Kant the Sublime

The Sublime In Lyotard’s reading Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime, he explains how critical thought exists within an infinite amount of creativity with no principles but in search of them. Lyotard understands the Kantian sublime as a way to comply with the standards that critically analyze postmodernism using deconstruction. Kant differentiated the sublime between the vastness and greatness and the dynamic sublime. The vastness sublime is so great we can’t just use our senses like we normally do; it requires us to heighten our senses beyond comprehension. The dynamic sublime is the way in which rationalizes things and his perceptions.

Lyotard describes the boundlessness of the imagination and reason as a ‘differend’ and this is ‘to be found at the heart of sublime feeling: at the encounter of two absolutes equally present to thought, the absolute whole when it conceives, the absolutely measured when it presents. ’ (Lyotard) Our imagination understands forms and measures while reason understands something without form of an infinite nature of something. There is a separation of imagination and reason and when we use the ‘enigmatic’ power of critical thought we can reflectively judge something.

Kant’s presentation of the sublime has been taken up by Lyotard and he explores different ways of finding a philosophical understanding of different artworks. Through Longinus and Burke we can explore the pre-modern and modern conceptions of the sublime and through all these critiques we can draw different manifestations of the sublime in art. Kant questions how can someone judge an object before knowing how to properly judge that object and how do they know what proper judging is? Longinus in part of his critique implies that man can go beyond his limitations as a human being by experiencing emotions and language.

The art or technical talents was described, as the human while the sublime was something that escaped our experience of art. ‘Sublimity consists in a certain excellence and distinction in expression’ (Longinus, pg 100). To understand and have knowledge of the sublime, there needs to be a vague understanding of something that is beyond our experience or senses. He explains that there is more to the human ordinary life because we feel this through the senses, but these senses are an incorrect interpretation caused by a physical perception as opposed to a psychological one.

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If you think about the sublime, it cannot be pictured or imagined but we have translated and suggested through the arts and poetry. Longinus tells us that nature is the creative and the first principle of the sublime and what follows is a matter luck and good mentors. In Goodbye Lenin, a German film directed by Wolfgang Becker, Lenin tries to hide the unification of Germany during the 1990’s from his mother who was in a coma throughout those months and has to stay in bed. He successfully conned her into thinking nothing had changed by using tricks like old product bottles and filming his own news broadcasts.

This film successfully executes the idea of the sublime in what was going on between his mother and the rest of the world. ‘Our faults spring from the same place as our virtues. ’(Longinus)She believed everything around her was real and time had not changed but the people around her were well aware that this was a deception of reality. The way in which Lenin created the same world and reality his mother had always known is overwhelming to the senses and questions what is really for real? Burke believes that the ideas of pain and pleasure cannot be defined, but pleasure of every kind satisfies quickly.

He goes on to say that there are two kinds of pleasure: the first that simply is and has no relation and the second that cannot exist without relation. The film has preserved and stopped time that defies nature and in reality cannot be done. The son is so scared and terrified that his mother will die that he tries to please her by keeping the world exactly the same. This terror is the source of sublime because it creates the most emotion and he imagines the worst. The fear that his mother will die has caused him to be terrified. It explores different areas of the mind by letting her believe this lie.

His mother would not survive the fact that everything she has believed in had crumbled while she was asleep and that the world she once knew was suddenly a capitalistic society that now included Burger king, Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Lenin did not want to devastate his mother and cause another heart attack so he had to make everything appear, as it always was wile the outside world was growing and expanding at such an accelerated rate. The kitsch setting of the typical German 1989 apartment filled with yellow flowered wallpaper and dark wood furniture brings calmness to his communist mother.

The film captures the nature of humans and their strong social beliefs and how it can affect the human psyche. Burke believes that terror is the source of the sublime and that pain is the more powerful than pleasure. Lyotard believes that pain is not the end point, there is the ‘movement’ of pain to ‘pleasure’ In Joseph Turners Impressionistic painting titled Slave Ship, he has created a seen of vastness that relates to the Kantian sublime but moreover he has demonstrated the use of color and dynamic composition to create a sense of horror.

The brushstrokes give a natural look to the painting and the seemingly unintentional brushstrokes create an organized composition. We are aesthetically pleased when we look at the painting because an overwhelming response is experienced when looking at the picture. Burke believed that the Beautiful was very different from the sublime. “All privation is great because they are all terrible: Vacuity, darkness, solitude, and silence. Low and intermittent sounds and shadows bring about feelings of the sublime. Above all, the actions of the mind are affected by the sublime. “

The way in which Turner has used rough brush strokes and lots of contrast between moods and contrasting colors creates the Sublime as opposed to the Beautiful. The use of purple and blue shadows that cast over the foggy night, the bloodline skyline, the flaming enraged sea and the insignificant ship create a sense of horror. The Sublime is experienced in this painting because it is detached from the actual danger of being in an actual situation and rather experienced through the visual arts and poetry in its overwhelming vastness. There is a sense of elation and intimidation when traveling through the painting.

Thomas Cole’s Landscape with Tree Trunks create a struggle to be able to understand what is being implied. It becomes uninviting to the viewer as the scary tree trunks in the foreground block our path into the painting and we get further into only for our view to be blocked again because of the mountains that come right into the middle part. The painting does not accommodate to human feelings. These are sublime components such as the scary trees, the contrasting light and dynamic sky create frustration in entering the painting make us feel that we are not welcomed and that we are in a wilderness that we cannot control.

The overwhelming tree and sky not only creates and unexplained phenomena but also implies that time and power of nature is vast and infinite and these unpredictable forces can in themselves become sublime. The painting composition seems to have been distorted by Cole yet it feels genuine and believable. In the Pianist directed by Roman Polanski we are safe to knowing the reality of the actual circumstance of Jewish victims trapped in a concentration camp but we still enjoy the horrific actions taken against them caused by the overwhelming power of human nature.

We are awed, disgusted and in disbelief by the question: “How can human beings do such things? ” ‘There is no explanation for the communication of passion, but it is concluded through the experience or premonitions of others. ’(Burke) there is no way to rationalize how the Jews were treated during this time of suffering and we can’t even fathom such events to reoccur, but it still exists today. The pain and suffering that we experience as a witness is subliminal and in cannot be justified. Within the film Szpilman is able to detach from the war and all the pain and suffering he has experienced by playing the piano. When different men have a common faith in the object of admiration we come to the Sublime’ (Longinus). Szpilman creates his own sublime world through the piano. He creates a stimulus of powerful and inspired emotion and he seems to be dignified and elevated when playing the piano, not guilty or ashamed for being a Jew. His talent brings even his worst enemies to respect him and be in completely awestruck by his music breaking all boundaries of human laws and standards and elevating itself to a much higher place that is universal. The unknown and unbound is created in the film when everyone is awestruck and in total admiration of the music.

In the end, art has the vastness that allows the mind to be free of obstacles of distraction. Basically, I understand Kant in his way of thinking of art as a way of means to letting the senses experience a feeling far greater than the everyday ordinary life and sublimity only exists in our minds and not in nature, and if we are conscious of this we can become superior to nature within and to nature which does exists without us. Lyotard explains that art should work with no rules and that it therefore cannot be judged and instead be combined and pluralized.

Longinus explains that the human is the technical aspect of art while the sublime is the existential part of the human psyche that goes beyond our experience of art. Burke’s modern view of sublimity in art can only be experienced through actual knowledge an actual experience where things are only recreated and reordered. He thinks that death and fear are feelings of the sublime and that what one might expect is very different to what actual really happens and that expectation creates fear which in turn makes us unreasonable and therefore brings about the sublime.

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