absorption in an object that induces us to continue rather than halt an experience.” This opens the possibility that the pleasure we take from a work of art retains a cognitive element such that we gain unique insight from what would, outside of the art context, have given us pain. Korsmeyer speaks of an “aesthetic conversion” whereby disgust and fear are transfigured into vehicles of absorption, and thus become aesthetically pleasurable. Since disgust and its magnetic force are of material interest to performance artists and their critics, Korsmeyer’s treatment of the paradox of aversion helps re-contextualize an important art historical issue.

Comment: Interesting to teach following classes on the paradox of horror, and perhaps even alongside (some of) Noel Carroll's writings on horror.

Nussbaum, Martha, and . Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law

2004, Princeton University Press.

Back matter: “Should laws about sex and pornography be based on social conventions about what is disgusting? Should felons be required to display bumper stickers or wear T-shirts that announce their crimes? This powerful and elegantly written book, by one of America’s most influential philosophers, presents a critique of the role that shame and disgust play in our individual and social lives and, in particular, in the law.
Martha Nussbaum argues that we should be wary of these emotions because they are associated in troubling ways with a desire to hide from our humanity, embodying an unrealistic and sometimes pathological wish to be invulnerable. Nussbaum argues that the thought-content of disgust embodies “”magical ideas of contamination, and impossible aspirations to purity that are just not in line with human life as we know it.”” She argues that disgust should never be the basis for criminalizing an act, or play either the aggravating or the mitigating role in criminal law it currently does. She writes that we should be similarly suspicious of what she calls “”primitive shame,”” a shame “”at the very fact of human imperfection,”” and she is harshly critical of the role that such shame plays in certain punishments.
Drawing on an extraordinarily rich variety of philosophical, psychological, and historical references–from Aristotle and Freud to Nazi ideas about purity–and on legal examples as diverse as the trials of Oscar Wilde and the Martha Stewart insider trading case, this is a major work of legal and moral philosophy”.

Comment: Particularly useful for teaching on the non-rational motivators of moral reasoning and justifications of punishment, and on how emotions can be misleading and unreliable as a guide for law and ethics.