The art of the Sublime

New Order Magazine

The aesthetic relationship of man and his works is classified by the so-called aesthetic categories:
the beautiful,
   the ugly,
      the sublime,
         the tragic,
            the comic
               and the grotesque. ...
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The sublime is that which the imagination cannot grasp; the beautiful is capable of being apprehended by the imagination and is found in a finite object.
The sublime is not only the beautiful elevated to its highest degree; it demands the condition of unlimited, that is: what escapes us from the immediate judgment of the beautiful is sublime.

It has a sensitivity towards the extraordinary and grandiose aspects of nature, (for the sublime, nature is a hostile and mysterious environment, which develops a feeling of loneliness in the individual). Longino describes things in the natural world in terms of immensity.

Kant’s analytic of the sublime isolates two moments to its experience, as Žižek observes. In the first moment, the size or force of an object painfully impresses upon the subject the limitation of its perceptual capabilities.

According to Žižek, all successful political ideologies necessarily refer to and turn around sublime objects posited by political ideologies. These sublime objects are what political subjects take it that their regime’s ideologies’ central words mean or name extraordinary Things like God, the Fuhrer, the King, in whose name they will (if necessary) transgress ordinary moral laws and lay down their lives. When a subject believes in a political ideology, Žižek argues that this does not mean that they know the Truth about the objects which its key terms seemingly name—indeed, Žižek will finally contest that such a Truth exists. Nevertheless, by drawing on a parallel with Kant on the sublime, Žižek makes a further and more radical point. Just as in the experience of the sublime, Kant’s subject resignifies its failure to grasp the sublime object as indirect testimony to a wholly “supersensible” faculty within herself (Reason), so Žižek argues that the inability of subjects to explain the nature of what they believe in politically does not indicate any disloyalty or abnormality. What political ideologies do, precisely, is provide subjects with a way of seeing the world according to which such an inability can appear as testimony to how Transcendent or Great their Nation, God, Freedom, and so forth is—surely far above the ordinary or profane things of the world. In Žižek’s Lacanian terms, these things are Real (capital “R”) Things (capital “T”), precisely insofar as they in this way stand out from the reality of ordinary things and events.

In the struggle of competing political ideologies, Žižek hence agrees with Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, the aim of each is to elevate their particular political perspective (about what is just, best, and so forth) to the point where it can lay claim to name, give voice to or to represent the political whole (for example: the nation). In order to achieve this political feat, Žižek argues, each group must succeed in identifying its perspective with the extra-political, sublime objects  

accepted within the culture as giving body to this whole (for example: “the national interest,” “the dictatorship of the proletariat”).


In the absolute monarchies, as Ernst Kantorowicz argued, the King’s so called “second” or “symbolic” body exemplified paradigmatically such sublime political objects as the unquestionable font of political authority (the particular individual who was King was contestable, but not the sovereign’s role itself). Žižek’s critique of Stalinism, in a comparable way, turns upon the thought that “the Party” had this sublime political status in Stalinist ideology. Class struggle in this society did not end, Žižek contends, despite Stalinist propaganda. It was only displaced from a struggle between two classes (for example, bourgeois versus proletarian) to one between “the Party” as representative of the people or the whole and all who disagreed with it, ideologically positioned as “traitors” or “enemies of the people.”

That's why George Orwell claimed that "left-wingers should actually be grateful for the monarchy in the UK. "The function of the King in promoting stability and acting as a sort of keystone in a non-democratic society is, of course, obvious. But he also has, or can have, the function of acting as an escape-valve for dangerous emotions". It's "show-off sublime", it's imposing surface, but not true grit. And it actually can give a way for people to fill this gap. "A French journalist said to me once that the monarchy was one of the things that have saved Britain from Fascism. What he meant was that modern people can’t get along without drums, flags and loyalty parades, and that it is better that they should tie their leader-worship on to some figure who has no real power." Now, all british royal family needs to do is get less boring. Get over those boring behaved suits reflected from the "bowler hat men", we miss a more exciting and refreshing sublime..

A New Order of Power.

Modern people can’t get along without drums.

Article: Editor X

Graphic Design: Charlotte Connah