Yet that grief and this joy were alike outside all the ordinary conditions of life; they were loop-holes, as it were, in that ordinary life through which there came glimpses of something sublime. And in the contemplation of this sublime something the soul was exalted to inconceivable heights of which it had before had no conception which reason lagged behind, unable to keep up with it.
Beauty could be defined simply as 'that which pleases.' But there is another aspect to art, and that... is the sublime. Like the mushroom cloud of the atom bomb, or the vastness of space as projected to us by satellite... the greatness of the experience goes beyond your ethical and aesthetic judgment, cutting you free from the binding ego of yourself. With the diminishment of your ego, the less there is of you, the more you see the sublime.
The most sublime labour of poetry is to give sense and passion to insensate things; and it is characteristic of children to take inanimate things in their hands and talk to them in play as if they were living persons... This philological-philosophical axiom proves to us that in the world's childhood men were by nature sublime poets...
For thousands of years, it had been nature-and its supposed creator-that had had a monopoly on awe. It had been the icecaps, the deserts, the volcanoes and the glaciers that had given us a sense of finitude and limitation and had elicited a feeling in which fear and respect coagulated into a strangely pleasing feeling of humility, a feeling which the philosophers of the eighteenth century had famously termed the sublime. But then had come a transformation to which we were still the heirs... Over the course of the nineteenth century, the dominant catalyst for that feeling of the sublime had ceased to be nature. We were now deep in the era of the technological sublime, when awe could most powerfully be invoked not by forests or icebergs but by supercomputers, rockets and particle accelerators. We were now almost exclusively amazed by ourselves.
Alain de Botton
A sublime religion inevitably generates a strong feeling of guilt. There is an unavoidable contrast between loftiness of profession and imperfection of practice. And, as one would expect, the feeling of guilt promotes hate and brazenness. Thus it seems that the more sublime the faith the more virulent the hatred it breeds.
But that had been grief--this was joy. Yet that grief and this joy were alike outside all the ordinary conditions of life; they were loopholes, as it were, in that ordinary life through which there came glimpses of something sublime. And in the contemplation of this sublime something the soul was exalted to inconceivable heights of which it had before had no conception, while reason lagged behind, unable to keep up with it.
Yes, I know, we are merely empty forms of matter, but we are indeed sublime in having invented God and our soul. So sublime, my friend, that I want to gaze upon matter, fully conscious that it exists, and yet launching itself madly into Dream, despite its knowledge that Dream has no existence, extolling the Soul and all the divine impressions of that kind which have collected within us from the beginning of time and proclaiming, in the face of the Void which is truth, these glorious lies!
Welcome, Disappointment! Thy hand is cold and hard, but it is the hand of a friend. Thy voice is stern and harsh, but it is the voice of a friend. Oh, there is something sublime in calm endurance, something sublime in the resolute, fixed purpose of suffering without complaining, which makes disappointment oftentimes better than success!
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Horse Frightened by a Lion depicts a majestic stallion in a very different situation. Stubbs painted this magnetic masterpiece to illustrate the nature of the sublime, which was one of his era's most popular philosophical concepts, and its relation to a timelessly riveting feeling: fear. The magnificent horse galloping through a vast wilderness encounters the bottom-up stimulus of a crouching predator and responds with a dramatic display of what psychologists mildly call "negative emotion." The equine superstar's arched neck, dilated eyes, and flared nostrils are in fact the very picture of overwhelming dread. The painting's subject matter reflects he philosopher Edmund Burke's widely circulated Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, which asserts that because "terror" is unparalleled in commanding "astonishment, " or total, single-pointed, -indeed, rapt-attention, it is "the ruling principle of the sublime.
The notion that capital - as an infinitely ramified system of exploitation, an abstract, intangible but overpowering logic, a process without a subject or a subject without a face - poses formidable obstacles to its representation has often been taken in a sublime or tragic key. Vast, beyond the powers of individual or collective cognition; invisible, in its fundamental forms; overwhelming, in its capacity to reshape space, time and matter - but unlike the sublime, or indeed the tragic, in its propensity to thwart any reaffirmation of the uniqueness and interiority of a subject. Not a shipwreck with a spectator, but a shipwreck of the spectator.