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The introductory chapter provides geographical contexts and briefly outlines both the history of the search for the Northwest Passage and the Franklin expedition. It gives an overview of the searches that ensued for the missing expedition over twelve years and emphasises the centrality of visuality and the importance of skills like drawing to shipboard life, as well as highlighting the gaps in the literature that this book will fill, in particular the neglect of rich primary-source visual material (such as on-the-spot sketches and watercolours) as a key source of information and evidence. It notes, too, the sparseness of scholarly work addressing this period of Arctic exploration history and the absence of detailed visual analyses of documentary art from the Arctic. This chapter introduces the key debates in the study of exploration literature, Victorian visuality, and historical geography. These include the gendered space of polar exploration, the imperial gaze, and theories of space and place. It looks too at how visual evidence can be seen as layers of representation, with each response departing further from the original sketch.
Chapter 3 addresses Edmund Burke’s role in the eighteenth-century reception of classical eloquence, investigating his provocative claim that disruptive, injudicious speech can act as a spur to sound political judgment and institutional health. While Cicero’s rhetoric and his model of public life celebrated risky spontaneity and was only loosely rule-governed, a range of Burke’s contemporaries argued that the rule-bound governance of the modern era demanded a complementary style of rule-bound speech: a discourse that was factual, restrained, dispassionate, and even happily mediocre. Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful made an important break with this line of thought, celebrating the sublime’s power to disrupt custom and ordinary time. His speeches and political writings built on this conceptual foundation, developing an account of the pain of judging and the allegedly defective deliberation that often serves to evade that pain, substituting rules and maxims for engagement with circumstantial complexities. Burke consistently argued that such deliberation is ultimately self-defeating and marked by a fatal lack of what I call “imaginative judgment.” Yet he also suggested that the rhetorical sublime – which might be excessive and even uncanny – was necessary to provoke the exercise of such judgment.
Chapter 2 describes the theoretical approach to the concept of obscenity by examining what counts as “horrifically graphic,” a term drawn from the coverage of American soldiers burning dead bodies in Fallujah, Iraq, and the release of these images by the entertainment website TMZ. Drawing on a variety of theorists, it uses the framing of the taboo to articulate the idea of an obscenity norm that functions towards a particular politics. It situates the contributions of this work more substantively in terms of how it speaks to constructivist work on norms, the growing literature on emotions in global politics, and the visual politics literature. Specifically, this chapters theorizes three main ideas related to the obscenity norm and its functioning: (1) the existence of the taboo itself as something that plays with our perception of whether images depict the real, (2) the functioning of regulations on images such as trigger warnings or image bans, and (3) the relationship between the obscenity norm and the larger dynamics of security and securitization.
This article reconstructs Jean-François Lyotard’s theory of the sublime in contemporary art, focusing on his claim that such art ‘presents’ the unpresentable, and tracing its origins in Kant’s account of the sublime. I propose that Lyotard identifies a difficulty concerning Kant’s account: to understand why the disparate elements in the experience of the sublime (idea of reason, sensible representation) should be synthesized to form that experience. Lyotard recasts this difficulty as a pragmatic problem for artistic practice – how to ‘testify’ to the absolute in a non-absolute, sensibly perceivable object (the artwork) – that can be understood to drive avant-garde artistic experimentation.
A self-proclaimed “minor female Wordsworth,” Bishop is honest yet modest about nature’s centrality that endures through her writing. Her eye for natural detail is exhibited early in signature poems such as “The Fish,” then her nature writing develops sublime power in A Cold Spring with “At the Fishhouses” and “Cape Breton.” These Canadian maritime poems blend humanity with nature and machinery in unusual synthetic harmony mid-century. Bishop’s memoir “In the Village” demonstrates how, after family tragedy, nature works as a recuperative catalyst in her evolving artistry. This short story is the centerpiece of her oeuvre, and it displays her modus operandi with its unusual blend of genres used to begin the mostly poetic volume Questions of Travel; this title poem demonstrates the natural fluidity of waterfalls in rhythmically flowing language. Nature here, and in later prosaic breakthroughs such as “The Moose,” is integral to Bishop’s innovative use of genres and poetic forms.
