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Musically Sublime

Indeterminacy, Infinity, Irresolvability

Kiene Brillenburg Wurth

Publication Year: 2012

The Musically Sublime rewrites musically the history and philosophy of the sublime. Music enables us to reconsider the traditional course of sublime feeling on a track from pain to pleasure. Resisting the notion that there is a single format for sublime feeling, Wurth shows how, from the mid–eighteenth century onward, sublime feeling is, instead, constantly rearticulated in a complex interaction with musicality. Wurth takes as her point of departure Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment and Jean-François Lyotard’s aesthetic writings of the 1980s and 1990s. Kant framed the sublime narratively as an epic of selftranscendence. By contrast, Lyotard sought to substitute immanence for Kantian transcendence, yet he failed to deconstruct the Kantian epic. The book performs this deconstruction by juxtaposing eighteenth- and nineteenth-century conceptions of the infinite, Sehnsucht, the divided self, and unconscious drives with contemporary readings of instrumental music.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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p. v-v

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p. vii-vii

This book would not have been possible without the intervention and encouragement of the following people: first of all, Frank Ankersmit, whose inspiring and dedicated supervision of the manuscript in its earlier versions has been crucial. His involvement in this project has triggered and nourished ...

Abbreviations (in Order of Appearance)

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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-22

Imagine the wide lawn of the Champs de Mars during the Reign of Terror in late eighteenth-century France.1 Thousands of people are packed together to participate ‘‘universally’’ in one of the many festivals celebrating the cause of freedom. They sing, they shout, they merge into a massive ...

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1. Empty Signs and the Burkean Sublime

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pp. 23-46

The empty sign would have to be the sign of a paradox: a sign that is not quite a sign, yet as such marking the process of signifying itself. It is not quite a sign (at least in the Saussurean sense), because it constantly suspends a signified. Empty signs are ‘‘pure’’ signifiers resisting the Saussurean logic ...

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2. Sehnsucht, Music, and the Sublime

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pp. 47-71

In his Allgemeine theorie der schönen Künste, Johann Georg Sulzer does not confine the experience of the sublime to feelings of wonder, terror, respect, or elevation. The sublime is ‘‘the highest in art, and must be employed when the mind is to be attacked with powerful strokes, when admiration, ...

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3. Ruins and (Un)forgetfulness: A Genealogy of theMusically Sublime

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pp. 72-103

In ‘‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,’’ Michel Foucault (re)introduced a concept in philosophy and the writing of history that he had derived from Friedrich Nietzsche: genealogy.1 Foucault presented this concept as a history- writing against the grain insofar as it no longer starts from timeless values ...

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4. Sounds Like Now: Form-Contrariness, Romanticism,and the Postmodern Sublime

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pp. 104-138

In The Inhuman, Jean-Franc¸ois Lyotard invents a string of associations with the German gehorsam sein: to be obedient, or, literally translated, to be able or tending to hear. ‘‘To obey,’’ Lyotard suggests, ‘‘is gehorchen. Gehören is not far, to pertain to, to depend on an agency, to fall into a domain, under an ...

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5. Anxiety: The Sublime as Trauma and Repetition

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pp. 139-172

The sublime is not only duplicitous in its paradox of pleasure and pain, but also in its ‘‘double mode’’ of a quieter and a more violent sublime: what John Baillie called the sedate sublime and the sublime mixed with pathos— and what Kant, of course, called the mathematical and the dynamical ...

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Coda: The Sublime, Intermedially Speaking

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pp. 173-176

Years ago, I was hitching with a friend on a Buginese fishing boat from Sulawesi to the island of Lembata in eastern Indonesia. One late afternoon, when the sun was at its lowest, we had spotted a whale rising up from the waters within yards before us—so close and unexpected as to almost become ...


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pp. 177-203


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pp. 205-224

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246472
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230648

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012