Sublime (philosophy)

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Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1817, Kunsthalle Hamburg. Romantic artists during the 19th century used the epic of nature as an expression of the sublime

Sublime (from the Latin sublīmis) in aesthetics, refers to the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic; and especially to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement, or imitation.


  • In the Old Testament stories... the sublime influence of God here reaches so deeply into the everyday that the two realms of the sublime and the everyday are not only actually unseparated but basically inseparable.
  • I resolved, therefore, to bend my studies towards the Holy Scriptures, that I might see what they were. But behold, I espy something in them not revealed to the proud, not discovered unto children, humble in style, sublime in operation, and wholly veiled over in mysteries. ...such are thy Scriptures as grew up together with thy little ones. But I much disdained to be held a little one; and big swollen with pride, I took myself to be some great man.
  • It frequently happens that where the second line is sublime, the third, in which he meant to rise still higher, is perfectly bombast.
  • Without minute neatness of execution the sublime cannot exist. Grandeur of ideas is precision of ideas. Singular and particular detail is the foundation of the sublime.
  • That passage is what I call the sublime dashed to pieces by cutting too close with the fiery four-in-hand round the corner of nonsense.
  • This tendency, however, to ascribe an universality of genius to great men, led Dryden to affirm, on the strength of two smart satyrical lines, that Virgil could have written a satire equal to Juvenal. But, with all due deference to Dryden, I conceive it much more manifest, that Juvenal could have written a better epic than Virgil, than that Virgil could have written a satire equal to Juvenal. Juvenal has many passages of the moral sublime far superior to any that can be found in Virgil, who, indeed, seldom attempts a higher flight than the sublime of description. Had Lucan lived, he might have rivalled them both, as he has all the vigour of the one, and time might have furnished him with the taste and elegance of the other.
  • If I am not mistaken, the distinguishing character of Lucretius (I mean of his soul and genius) is a certain kind of noble pride, and positive assertion of his opinions. He is every where confident of his own reason, and assuming an absolute command, not only over his vulgar reader, but even his patron Memmius. For he is always bidding him attend, as if he had the rod over him, and using a magisterial authority, while he instructs him. [...] He seems to disdain all manner of replies, and is so confident of his cause, that he is beforehand with his antagonists; urging for them whatever he imagined they could say, and leaving them, as he supposes, without an objection for the future; all this too, with so much scorn and indignation, as if he were assured of the triumph, before he entered into the lists. From this sublime and daring genius of his, it must of necessity come to pass, that his thoughts must be masculine, full of argumentation, and that sufficiently warm. From the same fiery temper proceeds the loftiness of his expressions, and the perpetual torrent of his verse, where the barrenness of his subject does not too much constrain the quickness of his fancy. For there is no doubt to be made, but that he could have been every where as poetical, as he is in his descriptions, and in the moral part of his philosophy, if he had not aimed more to instruct, in his system of nature, than to delight.
  • We may describe the Sublime thus: it is an object (of nature) the representation of which determines the mind to think the unattainability of nature regarded as a presentation of Ideas. ...That is, the sublime is that which overwhelms the rational capacities of the mind, temporarily freezing the mortal in awe and fear, before his apparatus reignites and grants a pleasurable overcoming of sensation by rational comprehension.
    • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment or Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790)
  • The feeling of the sublime is . . . at once a feeling of displeasure, arising from the inadequacy of imagination in the aesthetic estimation of magnitude to attain to its estimation by reason, and a simultaneously awakened pleasure, arising from this very judgment of the inadequacy of the greatest faculty of sense being in accord with ideas of reason, so far as the effort to attain to these is for us a law. It is, in other words, for us a law (of reason), which goes to make us what we are, that we should esteem as small in comparison with ideas of reason everything which for us is great in nature as an object of sense; and that which makes us alive to the feeling of this supersensible side of our being harmonizes with that law.
    • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment or Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790)
  • [I]t is the duty of nations, as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord:
    And insomuch as we know that by his divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of the civil war which now desolates our land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown; but we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us:
    It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness... I do by this proclamation designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. ...All this being done in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country...
    • Abraham Lincoln, Proclamation Appointing a National Fast-Day (March 30, 1863) Abraham Lincoln: Complete Works, Comprising His Speeches, Letters, State Papers, and Miscellaneous Writings (1907) Vol. 2, p. 319.
  • There are, one may say, some five most productive sources of the sublime in literature, the common groundwork, as it were, of all five being competence in speaking, without which nothing can be done. The first and most powerful is the power of grand conceptions... and the second is the inspiration of vehement emotion.
    • Longinus (or Pseudo-Longinus), On the Sublime translation by W. H. Fyfe, revised by Donald Russell (1995), included in vol. 199 of the Loeb Classical Library, Ch. 8, p. 181.
  • Utterances which appear inspired are often not sublime but merely childish.
    • Longinus (or Pseudo-Longinus), De Sublimitate (On the Sublime), III., 2., as reported in Harbottle's Dictionary of Quotations (classical) (1897) p. 484.
  • The study of the Latin writers had never been wholly neglected in Italy. But Petrarch introduced a more profound, liberal, and elegant scholarship, had communicated to his countrymen that enthusiasm for the literature, the history, and the antiquities of Rome, which divided his own heart with a frigid mistress and a more frigid muse. Boccaccio turned their attention to the more sublime and graceful models of Greece.
  • Sublime Lucretius' poetry will pass away
    Only when Earth has seen its final day.
  • The sublime and ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately. One step below the sublime makes the ridiculous, and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again.
  • Intellect is to the people and the people's Force, what the slender needle of the compass is to the ship—its soul, always counselling the huge mass of wood and iron, and always pointing to the north. To attack the citadels built up on all sides against the human race by superstitions, despotisms, and prejudices, the Force must have a brain and a law. Then its deeds of daring produce permanent results, and there is real progress. Then there are sublime conquests. Thought is a force, and philosophy should be an energy, finding its aim and its effects in the amelioration of mankind. The two great motors are Truth and Love. When all these Forces are combined, and guided by the Intellect, and regulated by the RULE of Right, and Justice, and of combined and systematic movement and effort, the great revolution prepared for by the ages will begin to march. The POWER of the Deity Himself is in equilibrium with His WISDOM. Hence the only results are HARMONY.
    • Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (1871) Ch. I. Apprentice, The Twelve-Inch Rule and Common Gavel, pp. 1-2. Also published as The Magnum Opus or the Great Work of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.
  • Man is not to be comprehended as a starting-point, or progress as a goal, without those two great forces, Faith and Love. Prayer is sublime.
    • Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (1871) Ch. I. Apprentice, The Twelve-Inch Rule and Common Gavel, p. 6.
  • I have this moment finished the gospel of St. Edmund, which your enthusiastic encomium had given me additional curiosity to read. As to style, he, like Shakspeare, touches the double octave from the sublime to the bathos. In many passages he is divinely eloquent; in some his wit is clean and brilliant, and his quotations remarkably lucky. His argument, with few exceptions, in my opinion, unanswerable. His work, with all its faults, does him the highest honour as an author, as a statesman, and as a moralist. It will do infinite good in France if it were possible to get it read there; but what is of far greater moment to us, it will do infinite service to us at home, in shewing us the danger of metaphysical speculations, and warning us not to go a-whoring after new inventions.
  • Thee, bold Longinus! all the Nine inspire,
