The Kantian Sublime: From Morality to Art

By Paul Crowther | Go to book overview

7 Sublimity, Art, and Beyond

I

Having reconstructed Kant's theory of the sublime in general aesthetic terms, I shall now consider in what sense, direct or modified, it applies in the particular case of art. It is interesting in this respect that, while Kant himself does not rule out a link between sublimity and art, he treats it as of secondary importance, in so far as judgements in such a context would involve teleological considerations and would thereby lack 'pure' aesthetic status. Kant's illustration of this point in § 26 is as follows—

we must not point to the sublime in works of art, e.g. buildings, statues and the like, where a human end determines the form as well as the magnitude, nor yet in things of nature, that in their very concept import a definite end e.g. animals of a recognised natural order, but in rude nature merely as involving magnitude. 1

However, in going on to say why natural objects with a definite end cannot be sublime, Kant makes a move which shows precisely why, in some circumstances, such objects can be sublime—

For in a representation of this kind nature contains nothing monstrous (nor what is either magnificent or horrible)—the magnitude may be increased to any extent provided imagination is able to grasp it all in one whole. An object is monstrous where by its size it defeats the end that forms its concept. 2

Kant thus gives the circumstances in which, say, an animal of a definite species could be sublime. It would have to be of so monstrous a size that, psychologically speaking, we are so engrossed in the act of trying perceptually to apprehend its enormity that we pay no attention to (indeed are wholly

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