17 Nov 2008

Schiller "Of the Sublime: Toward the Further Elaboration of Some Kantian Ideas"

Our sensuous nature feels its limits when we try to conceptualize the sublime object; however, our rational nature feels its superiority and freedom from limitation. In the face of the sublime we sense the brevity of our lives, which we overcome through ideas, as Schiller calls it, "morally."

Insofar as we are sensuous beings, we depend on nature, yet we are free insofar as we are rational beings.

Because experiencing the sublime is a heightened sensuous experience, we feel our dependence; because it calls upon our rational abilities, we feel our independence to nature.

We are dependent when something outside us is the cause for some possibility inside us. When nature is this cause, we cannot feel independence, unless Nature conflicts with our inner impulses.

All impulses derive from two basic impulses:

1) The conception-drive/The cognition-drive: the impulse to change our circumstances and express our existence by means of conceptions.

2) Self-preservation: the impulse to maintain our circumstances and continue our existence.

The concept drive becomes apparent when Nature no longer provides what is necessary for cognition, and hence we strive to conceptualize on our own. The self-preservation drive becomes apparent when Nature contradicts the conditions providing for our existence, hence we must strive to survive despite those contrary conditions.

We are thus independent from Nature in two ways,

1) in the theoretical sense, when we transcend natural conditions by conceiving more than what we perceive. When we perceive a something great in theory, we experience sublimity of cognition.

2) in the practical sense, when we put aside given natural conditions and are able to contradict our desires with our will. When we experience something that allows us to internalize the independence of our will, then we experience sublimity of consciousness.

In the theoretical sublime, nature is conceived as contradicting the conception-drive. Here nature is considered subject matter that may extend our cognition. In the practical sublime, Nature is perceived as contradicting the preservation-drive. Here Nature is considered a power that can determine our circumstances.

Hence for Kant, the practical-sublime is the sublime of power, that is, the dynamic-sublime, which is opposed to the mathematical-sublime. Schiller will use his own terminology to better classify the types.

Nature controls the conditions determining whether we exist, so we must attend to our relation to her. The guarding force of the self-preservation drive is pain, which reminds us of danger.

When resistance is futile in the face of danger, fear results; and hence objects whose existence conflicts with what we need to survive are fearsome (objects of fear).

Nature considered as the power over our existence (although not over our will) is the dynamically or practically sublime.

However, the theoretical sublime involves the conception of infinity, which our imagination is powerless to handle. In the practical sublime, we come to conceptualize the danger, and example would be an ocean at rest. In the theoretical sublime, we come to oppose the power of the dangerous object.

A colossally tall tower or mountain can produce a sublimity of cognition. If it bends down to us, then it will be transformed into a sublimity of consciousness.

Yet both types reveal our inner power unbound to determining conditions,

hence a power that on the one hand can conceive of more than sense can grasp, and on the other fears no threat to its independence and in its manifestations suffers no violence, if its material carriage should fall victim to the frightful force of Nature.

Even though both types of sublime are equal to our power of reason, they differ as they stand to our sensuousness.

In the theoretical sublime, our sensuous conceptual power is only challenged once. In the practical sublime, all possible manifestations of our sensuous conceptual power are challenged.

If we think that our survival is independent of our conceiving the danger, then our aversion to our impulses in an aborted effort toward cognition does not cause us pain.

However, if something threatens our survival, we feel pain when we immediately perceive it, and our imagination produces terrors.

Our sensuousness is thus quite differently interested in the frightful subject matter as in the infinite; for the drive for self-preservation raises a much louder voice than the conception-drive.

Thus it matters whether we are concerned with having a single conception, or sustaining our capacity to have any conception whatever, if our Being and existence in the the sensuous world is threatened.

Because the frightful thing acts more upon our sensuous nature, it affects our aesthetic imagination more "ardently and pleasantly than the infinite;" and thus the practical sublime produces a much stronger feeling than does the theoretical sublime.

