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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


"The sublime is a response to an imaginative shock, the complex recoil and recuperation of consciousness coping with objects too great to be encompassed. The grotesque, on the other hand, is a quality usually attributed to objects, the strange conflation of disparate elements not found in nature. This distinction is true to their difference. The sublime expands consciousness inward as it encompasses limits to its outward expansion of apprehension; the grotesque is a projection of fascinated repulsion/attraction out into objects that consciousness cannot accommodate, because the object disturbs the sense of rational, natural categorization. In both cases, the reader/perceiver is shocked by a sudden estrangement from habitual perception, and in both cases the response is to suspend one's confidence in knowledge about the world, and to attempt to redefine the real in thought's relation to nature."-- Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Istvan. 'On the Grotesque in Science Fiction', Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Mar., 2002), pp. 71-99.

I confess that as of this writing I've only skimmed this academic's essay, but at present I see no reason why it would apply only to that branch of metaphenomenal narrative labelled "science fiction"-- especially since
Csicsery-Ronay also notes within the text of the essay that in some science-fiction tropes the sublime and the grotesque appear to unite, as with the T-1000 from James Cameron's TERMINATOR 2: "Its fascinating shape-shifting would be the object of sublime awe were it not for its sadistic violation of mundane flesh."  This is a convenient admission from my standpoint, as I think that the interpenetration of Ronay's concepts of "the sublime" and "the grotesque" demonstrates that they are best seen as mirror-images of transcendence, but transcendence that is, as I examined here, so radically different from the commonplace that it feels as if it is either "upward" or "downward." 

I've noted in the aforesaid essay that most of the phenomena Huxley uses to characterize "downward transcendence" suggest, as Ronay suggests, "fascinated repulsion/attraction out into objects that consciousness cannot accomodate," for they relate to the human body being subjected to various kinds of stress-- principally drugs, degrading sex, and crowd-induced delirium, though Huxley also mentions the effects of "rhythmic movement," "rhythmic sound," and "corporal penance."  Huxley unfortunately does not provide as many examples of upward transcendence, though in this follow-up essay I noted how Joseph Campbell tended to focus only on images that I find suggestive of Huxley's upward transcendence, as well as having the effect of "expanding consciousness" in a manner shared by both traditional accounts of the sublime and modern accounts of the "sense of wonder."

Re-establishing my earlier suggestion that sublimity and "sense of wonder" are fundamentally covalent, it follows then that although science-fiction enthusiasts often use the latter phrase only to connote wonder in this "upward" end of its spectrum, it should be used no less to connote the aspect of terror in the "downward" manifestation.  Both of these forms of sublimity share the nature of what I called, in this essay, the "strange-sublime," and are phenomenologically opposed to the remaining form, "the odd-sublime," which can be roughly correlated with Huxley's horizontal transcendence, the transcendence in which one does not truly exceed what Ronay calls "habitual perception."

The two extremes of the "strange-sublime" suggest a possible parallel with Octavio Paz's dichotomy of "body/non-body."  I've already made a purely illustrative (i.e., not constitutive) comparison between my NUM formula and Paz's dichotomy in this essay, so I don't want to confuse matters by bringing sublimity into that mix.  But given that Huxley's downward transcendence suggests becoming overly attracted by, and perhaps subsumed by, the body, while upward transcendence suggests becoming liberated from same, into "non-body" in some manifestation, I will venture this comparison:

Horizontal transcendence= Paz's "the body"
Upward transcendence= "non-body" in the sense of Ronay's "expansion of apprehension"
Downward transcendence= "non-body" in the sense that "the object disturbs the sense of rational, natural categorization"

I must note then that neither "the marvelous" nor "the uncanny" firmly line up with either form of transcendence exclusively.  It's true that we're perhaps more likely to associate "expansion of apprehension" with thinking about wonderful things like Campbell's dragons or Ronay's molten cyborg, and "repulson/attraction" with icons of terror.  Yet "the marvelous" also includes a horror like ALIEN, while the "the uncanny" can include cheery upbeat action-fantasies like Miyazaki's CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO, reviewed here.  For the latter, obviously, "attraction" to those things that suggest but are not reducible to "the body" would supersede "repulsion."

Having more or less concluded this game of intellectual connect-the-academics, the only thing that remains will be to cite three specific examples of my perceived sublimity: the "odd-sublime" in a naturalistic context, the "strange-sublime" that suggest upward transcendence, and the "strange-sublime" that suggests downward transcendence.  More on that in a separate essay.

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