    And bless their Critick with a Poet's Fire.
    An ardent Judge, who Zealous in his Trust,
    With Warmth gives Sentence, yet is always Just;
    Whose own Example strengthens all his Laws,
    And Is himself that great Sublime he draws.
  • The History of Electricity is a field full of pleasing objects, according to all the genuine and universal principles of taste, deduced from a knowledge of human nature. Scenes like these, in which we see a gradual rise and progress in things, always exhibit a pleasing spectacle to the human mind. Nature, in all her delightful walks, abounds with such views, and they are in a more especial manner connected with every thing that relates to human life and happiness; things, in their own nature, the most interesting to us. Hence it is, that the power of association has annexed crouds of pleasing sensations to the contemplation of every object, in which this property is apparent.
    This pleasure, likewise, bears a considerable resemblance to that of the sublime, which is one of the most exquisite of all those that affect the human imagination. For an object in which we see a perpetual progress and improvement is, as it were, continually rising in its magnitude; and moreover, when we see an actual increase, in a long period of time past, we can not help forming an idea of an unlimited increase in futurity; which is a prospect really boundless, and sublime.
  • The law of simplicity and naïvety holds good of all fine art; for it is quite possible to be at once simple and sublime.
    True brevity of expression consists in everywhere saying only what is worth saying, and in avoiding tedious detail about things which everyone can supply for himself. This involves correct discrimination between what is necessary and what is superfluous. A writer should never be brief at the expense of being clear...
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena (1851) Also see The Art of Literature: A Series of Essays by Arthur Schopenhauer (1891) Tr. T. Bailey Saunders, "On Style" p. 31.
  • I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled... poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean.
  • Even the death of Friends will inspire us as much as their lives. They will leave consolation to the mourners, as the rich leave money to defray the expenses of their funerals, and their memories will be incrusted over with sublime and pleasing thoughts, as monuments of other men are overgrown with moss; for our Friends have no place in the graveyard.
  • His pamphlet came out this day sennight, and is far superior to what was expected, even by his warmest admirers. I have read it twice; and though of three hundred and fifty pages, I wish I could repeat every page by heart. It is sublime, profound, and gay. The wit and satire are equally brilliant; and the whole is wise, though in some points he goes too far: yet in general there is far less want of judgement than could be expected from him. If it could be translated—which, from the wit and metaphors and allusions, is almost impossible—I should think it would be a classic book in all countries, except in present France. To their tribunes it speaks daggers; though, unlike them, it uses none.
  • So, for Kant, direct access to the noumenal domain would deprive us of the very "spontaneity," which forms the kernel of transcendental freedom: it would turn us into lifeless automata, or, to put it in today’s terms, into "thinking machines." And is this not ultimately presented as achievable in the future of Singularity? The prospect of Neuralink is not to be dismissed as yet another “ontic” scientific research project of no authentic philosophical interest, since it offers something effectively new and unheard-of that challenges our status of being-human: the prospect of the actual (empirical) overcoming of our finitude/sexuality/embeddedness-in-the-symbolic. Entering this other dimension of Singularity becomes a simple positive fact, not a matter of sublime inner experience. What does this mean, for the status of our subjectivity and for our self-experience? Can we imagine a form of self-awareness that would be at the level of self-less floating in the space of Singularity?
  • The "Fall" is the theological name for such an unconscious choice, and it designates the wound (of separation, of the constitutive loss) which characterizes our being-human as finite and sexed. Musk (and other proponents of Neuralink) wants to heal the wound literally: to fill in the gap, to have man united with god by way of making him god-like, i.e., by way of providing him with properties and capacities which we (till now) experienced as "divine." What makes this option properly traumatic is that it turns around the gap that separates our ordinary daily experience from sublime speculations about our proximity to god.

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757)[edit]

by Edmund Burke, a source.
  • The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, 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, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that, far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment... is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect.
  • We have continually about us animals of a strength that is considerable but not pernicious. Amongst these we never look for the sublime; it comes upon us in the gloomy forest, and in the howling wilderness, in the form of the lion the tiger, the panther, or rhinoceros. Whenever strength is only useful, and employed for our benefit or our pleasure, then it is never sublime: for nothing can act agreeably to us, that does not act in conformity to our will; but to act agreeably to our will, it must be subject to us and therefore can never be the cause of a grand and commanding conception.
  • Among colours such as are soft or cheerful (except perhaps a strong red...) are unfit to produce grand images. ...[T]he cloudy sky is more grand than the blue; and night more sublime and solemn than day. ...[I]n buildings, when the highest degree of the sublime is intended, the materials and ornaments ought neither to be white, nor green, nor yellow, nor blue, nor of a pale red, nor violet, nor spotted, but of sad and fuscous colours, as black, or brown, or deep purple... [T]his melancholy kind of greatness, though it be certainly the highest, ought not to be studied in all sorts of edifices, where yet grandeur must be studied: in such cases the sublimity must be drawn from the other sources; with a strict caution however, against anything light and riant; as nothing so effectually deadens the whole taste of the sublime.
  • The eye is not the only organ of sensation by which a sublime passion may be produced. Sounds have a great power... Excessive loudness alone is sufficient to overpower the soul, to suspend its action, and to fill it with terror. The noise of vast cataracts, raging storms, thunder, or artillery, awakes a great and awful sensation in the mind, though we can observe no nicety or artifice in those sorts of music. The shouting of multitudes has a similar effect... the best-established tempers can scarcely forbear being borne down and joining in the common cry and common resolution of the crowd.
  • Greatness of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime.
  • A perpendicular has more force in forming the sublime, than an inclined plane; and the effects of a rugged and broken surface seem stronger than when it is smooth and polished.
  • [A]s the great extreme of dimension is sublime, so the last extreme of littleness is in the same measure sublime... when we attend to the infinite divisibility of matter, when we pursue animal life into these excessively small, and yet organized beings... when we push our discoveries yet downward... in tracing which the imagination is lost as well as the sense; we become amazed and confounded at the wonders of minuteness; nor can we distinguish in its effects this extreme of littleness from the vast itself. For division must be infinite as well as addition; because the idea of a perfect unity can no more be arrived at, than that of an complete whole, to which nothing can be added.
  • Another source of the sublime is infinity... Infinity has a tendency to fill the mind with that sort of delightful horror, which is the most genuine effect and truest test of the sublime. There are scarce any things which can become the objects of our senses, that are really... infinite. But the eye not being able to perceive the bounds... they seem... infinite, and they produce the same effects... We are deceived in the like manner, if the parts of some large object are so continued to any indefinite number, that the imagination meets no check... Whenever we repeat an idea frequently, the mind... repeats it long after the first cause has ceased... multiplied without end. ...This is the reason of an appearance very frequent in madmen; that they remain... in the constant repetition of some remark... complaint, or song... every repetition reinforces it with new strength... unrestrained by the curb of reason, continues... to the end of their lives.
  • [S]ublime objects are vast in their dimensions, beautiful ones comparatively small...
  • If black and white blend, soften, and unite
    A thousand ways, are there no black and white?

    If the qualities of the sublime and beautiful are sometimes found united, does this prove that they are the same; does it prove that they are... allied; does it prove even that they are not opposite and contradictory? Black and white may soften, may blend, but they are not therefore the same. Nor, when they are softened and blended with each other, or with different colours, is the power of black as black, or of white as white, so strong...

Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764)[edit]

