A Philosophical Reconstruction of the Sublime

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
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  • 1 Rice University
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Robert Doran claims that the sublime is all about transcendence transferred from the religious to the aesthetic domain of experience. Taken in this philosophical rather than stylistic sense, it proved crucial for the development of modern subjectivity. Doran traces the issue from Longinus through the decisive reception of Nicolas Boileau, who first distinguished le sublime from le style sublime, on to an extended engagement with Immanuel Kant. In all this he seeks its place in the rise of the modern bourgeois subject. The social-historical connections tend to be a bit overstated, first, with regard to Boileau and the idea of the honnête homme, and especially with the claim that “Burke treats aesthetic concepts as proxies for sociopolitical categories.” It is not fruitful for an understanding of Kant, either. This weakens his powerful argument for the philosophical significance of the sublime in modern thought.

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