I've been looking at The Victorian Web and what it has to say about the sublime and have found some great Romantic definitions that fit well into our technological age. One focus was on size: things which are sublime - mountains, waterfalls, landscapes - dwarf human beings. Walter Hipple said in "An Essay on Taste" (1780): "objects are sublime, which possess quantity, or amplitude. . . . When a large object is presented, the mind expands itself to the extent of that object, and is filled with one grand sensation, which totally possessing it, composes it into a solemn sedateness and strikes it with deep silent wonder and admiration." On the same lines, Joseph Addison, in Spectator 412 (1712), wrote: "our imagination loves to be filled with an object, or to grasp at anything that is too big for its capacity. We are flung into a pleasing astonishment at such unbounded views, and feel a delightful stillness and amazement in the soul at the apprehension of them.
I'm sure you can see the connections to the internet here. The internet is immensely, incomprehensibly large - there are millions of websites on every imaginable topic, and limitless possibilities for the future. Its size and power truly dwarfs humans in comparison, as does much of our technology today--computers and machines can do many things that we alone can't, and other things that we can at much higher speeds. George P. Landow said on Victorian Web that "by the twentieth century, one observes authors creating a technological sublime in which the power of human creations-- moon rockets, atomic weapons, skyscrapers, and gigantic, mile-long trains -- produce the same effect as the Grand Canyon, Mont Blanc, and the infinite reaches of space." We have collectively created a technological sublime so great that it may have surpassed any natural sublime. And the really unique thing is that all of us are a part of it: our blogs, facebook pages, videos, posts, comments, pictures, bookmarks, and anything else we do on the web contributes to this great interconnecting network of information and collaboration. How's that for a sublime concept?!
I'm going on a bit of a tangent ramble today, but I was looking back on my notes from English 292 when we were studying The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the sublime and I noticed some interesting ideas I took from Professor Wickman. He'd said that the sublime in this poem represented a failure to achieve feelings of gentleness and happiness or a sense of order; instead, it's an overwhelming, overpowering, and terrifying feeling/force. He compared the sublime to the French Revolution: out of control and impossible to contain. The only way to find some kind of relief from the terror of the sublime, according to Coleridge (according to Wickman), was to put it into some literary form, which the Mariner in the poem did by telling his tale - an oral literature. This kind of overpowering, uncontainable sublime seems like something you really can't find in normal settings. I certainly haven't felt that way when looking at YouTube videos or Flickr photos. I think this would be more that weird feeling you get when you try to comprehend eternity, or maybe when you look at the stars when it's really dark and keep seeing smaller ones in all of the dark spaces until they all start to blur together (I guess that connects to the idea of infinity). Is there anything in that that applies to the digital age?
I was also reminded how the Romantic period, which the idea of the sublime was a result of, was largely a reaction against industrialization and the role of the machine in removing man from nature and 'self'. In a sense I think the sublime is a way to transcend the things of the world and find greater things - even if we can't necessarily comprehend them. If this is the case, is there a sublime that transcends even the power of the Internet? And if the Internet in itself is sublime, what dilemma does that present for the Romantic meaning and use of the sublime?
I've been trying to see if anyone else has already written about the effects of the digital age on our perception of the sublime, or the sublime found in the realms of the new media. One book that looks really promising is The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power and Cyberspace by Vincent Mosco. I haven't found an actual copy of the book yet, but reviews and summaries explain that it talks about the ability the computer gives us to transcend time, space, and politics. Mosco explores how with the computer, we can transcend time, space, and politics-as-usual. The "myth" in the title is the belief that we've developed that cyberspace can "lift us out of the banality of everyday life into the possibility of the sublime" (http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=10067). This sounds like it could be really interesting, so I'm hoping to get a copy of the book (maybe the BYU library has it?) to look into his ideas more.
I also need to find some literature either on the sublime or invoking the sublime, probably from the Romantic Period, so that I can compare it to the ideas I'm developing about the sublime today. I could use The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge or The Adventures of Basil Lee by James Hogg, which I focused my last essay on. I was also considering Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) or Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey. Any other ideas?
In this blog I'm going to talk about my writing processes, and hopefully be able to get some helpful feedback that will help me improve my papers. I'm currently exploring how the new digital focus of our society affects our understanding of the sublime. The internet is a huge part of our world today, and gives us instant access to limitless information, images and videos. The incredible potential of the internet and other technologies can in itself produce a feeling of the sublime, since we can find and do so much more than we ever could before, and a single person will never be able to utilize the full potential of these technologies. And yet this wealth of knowledge can also detract from the romantic use of the sublime in relation to nature. In romantic literature a sense of sublimity was created because of the incomprehensible greatness of the natural world. Can that same sense be found now, when we know how natural processes work and in many ways have gained some control over them? Also, since amazing things can be found daily on YouTube, are we becoming desensitized to them, so that we no longer reach that intense feeling of awe that could once be found in nature?