The theoretically-great only expands our conceptual sphere, but the practically-great expands our strength, as we feel our "true and perfect independence from Nature." In fact, we feel more than just independent to natural conditions as we might imagine them, in fact, we feel in ourselves "oblivious and elevated above fate, above all coincidence." Kant has the same to say about the dynamical sublime.

In instances when humans have overcome Nature's power, as when damming a river and channeling its power, the sublime is not felt.

only that subject matter is sublime, against which we succumb as beings of Nature, but from which we as beings of Reason, as beings not belonging to Nature, feel absolutely independent.

Thus it is not when someone faces natural danger with skill and physical strength that one feels the sublime, because here one may use one's intellect and physical powers. Rather, one must lose all physical means of resistance, and turn towards one's inner self-reliance in the power of Reason. Hence we must feel as though we are no match for the danger.

The wild horse running free is sublime, but no longer so when bridled. Free the horse so that it becomes frightful again, then also it regains its sublimity.

Two things are jointly required for sublimity, 1) we must as sensuous beings feel our existence dependent on surviving the frightful thing, and 2) we must as rational beings feel independent of this threatening thing.

But because we must feel a "freedom of the heart," the frightful thing cannot arouse genuine fear, because then our spirit is not entirely free: we are too afraid of it to be able to conceive it rationally:

As sublime as a tempest may be, considered from the shore, those who find themselves upon the ship, that is demolished by same, may be to the same degree little disposed to pronounce this aesthetic judgment over it.

Thus the frightful object "lets us indeed see its might, but it is not directed against us," and we know we are secure from it. The dangerous thing must be imagined, but in a way which we feel a fear analogous to if our lives were about to end.

A shudder grips us, a feeling of uneasiness is aroused, our sensuousness is jolted. And without this beginning of real suffering, without this serious attack upon our existence we would merely play with the subject matter; and it must be serious, at least in the perception, if Reason is to take refuge in the idea of its freedom.

If we imagine or experience a danger from which we are secure, as when looking down a deep abyss from a safe location, we are not feeling a true threat to our lives.

We have physical security when we can flee the danger; when we cannot escape we can only have inner or moral security.

Because physical security is merely sensuous, it cannot please Reason, and it has a negative influence, because it prevents the self-preservation drive from being startled and the freedom of the heart from being nullified.

Inner or moral security is only attained, however, through the ideas of Reason:

We view the frightful without fear, because we feel ourselves beyond its power over us, either through the consciousness of our innocence, or through the thought of the indestructibility of our essence.

Moral security alone does not suffice, for we need also to conceptualize Nature as in accord with moral law, that is, we must conceptualize her as under the influence of a being of pure Reason, for otherwise we cannot use Reason to conceptualize the sublime.

Consider for example that religion allows us to contemplate death, in all its fearsomeness, while also providing the moral security of Reason's knowing that we may survive in the afterlife. However, the idea of immortality does not make the idea of death sublime; the idea of immortality does not cause our sensuousness to be dismissed, because it assists our impulse to continue in our sensuousness. But to be sublime, the object must cause us to put aside our sensuousness and resort to the ideas of Reason:

If this idea of immortality becomes the dominant one in the heart, then death loses its frightfulness, and the sublime vanishes.

When we conceptualize "divinity" in its omniscience, we feel its power over our physical fate, and it can thus become a sublime conception. Without physical security, we may only remain morally secure, knowing that our guiltlessness will spare us from its judgment. But, this moral security allows us to keep our freedom of the heart, and in that way it cannot cause sublime feelings.

The divine may become practically sublime when our security is related to our principles rather than our being. We feel our Reason to be independent of the Almighty insofar as it cannot nullify our autonomy, that is, insofar as it cannot direct our will against our principles.

Hence only in so far as we deny the Deity all natural influence over the disposition of our will, is the conceptualization of its power dynamically sublime. To feel oneself independent from the Deity in one's disposition of will, means nothing other than to be self-conscious, that the Deity could never work upon our will as one power.

