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The Sublime: An Environmental Perspective

Lecturer: Nanda Jarosz

Originally Taught: Summer School 2022

There is no one official view or definition of the sublime in the twenty-first century. As a reoccurring concept in fields as diverse as literature, art history, science, and environmental ethics, the sublime is both elusive and widely relevant. Describing moments of rapture beneath the seemingly infinite expanse of the night sky, or the terror of standing on the edge of a mountain precipice, the sublime represents nature’s capacity to instil wonder and awe in the heart of human observers. In this course, students will learn about the sublime in the context of environmental philosophy and will explore how the sublime helps us to better understand the human/nature relationship.

Over five lectures, this course will offer students a historical understanding of the concept of the sublime, beginning with Immanuel Kant’s enlightenment theory, moving through European Romanticism, through to its continued relevance to contemporary environmental philosophy. Charting this historical path, students will investigate what the sublime can tell us about different ways of relating to the natural world and how these different perspectives can be harnessed in response to the challenges posed by climate change.

Focusing on the field of environmental aesthetics, this course will investigate the relationship between the sublime and human conceptions of nature. References to the appearance of the sublime in art and literature, though present, will not be central to this course. Instead, students will learn about the possibilities of harnessing aesthetic experience to foster an ethical relationship to the world of nature.

The course will be of an introductory nature and will suppose no prior knowledge of aesthetics or environmental philosophy. While some of the material will be difficult, all that is required is an interest in the topic. A list of required readings is provided below and students are required to read the texts prior to class.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Introduction: The sublime from Longinus to now

  • Brady, The Sublime in Modern Philosophy, Introduction (Available in box)
  • Falconer, Signs and Wonders (Available in box)

Week 2: Kant’s pre-critical theory of the sublime: an empirical pursuit

  • Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (Available in box)

Week 3: Kant’s mature theory of the sublime: emphasising the role of nature

  • Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, Analytic of the Sublime (Available in box)

Week 4: German Romantic sublime: nature vs. art

  • Clewis, “The Place of the Sublime in Kant’s Project” (Available in box)

Week 5: The contemporary environmental sublime: aesthetics and ethics in a changing world

  • Brady, The Sublime in Modern Philosophy, The Environmental Sublime (Available in box)
  • Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness” (Available in box)