HUMS 059, Why the Sublime? Or, The Meaning and Value of Transcendence through Theory, Poetry, and Art

Meeting Time: 
TTh 2:30pm-3:45pm
Semester-Year: 
Fall 2021

Course Description:

Have you ever experienced something so powerful you couldn’t possibly describe it? Have you ever felt both strongly attracted to and repulsed by something in a way that defied all logic? This course explores the role, structure, and value of the Sublime as an essential mode of human experience through a variety of theoretical writings, poetic expressions, and artistic outputs, in order to think through not only what the Sublime is but also why we need it. The essential claim of the Sublime, writes Thomas Weiskel, is that we can transcend the human. The etymology of the word suggests moving beyond limits. To study the Sublime, then, is to confront what it means to be human at and beyond our limits, whether those limits are constructed individually, socially, intellectually, emotionally, perceptually, or otherwise. The writers and artists we examine in this course show us that the affective registers of a confrontation with the Sublime include fear, confusion, humility, weakness, despair and (often at the same time) such opposites as courage, clarity, strength, wisdom, and ecstasy. Together we interrogative the conditions and significance of all of these Sublime feelings, and then take what we learn and attempt to investigate the role of the Sublime in our contemporary moment, and through our own personal experience.

Enrollment limited to first-year students. Preregistration required; see under First-Year Seminar Program.

Led by:

Riley Soles's picture

Professor Riley Soles

Riley Parker Soles, who received a Ph.D. in East Asian languages and literature from Yale in 2018,  works comparatively at the intersection of literature, religion, and philosophy, with particular interests in hermeneutics, textual ontology, and the event/act/experience of reading. He returns to the ISM for a second year to continue work on his book project, The Ecstasy of the Text, which investigates the ways in which texts from both Western and East Asian literary and religious traditions express and enact a self-reflexive awareness of their own ontological status as texts and attempt to subvert the limitations of their materiality.