Session 12

Friday, June 4

15:00–16:00 (Helsinki, EEST, UTC +3), Congress Room 2

Chair: Arto Haapala

Beata Frydryczak & Mateusz Salwa (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland):

The Sublime, Now! The Nature, Pandemic Landscapes and the Crises of the Environment

The thesis of my speech will be the statement that the sublime as an aesthetic category has not lost its potential –on the contrary, today it shows its relevance: it is able to respond to the currently perceptible environmental crises, in particular the pandemic crisis.

From a historical perspective, the sublime appears in two versions: of E. Burke as fear of the elements of nature, and of I. Kant as a call to what is absent and powerful. Today, the sublime reformulated is also a reference point for the aesthetics of landscape, where the sublime can be understood as an experience expressed in the formula of engagement: as the daily effort of acting and adapting nature to human needs; or as a fully sensual way of world participation.

Burke linked the sublime with the idea of lack: loneliness, emptiness, darkness and silence are interpreted as the lack of others, light or a sense of security. Burke refers to natural phenomena that are obviously fearful: here the element of nature comes to the fore. In defining and describing the qualities of the sublime, Burke linked it with the act of survival, so we get a picture of a world in which man faces the elements of nature. Importantly, it does not contain the idea of controlling nature, but a sense of gaining security against its elements. Also A. Berleant adds that today’s return to the concept of the sublime is related to the environment transformed and degraded by man.

If we understand the coronavirus as one of the elements of nature, the situation we are in seems obvious. At the time of the first European lockdown, the landscape of lack was clearly visible: empty streets, the outside world limited to a balcony, and so on it is an image of the lack. On the other hand: less pollution, wild animals entering cities, is the voice of nature freed from man. Our sublime fear appeared to be the nature self-determination. The crises of human world appeared to be a freedom of the nature. The redefinition of the sublime gives us answers for the current condition of the human and natural world.

Ghoncheh Azadeh (University of California Santa Cruz, USA):

The Phenomenal Sublime

While 18th century literature of the sublime predominantly concerns itself with the forces of nature, countless theorists have since revisited the sublime to critique or support its historical iterations, justify its continued relevance in the modern day, or argue for taking it more seriously as a category of aesthetic judgment (e.g. Newman 1948; Forsey 2007; Clewis 2009; Brady 2013). My contribution to these debates is the proposal for a new category of sublime, what I call the “phenomenal sublime.” The phenomenal sublime highlights the specific phenomenal character of present-day encounters with landscapes, whether they are natural, industrial, suburban or otherwise while also underlining the unique paradoxical structure of conscious experience that is common across various instantiations of the sublime insofar as the embodied phenomenology remains a common thread. Examples of said experience might include finding oneself captivated by a fire’s burning embers, the sensation of walking through large crowds in a bustling city or witnessing natural disasters.

I will argue that the phenomenal sublime holds three distinctive phases. The initial two phases are cashed out by borrowing certain aspects of Immanuel Kant’s theory of the sublime while providing a re-reading of them via critical theory. These phases involve a paradoxical structure of conscious experience in which attention is absorbed by a particular scene or element of a landscape that simultaneously evokes feelings of pleasure and displeasure. Thereby resulting in a kind of dysphoria due to an inability to make sense of the contradictory aspects of the experience in the present moment. The third phase is formulated using the concept of an “open-feeling” and involves the experiencer turning onto a neutral state of openness or receptiveness that can then lead to an emotional or affective response.

The phenomenal aspects central to the romantic sublime as seen through the Kantian framework will first be considered. Then, drawing from the critical theorists, Rei Terada and Sianne Ngai, a re-reading of the phases of the Kantian sublime will be taken up in order to offer a sketch of the phenomenal sublime.