Reframing the Theory of the Sublime: Pillars and Modes

Author: McMahon, Cliff
The discourse of the sublime, in this study, becomes positioned in new perspectives when an amalgamation is made between major classical theorists and contemporary theorists, leading to something like an anatomy of the sublime presented here as a theory of modes. This amalgamation blends the sublimicist concepts of Longinus, Burke, Kant, Nietzsche, Herbert Weiskel, Paul Crowther, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Frances Ferguson, Slavoj Zizek, Terry Eagleton, Harold Bloom, David Nye, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Sartre, and Jung. The treatment of Sartre and Jung shows that they generated major changes in the thought climate which established new modes of sublime experience recognized in modern art. This study seeks to elucidate not only the standard core concepts of the theorists, but also to bring to new prominence certain neglected religious concepts. Offering important innovative enlargements of the basic terminology for the discourse field, this study opens new doors to the analysis of sublime experiences and sublime objects, and thus new doors to the analysis of art works and artists’ programs, as well as new extensions of aesthetic theory.


“….a concise, thorough and excellent contribution to the current scholarship on the sublime….Three points in particular allow me to make this recommendation: first,[the author] has clearly tackled a difficult subject in such a fashion as to systematically cover the entire range of various thoughts of the sublime….secondly, [his] emphasis on the diversity of the sublime in both its historical and functional conceptualization is especially valuable….[and] third, [he] touches on the relationship of morality and the sublime on a number of places.....I recommend this text with my fullest and most enthusiastic approval….It is bound to be a central feature in any further discussion of the sublime, and to be recognized as an authoritative contribution to the scholarship.” – Scott Kotterbay, Ph.D., Dept. of Art and Design, East Tennessee State University

“[This work] gives a broad yet thoughtful and intellectually stimulating assessment of the sublime. Perhaps the strongest aspect of the book is the manner in which its far-reaching perspective offers a provocative context for any student interested in the sublime from a specific period and culture. In so doing, there is a tendency not only “to lose sight of the woods for the trees”, but also to neglect a deeper reflection upon the character and significance of the sublime. McMahon’s book addresses this promoting a deeper consideration and internal dialogue as to the nature of the sublime in art and culture. McMahon’s articulation of the sublime untangles and clarifies a complex philosophical concept, one that is the corner stone of many, if not, most, artistic undertakings. His references to specific artworks and artists are extremely helpful. McMahon’s evaluation and careful consideration of the sublime leads to a reconsideration of the definition, purpose, and nature of art, and so, provides material for discussion for artists as well as art historians.” – Heather Pulliam, Ph.D., Western Kentucky University

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Preface, Acknowledgements
1. Longinus
2. Burke
3. Kant
4. Nietzche
5. Weiskel and Crowther
6. Lyotard and Ferguson
7. Zizek and Eagleton
8. Bloom, Nye, and Gilbert-Rolfe
9. Sartre and Jung