“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, July 22, 2011

Kristin Girten on the Sublime

What a treat to see students of yore, now flourishing in jobs, doing great stuff. I speak at present of Kristin Girten, who just sent me the paper that accompanies her presentation, on Charlotte Smith. It's about the sublime and in particular it talks Longinus (yay), who some of you know already is my pick for a speculative sublime. 

Why? In nuce because Longinus allows the sublime to be about intimacy with an alien. Kant rules out anything like speculation: you're not supposed to think extraterrestrials or cosmic strings when you look at the night sky: somehow you're supposed to ignore that and see it as a dome of pin pricks of light. But wait a minute: doesn't that mean that you are simply substituting one form of speculation for another, albeit an outmoded, Ptolemaic one? (Talk about an ironic fulfillment of Meillassoux's point about Kant's so-called “Copernican revolution.”) In other words, there is no innocent, non-speculative seeing. 

But with Longinus in charge, you can have all the speculation you want, because the sublime is not simply an internal state brought on by an external irritant. It's contact with a real alien being. 

Kristin somehow loops this all through Charlotte Smith, who wrote the book that The Cure are still reading from. She wrote 108 Elegiac Sonnets and they are each one of them masterpieces. And they all say exactly the same thing. She's playing with repetition and as you know, repetition is death. By forcing you gently into contact over and over again with melancholy she sensitizes you. 

My analogy when I taught her last quarter was The Cure's “Pictures of You.” Damn it I wish I had recorded it.

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