What is the American Sublime? Ruminations on Peircian Phenomenology and the Paintings of Barnett Newman

In: Contemporary Pragmatism
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I argue that a fruitful approach to exploring the significance of the abstract expressionist Barnett Newman’s body of work, understood as as an attempt to “paint the sublime,” is by appeal to Peircian phenomenology and the conception of “originativity” that it entails. By attending, in particular, to Peirce’s conception of “the firstness of thirdness,” I show how this “reasonable feeling” both signifies our “affinity” with the world with which we transact and, with specific respect to what happens when looking at Newman’s paintings, explains why we are spurred to reflect upon the meaning of these experiences. In this way, “the firstness of thirdness” accounts for our recognition of a form of reasonableness that exceeds that exhibited in ordinary conceptualization.

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