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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...

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Though Otto uses the word "sublime" at least once in the first six chapters, Chapter 7 is the first time he invokes "the sublime" as a technical category, showing his awareness of its intellectual history with Kant, and presumably, other earlier essayists like Burke.

The analogies between the consciousness of the sublime
and of the numinous may be easily grasped. To begin with,
the sublime , like the numinous , is in Kantian language an
idea or concept that cannot be unfolded or explicated (unaus-
wickelbar). Certainly we can tabulate some general rational
signs that uniformly recur as soon as we call an object sublime ;
as, for instance, that it must approach, or threaten to overpass,
the bounds of our understanding by some dynamic or
mathematic greatness, by potent manifestations of force 
or magnitude in spatial extent. But these are obviously
only conditions of, not the essence of, the impression of sub
limity. A thing does not become sublime merely by being
great. The concept itself remains unexplicated ; it has in
it something mysterious, and in this it is like that of
the numinous . A second point of resemblance is that the
sublime exhibits the same peculiar dual character as the
numinous; it is at once daunting, and yet again singularly
attracting, in its impress upon the mind. It humbles and at
the same time exalts us, circumscribes and extends us beyond
ourselves, on the one hand releasing in us a feeling analogous
to fear, and on the other rejoicing us. So the idea of the
sublime is closely similar to that of the numinous, and is well
adapted to excite it and to be excited by it, while each tends
to pass over into the other.
Prior to this, Otto makes clear that he regards "the sublime" as being "a pale reflection" of the experience of "numinosity."  Otto does not deny the applicability of the sublime to human experience, but considers that the term stems from "a region belonging to... aesthetics" as opposed to that of "religion."  That may be enough to establish Otto's priorities re: how he rates religion and philosophy. I can appreciate his conviction to frame the experience of numinosity as if it stemmed from an experience of Deity (as per his example of Abraham).  He's certainly prejudiced by this preference, though he doesn't limit the experience of the numinous to Judeo-Christian hermeneutics.  Later, borrowing Kant's concept of the "schema," he says:

And it is for the same reason inherently probable
that there is more, too, in the combination of the holy with
the sublime than a mere association of feelings ; and per
haps we may say that, while as a matter of historical genesis
such an association was the means whereby this combination
was awakened in the mind and the occasion for it, yet the in
ward and lasting character of the connexion in all the higher
religions does prove that the sublime too is an authentic
scheme of the holy
In this chapter Otto never quite defines the distinction, but instead pursues the subject of "associated feelings" with respect to how "the erotic" and the nature of music impinge upon the concept of numinosity.  Possibly in future chapters he will explore the "connexion" a bit more doggedly.

ADDENDA: Given that I'm a Schopenhauer fan, I decided that I ought to add another "religion vs. philosophy" quote that appears at the very end of Chapter 6:

But we must beware of confounding in any way the non-
rational of music and the non-rational of the numinous itself,
as Schopenhauer, for example, does. Each is something in its
own right, independently of the other.
Since Schopenhauer didn't recognize any deific entities, it seems likely that he would consider that Otto's "numinous" covalent with all the affects that produce sublimity.  I tend that way myself, but I must admit that as a pluralist I can appreciate Otto's attempt to make mental distinctions between such complex spheres as those of religion and philosophy.

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