LITERATURE: On the Sublime – Endurance and Agreement

YOU must know, my dear friend, that it is with the sublime as in the common life of man. In life nothing can be considered great which it is held great to despise. (Chapter 7, Part I)

It would seem that Longinus believes, in his attempt at defining the sublime in literature, that its appeal must be universal.  To this I would argue that it is too limiting in nature to require that it be so pure as to be incontestable as a matter of opinion.  While McCarthy and Faulkner, to me, reach heights of literary finesse to make me swoon, frankly, some hate them.  Beauty, even in literature, I would think, is in the eye of the beholder.  A majority vote, then, would satisfy my standards.  But then, is that mere excellence, or the truly sublime?

When, therefore, a thing is heard repeatedly by a man of intelligence, who is well versed in literature, and its effect is not to dispose the soul to high thoughts, and it does not leave in the mind more food for reflexion than the words seem to convey, but falls, if examined carefully through and through, into disesteem, it cannot rank as true sublimity because it does not survive a first hearing. For that is really great which bears a repeated examination, and which it is difficult or rather impossible to withstand, and the memory of which is strong and hard to efface. (Chapter 7, Part 3)

Here’s where we may point to the classics, the Shakespeare’s, the Plato’s; that which read and reread by the same and by the many, can still bring one to find new things, and still marvel at the known.  What turning of phrase, what complexion of words, what startling new grammatical form need literature take to become of that ilk?

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