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On A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756), parts I, II, and his later intro essay, "On Taste."
Are people's tastes basically the same? Burke says yes: they're rooted in our common reactions to pain and pleasure, those two are not opposites, but simply quite different properties, each associated with a different set of responses. When we are aesthetically pleased by something big, indistinct, and maybe scary, Burke calls that a judgment that it's sublime.
Mark, Seth, and Dylan are joined by guest Amir Zaki to wander the through the field of ideas of this slim, rich, and breezy text. Not at all sublime! Read more about the topic and get the text.
End song: "Stoobis in the Sky," by Mark Lint and friends, recording started in 2012 and completed for this episode. Read about it.
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The Burke picture is by Sterling Bartlett.
the admixture of a sort of academic Aristotelianism, “natural”/scientific philosophy, and being a gentleman is not uncommon for his time/place.
the discussion left me wondering if the (probably) solely human affective experience of “a feeling of infinity,” or “a feeling of nothingness” form poles between the very ethereal and pleasant vs. heavy and repulsive. perhaps sublimity is manifest at the extremes of any continuum.
edit grammar: ‘poles bounding’, not ‘poles between’
here, http://www.mybrainnotes.com/fear-rage-panic.html , we see 7 affective modes, each based in neural subsystem and common to all reptiles upwards. the article discusses how the ‘reasoning’ neocortex is ever-influenced by them.
dmf, that is the most fascinating and informative discussion i
have heard in a long time. to say it’s one of your best links
ever is meant to place it high (excuse pun) among its quality
the history of animal-plant co evolution is also fascinating. i
observe things as process, and am often trying to ‘catch the
feel’ of elements in ANW”s writings such as imminence,
concern, and prehension, to name a few.
in one part of the cannibus vid i was vividly struck where he
mentions how there remain small genetic traces of health-
benefiting compounds besides the ‘prohibition’-thc-drenched
modern weed, which were formerly cultivated by and found
useful for our antecedents. this, to me, is physical prehension
– taking-in the objective past.
i find myself wanting to gain insights thru non-dogmatic
observations as a process thinker. i think Pirsig sorta does,
speaking of Pirsig, it occurs to me that Panksepp’s
fundamental mammalian affect of ceaseless SEEKING is
precisely what buddhist meditation tries SO hard to quell, and may explain the difficulty
we are always already manipulating our environs without end, see:
Akiva Mattenson says
I enjoyed this episode (as I do most episodes), and I was further excited to listen after receiving the calendar! In any case, I thought you might be interested in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s remarks about the sublime to ‘Biblical Man’ in “God in Search of Man”:
The sublime is not opposed to the beautiful, and must not, furthermore, be considered an esthetic category. The sublime may be sensed in things of beauty as well as in acts of goodness and in the search for truth. The perception of beauty may be the beginning of the experience of the sublime. The sublime is that which we see and are unable to convey. It is the silent allusion of things to a meaning greater than themselves. It is the silent allusion of things to meaning greater than themselves. It is that which all things ultimately stand for; “the inveterate silence of the world that remains immune to curiosity and inquisitiveness like distant foliage in the dusk.” It is that which our words, our forms, our categories can never reach. That is why the sense of the sublime must be regarded as the root of man’s creative activities in art, thought, and noble living. Just as no flora has ever fully displayed the hidden vitality of the earth, so has no work of art, no system of philosophy, no theory of science, every brought to expression the depth of meaning, the sublimity of reality in the sight of which the souls of saints, artists, and philosophers live.
The sublime, furthermore, is not necessarily related to the vast and overwhelming in size. It may be sensed in every grain of sand, in every drop of water. Every flower in the summer, every snow flake in the winter, may arouse in us the sense of wonder that is our response to the sublime.
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. (William Wordsworth, Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle)
A sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. (William Wordsworth, The Old Cumberland Beggar)
…Moreover, the sublime in the Biblical sense is found not only in the immense and the mighty, in the “bold, overhanging, and, as it were threatening rocks, ” but also in the pebbles on the road. “For the stone shall cry out of the wall” (Habakuk 2:11). “The stone which the builders rejected is become the chief cornerstone.” (Psalms 118:27). A simple stone that Jacob had put under his head for the night was set up as a pillar to be “God’s house” (Genesis 28:18, 22). The sublime is revealed not only in the “clouds piled up in the sky, moving with lightning flashes and thunder peals,” but also in God’s causing the rain “to satisfy the desolate and waste ground, and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth” (Job 38:27); not only in the “volcanoes in all their violence and destruction,” but also in God’s “setting up on high those that are low” and in frustrating “the device of the crafty” (Job 5:11-12); not only in “the hurricanes with their track of devastation” but also in “the still small voice” (I Kings 19:12); not only in “the boundless ocean in a state of tumult” but in His setting a bar to the sea, saying, “Thus far shalt thou come, but no further; here shall thy proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11).
