Artistic self-injury, established as an art form since the late 1960s, polarizes the audience and still raises questions about the motivations behind such actions as well as about the narrative contexts in which they occur. While past research has focused on either specific performers or specific trajectories of violence in the contexts in which each artist was working, for instance, the Vietnam War (Kathy O’Dell), this article localizes artistic self-injury within the larger coherencies of the history of mind with respect to aesthetic theories. Questions of subjectivation and desubjectivation seem especially productive for such a discussion. Read against the backdrop of the aesthetics of the Kantian sublime as a strategy of self-empowerment that sets the independence of the will against the powerlessness of the body, the self-wounding act can also be understood with Georges Bataille as a purposeful desubjectivation, in which the artist strives for a radical disempowerment through pain. A consideration of selected artists sounds out the range between these two theoretical references.

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