Sunday, 16 June 2013

The sublime

Probably a bit late in the course to start thinking about the sublime, but my interest was piqued by the research I’ve done on Hatakeyama, and by chapter 6 of Martin Andrews’ Landscape and Western Art. I’ve added Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry to my Kindle for a later day.

My rather genteel piece of rural Cumbria is generally lacking in the sublime as covered by Burke – it does not, as a rule convey “power, obscurity, privation, vastness, infinity difficulty and magnificence.” (Andrews p134) although I am sure there are view in the Lake District itself which, even in this day and age, can convey many of these ideas. Central to this view of the sublime is the idea that we are unable to control the forces in play, coupled with the sense that in the face of this lack of control and the power present, we are still not in mortal danger. Like these perhaps - from Dettifoss in northern Iceland which I visited in 2009:

Sublime? 3 SublimeSublime?

These three seem to me reminiscent of Phillipe de Loutherbourg’s Avalanche, which Andrews discusses in some depth. What they lack is the “horrified” onlookers. I can testify that this was a pretty dramatic spectacle, but as can be seen from these shots there were plenty of people willing to get very close. Personally I think the middle shot is the most “sublime” as the viewpoint is clearly quite close to the edge, and the irregular nature of the rocks and fractures they contain add to the sense of raw power. The mist also adds a sense of the unknown to the height of the falls which is lost in the first image, and to my mind less apparent in the third.

Another aspect of the sublime is loneliness – a sense of isolation in the face of immense force – and again Iceland comes to the rescue – this time Skogafoss.

Sublime 5

This lacks the overwhelming loneliness we find in Friedrich’s “Monk by the Sea” but I think the inclusion of the small figure adds something other than just scale. They are alone against the power of nature – we sense their apparent risk from the comfort of our armchairs.

To be honest I’m not quite sure where this post is going, except that it’s helping me crystallise some thought about improvements to my Assignment 4 essay in response to my tutors comments and some subsequent research which has a bearing on the content.

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