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The Sublime

Poetics and Politics of the Aesthetic in the Long 18th Century
and Beyond

J. Jennifer Jones

Student Writing

J.M.W. Turner, Sunrise with a Boat Between Headlands, 1835

WELCOME to English 553. This course is concerned with aesthetics, and in particular the sublime, as it forms and reforms in British and Continental theory, literature, and criticism between 1650-1800. If the study of aesthetics generally concerns the epistemology of artworks – the accounting for that area of human activity we engage in when producing, evaluating, or encountering artworks – then the driving question of the discourse of the sublime is, what causes and sustains aesthetic pleasure, and in what does that pleasure consist? Furthermore, being as it is concerned with greatness, the sublime requires us to confront the realm of judgement. How do we judge the relative merits, powers, and effects of artworks? How do we know when we are exercising “good” or “fair” judgement? Following that, we then must ask, what are the politics of the sublime? Finally, what are its politico-cultural effects?

This course explores the discourse of the sublime from the initial translation of Longinus’ Peri Hypsous [On the Sublime] into English in 1652 during the rise of English republicanism in treatises, prose essays, and poetry (John Hall, John Denham, John Milton, John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, Robert Boyle, William Molyneux, George Heffernan); through its manifestations in neo-classical and eighteenth-century prose and poetry, as well as English and Continental philosophy (Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, John Dennis, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, Joseph Addison, René Descartes, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Richard Blackmore, Jonathan Richardson, Mark Akenside, William Collins, Thomas Gray); and finally to early German and English Romanticism through the period around 1800 (Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schiller, Edmund Burke, Charlotte Smith, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ann Radcliffe, and Jane Austen). The course also studies ground-breaking twentieth-century scholarship on the sublime throughout in order to grasp the ways in which literary criticism and theory have created, reinforced, or expanded traditional narratives about the sublime in English literary culture, including Erich Auerbach, Neil Hertz, Slavoj Zizek, and Jean-Francois Lyotard.


Office & Office Hours

Independence 175B
T 2-3:45pm and by appointment

Course Location & Time

Providence Campus
W 4-6:45pm

Required Texts

Longinus, On the Sublime. 1 A.D. Trans. W. H. Fyfe; Rev. D. A. Russell. Loeb Classical Library, 1996.
ISBN: 0674995635

 John Milton, Paradise Lost. 1674. Ed. Gordon Teskey. New York: Norton, 2005.
ISBN: 0393924289

 René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy. A Bilingual Edition. Ed. George Heffernan. Notre Dame: U. of Notre Dame P, 1990.
ISBN: 0268013810

The Book of Job. Trans. Stephen Mitchell. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992. ISBN: 0060969598

Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. 1757. Ed. James T. Boulton. Indiana: U of Notre Dame P, 1993.
ISBN: 0268000859

Immanuel Kant. The Critique of Judgement. 1790. Trans. James Creed Meredith. New York: Oxford UP, 1978. ISBN: 0198245890

Anne Radcliffe. The Italian. Ed. Frederick Garber. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.
ISBN: 0192832549

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey. Ed. Marilyn Gaull. New York: Longman, 2004.
ISBN: 0321202082

Suggested Texts

Michael Greer. What Every Student Should Know About Citing Sources with MLA Documentation. New York: Longman, 2006.
ISBN: 0321447379

Joseph Gibaldi. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th Rev. Edition. MLA P, 2003
ISBN: 0873529863

Diana Hacker. A Writer’s Reference. 5th Sprl edition. Bedford/St. Martin's P, 2003.
ISBN: 0312412622

Course Requirements

Participation (25%)
2 Short Essay (25%)
Seminar Paper (50%)