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  • American Sublime1
  • Guy Woodward (bio)

How does one stand to behold the sublime?

—Wallace Stevens, “The American Sublime”

This paper will consider the metamorphoses, the translations, of the divine occurring in the ecstatic and aesthetic naturalisms of Robert S. Corrington, the poetic philosophizing of Wallace Stevens, and the syntheism of Alexander Bard.

In Corrington’s aesthetic naturalism, the notion of the divine elides but also translates into the notion of the sublime. Of great import in this elision, this translation, is Corrington’s reading of Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer, read by Corrington, sees the self as the highest objectification of the Will.2 The genius, the epitome of the self as this highest objectification of the Will, brings the Forms to the spatiotemporal flux of the Will’s violent and aimless self-expression.3 Indeed, the genius, the artist, brings the Forms to the perfection of their expression in the expression of the Will. The artistic genius thus renders the Forms, the Will stayed, to the flux of the Will, the Will unleashed, and in this rendering achieves the supreme embellishment of nature.4 In other words, the artistic genius instantiates the Forms within the Will’s surging tides as works of art: the Will objectified is expressed in the spatiotemporal self-expression of the Will in works of art created by the artistic genius. It is through these works of art that the artistic genius transcends the racing and raging torrents of the Will’s self-expression and attains to the constancy of its character as instantiate in the Forms. In Corrington’s own phraseology, works of art give expression to the depth dimensions of nature.5 Corrington modifies and glosses the Schopenhauerian Will and Forms by translating them to the phrasing of the sublime.

The sublime is for Corrington that which art achieves and expresses, but it is not of any kind of Form or Forms. It is far greater and grander than mere [End Page 79] forms, and avails itself, however subtly and fitfully, without mediation. The sublime is to be had, if it is to be had at all, at the very edges and deeps of nature.6 It is, in fact, in many ways analogous to Jasper’s Encompassing:7 it is that which lingers and yet overwhelms, always beyond the peripheries, however distant those peripheries might be. The sublime also haunts the abyssals of the between:8 it is the sublime that translates the scission between the self and the worldhood of the world:9 it enwholes the self as the efficacy of the self’s horizons in their address of the world in its world-ing.

The sublime is thus a twofold power:10 it illumines the self and renders the self within the betweens and scissions of self and nature, and it beckons not only the self but nature to a completeness, a fulfillment. The sublime is thus a reality in itself, though wholly of nature:11 it is suffused through and yet englobing nature. The sublime is of a character that, while yet an aspect of nature, is an aspect in some sense superior to nature, in that it grants nature its symmetry and concord: it grants its aesthetic.

The sublime, as this aesthetic of nature, is thus realized by the human process in infinitely many ways: indeed, in works of art, but in the cosmic structures of the multiverse or in the snowbound fields of rural Iowa as the eagles soar and swoop and circle above.

And so the divine is thus subsumed, though not consumed, within and through the sublime. The divine becomes now an artwork, its infinite expressions infinite expressions of the sublime, thus in their turn inspiring poetry and symphonies and sculptures. And as expressions of the sublime, the gods can then too be translated to be more efficacious and less oppressive expressions: the divine is freed from the darker realms of the depth dimensions of nature to become a means to achieve wholeness and completeness.

Complimenting Corriington’s refiguring of the divine through the sublime are notions of the American poet Wallace Stevens to be found in two essays, “Two or Three Ideas” and “A Collect of...


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pp. 79-84
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