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Sublime: The pleasure of the overwhelming - 2. Antiquity and lofty language - Saturday series
Saturday, 17 May 2014 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Program: Sublime: the pleasure of the overwhelming

Venue: Domain Theatre, Art Gallery of NSW


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The sublime in classical civilisation
An ancient Greek treatise by Longinus is the first important study of the sublime. Longinus was interested in rhetoric — the science of argument and persuasion. He claims that an orator can overwhelm his audience through the use of high, lofty or grand language, and, in doing so, enable the audience to transcend their ordinary logical thought processes.

Transcendence in modern politics and art
The idea that sublime literature allows us to transcend ourselves remains important, and can be seen at work in modern political oratory, poetry, and painting, as well as in ancient writing. In particularly, we shall consider the Redfern Speech by Paul Keating, and the way in which his use of sublime language enabled a generation of Australians to transcend their thinking about Aborigines.



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Sublime: the pleasure of the overwhelming

Lecture series with Damien Freeman
No philosophical idea has captured the imagination of artists more than the sublime.

The sublime is an enigmatic experience that involves our taking pleasure in being overwhelmed by sights, sounds, sensations or ideas that are larger, greater or more powerful than us, or otherwise threatening to us. In classical antiquity, and in British and European culture, the sublime has fascinated generations of artists and thinkers in different ways. The sublime has been connected with our experience of everything from nature and art to religion, science, and social and political life.

Often philosophers reflect on what artists do. But the sublime is the one major contribution that philosophers have made to art: artists have derived profound inspiration from reflecting on the philosophical concept of the sublime. The sublime emerged as a category of aesthetic appreciation of nature that was distinct from the beautiful and the picturesque. But it can also be distinguished from the tragic and the horrific, as a distinctive way in which aesthetic pleasure can be mingled with an unpleasant experience.

In this new course, we shall discover what the sublime is, and how philosophers and artists have grappled with the special aesthetic pleasure that we take in being overwhelmed by the sublime in art and nature.

Damien Freeman lectures on ethics and aesthetics at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is a writer, lawyer and philosopher, who was educated at the University of Sydney and Magdalene College, Cambridge, and has written and edited numerous books and articles on art, aesthetics, biography and law, including Art’s emotions, Roddy’s folly, Mao’s toe and his forthcoming literary memoir, The aunt’s mirrors. He has discussed ethics, aesthetics and politics on various ABC Radio National programs. Together with Derek Matravers, he is editing a collection of essays entitled Figuring out figurative art: contemporary philosophers on contemporary paintings. He is currently writing a book based on his 2013 Art Gallery Society of NSW lecture series, Morality at the Gallery.