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Kant on the Sublime [**emphasis added**]:



by Immanuel Kant

translated by James Creed Meredith

“There are, however, also important and striking differences 

between the two. The beautiful in nature is a question of the form

of object, and this consists in limitation, **whereas the sublime is

to be found in an object even devoid of form**, so far as it immediately

involves, or else by its presence provokes a representation of

limitlessness, yet with a superadded thought of its totality.

Accordingly, the beautiful seems to be regarded as a presentation of

an indeterminate concept of understanding, **the sublime as a

presentation of an indeterminate concept of reason**. Hence the

delight is in the former case coupled with the representation of

quality, but in this case with that of quantity. Moreover, the

former delight is very different from the latter in kind. For the

beautiful is directly attended with a feeling of the furtherance of

life, and is thus compatible with charms and a playful imagination. On

the other hand, the feeling of the sublime is a pleasure that only

arises indirectly, being brought about by the feeling of a momentary

check to the vital forces followed at once by a discharge all the more

powerful, and so it is an emotion that seems to be no sport, but

dead earnest in the affairs of the imagination. Hence charms are

repugnant to it; and, since the mind is not simply attracted by the

object, but is also alternately repelled thereby, the delight in the

sublime does not so much involve positive pleasure as admiration or

respect, i. e., merits the name of a negative pleasure.

"But the most important and vital distinction between the sublime and

the beautiful is certainly this: that if, as is allowable, we here

confine our attention in the first instance to the sublime in

objects of nature (that of art being always restricted by the

conditions of an agreement with nature), we observe that whereas

natural beauty (such as is self-subsisting) conveys a finality in

its form making the object appear, as it were, preadapted to our power

of judgement, so that it thus forms of itself an object of our

delight, that which, without our indulging in any refinements of

thought, but, simply in our apprehension of it, excites the feeling of

the sublime, may appear, indeed, in point of form to contravene the

ends of our power of judgement, to be ill-adapted to our faculty of

presentation, and to be, as it were, **an outrage on the imagination,

and yet it is judged all the more sublime on that account.**”

In other words, it is only the totally formless that can bring about the emotional reaction of the sublime, and the more formless the more sublime. The whole issue of form or not form is an issue of identity or not identity, because that which exists is something specific (i.e it has a form), and would be available to the rational mind to understand and to evaluate, according to rational standards as to what it *is* and what it means to human life. But since Kant rejects the whole idea of objectivity, of pointing to a specific fact of reality and making a determination of its value to man based on what it *is*, then anything goes so long as it is formless and brings about a strong negative emotion of repulsion that then turns to pleasure; though, since he gives no specific references to reality in his whole treatment of the sublime, it can refer to anything, so long as it strives to achieve formlessness – i.e. modern art.


In reply to a critic of the above views, who claims that even modern art has *some* form and is therefore not based on Kant’s idea of the Sublime:

The *striving* for formlessness evident in modern art and post modern philosophy comes directly from Kant, who held that real reality (the noumena) would be completely incomprehensible to the human mind, since the human mind requires specifics and facts in order to operate correctly. Keep in mind that Kant wrote his treatises during the height of The Enlightenment, when science and reason (based on the facts) was held in its highest esteem since Ancient Greece (Aristotle). As such, his philosophy is a rebellion against the law of identity and the idea that we observe existence directly via the senses. If one is going to throw out the senses and the facts as a grounds for rationality, then, yes, indeed, one's ideas will be formless; however, insofar as there is a need to present your ideas to others, there must be some formation to them, or else it is just random letters or grunts (which Kant comes closest to in philosophy, though some post modern philosopher try to beat him at his own game). So the idea of collectivism is not based upon the facts observed via the senses (no grounds for claiming an actual collective exists or that the human mind is collective) but they have to convey that with words (disconnected from the facts as it is) does give some form to them, otherwise they are not saying a damned thing but just grunting.

Regarding modern art, sure, they must put *something* down on canvas and must make their modern sculptures have *some* shape (since we are talking about a physical medium), but it is the *striving* towards formlessness that they embody. I even think Kant would disagree with the idea that the modern artists, insofar as they strive for incomprehensible shapes, embodies his ideas about the noumena; precisely because they still retain *some* specificity. To Kant, there is no way the noumena can be conveyed to the human mind in the form of anything that is graspable via the senses [or deriving from an understanding of ideas based upon the evidence of the senses].


A few more thoughts on Kantian Sublimity: Since, according to him, one must experience the rebellion of the outright formlessness, and feel the revulsion and the disgust at the formless, and then overcome it with reason; then going to a modern classical concert that plays some atonal piece of shit, followed by Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" is to experience Kantian Sublimity; going into a modern art museum and being horrified and fearful and disgusted at what is called art these days, and then fleeing the building and seeing a poster of a beautiful model, then one has experienced Kantian Sublimity; going to a modern play that has no describable characters who make random actions not connected to anything and feeling overwhelming disgust that you have wasted your money, but then go watch "The Fountainhead", one has experienced Kantian Sublimity. I could go on, but I think I've made my point. His esthetic position is totally anti-man and anti-mind. There is absolutely no need to experience the disgusting, the revulsion, or the non-sense in order to be rational and to experience the total reverence for the total height of rationality and man's achievements.