Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Student Thoughts on Edmund Burke's Concept of the Sublime
One aspect of the sublime that is not much discussed but which comes up frequently in my student's comments is the temporal nature of many sublime experiences. For something to be sublime in Burke's sense it must be both terrifying and delightful. This particular combination is almost self-contradictory. If it is terrifying then how can it be delightful at the same time? One way around this is to see the experience as a whole which has both a terrifying moment at first and then a delightful experience later. So, for example, you almost have a car crash, but then avoid it at the last second, and feel a rush of delight afterwards. The delight comes when there is no longer a threat. But what about experiences in sports, for example in running, in which we are afraid we will collapse from pain and exhaustion, and yet make it and feel delight. Could this feeling of delight also be seen as an experience of the sublime? Probably not: the experience of the sublime must incorporate the prior fear, not simply be a sense of relief after a moment of fear. Another question is how we distinguish between sublime experiences and ones that are simply thrilling. If you are just getting an adrenaline hit, for example, in a dangerous situation, are you experiencing the sublime? It seems to me that there must be some sort of thought of something grand for the sublime to exist, but Burke himself allows us to have sublime experiences in the face of dangerous snakes, and there is nothing grand about that.