Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Expanse and Horror of Amazon

I've been looking on to try to find some more books, articles and authors on the sublime, and I found an absolutely overwhelming array of information. I now have dozens of new sources to explore that have to do with every aspect of the sublime, from original definitions to artistic renditions and purely modern applications. I'm beginning to understand what Burke meant when he described "that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror" (On the Sublime and Beautiful), because this is the exact state I feel myself in with this project. There is just so much information, so many places to look, aspects to consider, people to contact, books and articles to read. Maybe there's a reason that they call it Amazon, because I feel like one of those early jungle explorers, faced with a new, unfamiliar and terrifying world. I start somewhere that makes sense to me, like with Edmund Burke or Emmanuel Kant, two prominent theorists on the sublime, and then I make natural connections from there: to related articles/books, citations within the book, books that have cited books I'm interested in, other books with the same tags, and so on ad nauseam. Soon I have no idea where I am or how I got there, and no chance of finding my way back to the safety of familiar text. The research and possibilities have become so expansive and all-encompassing that I hardly know what to do with them, and after spending hours on Amazon, Google Scholar and in the Blogosphere I have enormous amounts of information but no ability to process it all into anything cohesive. It's my motions of thought that have been suspended, and the infinite realms of academic and philosophical possibility that's brought me a sense of Burke's horror. I think the sublimity of the internet may be too much for me - I've been desperately craving some good literary analysis with just me, a solid, entirely non-digital text, and a pen. Maybe after some of that I'll be ready to jump back in and try to tackle this ridiculous expanse of information that we call the Internet.

The image at the beginning of this post, by the way, is of the Amazon rainforest burning. I think it well depicts an aspect of terror and the inability to control outside forces, which is a key element of the sublime. It is also what I would like to do to and modern technology: strip it down so that only the strongest materials are left, remove all the cluttering underbrush and give it the chance to start fresh.

1 comment:

  1. I'm totally feeling you about what you say about information overload. It seems like that's one way to justify grad school, in progressive be able to research and get a better handle on something you touched on in an undergrad class, you can do a master's thesis on it...and then a dissertation, and then emphasize in it as a professor...

    The moral of the story? What we're doing in these undergrad classes will just be splashing around in really large bodies of water. Demoralizing? Maybe a little...but then maybe it also could be exciting if you want to make a subject a thing of close study for a significant period of your life.

    Also, when we were talking in class about this post, it made me think how interesting it would be to perform a sort of "trace" in which you start in one obvious place, and find what seems to be the most significant source cited, and then go to that, and so on. This wouldn't be just a way of following random links, but rather to follow a path of progenitors that each author feels is most important, and see where that leads you. Could that be a way of finding meaning/structure in the sublime?

    All of this makes me think of the way Derrida describes the "trace," in which his analysis of the breakdown of precise and original meaning could either give one a sense of horror, the kind you get from looking into the abyss...or you could see new systems without order or structure as a playground the way Nietsche does. I'll find a quote for this when I get a chance...