This chapter surveys the origins of aesthetics in eighteenth-century literary criticism, as major poets were examined in the light of concepts such as ‘beauty’. The treatment of art as a topic for moral thought gave a more polite, philosophical turn to the hitherto raucous and satirical character of early eighteenth-century critical practice. The chapter examines the development of thought about form and psychology encouraged by seventeenth-century French critics, followed by Addison, Shaftesbury, and later thinkers such as Burke, who presaged the gothic. Particular attention is given to Hume, Alison and Gerard, together with other Scots theorists of ‘belles lettres’. The discussion charts the increasing influence on criticism of such terms as ‘sublime,’ ‘taste,’ ‘genius,’ ‘originality,’ ‘imagination, and ‘art’ itself. An important element is the place of creative writers as aesthetic theorists, such as Pope, Joseph Warton, and Edward Young. Nor is the period’s greatest critic, Samuel Johnson, immune to the vocabulary of aesthetics. The contribution of visual artists is illustrated by the writings of Hogarth and Reynolds, while a final section examines theory’s relation to practice.
The afterword considers the crisis of experience in Milton’s Samson Agonistes. Samson’s uncertainties about God’s plans and his difficulties interpreting his own heart capture the plight of the godly individual in a world with a hidden God (a deus absconditus). His desire for freedom and his will to instigate political action in the absence of divine guidance capture the modern condition inaugurated by the nominalist sense of God’s distance and inscrutable power. Baffled by his own inner promptings and unable to tolerate this opacity, Samson feels compelled to experiment and hazard his strength against his enemies. Samson’s skeptical doubt results in revenge and apocalyptic violence. The sublime ending – its atmosphere of dread and horror subdued by twisting rhetorical summations – captures the dialectic of skepticism and the sublime. The illegibility of private experience – with its explosive possibilities – provides a fitting conclusion to a book about skeptical doubt in early modern English literature.
This chapter begins by tracing the implications of Empedocles’ philosophy for poetry, arguing that he valorises the medium against criticisms expressed by earlier Presocratics. His cosmology provides systematic explanation for poetic beauty as deriving from Love. He uses the imagery of craftsmanship for the composition of his poetry, making it seem analogous to the products of Love, the divine craftswoman. This point is significant for the history of Greek poetics, since some scholars have argued that the artisanal conception of poetry emerges only at a later period. The chapter then focuses on Empedocles’ use of narrative, arguing that two particular plot-types structure the surviving fragments: the wandering exile who arrives in triumph at a new destination and the process of mystic initiation. Finally, it explores the significance and effects of Empedocles’ use of these narratives. He expands to cosmic proportions the familiar pattern of the blood-exile who achieves purification on arrival at a new location through the instigation of new institutions. The process of being ‘initiated’ into Empedocles’ philosophy involves an initially fearsome but ultimately exhilarating and sublime emotional trajectory which results in the student/initiate gaining a deeper insight into the workings of the universe.
The arguments put forth by Parmenides’ goddess have some marked implications for language: mortal terms are deceptive and what truly ‘is’ seems hard to capture in ordinary language. This chapter argues that Parmenides uses poetry in a variety of ways to bypass these difficulties. Verse could be a notoriously deceptive form of discourse in causing its recipients to forget their immediate surroundings and enter into an imagined and potentially illusory mimetic world. In the Doxa section of the poem, Parmenides highlights this quality of his verse to illustrate the wider deceptiveness of mortal sensory experience. On the other hand, the transportive qualities of verse render it a means by which to provide a taster of the ineffable and sublime emotional-cum-cognitive experience of contemplating that which truly is. Moreover, through alluding to meta-literary episodes such as Hesiod’s Theogony proem and the Sirens episode of the Odyssey, Parmenides engages in an ongoing discussion concerning the nature and function of song. His contribution can be regarded as an important moment in the emergence of the Classical conception of poetry: in presenting the Doxa as a poetic world deriving from mortal opinion, Parmenides comes close to Platonic conceptions of literary mimesis.
The Introduction sets out the aims and methods of the book. It outlines how the literary-critical approach adopted differs from the predominately philosophical interests of existing scholarship on these texts. A key distinction is the focus on the emotional experiences of audiences rather than narrowly defined argumentative content. The treatment of Archaic verse as literature is defended against the charge of anachronism: some have argued that early Greek verse differs essentially from later literature in that it was valued primarily for its purported truthfulness, but the ‘truth’ of Archaic Greek poetry seems to go far beyond mere factual accuracy, encompassing symbolic and emotional truths that are also hallmarks of later conceptions of the literary. Furthermore, the modern perspectival theory of literary truth espoused by many theorists articulates a concept that is already implicit in the emphasis on the visual quality of verse found in Homer and ancient criticism. It will be argued that Xenophanes, Parmenides and Empedocles use verse in conformity with a poetics of truth in this expanded sense. Finally, this chapter explains how the book will use the surviving fragments of these authors as a source for ideas about the nature and function of poetry.
