Reading the Lisbon Earthquake: Adorno, Lyotard, and the Contemporary Sublime
That Auschwitz and Hiroshima are sublime is an assertion that, while never quite attaining full articulation or acceptance, seemed always to have been on the verge of becoming a commonplace of late-twentieth-century thought and theory. That critics and philosophers could have found it appropriate to link the twentieth-century historical “events” condensed in these two place-names to an aesthetic category of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is, upon reflection, not so astonishing. In the extremity of their violence, in their intractable core of incomprehensibility, and in their fateful legacy for the future, these massively traumatic genocidal catastrophes mark a radical break in historical consciousness. Once upon a time, encounters with the power or size of nature defeated the imagination and moved us to terror and awe. After Auschwitz and Hiroshima, however, we have had to recognize such sublime effects among our own responses to this demonstrated human potential for systematic and unbounded violence. After this history, human-inflicted disaster will remain more threatening, more sublime, than any natural disaster.
KeywordsHuman Dignity Aesthetic Judgment Transcendental Idealism Aesthetic Theory Fateful Legacy
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