Art History Unstuffed: Jean-François Lyotard and the Sublime, Part One

Art History Unstuffed

“Jean-François Lyotard and the Sublime, Part One” posted on May 16, 2014.

The opening section of the discussion of Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime (1991) by Lyotard explains how the philosopher came to his updating of the Sublime through Kant’s conception of the “event.” The “event” is an event, which because it changes the course of history approaches the sublime. The term “sublime” was coupled with the word “enthusiasm” by Kant to explain the French Revolution. For Lyotard, the “event” of his time was the Holocaust.

Despite the disasters of the Terror and the Final Solution, these Events started the Modern and the Postmodern respectively. The French Revolution gave rise, despite the bloodbaths and rolling heads in city squares, to the Modern era and both responded to and gave rise to modern philosophy, while the Holocaust brought all the hopeful optimism of modernity crashing down. In a general sense, in Lyotard’s différend, the Holocaust is sublime because it defied comprehension, but he continued his discussion of the sublime in The Differend through the avenue of “enthusiasm” or Kant’s way of trying to understand the “feeling” of the French Revolution.

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

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