Sunday, March 11, 2012


"My conviction gains infinitely the moment another soul will believe in it.”-- Thomas Carlyle's translation of an epigraph by Novalis.

In this essay I pointed out some of the parallels between the sublime affect and mythic complexity, emphasizing mostly this similarity:

Neither Burke nor Kant demonstrate any great fascination with mythic symbolism as such. However, I would expand some of the terms they use to describe the sublime, such as "might" or "magnificence," to include the sense of a greater mythic pattern that brings the events of a given story into the wider "family" of mythic narrative.

Now, as a result on my recent meditations on the sublime's operations in both literary and popular narratives, I should point out one of the salient differences between the two.

The Novalis/Carlyle epigraph bears on the question as to how one can ratify the existence of the sublime.  I don't agree with Schopenhauer's statement (in  WORLD) that it is perceived only by either men of genius or by those who have been "guided" by men of genius in their tastes.  However, it does seem that, as it is an affect more elusive than more familiar ones, such as happiness and sadness, the easiest way to ratify its existence is in terms of its popularity.

In Part 1 of NUM-INOUS ENCOUNTERS I asserted that Kant's essential definition of "dominance" could also be discerned in the "violent sublimity" of popular films, as exemplified by three very popular adventure-films.

That said, though the very popularity of these films suggests that the violent acts go beyond the merely functional, and so become an appreciation of "might" in and of itself, I cannot demonstrate the presence of the sublime on these terms in less popular films of the same types.  I might personally find the sublime in a Dirty Harry imitation, a martial-arts tournament flick, or a STAR WARS ripoff.  But if the other three films were of no more than moderate popularity, I could not argue that others also venerated them because of the sublime affect.

Thus, I am toying with-- though not completely committed to-- the idea that the sublime affect can be perceived best through works that have proved popular with a majority of their audience, be it a "high-art" or "low-art" audience.  With works that have not proved popular with some audience at some time, it's harder to divine this specific affect.

This is in strong contradistinction with the mythic, which, as it is properly a discourse rather than an affect-- albeit a discourse determined through what Langer terms presentational symbolism, can be demonstrated in any work, irregardless of popularity, as I demonstrated in the essay AN UNPOPULAR YET EXEMPLARY MYTH.

A further essay is needed to explore in what ways the sublime might be seen as an intensification of the "diffuse meaning" that Langer perceives within objects of presentational symbolism.

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