The Master [Confucius] is good at leading one on
step by step. He broadens me with culture and
brings me back to essentials by means of the rites.
I cannot give up even if I wanted to, but having
done all I can, it seems to rise sheer above me and
I have no way of going after it, however much I
may want to.
-- Yan Yuan, Confucius' favorite disciple
In traditional Western aesthetic discourse, the sublime is a masculine mode. The classic example is Edmund Burke's well-known association of the sublime with the father and the beautiful with the mother. The father is sublime because he is authoritative, distant, intimidating, inspiring awe, respect, and admiration. The mother is beautiful because she is tender, loving, and personal, arousing love and intimacy. 1 This divide extends beyond the family to the entire cultural field and becomes a mark of sexual difference. When the aesthetic meshes with the social, even the beautiful disappears from the mother and becomes the father's property. The father is a composite figure representing law, unity, order, morality, spirituality, transcendence, and ultimately the essence of culture itself. The mother figures in an earthbound, domestic setting, bogged down in the biological details of childbearing and childrearing. The softer virtues of the feminine are meant to gratify the instinctual needs of man's lower,material and sensual existence. In the paternal high court of the sublime, where qualities of virility, strength, the Ideal, unity, divinity, and transcendence reign, the feminine is an outcast, an alien, a disrupter, and an intruder. Analyzing the place of the feminine in the Western discourse of the sublime, Naomi Schor identifies a set of ideas clustered around the notion of the feminine detail. The detail is that which eludes the unifying law and grasping intelligence of the