Our main reading for class next week is a brief section from Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. First published in 1757, Burke’s meditation on the sublime shaped many European and American attitudes toward the natural world that we can clearly see in the development of the national parks.
Click here to read Part II “On the Sublime” We will only read Part II (sections I-XXII).
As you read, notice how Burke makes a catalog of conflicting and related emotions. How much of what Burke says is a secular aesthetic, and how much if it is a sacred aesthetic? That is, are there parallels between our experience of God and our experience of nature to be gleaned from Burke’s aesthetic? Find specific examples in the text.
You also might want to think about the National Parks themselves when you read Burke. Can you see how Burke’s ideas translate into landscape paintings of the parks, and to the actual “natural” features of the parks?
One wonders if the point of the sublime is the emphasize the insignificance of the human subject. Is this the same thing that happens to us when we experience the natural world? Is this a natural response, or one conditioned by a definite set of cultural aesthetics?