By Jo Taylor
Perhaps the best-known definition of the sublime is from Edmund Burke’s 1757 work A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Here, Burke described the now-familiar dichotomy between the “feminine” beautiful and the “masculine” sublime. Beauty is found in objects or landscapes which are visually ‘smooth’ (rolling hills, for example); beauty is “that quality or those qualities in bodies by which they cause love, or some passion similar to it”. The sublime, on the other hand, is accessed through experiences of the ‘terrible’; that is, objects, landscapes or experiences which invoke fear or notions of vastness: “it is impossible to look on any thing as trifling, or contemptible, that may be dangerous”. Felix Baumgartner’s recent jump from space may be identified as a sublime experience: his view from the top of the jump incorporated the vastness of the globe, and the jump itself was undeniably sublimely terrifying.
Clearly, not all of us – not even most of us – are able to access sublime experiences in this way. Like the Romantic poets before us, we must find more everyday ways of locating the sublime. Unlike the …read more