Off the dome: how sublime, how sublime

A few days ago in a tutorial where the topic was the history of environmentalism and its potential origin in Romanticism, and myself knowing I would have to say a not-so-inconsiderate amount about Romanticism, I was all set to show off and lay down some sweet sweet knowledge. I was armed with the double-barrelled shotgun of Wordsworth and Coleridge to start blowing away my classmates (maybe a too strong, mildly disturbing turn of phrase, but let’s see how this plays out). Oh, you haven’t read Tinturn Abbey, BLAM, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, BLAM. Read any Romantic Literature? Radcliffe for instance? BLAM, Romance of the Forest, need more? BLAM, the Italian, also. Byron, Shelley, Wollstonecraft, Blake, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, revolution, feminism, the gothic, epiphanies, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM. American Romanticism? BLAM, Walden – weirdo in the forest, BLAM, transcendental eye, BLAM…

Ahem…might gave gotten a bit too carried away…

ANYWAY, all set to show off I make a pointed insightful comment met with thoughtful silence, immediately followed by someone making a silly comment and people start going on and on about meaningless tangential subjects. Who cares how your children play in your backyard? The topic is Romanticism, not the environmentalism of your backyard. Oh, you saw something on 60 Minutes?…Why aren’t we talking about Romanticism? It is the topic after all. And then…times up. ARGH. Why do things seem to always go this way? With all this pent up Romantic excitement, I need to find an outlet somewhere, so get ready for an off the dome recitation of the sublime. Here is what I was all prepared to lay down, the Romantic notion of the sublime and how it is vastly different from modern ideas of environmentalism.

The sublime is a pretty interesting phenomenon that involves the complete destruction and then revival of your ego. Picture yourself on a cliff on a mountaintop, over looking an expansive vista of snowy peaks and forested valleys. The world, the natural world, is so big and vast. Against this expanse, you are so small. A tiny, insignificant mote compared to the huge boulder you see breaking away from the side of a cliff and tumbling into nothingness. A human’s life, your life, just does not matter in the scheme of the world. This realisation is the complete obliteration of your ego, God (so it goes) has created such a rich and complex and vast world, what could your place possible be in all this? Your existence is nothing, it has been broken down by the sublimity of God’s natural world. But that is when it hits you. God created this unfathomable, immeasurable world, and God also created you. You are one of God’s creations. You are elated, your soul is revived, nourished, elevated. However small you are, God has made you exactly as He (She? It?) made the landscape that destroyed you.

In brief, this process is the sublime. A popular theme of Romantic and Gothic fiction where characters couldn’t go two steps on a mountain or in a forest without being destroyed, bottomed out, then elevated. Exhausting.

This view of nature however is entirely human-centric. Nature exists purely for the nourishment of humanity, its only purpose to make you closer to God and build your own ego up. Given the discussion around humanity’s relationship with nature is generally hotly contested, the way I tend to lean is that any view of nature where the natural world solely exists to service humanity is…not so good.

Anyway, an in-depth examination of environmentalism’s historical roots should not be taken from here. I merely needed to vent my frustrations over being foiled in showing off. Romanticism and the sublime itself deserve more time and effort than I gave on this instance.

Still, not too bad with no prep.


A whole heap of half-remembered lectures, books, journal articles, poems, everything.

Still Anne Radcliffe is a lot of fun so I would recommend the Italian and the Romance of the Forest and if you are wanting something a bit more saucy, Matthew Gregory Lewis’ the Monk will, I’m sure, shortly will be given some props by me in this blog, however those who wish may read ahead.


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