The Sublime: Art & Crime

by on Jul.20, 2011


In response to my post about Herzog and the Sublime, Adam Strauss raised a lot of provocative questions about the Sublime, about Art & Crime.  Regarding Shelley’s “Triumph of Life”, Adam writes:

“Shelley’s The Triumph Of Life I love and it–tho likely not at-all impersonal–is not at-all the voice of an intestinal tract, but rather more like a lightbeam–and am I making this up or is there a ton of sky and light etc in that poem?”

In my thinking, we need to remember that the Sublime is a paradox, and it operates both as a summit and a declivity. Both the intestinal tract and the light beam (great pair of images– thanks!).

Of course bacteria live in intestinal tracts and also may give off their own light– bacterial Sublime.

This impossible yoking of summit and declivity is inhuman and irrational, unchartable but it might yoke (spasmatically and unstably) the human to something that can (always) destroy it even if it maybe does literally elevate it. There’s no transendence, in my view, because, unlike ephiphany, it can’t be tolerated. The Sublime is completely dismantling.

Your questions about crime and Art are essential– referring back to the Decadence and the 20th c. avant gardes, Art is crime because it departs from municipal, state, national, and moral codes, introduces puncture, rupture, lawlessness, collapse. Sometimes Art-as-crime reveals the criminality in the current hygenic system or makes visible a kind of filth that is under threat of extermination. But is the reverse true– is crime Art? If I’m being honest, I ‘d have to admit that some crimes are also Art. I think Fascism had/has a big art component– the brutal State was made like a brutal artwork. This is a sad and flummoxing fact and this is why people so often come back to Fascism when they’re trying to grapple (or not grapple) with Art as maximalism.

Maybe it’s just more accurate to say that Art and Crime are both limit experiences– sometimes they double with each other, sometimes they split from each other, sometimes they feed off of each other, sometimes they destroy each other, sometimes each causes the collapse of the other.

8 comments for this entry:
  1. Subcrime | HTMLGIANT

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  2. Josef Horáček

    Well put, Joyelle. Isn’t any act or event potentially art? Sometimes it’s just a matter of staging and reception, the context in which we respond to the event. Also, to go back to Adam’s example of 9/11 – when faced with such an extraordinary event (I mean extraordinary here in its neutral, literal sense), art is often the only context, our only prior experience if you will, that in any way resembles that event (only an artist or a criminal could conceive of an event like that). Especially if we’ve encountered that event primarily through the media.

    If what I just said is true, at least in some instances, then is the prior experience with art helpful to us as we process the event? Or is it distracting? Perhaps some of both? Should we fight the impulse to aestheticize it or is an aesthetic response necessary for our very survival, making it possible for us to also respond on a human or humanitarian level?

  3. adam strauss

    I love this:

    “Of course bacteria live in intestinal tracts and also may give off their own light– bacterial Sublime”

    I also find fascinating the way you suggest that there is not a forsure chiasmus regarding art and crime and too that sometimes there may be; maybe art is supposed to/must be about crime–aka “outside of”: isnt that the root meaning of about?–rather than, to echoe Stevens and Rich and to a slightly lesser degree Williams, the thing itself.

    Joyelle–are you interested in chiasmus? Am I crazy to think it twines well with some of your tropes?

    Is paradox equivalent to equivocation; if so, then paradox could be called an impasse. I find paradox really problematic and also really unavoidable—by which I think I mean so often it seems like paradox is used as an evasive explanation–do I contradict myself, very well, I cointain multitudes–whereas it seems to me there’s much more tio be fed via having paradix “accounted” for: this of course wld entail outrageously focused/sustained thinking and yah that’s only fun for limited timespans.

    Wow Whittman seems perhaps perfect for Montevidayo!

    Much lovve to/for ya’ll!

  4. Lara Glenum

    Joyelle, I love what you’re saying in the final paragraph.

    Art, like crime, is not only an act, it’s a lens — to call something “art” or “a crime” is a way of framing/viewing events, objects, circumstances, etc. Both are about border collapse, loss of integrity, and violation of all kinds of norms. Art goes everywhere. It can and does use absolutely anything as its material and medium. Art is sutured to everything.

    That being said, there are some things I probably don’t care to frame as art. Even if they can be interrogated as spectacle, aesthetic event, performance art.

    But that’s a very personal call, and my sense of these things is always in flux.

  5. adam strauss

    “But that’s a very personal call”–but is it? Or is there probably a huge degree of consistency in what goes too far? Can there be a great non-didactic rape poem? I don’t mean WBY’s Leda.

    Question going back to crime but getting away from art: I often see the term rape culture used to reference everyday usa; because the word culture is in it, does this suggest that unless one is talking–not that this is commonly talked of–sidewalk sexual assault or sexualized murder, that rape is not seen as an actual crime, that most dont really believe in a take action way that non-consentual sex (not riproaringly violent but terrifyingly “mundane”–as william’s Passenaic (mispelled) victim states: “he was friendly” or somesuch) is not something else? Ugh, the terrifying mundane: just me or does that need more coverage?

    Another question: can art validly be for the aggressor, or is that criminal appropriation? I think I must mean confessional art, as certainly there’s B Easton Ellis and his disgusting yuppie psycho. Confession fascinates me: that for me is the mess. Could there be value in more art written from the aggressor’s position? The confessional position not the distanced commentator one; or is this me, hypothetically, overly privileging dialectics?

    If any of these questions go too far will the monitors please excise them?

    Ok I’m stressed out and want some Orta Or One Dancing aka extreme formalism.

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