This chapter traces the fortunes of Aaron Hill’s English translation (1735) of Voltaire’s tragedy Zaïre (1732), from its first performance under Hill’s direction outside the patent theatres to David Garrick’s reworking of it at Drury Lane. I show that Zara’s scepticism of established religion and her father’s deathbed proselytising are used by Hill to produce what his friend John Dennis called an ‘enthusiastic’ passion and suggest that Voltaire’s work appealed to Hill for its handling of religious material capable of producing extreme sequences of sublime emotions. At the same time, Hill’s Zara is also an exposition of what Hill described as ‘dramatic passions’. Those who read, saw, or performed Zara could witness the outward marks of many passions and trace on stage and on the page their performance through transition to the very instant. Such opportunities made the play perfect for what Hill called an ‘Experiment’ on English tastes and acting. When Garrick came to revive this experiment in the 1750s, its passions become the property of Garrick himself, as he rewrote sections of the play to favour his character of Lusignan.
The seventh section of An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals is full of interesting puzzles. Why is courage treated here, among the virtues immediately agreeable to self, when it is useful to both its possessor and others? Why do so many of the virtues listed here seem like vices? And why does Hume linger on those virtues of which he seems the most suspicious? This chapter attempts to answer these questions. First, I outline the structure of the section and explain its oddities in more detail. These oddities reflect Hume’s ambivalence about some of the virtues immediately agreeable to self. Second, I argue for the importance of the aesthetic concept of the sublime for his treatment of these virtues. Appreciating this importance can illuminate some of the oddities. Finally, I argue that, although Hume believes that our attraction to these virtues needs correction, this correction cannot consist merely in judging these virtues against the standard of useful virtues. Instead, the correction requires another virtue immediately agreeable to self – delicacy of taste.
This chapter offers a genealogy of the aesthetic categories ‘terror’ and ‘horror’ as they were constructed in eighteenth-century criticism. Drawing primarily upon authors such as John Dennis, Joseph Addison, Edmund Burke, Anna Laetitia Aikin, James Beattie, Nathan Drake and Ann Radcliffe, the chapter first establishes the common aesthetic and lexical ground shared by terror and horror early in the century, before tracing their increasing divergence during the formative years of the Gothic Revival. This aesthetic divergence, it is argued, is the culmination of a series of both explicit and implicit distinctions that consider various dimensions of fear, including the temporal, the moral, the degree of artifice, its relation to probability, and to gender. Critical discussion of these aesthetic categories is supplemented throughout by brief, illustrative examples from Gothic verse and fiction, some of which also expose the increasing politicisation of terror and horror in response to the French Revolution late in the century.
Much has been written on the ‘implied reader’ in Lucretius’ DRN. From G. B. Conte’s textually constructed reader to recent work on Lucretian receptions, Lucretius’ readers or their textual condition have received substantial scholarly attention. What remains largely undiscussed – and what has left generation upon generation of the poem’s readers spellbound – is not so much other readers of the DRN, but the elusive ‘author’ himself. Jerome famously claimed that Lucretius wrote the DRN between intervals of insanity brought on by a love potion, and increasingly wild biographies of Lucretius crop up again and again in the reception traditions of the poem – from death-bed hallucinations brought on by his wicked wife to his beautiful but unresponsive male paramour. Taking some of these biographies as its point of inspiration, this chapter uses the concept of the ‘implied author’ to investigate what exactly it is about Lucretius’ text that inspired and inspires such imaginative, but arguably still textually grounded, portraits of its author.
Haydn’s Seasons suffered in the critical reception of its time owing to the sublime’s proximity to the humorous or quotidian, two of the sublime’s ‘off-switches’, especially after the unproblematic sublimity of The Creation. Van Swieten’s cataloguing talents as imperial librarian are on view as librettist of both oratorios, but only The Seasons reflected his thematic choices. His poetry allowed Haydn to showcase the effects of nature’s excesses in the ‘extreme’ seasons, making the sublime ‘start’ and ‘stop’ not only in the choruses invoking God, the eruption of the storm and the sounding of the Last Judgment, but also in the quieter solos in Summer and Winter, both cavatinas, when the sun’s overwhelming presence or absence makes animate nature gasp for air. The ‘quotidian sublime’ of the sunset tapestry that closes Summer brings healing after terror. Haydn’s two Mozart quotations in The Seasons make powerful references to the life cycle as the work’s dominant metaphor, but hitherto unremarked is Haydn’s spotlight on the rising-sixth interval in Spring and Winter as Mozart uses it in The Magic Flute for moments of recognition. In thus suggesting sublime Mozart’s spirit framing the whole, Haydn’s work offers a key to Beethoven’s Cavatina in Op. 130.
