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Higgins
03-15-2007, 03:23 AM
You can say what you want about "the Sublime." Edmund Burke has.

http://www.carleton.ca/philosophy/cusjp/v20/n1/magrini.html


And in a more Kantian, POMO-Mode:

http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-1554874/H-P-Lovecraft-and-the.html


I myself don't find those sublimities particularly satisfying. I'm more interested in a Levi-Straussian sublime (hmmm...best not to google that, you'll get this:

http://www.lacan.com/zizek-matrix.htm

)...Anyway, don't consider yourself forewarned: in the search for the Sublime, anything can happen.

I like my sublime a bit more formally done. Call me picky, but if you have to metaphorically go snorkling in the abyss to have a sublime arty experience...what's the point?

For me, a little idle leafing through a soothing stretch of text is about as much gearing up to tackle the formless awful stuff as I want to do. Fortunately, though, there I was, leafing through Norman Austin's Archery in the Dark of the Moon: Poetic Problems in Homer's Odyssey when I found a mysterious phrase at the end of chapter two: "Prehistory is nobody's childhood." No, indeed, it's a rough world out there, or back then. Better the perspicacity of the anthropologist than the myopia of Penelope's suitors on Ithaka ( as Austin almost says at that point.). And this is one (rather poetic) way that Austin justifies reading the Odyssey as if it all made abundant sense.
Well...who would say: Prehistory is nobody's childhood? Levi-Strauss as it turns out, though not in a context I could retrieve from Austin's notes.
Austin's book on the Odyssey came out in 1975, which seems to have been about the peak of structuralism's impact on Lit Crit in the US. Austin's formalist book is haunted from one end to the other by structuralism. And this may be instructive. It seems to me that formalism (and Homeric formulae) was never the same after Levi-Strauss. Ever after Levi-Strauss, the formal interpretation is haunted by the kind of duplicative meanings that structuralist analysis reveals in any formal arrangement. When you think about it, there now seems to be a kind of inevitablility in the removal of meaning from the impulse to formalize and the expansion of meaning into the arena where some agency has to traverse the formalized object or text to make sense of it.

In Levi-Straussian terms, once the (Levi-Straussian) perception or myth of the propagation of the signifier (I'm going on my memory of Levi-Strauss's intro to Mauss' Essay on the Gift) becomes imaginable -- that is once we have the technology to imagine/ or visualize or even catalog the explosion of signifiers (from the dawn of language to the present photogenic moment), the idea of the "formal" is never the same. The purely formal is always haunted by a possibility of being read or traversed or transcribed or recorded in some way that restructures it...or in Lacanian terms...always subject to being recataloged into the immense cornucopia of the imaginary desire of the Other. And the sign of that is always something not-quite formalizable: the voice or the gaze.

Shady Lane
03-15-2007, 03:24 AM
Okay, call me a crazy novice here, what is the sublime?

My book is actually called The Sublime, so I get excited when I hear the word.

Higgins
03-15-2007, 03:43 AM
Okay, call me a crazy novice here, what is the sublime?

My book is actually called The Sublime, so I get excited when I hear the word.

In critical theory it is the theory of the IMPACT that trying to figure out what a huge or complex object really is....has on people.

Shady Lane
03-15-2007, 03:52 AM
Gotcha. Thanks much.

It works pretty well for my novel, then, actually.

Godfather
03-15-2007, 02:31 PM
i would call sublime writing when you can understand something, yet you would never have written it. like... kerouac. it's sublime.

Higgins
03-15-2007, 05:01 PM
i would call sublime writing when you can understand something, yet you would never have written it. like... kerouac. it's sublime.

This is more or less my take on the Sublime as well. It's not about the breakdown or failure of a way of making sense of things, it's about finding an unexpected means for bringing a lot of things into play and arranging them or disarranging them into a assemblage that suggests a different range of possible meanings.