However, because our pure will must always coincide with the Deity's, such a case of Divine Sublime cannot arise, because we cannot "direct ourselves out of pure Reason against the will of the Deity." However, we do fear the Deity's disapproval, but it is left to our own determination whether or not He disapproves:

Thus the Deity, conceived of as a power, that can admittedly cancel our existence, but as long as we still have this existence, can have no influence over the actions of our Reason, is dynamically sublime - and also only that religion, which gives us this conception of the Deity, bears in itself the seal of sublimity.

Our intelligible self, which is apart from Nature, must differentiate itself from our sensuousness when faced with the preservation drive; in other words, our int eligible self's autonomy, Independence from all, and freedom must all themselves become self-conscious. Yet, this is only a moral freedom and not a physical one:

Not through our natural strengths, not through our understanding, not as sensuous beings, may we feel ourselves superior to the frightful subject matter; for then our security would be determined always only through physical causes, hence empirical, and thus remain always still a dependency on Nature.

Rather, we must be entirely indifferent to whether we survive as sensuous beings, and our freedom consists in our recognizing that our Naturally determined physical circumstances are not who we are, but are instead something external and foreign with no influence on our moral selves.

Great is he, who conquers the frightful. Sublime is he, who, while succumbing to it, fears it not.
Great was Hercules, for he undertook and completed his twelve tasks. Sublime was Prometheus, for he, chained to Caucausus, did not rue his deed, and did not admit his wrong. One can appear great in fortune, but sublime only in misfortune.

Hence practically sublime objects both reveal our impotence against Nature while at the same time reveal our ability for a resistance that, although not removing the danger, still detaches our physical being from our personality.

It is thus no material security concerning merely one single case, but rather an ideal one encompassing all possible cases, of which we become conscious at the conception of the sublime.

Thus the sublime is not grounded in our ability to cancel the danger, but rather to show that there is a part of us that is never in danger, "our true person, our moral self."

There are three ways we may conceptualize the Sublime, as a:

1) subject matter of Nature as power

2) bearing of this power on our physical capacity for resistance

3) bearing of this power on our moral person

Thus the sublime results from three consecutive conceptualizations:

1) an objective physical power

2) our subjective physical impotence

3) our subjective moral predominance

If these three components necessarily combine when conceiving the sublime, then we may establish a twofold major distinction of the sublime of power.

1) The Contemplative Sublime of Power

The threatening power as the objective cause of our suffering is given as an illustration in which the judging subject conceives that suffering in himself. The subject then through his preservation drive transforms the threatening object into an object of fear, and through reference to his moral self, he transforms the threatening object into a sublime object.

2) The Pathetic-Sublime

One regards the threatening power as creating suffering outside oneself but also as being frightful for all humans, and then one applies this objectively conceptualized suffering to one's own moral circumstances "to produce the sublime out of the frightful."

I) The Contemplative Sublime of Power

When something merely shows us the power of nature and leaves it up to us whether we apply it to our physical circumstances or to our moral person is contemplatively sublime, because it does not "grip the heart so forcefully, that it could not persist in a condition of peaceful contemplation thereby." Thus the contemplative-sublime is not as intense or extensive as the pathetic-sublime. Not as extensive, because not everyone's imagination is powerful enough to conceive the danger as entirely threatening. Not as intense, because conceiving the danger is free-willed. As a result, the contemplative-sublime produces an inferior and less mixed pleasure.

Many real dangers, like volcanoes and storms, as well ideal threats like time or duty -- all of which acting against our physical existence -- become fearful objects when the imagination applies them to the preservation drive; and they become sublime when reason applies them to its highest laws.

Children see threats everywhere, and thus their "preservation-drive is in this period his unlimited ruler, and because this drive is anxious and timid, the reign of same is a regime of terror and fear." And men when encountering threatening foreigners, even if naked, they reach for their sword before worrying about clothes. Although culture has removed the "fear of all," it can be revived when imagining nature. Poets realize this, and evoke grave threats when wanting the sublime effect. Stillness is especially conducive to contemplating the sublime, which is why ancient ritual practices involved deep stillness:

A deep stillness gives the power of imagination free latitude, and raises the expectations of something frightful to come. With the practice of devotion the silence of an entire assemblage is a very effective means, to give vitality to fantasy and put the heart in solemn spirits.