Of all the things music might be heard as expressing, probably the least prepossessing would be silence. Yet, in the opening decades of the nineteenth century, a number of composers took on the unlikely task of conveying in tones a world without sound. Carl Maria von Weber’s Der erste Ton (1808) and Louis Spohr’s Fourth Symphony (Die Weihe der Töne, 1832) celebrate the arrival of sound in a formerly mute universe, building on the model of Haydn’s ‘Depiction of Chaos’ (The Creation, 1798). Such endeavours can best be understood through the category of the sublime, in an age in which music is increasingly held up by critics as the most powerful and unmediated expression of the sublime, whose effects may even transcend verbal language. Yet, as praise of music’s sublime power becomes mediated through Romantic verbal reception (epitomised here by the critic Friedrich Rochlitz), this same sense of sublime dispensation filters back into musical creation, with the possible loss of the immediacy and power of its expression, in other words, with the loss of the sublime itself.
This introduction to the volume provides overviews of theories of the sublime and musicology’s engagement with the sublime, before outlining the fresh perspective brought by this collection. The focus is on historically specific experiences of the sublime: although the centre of gravity is the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, in the well-known centres of intellectual debate on the sublime in Europe, a widened purview considers performers and audiences, as well as composers and works, as agents of power. The authors distinguish between the different aesthetics of production, representation and effect, while understanding these as often mutually reinforcing approaches. A significant cross-temporal finding to emerge from the collection is music’s strength in playing out the sublime as transfer, transport and transmission of power; this is allied to the persistent theme of destruction, deaths and endings. The density of this thematic complex in music is a keynote of the dialogue between the chapters. The volume opens up two avenues for further research, suggested by the adjective ‘sonorous’: a wider spectrum of sounds heard as sublime, and (especially for those outside musicology) a more multifaceted idea of music as a cultural practice that has porous boundaries with other sounding phenomena.
In this chapter, the author explores the book of Job for a perspective on the modern Darwinian Problem of evil. He concurs with recent scholars who reject the commonplace reading of Job, i.e., that God refuses to answer Job’s question: how can his suffering be just? He concurs with Carol Newsom that in the divine speeches at the end, God answers Job indirectly in the form of carefully crafted symbolic poetics, the rhetorical structure and imagery of which radically reconstruct Deuteronomic tradition on God and suffering. The author proposes that the treatment of God and wild animals in Job makes the Darwinian configuration of animal suffering more plausible on canonical theism than commonly supposed. He further proposes that Job provides grounds for belief that the Jewish/Christian God will defeat evils for animals and include them in the messianic eschatological realm. Job offers a religiously framed aesthetic perspective on Darwinian evil that helps us to recover the “theistic sight” in nature that Darwinian discoveries have obscured.
Cormac McCarthy’s aesthetic choices make him as anachronistic and difficult to place as are many of his characters. While he shares some of the thematic preoccupations of modernism and postmodernism, he lacks most of the aesthetic markers of those movements. Given his varied style, it might be more promising to think of his work as hovering aesthetically between the naturalistic and the phantasmagoric in the manner of Hawthorne’s and Melville’s romance tradition. His aesthetic borrowings from the medium of film similarly seem to place his work in a grey area between objectivity and subjectivity. While McCarthy’s own consistent associations of aesthetic value with pain and loss contrast sharply with the disinterested conception of beauty propounded by Kant, his work seems much more attuned to Kant’s other source of aesthetic value, the sublime. But McCarthy’s version of the sublime is thoroughly naturalized and historicized, embracing human fragility and contingency. This aspect of McCarthy’s aesthetic, linked as it is to the cultural attitudes born of the nineteenth-century encounter between late Romanticism and naturalism, might help account for many readers’ sense that McCarthy’s work belongs to another time.
The Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which dedicates the continent to peace and international scientific cooperation in the face of rising east–west tensions, is informed in part by a shared scientific imaginary created by the UK and other nations which maintained scientific bases in Antarctica at the time. In this article, the poet offers works extracted from her longer sequence “Met Obs,” based on meteorological reports and journals from the UK station at Port Lockroy written in advance of the 1957–1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY). The poems engage with the work and circumstances which helped foster such an imaginary, as well as with the nexus of Antarctic “values” endorsed by the Treaty, and the later Madrid Protocol. The commentary further contextualises these literary responses in terms of the attitudes of the men working there as well as the “wilderness and aesthetic values” recognised by the later Protocol on Environmental Protection. The world of the poems may belong to 1950s Antarctica, but their observations reach beyond that experience, making a case for the continued relevance of Treaty values, and for the importance of artistic, as well as scientific, responses to the environment in a world under threat from accelerating climate change and competition for resources.