Monday, July 4, 2011
The Lights went out: Kant’s Sublime
Last night there was a storm that wiped out the power and I was reminded of both Lebanon and Liberia particularly when I took a shower by candlelight: places where both water and electricity were scarce, and still are. Though, this time, I didn’t have to worry about running out of hot water or water in general. But I was also reminded of something else, particularly of Kant’s conception of the sublime in the Critique of Judgment. He defines sublime in the said book as that “which is absolutely great.” As branches fell outside, and the unstoppable rain poured and thunder and lightning played a dramatic beat in the background and the sky began to change colours, I was faced with the absolute. The storm instilled both fear and awe, overpowering my cognitive faculties. At the same time, I became cognisant of myself as a rational and moral subject, more so of the former. For Kant, the sublime, as I understand it, registers in two parts: at first, it represents the inadequacy of our imagination, but at the same time, since we have access to it from a position of safety, we sense superiority over nature; that is, we find “a faculty of estimating ourselves as independent of nature." In this scene, the storm proved the inadequacies of our physical capacities, in that we are not able to resist it, yet this is revealed through our faculty of reason. In other words, the sublime subordinates our imagination to our reason.