Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Phillip Sipiora


2001, Kubrick, Lovecraft, sublime, theory


While the sublime aesthetic has a long and complex critical history, it is nonetheless a schizophrenic concept. Indeed, in the over two thousand years since the sublime became a subject of learned inquiry, it has not been resolved into any one concrete idea, but has become, rather, an expansive tapestry of disparate if interconnected theoretical threads from which aestheticians may pick and choose to define what they mean by the term "sublime." Kant postulates one sort of sublime, Burke another, and Lyotard, Zizek, and the Romantics still others. In this way, the contemporary sublime aesthetic is, in essence, an ever-extending discourse of recombinatory effort. The goal of this dissertation is to stitch together the competing conceptual threads that constitute the contemporary definition of the sublime aesthetic and to uncover the foundational core from which all those ideas spring.

Through analysis and deconstruction of several major theories on the sublime as well as through critical evaluation of a host of literary and cinematic texts (for example Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Don Delillo's White Noise), this dissertation contends that the deepest substratum of the sublime aesthetic lies in dynamism and possibility. Indeed, both art objects and philosophical rationale show that the sublime aesthetic is, at base, the recognition of the entire sphere of the possible and its necessarily constitutive threatening dynamism in a physically or ideologically destructive object or act of vast size, power, or mystery.

This dissertation argues that a theory of the sublime as possibility that entails uncontrollable dynamism helps to further clarify - if not fully explicate - the aesthetic and resolves the tension and incompatibility between preexisting ideas on the subject. Therefore, as a new theory of the sublime aesthetic, this dissertation is, at very least, a novel formulation of an ancient and undervalued concept in art and critical theory and, at best, a work that unearths the deepest, heretofore unrecognized, layers of an aesthetic experience central to human perception.