Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Mist, 1818

The Sublime: Aesthetics, Terror, and Pleasure

Instructor: Rebecca Ariel Porte
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

The concept of the sublime has worn many faces. In classical antiquity, the sublime was often a designation for the most powerful species of oratory and poetry. Enlightenment philosophers in turn used the sublime as a way to explain a relation of feeling between the human mind and the great and terrible forces of the natural world. Closer to our own time, the sublime has appeared in the work of modern and postmodern critics in a range of guises, from profound immersion in an art object to the traumatic shocks which characterize life in an increasingly interconnected world. This class, an introduction to the strange, diverse, and persistently resurgent phenomenon of sublimity, traces the ways in which the sublime has been bound to the forms and concerns of aesthetics over the course of its long life. Why has this term proven so vital and enduring for philosophers of literature and art?

In this course, we’ll trace the the history, proliferation, and possible futures of the sublime from its origins as a rhetorical descriptor through its life as an aesthetic category. We will also study its metamorphoses in the contemporary study of affect, trauma, and assorted cultural forms. Sessions will pair theory and philosophy with artifacts drawn from the visual, sonic, and literary traditions of sublime art, focusing on key moments from Enlightenment, Romantic, modern, and postmodern sublimes. How—and for what reasons— has the concept of the sublime migrated into the realms of cultural and political theory? And what can the endless modulations of sublimity—from the feminine sublime to the technological sublime—tell us about extreme formations in our own historical moment? Theoretical readings are likely to include selections from Adorno, Burke, Kant, Kristeva, Lacan, Longinus, Lyotard, Ngai, Rancière, and Schopenhauer, while art objects will be drawn from Romantic poetry and fiction as well as modern and contemporary music and visual art.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 18 — November 08, 2021
4 weeks


Registration Open

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