Rohrbach, "Theories of the Sublime: Longinus, Burke, Kant, and Ngai"

Theories of the Sublime: Longinus, Burke, Kant, and Ngai

English 383: Studies in Theory and Criticism

Spring 2012/Spring 2015
Professor Emily Rohrbach
Office: UH 228; Hours W 3-4, F 10-11

This course devotes considerable attention to key theoretical accounts of the concept of the sublime from antiquity to the present: Longinus, Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, and Sianne Ngai. Alongside these theories, we will read literary texts and view several paintings that employ, inflect, extend, or critique those theoretical accounts. The first aim of the course is to get our minds around this intriguing concept in its theoretical forms. We will then start to imagine the life of the sublime in cultural (including pop-cultural) history, art, and literature. To that end, the course concludes with class presentations in which you will put to use your theoretical understanding of the sublime by evaluating an instance in which either the concept or the term plays a role in contemporary art or culture.

With that end-of-quarter presentation in mind, keep your ears and eyes peeled! If you see the word sublime in a film review or in the description of a painting in the MCA, or you hear it in a pop song, take note. Or if you encounter a text, an object, or the evocation of an experience that resembles what you have read about as constituting sublimity (or stuplimity) in the works of Longinus, Burke, Kant, or Ngai, consider making that the subject of your presentation. You will then have to think about either what aspects of the theories you’ve studied seem most relevant to the way the term sublime is being employed by someone else, or what aspects of the theories help justify your own application of the term to some contemporary cultural object. This final project and the format of in-class presentations will help us collectively to understand the various roles the theories of the sublime play in contemporary culture. How might the history and theory of the sublime be useful to negotiating the culture(s) in which we live?

Required texts:

Classical Literary Criticism (Penguin)

Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful (Penguin)

Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment (Cambridge)

M. Shelley, Frankenstein (Norton)

Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Harvard)

Recommended text:

Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume 2A. Note: If you already own an anthology that contains all the poetry on the syllabus, you may substitute it for the Longman Anthology.

How your grade is determined:

Midterm (on Longinus, Burke, and Kant): 20%

Paper #1 (4 pages): 15%

Paper #2 (8 pages): 25%

10-minute presentation & write-up (3 pages): 15%

Attendance/participation/bi-weekly short responses: 25%

The Rhetorical Sublime

Week 1 (3/26-3/30)

M Introduction to the course.

W Longinus, On the Sublime (a fragment) in Classical Literary Criticism

F Longinus (Group A responses)

Sublime Aesthetics, Sublime Objects

Week 2 (4/2-4/6)

M Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful, pp. 51-124

W Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” excerpt from Book 10 of The Prelude

F Burke and Wordsworth (Group B responses)

The Keatsian Sublime as Theory of Reading

Week 3 (4/9-4/13)

M Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful, pp. 125-199

W Keats, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”; “Ode to Psyche”; “Ode to a Nightingale”; Wordsworth, excerpt from The Prelude, Book 10.

F Burke, Keats, and Wordsworth (Group A responses)

The Sublime and the (Anti-)Social

Week 4 (4/16-4/20)

M Shelley, Mont Blanc

W Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

F Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Group B responses)

Week 5 (4/23-4/27)

M Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

***Paper #1 (4 pages) due 4/23 in class.

W Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

F Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Group A responses)

The Sublime as Mental Experience

Week 6 (4/30-5/4)

M Kant, selection from the Critique of Judgment

W Kant

F Kant (Group B responses)

The Romantic Visual Sublime

Week 7 (5/7-5/11)

M Kant

W Caspar David Friedrich & J. M. W. Turner (paintings)

F Brad Prager, “Kant in Caspar David Friedrich’s Frames” (critical essay)

Astonishing Tedium: The Stuplime

Week 8 (5/14-5/18)

M ***Midterm exam on Longinus, Burke, and Kant readings. (You will receive sample questions in advance.)

W Ngai, “Stuplimity” (pp. 248-297 of Ugly Feelings)

F cont. (Groups A B responses to Ngai)

Week 9 (5/21-5/25)

M Ngai, “Stuplimity” (pp. 248-297 of Ugly Feelings)

W ***Class Presentations (2- to 3-page write-up due)

F ***Class Presentations

Week 10 (5/28-6/1)

M Memorial day. No classes.

W Reading period

F Reading period

Week 11 (6/4-6/8)

***Final paper (8 pages) due Monday, June 4 by 4pm.