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The sublimity of monsters: Kant, Lacan and the Society of Connoisseurs

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This article deals with the bewildering question of the human fascination with evil: how is it possible that what is frightening, that what arouses dread and horror, is simultaneously fascinating, inviting of the spectatorial gaze, and the embodiment of terrifying enjoyment? The tremendum and fascinas coincide and irreversibly overlap in Kant’s and Hegel’s respective philosophies of art, defined as an ability to produce sublime effects, effects that are – like the acts of monsters themselves – majestic, immeasurable and unspeakable. The discourse of theoretical psychoanalysis is employed here to demonstrate and account for the fact that the subject willingly participates in, and enjoys, his or her own horror. The sublime object becomes uncanny through our detecting in it the representation of our own wish, the Lacanian object petit a. In this sense, the evil core of monstrosity appears to be nothing less than the fulfilment of the subject’s wish to stand firm on the ethics of desire, the ethical programme formulated by Jacques Lacan. In turn, psychoanalytical rereadings of Kant develop two modalities of the human artistic predicament: distinguishing moral acts from ethical ones, the paper differentiates ‘moral art’ from ‘ethical art’, a distinction according to which morality corresponds to a pacified, socialized, ‘compromised’ or ‘pathological’ sublime, a sublimity known also as beauty, and ethics to an excessive, unsocialized sublime, a sublimity known also as the monstrous. The first is governed by the pleasure principle that aims at ‘civilized discontent’, the latter by the principle of desire that aims at enjoyment.

Keywords: German idealistic philosophy; Jacques Lacan; ethics; fine arts; monstrosity; subject; sublime

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Ljubljana

Publication date: September 26, 2012

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  • Horror Studies intends to serve the international academic community in the humanities and specifically those scholars interested in horror. Exclusively examining horror, this journal will provide interested professionals with an opportunity to read outstanding scholarship from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including work conceived as interdisciplinary. By expanding the conversation to include specialists concerned with diverse historical periods, varied geography, and a wide variety of expressive media, this journal will inform and stimulate anyone interested in a wider and deeper understanding of horror
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