Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Definitions and Connections

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?!

1 comment:

  1. Katherine:
    Really great quotations. You lay out the concept very well and lead into something that might be a key term for you, "The Technological Sublime."

    It might be worthwhile to distinguish between the objects of sublimity, the individual's appreciation of sublimity (a matter of psychology, spirituality, or phenomenology), and the mediating roles of other people and of technical means (like the objective/subjective division about the sublime on the Victorian Web, but taking it further). When I first stared at Jupiter's rings through that telescope, was it the planet's form that evoked the sublime? The whole experience of seeking out a dark enough place with my friend where we could see the night sky at the right time? The telescope itself that amazed me with its optics? The act of sharing this discovering at the moment with my buddy or with others, like right now? I think the sublime is a complex concept, and when you apply it to cyberspace these separate elements compound. Am I amazed just at the sheer number of websites, words, resources, images, or people online? Or does the sublime take place in the act of sharing something through online networks?

    Since you are invoking the issue of technology, you are entering a realm highly explored through science fiction and utopian literature. In the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (online), I note that on p. 3 it says that a sense of wonder was the central motif of early science fiction. You might check that out, and possibly work by Helen Merrick and Gwyneth Jones (though this might take you outside of your first focus...)