What’s the Sublime?

Why does extreme weather wow us? What does it mean to be “wowed”? If you’re willing to join me on a little side trip into the world of aesthetics, we can articulate this feeling of the sublime and how it functions in art and literature. One way of looking at it (as articulated by this short video from the Center for Philosophy and Art) is that sublime is composed of three elements.

  1. The power of fear
  2. The lure of the ungraspable, what’s beyond rational understanding
  3. Humanity’s relationship to nature

Watch the nine-minute video here. It’s totally okay if you watch as much or little as you’d like—it’d be useful to even watch just the first three minutes. Though it focuses on art, the sublime is alive and well in fiction, which we will also explore!

If you’d like to learn more beyond the video, consider this short essay, “A Short History of the Sublime” by Simon Morely in The MIT Press Reader. It summarizes the way philosophers—from Edmund Burke to George Bataille—have written about the sublime over the centuries.

I’d argue that this flash, Electric Storm by Katherine Aldridge-Morris in New Flash Fiction Review, evokes the sublime, throughout and especially in that awesome first line: “It’s been twenty minutes since the first bolt of lightning ripped a scar through the purple night sky.” What a way to raise the stakes! Take a moment to read the flash if you’d like.