The Roller Coaster of the Sublime
This chapter examines Jean-François Lyotard's theory of the sublime. In his Critique of Judgment, Immanuel Kant defines the sublime as follows: “That is sublime which even to be able to think of demonstrates a faculty of the mind that surpasses every measure of the senses.” According to Kant, sublime events are inverted readymades transported from art into life. It is precisely this double coding of sublime images that gives us the chance to fear and enjoy them at the same time. In his treatise “The Sublime and the Avant-garde,” however, Lyotard has tried to interpret the sublime not as a recognition of art in life but rather as a recognition of life in art—not as an artistic sign that threatens our lives but as a sign of life that threatens the institution of art. According to Lyotard, the avant-garde demonstrates that “It happens” because it shows that under different circumstances “It” might possibly stop happening. Thus, finitude and the eventful nature of time become evident to the observer in a shocking manner.
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