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While the notion of the rhetorical sublime has ancient roots, the category of the natural sublime was theorized first in the 18th century by Burke, Kant and others, as a mixed, painful-pleasurable experience paradigmatically of vast and overwhelming natural places like mountain ranges and stormy seas. By the 21st century, a far-less-metaphysically-inclined age, philosophical accounts of the sublime had come to seem outmoded, and Postmodernists had extended the category in myriad directions, so much so, that aestheticians such as Jane Forsey, art historians such as James Elkins, and art critics such as Peter Schjeldahl were urging that the sublime be put on the dustbin of aesthetic history. Putting the point especially pithily, Schjeldahl called
the sublime a “hopelessly jumbled philosophical notion that has had more than two centuries to start meaning something cogent and hasn’t succeeded yet” (2001). In this paper, I take up Schjeldahl’s challenge and offer a theory of the environmental sublime consisting of two kinds of contemporarily relevant, secular responses that I call the ‘thin’ and the ‘thick’ sublime.
Sandra Shapshay will begin as Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College in Fall 2019. She previously taught at Indiana University after receiving her PhD at Columbia University. Her most recent book is Reconstructing Schopenhauer's Ethics: Hope, Compassion, and Animal Welfare (Oxford University Press, 2019).
Organized by the Philosophy Department.