Fabio Camilletti

Oblique Gazes

The Je Ne Sais Quoiand the Uncanny as Forms of Undecidability in Post-Enlightenment Aesthetics
The article compares the aesthetic notions of the je ne sais quoi (as it emerges in the Renaissance and is widely debated in the eighteenth century) and of the ‘uncanny’ as theorized by Ernst Jentsch and Sigmund Freud in the early twentieth century. Its hypothesis is that both notions, in situating aesthetic experience in a liminal space between pleasure and trouble, can be considered after-images of non-aesthetical notions — notions that belong to the domain of the sacred and have metamorphosed as forms of aesthetic undecidability through the paradigmatic fracture of early modernity. The article focuses on depictions of female figures directing their gaze upward — in the iconography of Sade’s Justine, in popular imagery connected with Lourdes apparitions (1858), in medium photography, and in the images taken by Charcot of his hysterical patients at the Salpêtrière — and argues that they become a Warburgian Pathosformel indicating a space of undecidability and ‘non-sense’ between the subject and otherness.
Keywords: uncanny; je ne sais quoi; hysteria; aesthetics; post-enlightenment
Title
Oblique Gazes
Subtitle
The Je Ne Sais Quoiand the Uncanny as Forms of Undecidability in Post-Enlightenment Aesthetics
Author(s)
Fabio Camilletti
Identifier
DOI Target
Description
The article compares the aesthetic notions of the je ne sais quoi (as it emerges in the Renaissance and is widely debated in the eighteenth century) and of the ‘uncanny’ as theorized by Ernst Jentsch and Sigmund Freud in the early twentieth century. Its hypothesis is that both notions, in situating aesthetic experience in a liminal space between pleasure and trouble, can be considered after-images of non-aesthetical notions — notions that belong to the domain of the sacred and have metamorphosed as forms of aesthetic undecidability through the paradigmatic fracture of early modernity. The article focuses on depictions of female figures directing their gaze upward — in the iconography of Sade’s Justine, in popular imagery connected with Lourdes apparitions (1858), in medium photography, and in the images taken by Charcot of his hysterical patients at the Salpêtrière — and argues that they become a Warburgian Pathosformel indicating a space of undecidability and ‘non-sense’ between the subject and otherness.
Is Part Of
Place
Vienna
Publisher
Turia + Kant
Date
2010
Subject
uncanny
je ne sais quoi
hysteria
aesthetics
post-enlightenment
Rights
© by the author(s)
This version is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Language
en-GB
short title
Oblique Gazes
page start
71
page end
91
Source
Tension/​Spannung, ed. by Christoph F. E. Holzhey, Cultural Inquiry, 1 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2010), pp. 71–91
Bibliographic Citation
Fabio Camilletti, ‘Oblique Gazes: The Je Ne Sais Quoiand the Uncanny as Forms of Undecidability in Post-Enlightenment Aesthetics’, in Tension/​Spannung, ed. by Christoph F. E. Holzhey, Cultural Inquiry, 1 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2010), pp. 71–91 <https://doi.org/10.25620/ci-01_04>

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Cite as: Fabio Camilletti, ‘Oblique Gazes: The Je Ne Sais Quoiand the Uncanny as Forms of Undecidability in Post-Enlightenment Aesthetics’, in Tension/​Spannung, ed. by Christoph F. E. Holzhey, Cultural Inquiry, 1 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2010), pp. 71–91 <https://doi.org/10.25620/ci-01_04>
Fabio Camilletti, ‘Oblique Gazes: The Je Ne Sais Quoiand the Uncanny as Forms of Undecidability in Post-Enlightenment Aesthetics’, in Tension/​Spannung, ed. by Christoph F. E. Holzhey, Cultural Inquiry, 1 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2010), pp. 71-91 <https://doi.org/10.25620/ci-01_04>

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