The feeling caused by the sublime is astonishment which Burke defines as “that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended with some degree of horror,” in which “the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that subject which employs it.” In contrast, the Biblical man in sensing the sublime is carried away by his eagerness to exalt and to praise the Maker of the world.
Cry out unto God, all the earth,
Sing of the glory of His name,
Make His praise glorious;
Say unto God: How sublime are Thy works! (Psalms 66:2-3)
…One more feature sets Biblical man’s experience apart from the esthetic experience of the sublime. The most exalted objects such as heaven or the stars and he himself have a mystery in common: they all continually depend on the living God. That is why the reaction to sublime objects is not simply “terrifying astonishment” or “the stupefaction of mind and senses,” as Burke described, but wonder and amazement.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man pp. 39-41
Though Heschel clearly wants to differentiate the esthetic experience of the sublime from the theological experience of the sublime, I think that there is still much esthetic insight that resonates independent of his theological claims.
Heschel is doing little more than laying claim to the word ‘sublime’ in order to apply it indiscriminately to anything with a religious resonance, which, as it turns out, is practically everything. His thinking seems to go something like this. Since all beings are creations of god, they are all in their various ways and degrees manifestations of god’s power and presence; and since god’s power and presence are the most sublime things imaginable, all created beings that in any way remind us of god can also be called sublime in a derivative sense. This means that the word ‘sublime’ can refer not only to things boundless and “terrible” but also to things bounded and beautiful, not only the great but also the small. The beautiful, theologically construed, is merely a subclass of the sublime, not, as Burke would have it, a contrasting aesthetic term.
Burke would probably not have a strong complaint against Heschel giving the word ‘sublime’ this all-encompassing meaning, since it is one of those words that practically cry out for stipulation anyway. However, he would probably observe that the words ‘beautiful’ and ‘sublime’ are obviously not synonyms and that it would be a shame to squander their differentiating potential merely to make the redundant theological point: “He made us.” Burke thinks that the terms might be put to better use as names for the two broad classes of objective aesthetic phenomena he wants to investigate. He nicely makes this point in his Second Preface: “I am in little pain whether any body chuses to following the name[s] I give [these phenomena] or not, providing he allows that what I dispose under different heads are in reality different things in nature. The use I make of the words may be blamed as too confined or too extended; my meaning cannot be well misunderstood.”
Burke also anticipates Heschel’s breezy use of quotations as a means of “criticizing” his theory. Merely to quote Wordworth’s use of the word ‘sublime’ in “Tintern Abbey” (not “The Old Cumberland Beggar” for heaven’s sake!) does not at all address the ideas Burke is at pains to elaborate. Quoting the Second Preface again: “…it is common to pass over both the premises and conclusion [of a theory] in silence, and to produce as an objection, some poetical passage which does not seem easily accountable for upon the principles I endeavor to establish. This manner of proceeding I should think very improper.”
In fairness, I have not read “God in Search of Man” and don’t know if Heschel actually intended a focused criticism of Burke’s “Enquiry.” But if he did, it appears to me he was being hasty.
you might google ‘modes of thought’ and ‘have a care, here is something that matters!’ and conclude that sublimnity is the feel of the importance – the value in/for itself – of the totality of reality, experienced as a dim apprehension.
Pirsig only footnoted whitehead once, and it was about this dim apprehension that he wanted to equate w/ Quality.
a good research topic would be to find out if Pirsig credited whitehead in the 600 pages of ZAMM the editot cut out. Lilah is just a paraphrase of Process and Reality, and the chapter in Modes of Thought googled above cleartly uses quality, value, dim apprehension, and several other points Pirsig claims as novel thinkikng in zamm.
If PEL wants a single short piece of anw to look at, this chapter of Modes of Thought g/ would be good.
Stephen Williams says
Great discussion. Made me go back to a Reith Lecture from 2003 by a neuroscientist – Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran . You can listen here – http://castroller.com/podcasts/ReithLecturesArchive/3032725 or here http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/rla76/all the Professor goes into how the mind decides what is beauty and art. He even covers the part in the PEL podcast where the guys are discussing photography and beauty and the sublime. I urge you all to listen, if possible to all five lectures. He makes think that philosophy as it is now is going to run into a dead end.
From wiki – Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran (born 1951) is a neuroscientist known primarily for his work in the fields of behavioral neurology and visual psychophysics. He is currently a Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Graduate Program in Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego. Ramachandran is also Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition affiliated with the UC San Diego Department of Psychology