Wounding realities and ‘painful excitements’
Real sympathy, the imitation of suffering and the visual arts after Burke’s sublime
in The hurt(ful) body
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Edmund Burke's sympathy and imitation as antithetical drives, this chapter retrieves from the Enquiry a counter-tendency that explores powerful continuities between real sympathy and the reality of imitations in painting, theatre and other 'affecting arts'. The chapter shows that the recourse to reality coincided with an emphatic resort to violent themes, not least involving hurtful bodies. Unsurprisingly, the Laocoon group and its anatomical veracity featured prominently in discussions of Burke's theories, leading critics to conflicting approaches. The chapter investigates the new synergies built from the late eighteenth century onwards between the appetite for aggressive sensations and the growing call for the amplification of visual representation. It demonstrates that thee realism of method (Burke's materialism and emphasis on sensory physiology) was tied up with a demand for realness in seeing and another call for realness in art.

The hurt(ful) body

Performing and beholding pain, 1600–1800


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