Looking at the Sublime
17 September 2017
Looking forward to the assignment I recognise that in order to develop an Idea I will need to understand the meanings behind Beauty and the Sublime. I am fairly confident that I understand the meaning of beauty (at least my interpretation of it) so I will return to that later.
I have some pre-conceived notions about the word sublime, though I note from a quick google search that it has many interpretations as Jane Kemp told me, therefore I think I need to pick a notion that fits with the assignment.
On the university of Idaho I found this definition:
“The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature . . . is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.” [Edmund Burke, On the Sublime , 1756 ed. J. T. Bolton. 58]
A second quote from the same site states:
Sublime experiences, whether in nature or in art, inspire awe and reverence, and an emotional understanding that transcends rational thought and words or language.
And finalyat the end:
Post Hippie Sublime
Post-Romantics, by the way, may seek the sublime in urban or social settings, often including ones that, as Edmund Burke first proposed 250 years ago, are violent. Standing in downtown Manhattan and looking up, or atop the Twin Towers and looking down, or standing in front of a wall of speakers blasting Green Day (sellouts!) or DragonForce (a band which, by the way, sucks!) and slam dancing, or overdosing on caffeine and driving alone through the LA freeways at 2 a.m. at 95 mph…all these are attempts to capture that moment when the outside experience and your imagination overwhelm you and you feel connected to the larger experience of existence. It’s no coincidence, then, that the leader of Sublime died of a heroin overdose.
The consumer-market driven Romantic sublime lives on in “extreme sports” like rock climbing, mountain biking and downhill skiing, not to mention sky diving and bungee jumping, alligator wrestling, random dumb-ass shit usually accompanied by the words “Hey y’all, watch this! Oh sheeeeeeeit….” and ending in medical evacuation.
An article on the Artiface : https://the-artifice.com/the-sublimes-effects-in-gothic-fiction/ has a definition of the sublime in gothic fiction:
What separates experiencing the sublime from experiencing beauty is the disruption of harmony. As stated above, it shows elements of Romantic reactions to human experience while utilizing fear as well. According to Edmund Burke, the imagination experiences both thrill and fear through what is “dark, uncertain, and confused.” In setting the sublime apart from beauty, the sublime creates more than a positive, appreciative response to an aesthetic, such as a beautiful painting or sunlit meadow. The sublime stems from potent awe and terror that stresses someone’s limits, surpassing all other responses and overloading the recipient in both their revulsion and fascination.
I found the next passage particularly interesting:
In regards to the Romantic view of the environment, the sublime can occur when natural grandeur overwhelms an individual to the point of causing fright or a feeling of helpless insignificance.
And Finalyfrom The Artiface:
Overall, approaching the sublime occurs when a sight or experience is “awesome” or ” awful” in the old meaning of both words: characterized by or inspiring awe, and awe is an emotion containing fear, wonder, and reverence. The sublime questions the stark dichotomy between pleasure and pain because a fear-invoking scene can also cause wonder, an odd sort of delight. In a contemporary sense, it could be viewed as watching a train wreck: horrifying, but captivating to the viewer.
When I analise these comments they all point me toward one thing the balance between pleasure and pain, as noted above the human reaction to disasteris to become a voyer something you see on a motorway when both lanes become congested after an accident as everyone turns into rubber necked voyers and amke the situation worse.
This idea of an edgienessto the sublime something that makes you take a sharp intake of breath, it reminds me of the felling of vertigo you get when looking through the glass portion of the floor in the Eiffel Tower, or peering over a sheer drop either on a cliff top or at the top of a tall building.
I can remember being totally overwhelemd by this experience when I was an apprentice and the guy who serviced all of the cranes and hoists took me up in a lifty to service a hoist. I was almost paralisedby the vertigo of looking down from the small platform, the image to the left shows a similar piece of equipment, the one we had back in the 1980’s was old even then and rather than the nice sturdy scissor lift it was a single hydraulic ram that swayed and wobbled as you moved making the experience a hundred times worse.
This feelingof fear or vertigo is similar to the feelings described in the discussion on the sublime above, I can think of two events in my life that cross into the relm of art where this reaction was extracted from the audience by the artist, both are moments in cinema where the director has played the audience so well that the desired reaction is guaranteed.
The first was as a young man I took my Dad to see Jaws 2, this is a film riddled with this kind of suspense and everyone expects the shark to jump out all the way through the movie, one of the most cleaver moments is when Cheif Martin Brody is investigating the shaw line and sees something in the water, there is a very tense moment as he wades out to see what it is, the whole cinema is waiting for the inevitable shark attack when with a suddend build of sound a dead eaten body is thrown at him by a large wave. The rreaction was for the entire cinema to jump out of their skins, a brilliant and unexpected twist.
The second of these is a moment in Jurasic Park where the children are hidden in the ceiling of the building and the Raptors are prowling underneath, we are momentarily led to beleive that they have left when they suddenly leap up through the hole in the ceiling, I watched this several times in the cinema and each time everyone in the cinima pulled their legs up from the ground.
Clearly film makers have sound effects music and dialog to increase the tension and suspense of the moment, however it struck me that if it were possible to crerate an image that instilled a bit of fear into the viewer while being facinating and drawing them in it may go some way to describing the sublime in an image. More pondering to do on the subject as I know what I would like to do but not how to acheive it yet.