Solitude has the same effect. But fantasy does better when "making out of the mysterious, indeterminate and inscrutable, a subject matter of the terrifying," because here "reality sets her no limits."

Darkness is suitable for the sublime because it conceals from us what might be threats, and puts us at the mercy of our imaginations. But as soon as the danger becomes apparent, so diminishes the fear.

On that account superstition sets all ghostly visitations at the hour of midnight, and the realm of death is imagined as a realm of eternal night. In the poetic works of Homer, where humanity still speaks its most natural language, darkness is portrayed as one of the greatest evils.

The indeterminate permits the imagination to "embroider the image at its own discretion;" however the determinate leads to a more distinct conception, thereby depriving us of a free play of fantasy.

Everything, that is veiled, everything mysterious, contributes to the terrible, and is therefore capable of sublimity.

Just as Deities are shrouded in mystery, dwelling

behind the curtain of the inner sanctum, so the majesty of kings tends to surround itself with mystery, in order to maintain the reverence of their subjects in continual tension through this artificial invisibility.

These are instances of the contemplative-sublime of power, which is less intense on account of "imperfections" in the subject.

II. The Pathetic-Sublime

When something is given to us as not just as a power in general but instead also as objectively a power fatal to all men, that is, when it does more than just show its force and as well makes its hostility felt, then the imagination is no longer free to refer it to the preservation drive. Rather it necessarily must do so.

Becuase geneuine suffering does not allow for aesthetic judgements, it cannot be the judging subject who is suffing from the freightful object's destructive power; he must rather only suffer sympathetically. Thus when the suffering is not presented immediately to the senses but rather only to the power of the imagination, then an aesthetic judgment may be made that arouses a feeling of the sublime:

The conceptualization of a foreign suffering, bound to an affective state and the consciousness
of our inner moral freedom, is pathetically sublime.

Our sympathies are involuntary. As soon as we conceive the suffering, we ourselves will too.

But if the sympathetic suffering is to arouse sublime feelings, then it must not be driven to the point of actual "self-suffering:"

In the midst of fierce emotion we must also differentiate ourselves from the self-suffering subject, for it is all over for the freedom of the spirit, as soon as the illusion is transformed into total truth.

For, if we mistake ourselves for the suffering ones, we no longer control our affective state, and instead it controls us. However, when sympathy remains within its aesthetic bounds, the two main conditions of the sublime unite: "sensuously animated conceptualization of suffering bound to the feeling of one's own security."

However, the feeling of security is the ground neither for the sublime nor its pleasure.

The pathetic becomes sublime merely through the consciousness of our moral freedom alone, not our physical freedom. Not because we see ourselves as having eluded this suffering through our good fortune ( for then we would always still have a very bad guarantor for our security, ) but rather because we feel we have shielded our moral self from the causality of the suffering, namely its influence over the disposition of our will, it lifts our spirits and becomes pathetically sublime.

We may see a merchant's destructive loss of goods and shrug it off as involving incidental things, which we do as a duty. This demonstrates in us a capability that operates under different laws than the sensuous and shares nothing with the impluse of nature. "But sublime is all that, which brings this capability to consciousness in us," because here we do not let the events influence the self-determination of our Reason.

Thus there are two requisite conditions for the pathetic-sublime:

1) "an animated conceptualization of suffering, in order to arouse the compassionate [ co-suffering ] affective state in the proper strength."

2) "a conceptualization of resistance to the suffering, in order to call the inner freedom of the heart to consciousness"

Only through the first does the subject matter become pathetic, only through the second does the pathetic become at the same time sublime.

Out of this principle flow both the fundamental laws of all tragic art. These are firstly portrayal of the suffering nature; secondly portrayal of the moral independence in suffering.

Schiller, Friedrich. "Of the Sublime: Toward the
Further Elaboration of Some Kantian Ideas."
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