So in the beat world or the classical world or the post-post-modern world (unlike the modern or romantic or postmodern world) the sublime is not about terror, failure, horror, and the unimaginable...it is about elaborating or hinting at finding a new way to traverse old places of terror or epic formulae or literary topoi.

ColoradoGuy
03-15-2007, 06:41 PM
It's a shortcut to understanding by a path you were unaware existed. For readers of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, it can be sort of like to "grok" something.

Now, does such a sudden apprehension of the sublime transcend language?

Higgins
03-17-2007, 12:14 AM
It's a shortcut to understanding by a path you were unaware existed. For readers of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, it can be sort of like to "grok" something.

Now, does such a sudden apprehension of the sublime transcend language?

I gave this a lot of thought and I'm not happy with my answer because it is the exact opposite of what I was aiming at at the beginning of this thread. Basically, my original point was, you could reach and depart from something sublime without leaving a comfortable linguistic formulation.
Now, I'm beginning to think not. We have to leave the Levi-straussian explosion of the signifier and accept the fact that Lacan might be more helpful despite the fact that few people have heaped more abuse on the very idea of sublimity than Lacan...or so it would seem.
The problems with Lacan that I have include:
1) he seems inconsistant and contradictory
2) and yet some of his formulations seem a bit too useful and I am suspicious of my own tendency to fall back on them
3) his formulation of the real seems both potentially extremely useful and at the same time very confused

Well...we will take five hints from Bruce Fink's attempts to systematically elucidate Lacan that seem to point at a non-linguistic way into and out of the sublime:
1) the signifier is not the same as language
2) the structure of the unconscious is like language, but again, not the same as language
3) where desire begins is a matter of a lucky encounter with the Real
4) castration is the subjugation of the subject to the signifier (=Fate)
5) most mysterious: according to Fink, unlike Freud, Lacan suggests there is a way of getting beyond castration and marking oneself as a subject that constructs its own fate: this is the rather bleak and Zen route known as "separation"...ie from all symbolic and imaginary constructions of the self.

More later

Medievalist
03-17-2007, 03:41 AM
If you're going to talk about the sublime, you've got to go back to Longinus Boileau, before Burking.

Higgins
03-17-2007, 04:09 AM
If you're going to talk about the sublime, you've got to go back to Longinus Boileau, before Burking.

The first article linked to in the in the thread starter surveys Longinus briefly.

Boileau? Now there's an idea. In fact, I had an encounter with the sublime while reading Boileau in my youth. A black out on a stormy night in a beach town. I don't remember much about Boileau other than that at the time he seemed appropriate.

Higgins
03-17-2007, 04:31 AM
If you're going to talk about the sublime, you've got to go back to Longinus Boileau, before Burking.

on Longinus:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4142/is_200404/ai_n9390109/pg_1

Dict Robert covers everything sublime from ekstasis to Freud (And Boileau's invention of the modern usage of the term):

http://robert.bvdep.com/public/vep/Pages_HTML/SUBLIME.HTM

But we can probably stick with Burk as a starting point:

« Le sublime » est le terme choisi par Boileau pour traduire l' hupsos de Ps.-Longin et il devient grâce à Burke, au milieu du XVIIIe siècle, un principe systématiquement opposé au beau : principe dont la théorisation accompagne au XVIIIe siècle la naissance de l' esthétique.

Medievalist
03-17-2007, 04:39 AM
Burke almost plagiarizes Boileau; were he a modern author, it would be seen as plagiarism.

I think it's easier to "get" the idea of the sublime by thinking of it terms of paintings; the landscapes of John Constanble, for instance, were considered sublime.

Higgins
03-17-2007, 04:53 AM
Burke almost plagiarizes Boileau; were he a modern author, it would be seen as plagiarism.

I think it's easier to "get" the idea of the sublime by thinking of it terms of paintings; the landscapes of John Constanble, for instance, were considered sublime.

