The Contemporary Sublime

A10 4

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  • Title: The Contemporary Sublime: Liminal Oscillations
  • Author(s): Robert Hermanson
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: The Arts in Society
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Arts in Society: Annual Review
  • Keywords: Sublime
  • Volume: 5
  • Issue: 4
  • Year: 2010
  • ISSN: 1833-1866 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2473-5809 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Hermanson, Robert. 2010. "The Contemporary Sublime: Liminal Oscillations." The International Journal of the Arts in Society: Annual Review 5 (4): 207-224. doi:10.18848/1833-1866/CGP/v05i04/35893.
  • Extent: 18 pages


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]