by Immanuel Kant, from the English Translation in Essays and Treatises on Moral, Political, Religious and Various Philosophical Subjects (1799) Vol. 2, unless otherwise indicated.
  • The finer feeling, which we shall now consider, is chiefly of a twofold nature; the sentiment of the Sublime and of the Beautiful. The emotion of both is agreeable: but in a very different manner.
  • Night is sublime, day is beautiful.
  • The sublime moves or touches, the beautiful charms.
  • The feeling of [the sublime] is sometimes accompanied with dread, or even melancholy, in some cases with tranquil admiration merely, and in others with a beauty spread over a sublime plan. The first I shall name the Dreadful or Terrific Sublime, the second the Noble, and the third the Magnificent.
  • Deep solitude is sublime, but in a terrific manner.
  • The sublime must be simple, the beautiful may be dressed and ornamented.
  • A long duration is sublime. Is it of past time? it is noble; if it is foreseen in an immense futurity, it has in it something dreadful.
  • Understanding is sublime, wit is beautiful.
  • Sublime properties inspire esteem, but beautiful ones love.
  • The sentiments of the sublime strain the powers of the soul more, and therefore tire sooner.
    • Footnote
  • Friendship has principally the stroke of the sublime in it, but the love of the sex that of the beautiful.
  • Tragedy... distinguishes itself from comedy chiefly in... that in the former is touched the sentiment of the sublime, in the latter that of the beautiful.
  • A somewhat old age unites itself more with the properties of the sublime, but youth with those of the beautiful.
  • Boldly taking upon ourselves the dangers, as our own, of our native country, of the rights of our friends, is sublime.
  • The subduing of one's passions by principles is sublime.
  • The mathematical representation of the immense size of the fabric of the world, the metaphysical contemplations of eternity, of Providence, of the immortality of the soul, contain a certain dignity and sublimity.
  • In moral properties true virtue only is sublime.
  • [T]rue virtue can be grafted but upon principles, and the more general they are, the nobler and more sublime does it become. These principles are not speculative rules, but the consciousness of a feeling, which dwells in every human breast...
  • He, whose feeling inclines to the melancholy, is not so named because he, deprived of the joys of life, grieves in dark moping melancholy, but because his feelings, if they were encreased beyond a certain degree, or by any cause received a false bent, would easier tend to melancholy than to another state. He has chiefly a feeling for the sublime.
  • All emotions of the sublime have something in them more enchanting, than the juggling charms of the beautiful. His being-well is rather contentment than mirth. He is steadfast. He therefore ranges his feelings under principles. They are the less subjected to inconstancy and to alteration, the more universal this principle is... The noble ground remains and is not so much subjected to the inconstancy, of external things. ...[W]hat befalls men, concerns [him] likewise. Then his procedure rests upon the highest ground of benevolence in human nature, and is extremely sublime, as well as to its immutability, as on account of the universality of its application.
  • The man of a melancholy temper of mind gives himself little trouble about what others judge of, what they hold good or true, he relies on his own insight merely. As the motives with him assume the nature of principles; it is not easy to bring him to other thoughts; his steadfastness sometimes degenerates into stubbornness. He beholds the change of modes with indifference and their glitter with contempt.
  • Friendship is sublime, and therefore for his feeling. He may perhaps lose a changeable friend; but the latter does not lose him so soon. The very memory of extinguished friendship is still venerable to him.
  • Affability is beautiful, thoughtful taciturnity sublime. He is a good keeper of his own and of other's secrets.
  • Veracity is sublime, and he hates lying or dissimulation. He has a high feeling for the dignity of human nature. He esteems himself and holds a man a creature that merits reverence. He suffers no abject submission, and breathes liberty in a noble breast. All chains, from the golden, which are worn at court, to the heavy iron ones of galley-slaves, are to him abominable. He is a severe judge as well of himself as of others, and not seldom tired of himself and of the world.

Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1819)[edit]

