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Longinus and Kant on Sublime

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More than thousand years apart, Longinus and Immaneul Kant, despite their major concerns different from each other, are dedicated to a systematic discussion of Sublime.

In reply to his friend's enquiry, Longinus's concept is set on his clarification whether sublimity is an innate gift or a learned art. Without slighting the significance of natural gifts, he gives full credit to learning. More specifically, Longinus's sublimity arises from a grand literary style which should transport such feeling to readers. This requires the author, during the composition of sublime verses, to value not only elevated passion, but the art of diction, figures and structure; the combination of these two respects will give rise to the intended effect. If passion serves as natural spur for grandness, artistic rules meet the end of channeling passion into its right course. Furthermore, Longinus strongly objects to two fallacies: one is to take passion and sublime as one concept as if they are exchangable, the other falls to draw a dividing line between them as if they are self-contained and independent from each other. In fact, by his observation, there is dynamic relationship between the two, by which passion flashes forth at the right moment when it is needed of its certain magnitue, and where sublimity will be reduced to pseudo-sublimity if passion strikes out of balance in forms of tumidity, puerility and emptiness. As regards to the source, Longinus insists that only the noble mind, which always cares to nurture great ideas, can compose sublime works, while those who are in the grip of petty concerns can only produce despicable verses.

In case of Kant's Sublime, it lies utterly with the subject; for the involved object, vast and formless in its magnitude, stirs more fear and repulsion than grandness upon the first sight. Yet the feeling of sublimity may surge after the subject's experience of awe and withholding. At any rate, it is born out of a mind which has prepared itself with manifold ideas and so agrees with presenting the object. In turn, the representation of the object, through the subject's active engagement of imagination and reason, must correspond with some higher subjective purposiveness to consummate the feeling of sublimity.

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