Kant & Burke Essay
Kant & Burke
In Neil Hertz’s essay, The Notion of Blockage in the Literature of the Sublime, Neil uses the work of William Wordsworth to makes a connection to the very distinguished and particular notion of the mathematical sublime by Immanuel Kant. The mathematical sublime is the perception that reason has this superiority over imagination because reason and logic is boundless whereas imagination is limited to what we have personally experienced through our senses.
When in the presence of something that embodies the overwhelming magnitude of an idea that we cannot comprehend at first glance (the sublime), Kant believes that reason has the upper hand over the senses. By means of reasoning, we as individuals can determine that there is some claim to final totality. When this reasoning comes face to face with an agent of the sublime, our logic is able to understand the failure of our ability to grasp the enormity of something so thought shattering that it eventually leads to the realization that our reason is more reliable than our senses.
The sensory faculty bases its understanding on empirical evidence and in this case would have no influence over our train of thought because we have never experienced anything quite like the sublime. Kant labels this as the blockage and associates it with a negative feeling, this feeling of displeasure stems from the fact that in order to grasp the concept of the sublime the individual must realize that their previous cognitive limits were not developed enough.
Hertz has a different idea about the result of experiencing the mathematical sublime, he believes that it brings us pleasure by means of displeasure but the pleasure and power of overcoming our imagination’s shortcomings bring us a greater satisfaction than we could have experienced without this knowledge. Hertz then applies several excerpts from book 7 of Wordsworth’s The 1805 Prelude. Wordsworth’s literary works reinforce Hertz’s position upon the sublime and his concept of blockage.
Before he begins analyzing the literary works, Hertz lays down the foundation of the sublime and states, with the use of Weiskels argument that “The cause of the sublime is the aggrandizement of reason at the expense of imaginative apprehension of reality and at the expense of reality. ”(Hertz, 51) After attaining this level of consciousness is it easier to assess the effect of the sublime and how it creates a new insight by means of comprehending that the sublime consists of structure and disagreement.
Kant voices a very similar idea as Weiskel just a couple sentences later, “the very moment in which the mind turns within and performs its identification with reason. ”(Hertz, 51) He uses this notion of blockage in relation to Wordsworth’s poems, and how we have difficulty in grasping the concept before we recognize and understand the sublime and how it unites the mind when it is filled with such a grand sensation. Unto myself, “The face of every one That passes by me is a mystery! ” Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed
By thoughts of what and whither, when and how. … All laws of acting, thinking, speaking man Went from me, neither knowing me nor known. (Hertz, 58) Wordsworth is making reference to the publication and how everyone is the same but different at the same time, whilst making allusions to the sensory approach and how he does not understand the incident to its furthest degree. He is stuck on the mathematically sublime until he advances in his text analysis and stumbles upon the blind beggar. Or emblem of the utmost that we know Both of ourselves and of the universe,
And on the shape of this unmoving man, His fixed face and sightless eyes, I looked, As if admonished from another world. (Hertz, 58) Here Wordsworth makes the transition from being baffled and not comprehending the sublime to being blown away by the grandeur and the complexity of the idea that the beggar encompasses. The blind beggar cannot see reality but he attaches and unites himself with his surroundings, and we feel a need to try and help the less fortunate, we feel sympathy for the beggar, proving some inner moral faculty.
Therefore confirming that the sublime is beyond the sensory approach and it is understood by a universal general idea that includes the totality of our world. As Hertz unravels the sublime he feels pleasure and power that was not there before. Since he has no more limits on his logic his imagination can run free as he comes to terms with the ubiquitous notion that understanding the sublime opens up many unexplored pathways. Part 2 Edmund Burke gives us his version of the sublime in his book, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.
He links beauty with pleasure and sublimity with pain and terror. He views the beautiful as what is aesthetically pleasing and well formed. From Burke’s point of view, the sublime is not corporeal, it is a generated plethora of sensations that are attached to the experience of being in the presence of the sublime. There is a predominant feeling of astonishment at hand but also a similar one of respect and wonder. In the Greek language, there is but one word for “fear” and “wonder”, the same goes for the words “terrible” and “respectable”.
Burke states that when something is so great and astonishing, your mind is totally absorbed by this unknown notion and he is declaring that we are then in the presence of the sublime. Since our faculties are bewildered, there is this confusion that takes place and we become afraid of what is unfamiliar to us, thus linking this idea of terror and fear with the sublime. Seeing as our imagination cannot picture or depict the sublime, and our reasoning is similarly baffled we are then in a state of shock and this fear of the unknown is prevalent.
Milton thrives on the idea of the unknown; the following excerpt from one of his texts supports this idea “The other shape, If shape it might be called that shape had none Distinguishable, in member, joint, or limb; Or substance might be called that shadow seemed; For each seemed either; black he stood as night; Fierce as ten furies; terrible as hell; And shook a deadly dart. What seemed his head The likeness of a kingly crown had on. ” (Burke, 55) This passage taken from Milton’s work was later used in Burke’s book, it reinforces his view that the sublime correlates with fear and not without the help of obscurity.
The passage is very dark and mysterious, leaving clues but not enough for the reader to make a clear and precise analysis. Even the terms he uses are unclear “If shape it might be called” and “substance”. Substance could be anything, it is baffling trying to pinpoint exactly what he means as well as the shape. He doesn’t specify what the shape is if anything he expands the parameters the shape could take. It feels as if he is trying to confuse you by being extremely obscure. The obscurity and the incapability to understand what it represents pushes us to this area of unknown within ourselves.
In short it is our minds inadequacy to grasp the sublime which invokes these feelings of astonishment. Part 3 Burke and Kant both made significant contributions to the general idea of the sublime, but in my opinion Kant approaches the concept with a personal touch that is not duplicated. The fact that we personally overcome the blockage due to our own pensiveness is very intriguing. Their notions of the sublime can be derived from the poetic models that which they associate their works with. Burke believes that proper use of language is the most influential factor on creating this obscure sublime.
Consequently poetry is at the pinnacle since is it ambiguous in itself. Poetry is the most obscure form of language, it prides itself on being judicious and witty. By throwing the terror and fear caused by the sublime into the picture it is not surprising that the result of this reasoning brings Milton and his poetic prose into play. Kant’s concept of the beautiful and sublime differ from those of Burke. From Kant’s point of view, the sublime stems from a corporeal object that incites wonder in an individual, due to its size or beauty. He compares the sublime to power.
Burke states that we “succumb” to the sublime, just as Wordworth’s character succumbs to the overwhelming experience of living your everyday life. But like Kant’s theory, Wordsworth character in the blind beggar is able to surpass the blockage and feel the sensations that are correlated with his perception of the sublime, power and pleasure. Reference Burke Edmund, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Print. Ps: the essays on courselink did not provide the required info to reference.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 3 June 2017