The Contemporary Sublime: Liminal Oscillations

By Robert Hermanson.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Has the sublime gone? If so, where? Can the sublime go anywhere, or is it our relationship to it... our perception of it that has changed?
After the demise of Romanticism in the 19th Century and the advent of Modernism, new paradigms emerged that diminished the notions of beauty and the sublime. The increasing emphasis on a positivist notion of culture as that which is moving ever forward and upward, seems to have been fulfilled by new technologies, unknowable and thus terrifying as manifestations of a new sublime. Gilbert-Rolfe observes that “technology has subsumed the idea of the sublime because it, whether to a greater extent or an equal extent than nature, is terrifying in the limitless unknowability of its potential...” *
In contrast to the technological sublime, the notion of silence, a pause, but also a kind of resistance has simultaneously emerged that provides an introspective aspect suggesting an alternative sublime. Roger Connah observes: “...the possibility of silence offers not only retreat, not only refuge, but respite from the world’s excess.” **
These conditions provide a juxtaposition, and therefore a co-existence of qualities informing and affecting our own perceptions. But how do they co-exist? What are their conditions and their meanings in a contemporary society? In this paper I wish to address these issues and elucidate new interpretations of the contemporary sublime.
[* Ibid, ** Connah, Roger, “ Sometimes and Always, with Mixed Feelings: Untimely Notes on a Culture of Silence,” in Malcolm Quantrill, Bruce Webb, editors, The Culture of Silence: Architecture’s Fifth Dimension, CASA, 1998, p. 5-6]

Keywords: Sublime

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.207-224. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 3.900MB).

Prof. Robert Hermanson

Professor Emeritus, College of Architecture and Planning, University of Utah, Depoe Bay, Utah, USA

A graduate of the U. of Minnesota and U. of Penn, M. Arch. and as a registered architect I have practiced architecture as well as taught as a professor at the University of Utah, and the Catholic University of America as a visiting professor. My interest in design, both as built works as well as theoretical constructs has also addressed interdisciplinary studies involving architecture, art, dance, music, film and literature. The relationship between disciplines presently focuses on notions of the contemporary sublime as it informs these disciplines. Consequently I have presented several papers at international conferences addressing these issues.


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