Disgust and Aesthetics



Disgust is an emotion that is visceral, reactive, and uncomfortable. It is also purposively aroused by art in ways that contribute substantially to the meaning of a work. In such cases “aesthetic disgust” is a component of understanding and appreciation. Disgust comes in many varieties, including the humorous, the horrid, and the tragic. The responses it elicits can be strong or subtle, but few are actually pleasant. Therefore aesthetic disgust raises an ancient question: how is it that emotions aroused in practical life become the focus of pleasure or enjoyment when they are aroused by art? This paper reviews a number of accounts of aesthetic satisfaction in disgust, arguing that the most profound uses convey an immediate and visceral grasp of physical vulnerability and mortality.