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Showing posts from July, 2010

From the Millennium Bridge / The Sublime

The defining account of the sublime is that given in Immanuel Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgement. Archetypally, it is a critical encounter with the immensity of nature, either in its epic scale (the mathematical sublime) or its incalculable power (the dynamic sublime). As Burke and others had already posited, terror experienced at a mediate distance (near enough to affect, far enough to elude one's actual annihilation) created a certain kind of aesthetic affect.
However, Kant's account created an added twist and ambiguity: as he emphasises, it is not actually the scope or violence of nature which is itself sublime, but rather the consciousness of man [sic] in the face of such liminal experiences. Sublimity passes from stone to flesh: although we may not be able to quite encompass a cloud-strewn Alpine precipice, we can encompass our failing-to-encompass and indeed come up with conceptions important to Kant's Enlightened project. Conceptions such as (to sketch a…

Karl Barth

I've set myself two tasks for the summer. One is to read Marx's Capital (okay, just the first volume, but that still weighs in at just over 1000 pages); the other is to improve my knowledge of theology in advance of cracking on with my second monograph.
It is with this in mind that I have been reading Karl Barth, supposedly the most important theologian of the twentieth century (indeed, it is an interesting quirk that in the face of supposedly aggressive and irreversible secularisation, modern theology has been incredibly vibrant - perhaps more so than at any time since the Reformation).
Anyway, Church Dogmatics, IV.1 (snappily retitled The Doctrine of Reconciliation and given a somewhat disturbing cover by the excellent Continuum Impacts series) is about the atonement: that central event in Christianity whereby God offers his Son (and in some sense, ontologically contentious, offers himself) to death but also to resurrection. In doing so, the falling-short of humanity (i.e. s…

Notes on 'World': Cowper, Bonhoeffer, Light

A few rather random, interlaced thoughts.

1. Have recently been reading the poetry of William Cowper in preparation for my next monograph, notably his most famous poem The Task. There's quite an interesting, tension between Cowper as a nature poet (indeed, the eighteenth-century writer who can be credibly claimed to have 'invented' the Wordsworthian idiom) and Cowper as a religious poet, tortured Calvinist conscience and writer of many of the Olney Hymns. Basically, in the context of my research, this manifests itself as a tension between a movement to rural withdrawal and a more radical otherworldly withdrawal. In particular, I'm interested in how prayer intervenes at crucial moments (notably at the end of the two concluding Books). There are always intimations of apocalypse in Cowper's country landscapes, and it is interesting that such a notable nature poet should beg the seasons to 'wheel away a shattered world'.
Essentially, what I'm interested her…