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The mind struggles to regain its composure

“What is terrible – or sublime – for Kant, in his ‘Analytic of the Sublime’ of 1790, is formlessness. Beauty, so say the Kantian aestheticians, has form. Its objects have definable ‘boundaries’, while the sublime ‘is to be found in a formless object’, that is to say, an object that suggests ‘boundlessness’, an object without end. Wild, eruptive nature – the swirling sea, massive ice floes, a looming, dark, snow-capped mountain, a churning ice storm, a sudden chasm – provokes in the viewer a welter of feelings, most notably a type of terror as the mind realizes the immensity and indifference to humanity of that which is perceived.

According to the theory of the sublime, the mind struggles to regain its composure and its superiority to this blind nature. As a result of this struggle with boundlessness, that which we cannot imagine or represent adequately should, according to Kant, ultimately be contained mentally, that is, bounded within thought, within Reason. The sublime experience asserts finally a conceptual victory over blind, formless nature. The catastrophe is contained conceptually. An immense totality is encapsulated in a tiny mind. Confronted by destabilizing scenes, the ‘transcendental subject’ stiffens himself into conceptualization. … The transcendental subject of sublime experience is placeless, without time. Time’s liquidity is stilled. Specific location is replaced by a crystallization of space and the self.”

Liquid Crystals, Esther Leslie.

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