Sublime (philosophy) - Post-Romantic and 20th Century

Post-Romantic and 20th Century

The last decades of the 19th century saw the rise of Kunstwissenschaft, or the "science of art", which was a movement to discern laws of aesthetic appreciation and arrive at a scientific approach to aesthetic experience.

At the beginning of the 20th century Neo-Kantian German philosopher and theorist of aesthetics Max Dessoir founded the Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, which he edited for many years, and published the work Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft in which he formulated five primary aesthetic forms: the beautiful, the sublime, the tragic, the ugly, and the comic.

The experience of the sublime involves a self-forgetfulness where personal fear is replaced by a sense of well-being and security when confronted with an object exhibiting superior might, and is similar to the experience of the tragic. The "tragic consciousness" is the capacity to gain an exalted state of consciousness from the realization of the unavoidable suffering destined for all men and that there are oppositions in life that can never be resolved, most notably that of the "forgiving generosity of deity" subsumed to "inexorable fate".

Thomas Weiskel re-examined Kant's aesthetics and the Romantic conception of the sublime through the prism of semiotic theory and psychoanalysis. He argued that Kant's 'mathematical' sublime' could be seen in semiotic terms as the presence of an excess of signifiers, a monotonous infinity threatens to dissolve all oppositions and distinctions. The 'dynamic sublime', on the other hand, was an excess of signifieds: meaning was always overdetermined.

According to Jean-François Lyotard, the sublime, as a theme in aesthetics, was the founding move of the Modernist period. Lyotard argued that the modernists attempted to replace the beautiful with the release of the perceiver from the constraints of the human condition. For him, the sublime's significance is in the way it points to an aporia in human reason; it expresses the edge of our conceptual powers and reveals the multiplicity and instability of the postmodern world.

According to Mario Costa, the concept of the sublime should be examined first of all in relation to the epochal novelty of the digital technologies, and the technological artistic production: new media art, computer-based generative art, networking, telecommunication art. For him, the new technologies are creating conditions for a new kind of sublime: the technological sublime. The traditional categories of aesthetics (beauty, meaning, expression, feeling) are being replaced by the notion of the sublime, which after being natural in the XVIII century, and metropolitan-industrial in the modern era, has now become technological.

There has also been some resurgence of interest in the sublime in analytic philosophy in the last 15 years, with occasional articles in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism and The British Journal of Aesthetics, as well as monographs by writers such as Malcolm Budd, James Kirwan and Kirk Pillow. As in the postmodern or critical theory tradition, analytic philosophical studies often begin with accounts of Kant or other philosophers of the 18th or early 19th centuries.

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