Saturday, June 12, 2010

What it all boils down to

The images in this post are visualizations of the internet from the BarabasiLa gallery and An Atlas of Cyberspaces.

The sublime is a concept that has fascinated scholars and evaded description for hundreds of years. Even the term itself is difficult to define: it is used both to describe things so great and awe-inspiring that any description of them is inadequate, and to explain the inexpressible feeling caused by such objects or concepts. So when you see something sublime, it invokes in you a sense of "the sublime:" a kind of overpowering feeling of terror, inadequacy, awesomeness, and transcendence. Confused? You should be. The very nature of the sublime is incomprehensible and unreachable. Yet this sense, which once was believed to be discoverable only in the farthest, most dramatic reaches of nature, has become in many ways inseparable from our daily lives, through new media and technology.

With the technological wonders that have become so commonplace in our world, sublime experiences are in front of our eyes and at our fingertips at every moment, if we only take the time to notice them. The technologies we've created have grown to such an extent that even the thought of what we've accomplished and what we have the potential to do in the future can evoke a feeling of the sublime. Just look at the internet for the ultimate example: this human invention is really more an idea rather than anything substantial, and yet it is far more expansive than anything that exists in our world. The internet contains information on every imaginable subject (and many that the typical person would never imagine), access to innumerable articles and books, maps and images of much of the world, international communities, virtual worlds that mimic reality, and so much more. This invisible thing made up of who knows what (radio waves? Magic?) connects all of us to the world, and to each other. And each day as we connect to it and write on our blogs or add photos to our Facebooks or search Google we change and add to it. Multiply that by about a billion internet users and you have an infinitely connected, constantly changing, and very sublime worldwide network.
This technological sublime, which is so much a part of us and at the same time so outside of ourselves, has grown to such greatness that it can match and perhaps even surpass the natural sublime that so enthralled Romantic and Gothic authors and philosophers. Yet having the sublime so intimately connected to ourselves has drastically changed both our understanding of the concept and the ways in which we experience it. This is what I've been exploring in this blog. After some definitions and connections, I've looked at the adaptive nature of the sublime, and given some examples of where I see the technological sublime, including the BP oil spill and In my next post I'll tie this to William Wordsworth's depiction of the sublime in his poem Tintern Abbey, to solidify the link between the old sublime and the new.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this topic (a technological bent on the sublime). It would be nice if you had some images, videos, or links that illustrate what you are suggesting here (such as those found here that visualize the Internet:

    By the way, my students in a separate class have been discussing the sublime -- today, even. You might see some of the connections they are making: