Happy New Year! This post is brought to you by a little lie, I apologize, this is not the last chapter of Sublime: it is the second to last chapter! This was just such a small chapter I previously overlooked its very existence! Perhaps the uncanny befits the beginnings of new years, a familiar yet equally foreign feeling about what may or may not transpire in the coming year. Gilles Ivain, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and A K Dolven all share space in this chapter, alongside Mike Kelley, about whom I will write today. To-day. 2 day.
In Conversation with Thomas McEvilley//1992
Reading over a published conversation is always interesting to me because I can never stop thinking about the editing that may or may not have happened. I like to imagine that most people can speak so fluidly and concisely, however untrue, it is still great to see an exchange between two minds in such a way. This conversation struck me especially because so many conclusions were made that not only made excellent points, but also left the doors open for interpretation and ideas. Here are a couple moments between the exchange. Critic McEvilley sets up the context of the conversation by stating Freud's opinion of what the uncanny is, "The uncanny belongs to all that is terrible, to all that arouses dread and creeping horror." Which Kelley then relates to Edmund Burke's notions of the sublime, anything so vast and 'other 'that it seems by its very existence to threaten the annihilation of the observing subject. McEvilley then then gives examples from Kant, mountain peaks, storms at sea, Milton's description of Hell, and infinity. We have an expected notion of the sublime and how the uncanny, because of it's relationship to terror and fear can be tied to it. After little more back and forth, McEvilley makes this point relating to the previous,
"For example, the experience of beholding an artwork or literary work which one basically doesn't like, and making an effort to appreciate it by getting into an alien point of view, might be a sublime act on this Kantian model."
In this quote we have both elements of uncanny, a foreign work of art that we do not like nor understand, but we become familiar in our forced interaction and consumption of the work. Mostly, this relates to Kant's proposed notion that ethical acts can be sublime. They require the denial of oneself in relation to some greater category, as said by McEvilley earlier. Art here being the greater category, and the consumption of the work being the ethical act. I also found this quote to be humorous in a way, perhaps because I could empathize with the idea of forcing oneself to try to understand that which is foreign and disliked. To imagine that in those moments of annoyance I was somehow channeling some sublime act makes me giggle. Other points are made about the terror and wonder of sublime through deliberate risk taking that goes beyond self congratulating before the excerpt ends with a summation made by Kelley.
"I see sublime as coming from the natural limitations of our knowledge; when we are confronted with something that's beyond our limits of acceptability, or that threatens to expose some repressed thing, then we have this feeling of the uncanny. So it's not about getting in touch with something greater than ourselves. It's about getting in touch with something we know and can't accept- something outside the boundaries of what we are willing to accept about ourselves."
I found this summation to be entirely moving, because Kelley is asserting that the sublime isn't some exterior experience so much as it is an internal epiphany of sorts where we suddenly become aware of that which we cannot comprehend, the feeling of the uncanny. Sublime exists as something that we do not want to accept about who we are.
Time to stretch&stretch.