Wonderful. I've always thought people underestimated Boileau. On the other hand, I looked at the Constable show in DC last Fall and sublime was about the last thing that occurred to me. In fact it didn't cross my mind until right now.

Maybe you are thinking of Ruskin on the topic of Turner's paintings?:

http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/ruskin/atheories/3.1.html

At any rate, everyone seems to agree (after say, 1704) that mountains are the crucial aesthetic test when it comes to the pictorial sublime.

Higgins
03-17-2007, 05:16 AM
I think it's easier to "get" the idea of the sublime by thinking of it terms of paintings; the landscapes of John Constanble, for instance, were considered sublime.

So, originally I was hoping to reach the structural sublime via a Levis-Straussian look into the Odyssey, but then ColoradoGuy naturally asked if the sublime we seemed to be talking about was beyond or outside of or part of what supported language. As I've noted, no matter how far you want to stretch the idea of the signifier it is a) not the same as language and b) probably doesn't quite cover the sublime if we transpose the idea of the sublime into the Lacanian idea of an encounter with the Real.

I came to these unlikely conclusions (which are as Burkean/Boileau-esque as they are Lacanian) by the simple method of asking myself what sublime experiences I had had...other than music and maybe a few pages of reading here and there...they all had to do with traversing big chunks of nature on foot or by small boat and generally nearly getting killed in the process. Not a sign of any very functional signifier and certainly no language in any of it....though now that I think about it two or three weirdly sublime things stand out: an old B17 crash site that I hiked to in the woods in the pacific NW (there was just a big chunk of airplane in the trail...I guess it had been moved), an injury that saved me from a very ill-judged climb (I guess I was more scared than I knew, I was relieved to see a big bloody hole in my arm), and a strata of fossiliferous limestone that led unerringly through endless bunches of wild strawberries.

These are all essentially landscapes with strange experiences built into them by fate as it were. Nothing really linguistic about any of it.

Medievalist
03-17-2007, 05:21 AM
For Ruskin, sublime is a different thing -- in Ruskin particular, it's code for archaic/medieval/rustic.

Austen makes fun of the Romantic version of the sublime, as it merges with the "Gothic sensibility." This bit of Wordsworth from The Simplon Pass (http://www.bartleby.com/145/ww142.html)" was a sort of touchstone for "the sublime":


. . . The immeasurable height
Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,
The stationary blasts of waterfalls,
And in the narrow rent, at every turn,
Winds thwarting winds bewildered and forlorn,
The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky,
The rocks that muttered close upon our ears, 10
Black drizzling crags that spake by the wayside
As if a voice were in them, the sick sight
And giddy prospect of the raving stream,
The unfettered clouds and region of the heavens,
Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light--

trumancoyote
03-17-2007, 07:37 PM
WhatinthesaggytitoftheDevilareanyofyoutalkingabout ?!

Medievalist
03-17-2007, 07:51 PM
WhatinthesaggytitoftheDevilareanyofyoutalkingabout ?!

It's the deep roots of literary criticism, Zach, and reading it will eventually rot your brains.

trumancoyote
03-17-2007, 09:36 PM
Oh, we dabbled in a bit of that in my last Japanese lit class. It was... awful, to tell the truth. Everything seemed to get spooglebanged into some sickish, subjective ghoulash of big words and empty meanings.

Luckily, however, Japanese wasn't any of our native languages, so when we discussed the stuff it was usually pretty simple; it was just the required reading that, well, was a bitch, if you'll pardon the expression.

I'll back away slowly now, and head to the crayon-drawings-of-monkeys section of the board, where Zach belongs.

Higgins
03-18-2007, 02:20 AM
It's the deep roots of literary criticism, Zach, and reading it will eventually rot your brains.

I don't know that the roots of crit are so bad.

Without this thread:

I wouldn't have thought of Boileau, but he is crucial.

I wouldn't have thought of Ruskin or painting.

I wouldn't have asked my self about whether the sublime was always necessarily a linguistic event.

I wouldn't have changed my mind about the sublime.