A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful

Synopsis

An eloquent and sometimes even erotic book, the Philosophical Enquiry was long dismissed as a piece of mere juvenilia. However, Burke's analysis of the relationship between emotion, beauty, and art form is now recognized as not only an important and influential work of aesthetic theory, but also one of the first major works in European literature on the Sublime, a subject that has fascinated thinkers from Kant and Coleridge to the philosophers and critics of today. This is the only available edition of the work.

Excerpt

A true artist should put a generous deceit on the spectators.

Burke, Enquiry

THE Enquiry is a book that has always been overshadowed by Burke's great book Reflections on the Revolution in France, and by his subsequent career as a Whig politician. As a study of the relationship between strong feelings and forms of art it seems far removed from Burke's later political commitments, despite the fact that those commitments were always characterized by his distinctive eloquence and intensity. Even though the influence of the Enquiry is clearly identifiable in many of the most important works of the Romantic period it has either been dismissed as an interesting but derivative piece of juvenilia, or deemed to be negligible, indeed amateurish compared with Kant's powerfully serious Analytic of the Sublime published in I790. Though radically different, in accessibility and method, both books share what was to become a fundamental modern preoccupation; for Burke and Kant the Sublime was a way of thinking about excess as the key to a new kind of subjectivity. Beauty, Burke hoped to show in his Enquiry, was something more reassuringly tempered.

But as one of the greatest counter-revolutionary writers of the eighteenth century there is a sense in which Burke has not been taken sufficiently on his own terms. Reception of the Enquiry has suffered from the paradoxes inherent in the counter-revolutionary position. As George Steiner describes it in his essay 'Aspects of Counter Revolution':

It is precisely abstract political theory and attempts to impose analytic and systematic projections on the essentially irrational, instinctual, contingent flux of human affairs which the counter revolutionary scorns and repudiates. The psychological and stylistic components of the counter-revolutionary sensibility are those of an ardent remem-

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