Monday, July 27, 2009

"The limitation is us"

Rereading Mike Kelley's book Foul Perfection, I came across this passage, which seems a wonderful parsing of two discrete definitions of the sublime and the sublime's relationship to objectivity. The passage is quoted from an interview Kelley conducted with Thomas McEvilley in December, 1992:

"Thomas McEvilley: Along with formlessness, the theme of the sublime in recent art involved a sense of the human individual possessing in a hidden way a potential for vast spiritual greatness. [Barnett] Newman is again the obvious example. But clearly you approach it differently.

Mike Kelley: Right. I have a big problem with that reading of the sublime. My reading is more Freudian, involved with notions of sublimation. I see the sublime coming from the natural limitation of our knowledge; when we are confronted with something that's beyond our limits of acceptability, or that threatens to reveal 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 but cannot accept--something outside the boundaries of what we're willing to accept about ourselves.

TM: You're not concerning yourself with what's on the other side of that limitation.

MK: The limitation is us. I'm not interested in what's not us. But to keep talking about it in relation to the threat of physical annihilation separates the project too much from aesthetic discourse. And I want that also to be a part of it. It's about one's interaction with an object, not just one's interaction with one's self. The focus is on the object."