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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...

Monday, April 29, 2013


In THE CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT, Kant deduces two categories of the sublime: the "mathematically sublime" and the "dynamically sublime."  As noted at the end of Part 1, I have tended to write only about the latter, where Kant deals with such concepts as "might" and "dominance." 

His other category, the "mathematically sublime," seemed of little importance to me given my focus, which was to adapt what was useful in Kant to a project of literary phenomenology.  I found it interesting that Kant claimed to find "the sublime" in natural phenomena suggestive of "infinity:"

Hence nature is sublime in those of its appearances whose intuition carries with it the idea of their infinity.-- Part 255.
Kant is always careful to state that the natural phenomenon itself does not possess sublimity; sublimity is the mind of the observer:

Sublime is what even to be able to think, proves that the mind has a power surpassing any standard of sense-- Part 250.
But this principle, however interesting, seemed to possess no application to human art.  On those rare occasions when some form of human art seems to impress Kant as having the quality of the sublime, it seems to be more influenced by the opposing principle of the "dynamic sublime," in that the form so honored suggests "vigorous" or "agitating" emotions.

Perhaps the most sublime passage in the Jewish Law is the commandment: 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven or on earth, or under the earth, etc.  This commandment alone can explain the enthusiasm that the Jewish people in its civilized era felt for its religion when it compares itself with other peoples...-- Part 275.  

By contrast I could think of no way in which the "mathematically sublime" would be applicable to human arts, with the result that I addressed my considerations of the sublime and the coeval "sense of wonder" to the idea of "might." 

But it has occured to me that in literature, there are ways to express "infinity" that are not ineluctably entangled with the idea of might, and which will prove consequential for my attempt to formulate the foundations of the three worlds of artistic phenomenality.  This kind of "infinity" may have some "overwhelming" characteristics, but it is not really related to "might" as such.

It is the charm of mythic narrative that it cannot tell one thing without telling a hundred others. The symbols are an endless inter-marrying family. They give life to what, stated in general terms, appears only a cold truism, by hinting how the apparent simplicity of the statement is due to an artificial isolation of a fragment, which, in its natural place, is connected with all the infinity of truths by living fibres.
 The "infinity" of which Yeats speaks here-- like the "richness and profusion of images" I found in Edmund Burke-- suggests another form of the sublime with a different nature than the "dynamically sublime."  It is one that overwhelms in a manner roughly analogous to the "mathematically sublime," but the "magnitude" is one that stems not from physical size, but from the magnitude of how many conceivable connections can be made within a given phenomenality.

Hence the name I coin for this exclusively artistic property--

The COMBINATORY-sublime.

More in Part 3.

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