How the sublime became "now": time, modernity and aesthetics in Lyotard's rewriting of Kant

Cunningham, D.I. (2004) How the sublime became "now": time, modernity and aesthetics in Lyotard's rewriting of Kant. Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy, 8 (3). pp. 549-571. ISSN 1480-2333

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Writing in the late 1980s, Nancy gives as examples of the "recent fashion for the sublime" not only the theoreticians of Paris, but the artists of Los Angeles, Berlin, Rome, and Tokyo. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the sublime may of course no longer seem quite so "now" as it did back then, whether in North America, Europe, or Japan. Simon Critchley, for one, has suggested that, at least as regards the issue of its conceptual coupling to "postmodernism," the "debate" concerning the sublime "has become rather stale and the discussion has moved on." Nonetheless, if that debate has indeed "moved on"-and thankfully so-it is not without its remainder, particularly in the very contemporary context of a resurgence of interest in explicitly philosophical accounts of art, in the wake of an emergent critique of cultural studies and of the apparent waning of poststructuralism's influence-a resurgence that has led to a certain "return to aesthetics" in recent Continental philosophy and to the work of Kant, Schelling, and the German Romantics. Moreover, as Nancy's precise formulations suggest, the "fashion" [mode] through which the sublime "offers itself"-as "a break within or from aesthetics"-clearly contains a significance that Critchley's more straightforward narration of shifts in theoretical chic cannot encompass. At stake in this would be the relation between the mode of fashion and art's "destiny" within modernity itself, from the late eighteenth century onwards. Such a conception of art's "destiny," as inextricably linked to that of the sublime, is not unique to recent French theory. In a brief passage in Aesthetic Theory, Adorno also suggests that the "sublime, which Kant reserved exclusively for nature, later became the historical constituent of art itself.... [I]n a subtle way, after the fall of formal beauty, the sublime was the only aesthetic idea left to modernism." As such, although the term has its classical origins in Longinus, its historical character for "us," both Nancy and Adorno argue, associates it specifically with the emergence of the modern. As another philosopher states: "It is around this name [of the sublime] that the destiny of classical poetics was hazarded and lost; it is in this name that ... romanticism, in other words, modernity, triumphed."

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Subjects: University of Westminster > Social Sciences and Humanities
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Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2007
Last Modified: 27 Jul 2016 15:24

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