chapter  13
10 Pages

Kierkegaard's Transfigurations of the Sublime

WithSamuel Cuff Snow

This chapter takes the sublime in Kant’s aesthetics as the starting point for identifying and analysing the certain aesthetic figures in ‘Part One’ of Either/Or as sublime: the tragic sublime, embodied by ‘our Antigone,’ and sublime grief, embodied by ‘the silhouettes.’ It begins by reading the sublime in Kant as an aesthetic experience that is animated by a double-conflict. First, the subject encounters a formless appearance of nature that threatens to overwhelm its basic epistemic or moral capacities, which prompts recourse to ideas of reason in order to find meaning or orientation in the face of this threat. This sparks the second conflict: the subject strives to find a representation (content) for an unrepresentable idea (form) of reason. The conflictual character of the Kantian sublime is demonstrated to be transfigured by Antigone and the silhouettes to devastating effect. In their striving (hope) to realise their love, or to provide lived content for the form of love, they are caught between contradicting demands, condemning them to various forms of anxiety, grief and despair. At the same time, their experiences also transfigure the way in which the principles of love and hope may be viewed and embodied: the tragic anxiety of Antigone and reflective grief of the silhouettes point beyond themselves to modes of existence governed meaningfully, even ethically-religiously, by love.