Monday, September 15, 2014

Kantian Sublime

At some point, twice-removed summaries and third-party recitations of "They say, I say," become too much; eventually one must seek out the text that they keep hearing about and read it for themselves. It is my strong recommendation that you begin to read systematically from the start of your undergraduate career. There is NO substitute for encountering a classic work of social thought on your own; when you read it yourself, you get to listen to it poorly in your own way, and thus, to hear something more.

So: here is the 'Analytic of the Sublime' by Kant.


Sloterdijk on Kant: 
Alexander von Humboldt had been given the missions of formulating the return from cosmic exteriority to the self-reflexive world of humans in exemplary fashion. A generation earlier, Immanuel Kant had characterized the human mind's capacity to return to itself from the enormous, the utmost and the most foreign as the sense of the sublime --what he considered sublime was the human consciousness of one's own dignity, resisting all temptations to abandon oneself in the overwhelming. By enacting the return from the terrible expanse of nature, the astral and oceanic dimensions, into the educated salons with edifying thoroughness, Humboldt's picture of the world offered his contemporaries a final initiation into the cosmologically sublime. A view of the world on the largest possible scale here became an emergency of aesthetic life. This meant the continuation of the vita contemplativa by bourgeois, and thus ultimately consumptive means. If humans wanted to be 'moved' and 'deeply feel the monstrous', they now had to seek their own interiors."  (p.24)
Ferguson on Kant: 
There was once a name for the experience of massive power held in abeyance: the sublime. Edmund Burke (and the early Immanuel Kant) provided a dogmatic anthropology of its workings, which Kant then reworked in the Third Critique. Where Burke talked, among other things, about the relationship between despotic power and fear ("dread majesty"), Kant spoke of a fear that was already overcome in the perception of the power itself. Dynamically apprehended, it was apprehended as always in a state of potentiality, something to be thought about. Mathematically apprehended, it was apprehended as a reconfiguration of ongoing enumeration into the notion of infinity, a movement of thought to be thought about.
Kant's aesthetic theory is often spoke of --as Kant spoke of it-- as providing a bridge between his account of understanding and his work on practical reason. But the example of climate change helps to bring its place into clearer focus. The theory of the sublime does not, as is frequently thought, intimate a kind of aesthetic appreciation that would be a substitute for action. Rather, it provided a model of what it's like to feel that the world is posing a problem to all of the usual ways we have of conceiving of our actions. (p.35) 
Siegel on the sublime: 
Indeed Cornell's plan seems to have been shaped by the thematics of the Romantic sublime, which practically guaranteed that a cultivated man in the presence of certain landscapes would find his thoughts drifting metonymically through a series of topics --solitude, ambition, melancholy, death, spirituality, 'classical inspiration' --which could lead, by an extension, to questions of culture and pedagogy. (p.69)

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