by Arthur Schopenhauer. Quotes as translated in The World As Will And Idea (1909) by R. B. Haldane & J. Kemp, Vol. 1 of 3, unless otherwise noted.
      The Sublime Void (1993)
Juan Muñoz
Royal Museum of Fine Arts,
  • Genius... consists... in the capacity for knowing, independently of the principle of sufficient reason, not individual things, which have their existence only in their relations, but the Ideas of such things, and of being oneself the correlative of the Idea, and thus no longer an individual, but the pure subject of knowledge. Yet this faculty must exist in all men... for if not, they would be just as incapable of enjoying works of art as of producing them; they would have no susceptibility for the beautiful or the sublime... this power of knowing the Ideas in things, and consequently of transcending... personality for the moment... The man of genius... possessing this kind of knowledge... more continuously... [W]hile under its influence... presence of mind... enable[s] him to repeat in a voluntary and intentional work what he has learned... and this repetition is the work of art. Through this he communicates to others the Idea... unchanged... so that æsthetic pleasure is one and the same whether it is called forth by a work of art or directly by the contemplation of nature and life. ...That the Idea comes to us more easily from the work of art than directly from nature... arises from the fact that the artist... has reproduced in his work the pure Idea... abstracted... from the actual, omitting... disturbing accidents. The artist lets us see the world through his eyes. ...that he is able to lend us this gift... is acquired, and is the technical side of art.
  • [A]fter the account which I have given... of the inner nature of æsthetical knowledge in its most general outlines, the following more exact philosophical treatment of the beautiful and the sublime will explain them both, in nature and in art, without separating them further. ...[W]e shall consider what takes place in a man when he is affected by the beautiful and the sublime; whether he derives this emotion directly from nature, from life, or partakes of it only through the medium of art, does not make any essential, but merely an external, difference.
  • [I]f these very objects whose significant forms invite us to pure contemplation, have a hostile relation to the human will... so that it is menaced by the irresistible predominance of their power, or sinks into insignificance... if, nevertheless, the beholder... turns consciously away from it, forcibly detaches himself from his will and its relations, and, giving himself up entirely to knowledge, quietly contemplates those very objects... comprehends only their Idea, which is foreign to all relation, so that he lingers gladly over its contemplation, and is thereby raised above himself, his person, his will, and all will:—in that case he is filled with the sense of the sublime, he is in the state of spiritual exaltation, and therefore the object producing such a state is called sublime.
  • Thus what distinguishes the sense of the sublime from that of the beautiful is this: in... the beautiful, pure knowledge has gained the upper hand without a struggle, for the beauty... has removed from consciousness without resistance... imperceptibly, the will and the knowledge of relations which is subject to it, so that what is left is the pure subject of knowledge without... will. On the other hand, in... the sublime that state of pure knowledge is only attained by a conscious and forcible breaking away from the relations of the... object to the will, which are... unfavourable, by a free and conscious transcending of the will...

Scraps of Philosophy and Criticism (Sept. 1835)[edit]

by Victor Hugo, The New-England Magazine Vol. 9, Issue 9, a Source.
  • Poetical composition results from two intellectual phenomena, meditation and inspiration. Meditation is a faculty; inspiration is a gift. All men, to a certain degree, can meditate; very few are inspired. Spiritus flat ubi vult [The spirit flows where it wills.]. In meditation, the spirit acts; in inspiration, it obeys; because the first is of men, the second comes from a higher source. He who gave us this power is stronger than we. These two processes of thoughts are intimately linked in the soul of the poet. The poet invites inspiration by meditation, as the prophets raised themselves to ecstasies by prayer. That the muse should reveal herself to him, he must in some sort have passed all his material existence in repose, in silence, and in meditation. He must be isolated from external life, to enjoy in its fullness that inward life, which develops in him a new existence; and it is only when the physical world has utterly vanished from before his eyes, that the ideal world is fully revealed to him. It seems that poetic inspiration has in it something too sublime for the common nature of man. Genius can compass its greater efforts only when the soul is released from the vulgar cares that follow it in life; for thought cannot take its wings till it has laid aside its burden. Thence comes it, doubtless, that inspiration is born only of meditation. Among the Jews, the people whose history is so rich in mysterious symbols when the priest had built the altar, he lighted upon it an earthly flame -- and it was then only that the divine ray descended from Heaven.
  • Happy he who possesses this double power of meditation and inspiration, which is genius! Whatever may be the age on which he is, or the country—be he born in the bosom of domestic calamities, be he thrown on a time of popular convulsions, or, what is still more to be lamented, on a period of stagnant indifference—let him trust himself to the future; for, if the present belong to other men, the future is for him. He is of the number of chosen beings for whom a day is allotted. Sooner or later, the day comes; and it is then—fed by sublime thought, and elevated by divine inspiration—that he throws himself boldly before the world, with the cry of the poet upon his lips ‘Voici mon Orient: peuples levez les yeux!’
    • Note: This is my Orient: Peoples look up!

