Today, however, there is an increasing number of scholars who pronounce the sublime dead. These theorists, such as James Elkins, hold that it is a historically antiquated concept, an outdated relic of Western culture. The sublime, they say, is irredeemably bound by its rootedness in 18th- and 19th-century Western thought, in Romanticism. It’s as useful as the concept of, say, phlogiston or aether.
I disagree. I don’t think that we are at risk of no longer feeling the sublime, of becoming like the sea-watchers in the Robert Frost poem who ‘cannot look out far’ and ‘cannot look in deep’. And I don’t think that the sublime is somehow becoming useless or irrelevant. But by taking a closer look at the criticisms levelled against the concept, we will be able to gain a greater understanding of this bizarre and deeply human emotional experience.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor