The Concept of the Sublime In Relation to America

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The Concept of the Sublime In Relation to America

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed a revival of the concept of the Sublime. The Sublime, as a notion, first reached English theorists by way of Nicholas Boileau-Despréaux’s translation of the Greek text attributed to Longinus titled “On the Sublime,” which discussed the Sublime within writing. The work categorized sublimity as raising men “almost to the intellectual greatness of God” (Longinus, 76). Once raised to extreme intellectual heights the authors were then able to raise others to the limits of their being. In short, “the effect of the Sublime is “transport” (ekstasis) - it is a quality of a passage which “shatters the hearer’s composure,”” (Abrams, 308) due to the heightened ability of the writer. Longinus’ concept of the Sublime reached further fruition when discussed in Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful and Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment, as well as in works by Dennis, Addison, Hume and poets Wordsworth, Thomson, and Mallet who attempted to clarify and diversify the concept. America, a land bubbling over with sublime images, added real-world value to the discussion; as such, the literature, philosophy and art during America’s exploration of itself focused on the image of the sublime as a means of breaking from the past, of discerning power and of forging a new identity.

The Sublime is an aesthetic concept that deals with the force of a perception. For Edmund Burke, who brought the Sublime from “the level of judgment as David Hume had done….[to the] level of sensibility” (Sertoli), the Sublime emerged from contemplation of “whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the i...

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