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On the aesthetic gaze, beauty, and the two sources of ugliness

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Abstract
‘This is beautiful’ and ‘that is ugly’ are not opposites and nor are they the two extremes of a continuum. To say that something is ‘not beautiful’ does not automatically mean it is ugly, and to pronounce something as ‘not ugly’ does not equate to it being beautiful. To declare something ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’ is to deploy one of two distinct forms of aesthetic appreciation, each one of which similarly privileges and isolates an object, thereby setting it at an ‘aesthetic distance’. It becomes an opposite, therefore, of all that is ‘normal’. Or, in other words, it differs from the myriad of aesthetically-neutral objects that sink without a trace in the quagmire of unobtrusiveness. The ‘not-ugly’ and ‘not-beautiful’ can thus be categorised as ‘ordinary’. Aesthetic appreciation – whether positive or negative – is a form of individualisation: both appraisals accord the object a status that transcends the ordinary or normal.4 The beautiful and the ugly are both outstanding, therefore,albeit in vastly divergent ways and on disparate grounds. Experiencing beauty or confronting ugliness are two completely distinct things, with very different issues at stake. (…) Beauty triumphs over the ordinary and augments what already exists. The ‘Wohlgefallen’ aesthetic pleasure is coupled with the affirmation of this surprising enrichment of reality. Ugliness, in contrast, is not ‘new’. It does not amaze or surprise; it does not come on top of what exists but, instead, cleaves into the ‘normal world’, and is immediately recognized. Ugliness is a revenant: it is permeated by a resistance or force that precedes the ordinary world. Enlightenment theories of aesthetics assumed that ugliness and the sense of something being ugly – like the notion of beauty – was ‘natural’, a primary mode of being (for objects) or of experience (for humans). Everything in existence was believed to be either beautiful or ugly to a greater or lesser extent, and thus experienced as such, with the many guises of ugliness, like those of beauty, individually linked to specific feelings and emotions. Attempts were made to identify and classify these myriad kinds of ugliness and to correlate them with the responses they engendered. The ‘experience of ugliness’, though, is even more specific and quite distinct from that of beauty. It is not ugliness as such that elicits rejection or disgust. Aesthetic appreciation – the ability to apprehend something as ugly and give it a name – already involves the processing and mastery of primary emotions and reactions that precede the aesthetic. ‘Ugliness’ is the aesthetic mode of appearance for everything that erupts ‘from below’ to disrupt the ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ or, in short, our whole, life-sustaining world. With ugliness, the threat of the monstrous and a risk of contamination by the formless shines forth. Normality is threatened, disturbed or ruptured in two radically different ways: by the monstrous or terrifying – Rosenkranz uses the word ‘Abform’ deformity; or by the formless or disgusting – which he called ‘Ungestalt’ formlessness. (Rosenkranz 2007, p. 12)7 One can, admittedly, easily conjure up disgusting monsters. But the monstrous, as such, is not disgusting, and the formless is not, as such, terrible.
Keywords
Beauty, Ugliness, aesthetics, Paul Valéry, monstruous, disgust

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Chicago
Verschaffel, Bart. 2019. “On the Aesthetic Gaze, Beauty, and the Two Sources of Ugliness.” In On the Ugly : Aesthetic Exchanges, ed. Jane Forsey and Lars Aagaard-Mogensen, 3–16. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
APA
Verschaffel, B. (2019). On the aesthetic gaze, beauty, and the two sources of ugliness. In J. Forsey & L. Aagaard-Mogensen (Eds.), On the ugly : aesthetic exchanges (pp. 3–16). Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Vancouver
1.
Verschaffel B. On the aesthetic gaze, beauty, and the two sources of ugliness. In: Forsey J, Aagaard-Mogensen L, editors. On the ugly : aesthetic exchanges. Cambridge Scholars Publishing; 2019. p. 3–16.
MLA
Verschaffel, Bart. “On the Aesthetic Gaze, Beauty, and the Two Sources of Ugliness.” On the Ugly : Aesthetic Exchanges. Ed. Jane Forsey & Lars Aagaard-Mogensen. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019. 3–16. Print.
@incollection{8623739,
  abstract     = {‘This is beautiful’ and ‘that is ugly’ are not opposites and nor are they the two extremes of a continuum. To say that something is ‘not beautiful’ does not automatically mean it is ugly, and to pronounce something as ‘not ugly’ does not equate to it being beautiful. To declare something ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’ is to deploy one of two distinct forms of aesthetic appreciation, each one of which similarly privileges and isolates an object, thereby setting it at an ‘aesthetic distance’. It becomes an opposite, therefore, of all that is ‘normal’. Or, in other words, it differs from the myriad of aesthetically-neutral objects that sink without a trace in the quagmire of unobtrusiveness. The ‘not-ugly’ and ‘not-beautiful’ can thus be categorised as ‘ordinary’. Aesthetic appreciation – whether positive or negative – is a form of individualisation: both appraisals accord the object a status that transcends the ordinary or normal.4 The beautiful and the ugly are both outstanding, therefore,albeit in vastly divergent ways and on disparate grounds. Experiencing beauty or confronting ugliness are two completely distinct things, with very different issues at stake.
(…)
Beauty triumphs over the ordinary and augments what already exists. The ‘Wohlgefallen’ aesthetic pleasure is coupled with the affirmation of this surprising enrichment of reality. Ugliness, in contrast, is not ‘new’. It does not amaze or surprise; it does not come on top of what exists but, instead, cleaves into the ‘normal world’, and is immediately recognized. Ugliness is a revenant: it is permeated by a resistance or force that precedes the ordinary world. Enlightenment theories of aesthetics assumed that ugliness and the sense of something being ugly – like the notion of beauty – was ‘natural’, a primary mode of being (for objects) or of experience (for humans). Everything in existence was believed to be either beautiful or ugly to a greater or lesser extent, and thus experienced as such, with the many guises of ugliness, like those of beauty, individually linked to specific feelings and emotions. Attempts were made to identify and classify these myriad kinds of ugliness and to correlate them with the responses they engendered. The ‘experience of ugliness’, though, is even more specific and quite distinct from that of beauty. It is not ugliness as such that elicits rejection or disgust. Aesthetic appreciation – the ability to apprehend something as ugly and give it a name – already involves the processing and mastery of primary emotions and reactions that precede the aesthetic. ‘Ugliness’ is the aesthetic mode of appearance for everything that erupts ‘from below’ to disrupt the ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ or, in short, our whole, life-sustaining world. With ugliness, the threat of the monstrous and a risk of contamination by the formless shines forth. Normality is threatened, disturbed or ruptured in two radically different ways: by the monstrous or terrifying – Rosenkranz uses the word ‘Abform’ deformity; or by the formless or disgusting – which he called ‘Ungestalt’ formlessness. (Rosenkranz 2007, p. 12)7 One can, admittedly, easily conjure up disgusting monsters. But the monstrous, as such, is not disgusting, and the formless is not, as such, terrible.
},
  author       = {Verschaffel, Bart},
  booktitle    = {On the ugly : aesthetic exchanges},
  editor       = {Forsey, Jane and Aagaard-Mogensen, Lars},
  isbn         = {9781527535237},
  keywords     = {Beauty,Ugliness,aesthetics,Paul Valéry,monstruous,disgust},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {3--16},
  publisher    = {Cambridge Scholars Publishing},
  title        = {On the aesthetic gaze, beauty, and the two sources of ugliness},
  year         = {2019},
}