Note — May 17, 2021

The Sublime

As we contemplate and try to grasp the size of the systems and ecosysmtens around us, I've noticed that a number of people have taken to using the word "sublime" to describe a feeling they get at that moment of contemplation. This quick note just aims to slowly collate those examples.

sub·lime| səˈblīm | adjective (sublimer, sublimest) of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe: Mozart's sublime piano concertos | (as noun the sublime) : experiences that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Concepts of sublime from various issues

Other mentions of sublimes in interesting readings

Home body

Wallowing in the logistical sublime can lead to what Matthew Gandy describes as “epistemological myopia that privileges issues of quantification and scale over the everyday practices that actually enable these networks to function.” But I get it. And I’ve felt it: the uncanny mystique of larger-than-life steel and concrete power plants, or the gut-drop of standing on the edge of a dam spillway, imagining yourself slipping over and sluicing into the deep canyon of water below. In part, these fantasies of the sublime are a symptom of our alienation from infrastructural systems and the powers that animate them. If it’s not clear whose interests infrastructure serves, and how our own lives and housebodies are enmeshed in the macro systems, the only thing left to do is spectacularize, fetishize, or destroy.

Where did the grandeur go?

The historian David Nye in 1994 captured something rather important about how we think about the future when he coined the phrase ‘technological sublime’, drawing on Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), which provided a compelling rationale for exposing oneself to the awe-fullness of nature.

Computional landscapes and the new sublime

As the boundary between the natural and the automated dissolves, the vast logistics infrastructures underpinning our economies point the way to new models of the sublime.

Beginning with the End "There is a touch of the Kantian sublime"