Burke on The Sublime from my Upcoming Book, Evolution Through Art

Yay, my book Evolution Through Art is progressing, just finished the chapter, “From the Sublime to the Ridiculous.” The book so far, it is 3/4’s done, 32,000 words and 137 pages. Here is an excerpt:

He [Edmund Burke] also notes that most people have an irresistible ghoulish fascination with public executions, so much so that they would quickly abandon any magnificent artistic performance for the thrill of watching a capital punishment.  In other words, for Burke, art doesn’t possess the power of what he considers the Sublime, that is, real terror:

Choose a day on which to represent the most sublime and affecting tragedy we have; appoint the most favorite actors; spare no cost upon the scenes and decorations; unite the greatest efforts of poetry, painting, and music; and when you have collected your audience, just at the moment when their minds are erect with expectation, let it be reported that a state criminal of high rank is on the point of being executed in the adjoining square; in a moment the emptiness of the theatre would demonstrate the comparative weakness of the imitative arts, and proclaim the triumph of the real sympathy.

This aesthetic foreshadows the grotesque spectacle of Chris Burden’s performance piece Shoot (1971), for which his assistant literally shoots him with a rifle. This shows us that Burke either didn’t understand how ideas manifest themselves in human actions, reality, and art; or he did and this is the result.


I hope you enjoyed this update.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 8/23/2020

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