File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0103, message 10

Date: Fri, 02 Mar 2001 14:03:30 -0500
Subject: Re: Terror & the Sublime

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Mary Murphy&Salstrand <>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2001 11:31 PM
Subject: Terror & the Sublime

> Hugh, Julie et al.,
> There is definitely more of a connection with the sublime and terror
> than with the sublime and beauty, at least in the way this has
> traditionally been represented.
> A extremely abbreviated history of the concept of the sublime would run
> as follows.  Longinus, a Greek teacher of rhetoric who lived 213-273
> C.E. is usually credited with introducing the term.  For him the sublime
> consists chiefly in elevation.  It is those stylistic devices which
> display grandeur of thought and intensity of feeling.
> The term was revived by Boileau in the 17th century and entered into
> increased usage thereafter. Edmund Burke codified the term for English
> audiences in his book "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our
> Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful."  Immanuel Kant made use of this
> book, as well as other sources, when he wrote his "Critique of
> Judgement."
> Kant's chief distinction was to bring the concepts of beauty and the
> sublime into the framework of his critical philosophy and the
> heterogeneous faculties of judgement, reason, imagination and
> understanding. Kant also points out certain relationships with
> aesthetics to both ethics and teleology.  This leads to some of the
> difficulties that Hugh referred to in connection with "sublime
> sentiments" and the conflict of the faculties in producing the sublime
> such as the failure of the concept to contain the idea of either the
> infinite or the dynamic.
> For this reason I sometimes find it easier to use Burke's explanations
> of the sublime because they tend to be more direct and psychological. 
> Here is what Burke himself said about terror and the sublime.
> "Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger,
> that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about
> terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a
> source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the stongest emotion
> which the mind is capable of feeling."
> What is important to realize here is that Burke's conception of the
> sublime was to prove extremely important in raising this emotion over
> beauty in the development of the Romantic sensibility.  The Romantic man
> of feeling, most strongly typified by Byron, was marked chiefly by
> sublime feelings. The elements associated with these were the whole
> Gothic realm of mystery, the ancient past, horror, graveyards,
> ruins,abandoned cathedrals, wild desolate scenery, glaciers, mountains,
> abysses, lonely vistas and the wild, tumultuous ocean.  The purpose of a
> sentimental eduction was to teach one to cultivate the dark, brooding,
> melancholy feelings of a Heathcliff on Wurthering Heights or a Manfred
> in a self-imposed exile. (Childe Harold to the dark tower came!) 
> This sublime was also a religious feeling.  God in his hidden majesty
> and power evoked sublime feeling.  Fear of the Lord and Awe were the
> appropriate religious emotions.  One should approach the most high with
> fear and trembling because God in his overwhelming greatness had a
> terrible aspect.  As Kant pointed out, the prohibition of the use of
> graven images to represent God was the true mark of his sublime nature.
> The contemporary sublime breaks with these associations of Romanticism
> and Religion, but it still shares with them the terror, pain, power and
> sense of the infinite that has long been the hallmark of the sublime.  
> Rather than the simple pleasure that beauty evokes, the sublime aims at
> feelings that are darker, deeper and much more ambigious.  At the place
> where pain and pleasure meet and ecstasy arises, the sublime appears,
> conspicuous by his absence.
> Certainly, Artaud with his Theatre of Cruelity and sense of theatre as
> pagan ritual and archaic religion was evoking the sublime.  
> I am not that familiar with the work of Jerzy Grotowski (Isn't he
> discussed in "My Dinner with Andre"?), but suspect he may also be
> digging in a similar emotional terrain.
> The question is what does this contemporary postmodern sublime mean for
> us and how precisely does it differ from the sublime of the romantics.
> That seems to be the question Lyotard was asking when he connected the
> sublime with both the postmodern and the unpresentable.


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