Monday, May 24, 2010

Wickman's sublime

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?


  1. As to transceding the power of the Internet, I'd say that would have to be whatever the New Media happens to be at the moment. Whether that be Web 2.0, the theoretical Web 3.0 or what have you, I'd say that part of the sublime nature of things lies in their shock value. The very newness/alienity of the medium on the senses causes a momentary thrill of confusion and adjustment. points out that sublimity is "identified with a threshhold" of sorts.

    And what is sublime to one generation eventually becomes normal through an acclimatizating/desensitizing period, and to the next generation it is as if what once was sublime had always been normal.

    Literature, however, is able to capture and hold memory of the sublime expirience so that while it is lost to the new, ever evolving sublimes, its record can rekindle the same wonder that was evoked at its inception as a testament to the sentament that has since moved on to the present and future.

    Erm. That's my reaction anyway. Midnight's making me kind of lyrical. It's such a dreamy sort of idea. Was that kind of the right direction at least?

  2. I haven't felt the overwhelming or terrifying feelings of the sublime from looking at YouTube or Flikr either. What overwhelms me is thinking about the sheer amount of information on the internet. The number of blogs, videos, pictures, articles, encyclopedias, business pages, ETC ETC ETC ETC ETC definitely gives me "that weird feeling you get when you try to comprehend eternity."
    I think a related concept is information overload, basically the idea that too much information boggles the mind. There's actually a lot of research going on about this. Obviously the internet has made this a real issue, and the idea of real time information with Web 2.0 increases the relevance. Just google "information overload."

  3. Look up something on Google and see how many results there are. There is a kind of sublime moment when you realize that there are more websites that you could read in your lifetime. The internet is a sublime in itself. It you are thinking more in terms of technology, however, you could look at the picture called deep space. I put it in my blog post.

    I am also trending into the sublime with Emily Dickinson, and comparing it to video medium.

    Have you ever watched the Harvard Cell Video, to me that is a sublime piece. YOu can see it here, I find it more powerful because it is a simulation of something real:

  4. You may actually want to look at it here, as the youtude one seems to skip:

  5. Katherine! In response to your question, "And if the Internet in itself is sublime, what dilemma does that present for the Romantic meaning and use of the sublime?" and in conjunction with the previous assertion that "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'" I had one thought: modern society has combined the machine, sublime and nature into one...the internet! Today, they are one and the same. People are beginning to find their "true" Self through exploration of online identities (look at both my and Chris' blogs as they are dealing with this issue right now) as well as bringing nature to us in a different form (such as Second life) and the sublime ideas or fantasies which can never really be lived (fighting a dragon, flying, breathing fire, etc.), can be lived through online stimuli. Think about it, our brains react to ideas, real or virtual in nature. That's why I can't watch "March of the Penguins" without wearing sweats, wrapped in a blanket and a space heater on the side. Why do people "sit on the edge of their seat" during an intense battle scene, heart racing, blood pressure rising, until the good guys finally win and you feel like you've just run the marathon? Because the virtual stimuli creates the idea in our mind and our bodies react as though we are actually living the viewed experience.