File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 64

Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001 13:06:39 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: The Sublime

Eric,  Just one last attempt to clarify.  For me Hiroshima is not sublime.
But it was, for example, for the audience of over 100,000 Amerikans who
gathered in the L.A. Coliseum on Navy Day (Octoiber, 1945) to celebrate a
re-enactment of the bombing of Hiroshima, complete with a simulated mushroom
cloud rising from the 50 yard line to the patriotic joy/freude of the
assembled crowd.  Sublime Thanatos if you will.  But requiring for its
understanding a descent into the place in the (collective) psyche where such
Events are prepared--awaiting the day (8-6-45, 9-11-01) when they can be
born.  And to understand that, I try to show, is to unlock the psyche that
is solving its fundamental problems in Kant's thought on the sublime. The
psyche that dropped the bomb.  "Those who do not understand the past..."
Perhaps it is time we began.  As you note, often with enthusiasm, as was the
case for Kant's thought on the revolution. Or Amerika thanking the allmighty
for the bomb.  But when one is the object of such an event and not its
sovereign subject--what knowledge of traumatic Events (and their connection
with sublimity) is then possible?  Perhaps the return of the tragic as the
one "master narrative" adequate to an understanding of history? Walter     
At 10:50 AM 11/11/01 -0600, you wrote:
>The Shock of the Event
>I hope we can connect two of the trends here.  One is the discussion
>among Glen, Hugh and Steve about the definition of the sublime.  The
>other is the discussion between Reg and Walter about whether or not
>events such as Hiroshima, the Holocaust and 911 can be called sublime.
>While agreeing somewhat with Reg's formulation that the sublime is an
>"aestheticisation of terror" I think it also remains true that for both
>Kant and Lyotard historical events can be felt as "sublime affects." 
>For Kant this was linked to the enthusiasm experienced in connection
>with the French Revolution.  For Lyotard, especially in his book
>"Heidegger and 'the jews'" it is the Holocaust. 
>What is this sublime affect that can be experienced both aesthetically
>and historically? Lyotard points out that the question of the disaster
>is that of the insensible, of what might be called anesthesia.  Lyotard
>writes: "I have invoked briefly such an occurrence in Kant's analysis of
>the sublime: the incapacity into which the imagination is put when it
>has to produce forms to present the absolute (the thing).  This
>incapacity to produce forms inaugurates and marks the end of art, not as
>art but as beautiful form.  If art persists, and it does persist, it is
>entirely different, outside of taste, devoted to delivering and
>liberating this nothing, this affection that owes nothing to the
>sensible and everything to the insensible secret. Kant writes that the
>sublime is a "feeling of the mind."
>For me, this is a good summary description of the sublime and it also
>helps point the way to how the sublime is experienced in connection with
>historical events and some of the possibilities this offers.  
>As Lyotard points out, "the sublime such as Kant analyses it in
>"Critique of Judgment" offers, in the context of quite another
>problematic, some traits analogous to those of the unconscious affect
>and of deferred action in Freudian thought.  It introduces what, in
>Benjamin's reading of Baudelaire and in the later Adorno, will be the
>aesthetics of shock, an anesthetics."
>This connection between Freud and Kant is an illuminating one.  "In
>primary repression, the apparatus cannot at all bind, invest, fix, and
>represent the terror (called originary, but without orgin, and which it
>cannot situate), and this is why this terror remains "within" the
>apparatus as its outside, infuse and diffuse, as 'unconscious affect.'
>In the sublime feeling, the imagination is also completely unable to
>collect the absolute (in largeness, in intensity) in order to represent
>it, and this means that the sublime is not localizable in time.  But
>something, at least, remains there, ignored by the imagination, spread
>in the mind as both pleasure and pain - something Burke called terror,
>precisely, terror of a "there is nothing" which threatens without making
>itself known, which does not realize itself."
>Lyotard, as a philosopher of the event, invokes the question "is it
>happening?" Underlying this question is the fear, angst, dread that
>perhaps nothing will happen. This sublime terror can be called an
>aestheticisation, but it is really closer to an anesthesia.  It numbs
>the minds of those who survive and the forms which might be used to
>reconstitute the event, lie on the groundless ground like a debris of
>We survivors mark the event on the grid of time - 8-6-45 - 8-9-45 -
>9-11-01 - yet the event itself is extra-temporal, approaching the
>ontological.  It evokes the feeling that history might undo itself, that
>we ourselves might end.  This nameless terror cannot be signified, yet
>it remains as a "feeling of the mind."
>In the face of these sublime events of history, Lyotard calls for
>anamnesis, an act of remembering what can never be presented and what
>must never be forgotten.  Lyotard writes: "It follows that
>psychoanalysis, the search for lost time, can only be interminable, like
>literature and like true history (i.e. the one that is not historicism
>but anamnesis): the kind of history that does not forget that forgetting
>is not a breakdown of memory but an immemorial always "present" but
>never here-now, always torn apart in the time of consciousness, of
>chronology, between a too early and a too late - the too early of a
>first blow dealt to the apparatus that does not feel, and the too late
>of a second blow where something intolerable is felt. A soul struck
>without striking a blow."  


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