Essay on the Beautiful (1860)[edit]

, Etc.; or, Elements of Æsthetic Philosophy by Vincenzo Gioberti. Quotes from 2nd Edition of Edward Thomas' English translation of Gioberti's Del Bello (1845) unless otherwise indicated.
  • The most satisfactory theory of the sublime is that of Emmanuel Kant in his Critic of the Judgment. This philosopher distinguishes two kinds of sublime... the mathematical sublime, which results from the intuitions of time and of space, and the dynamical sublime, that is derived from the idea of force. The dynamical sublime is immaterial or material, according to the nature of the physical or spiritual force which is the source of it: the spiritual force gives rise to a second subdivision, as far as it may be intellectual or moral.
  • [A]n earthquake, a hurricane, a storm, a volcanic eruption, occasion the dynamical physical sublime; whereas genius and heroic virtue produce the dynamical immaterial sublime in its two aspects, of which one regards and concerns the intellectual force of the mind, and the other relates to the moral energy of the human will.
  • But the conceptions of time, of space, and of force, either corporeal or spiritual, cannot produce the sublime without the concourse of... the notion of the infinite and of the absolute, in which the human mind seeks naturally a refuge when the form of the object which appears to it cannot be seized on account of its grandeur, and surpasses even the forces of the imagination, which endeavours in vain to become master of it.
  • Kant could not in any manner solve completely these three problems, in following the psychological and Cartesian procedure of his philosophy, and in adhering to the erroneous and false principles of his Critic of the Pure Reason. I will endeavour to supply... these deficiencies.
  • The sublime belongs to the æsthetic as well as the Beautiful, because it has, in common with it, the following properties: l. It is not a thing entirely intelligible nor entirely sensible, but is composed of these two elements. 2. The intelligible element and the sensible element are there united in one single individual, whose unity results from the first element, and implies its superiority over the other. 3. Its seat is the imagination. 4. From the imagination it may pass into the world of art, as it resides already in the world of nature. 5. It produces a pure and lively pleasure in the soul of him who enjoys it, although its essence does not consist in that agreeable impression which is a simple effect of it. 6. It is a mixture of subjective and objective elements.

The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989)[edit]

by Slavoj Žižek
  • The Titanic is a thing in the Lacanian sense: the material leftover, the materialization of the terrifying, impossible jouissance. By looking at the wreck we gain an insight into the forbidden domain, into a space that should be left unseen... This terrifying impact has nothing to do with meaning—or... it is a meaning that is permeated with enjoyment, a Lacanian jouissance. The wreck of the Titanic therefore functions as a sublime object: a positive, material object elevated to the status of the impossible Thing.
  • Above all... Beauty and Sublimity are opposed along the axis pleasure-displeasure: a view of Beauty offers us pleasure, while 'the object is received as sublime with a pleasure that is only possible through the mediation of dipleasure' (Kant...). In short, the Sublime is 'beyond the pleasure principle', it is a paradoxical pleasure procured by displeasure itself... [T]he relation of Beauty to Sublimity coincides with the relation of immediacy to mediation—further proof that the Sublime must follow Beauty...
  • Homologous to Hegel's determination of the difference between the death of the pagan god and the death of Christ (the first being merely the death of the... terrestrial representation... while with the death of Christ... is of... God as a positive, transcendent, unattainable entity...) ...what Kant fails to take into account is the way the experience of the nullity, of the inadequacy of the phenomenal world of representation, which befalls us in the sentiment of the Sublime, means at the same time the nullity, the nonexistence of the transcendent Thing-in-itself as a positive entity.
  • [T]he Sublime is no longer an (empirical) object indicating through its very inadequacy the dimension of a transcendent Thing-in-itself (Idea) but an object which occupies the place, replaces, fills out the empty place of the Thing as the void, as the pure nothing of absolute negativity—the Sublime is an object whose positive body is just an embodiment of Nothing. This logic of an object which, by its very inadequacy, 'gives body' to the absolute negativity of the Idea, is articulated in Hegel...

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