A Reconfiguration of the Sublime Aesthetic Within the Anthropocene Epoch

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dc.contributor.advisor Campbell, J en
dc.contributor.author Fouhy, Hannah en
dc.date.accessioned 2020-04-01T20:21:16Z en
dc.date.issued 2020 en
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/2292/50184 en
dc.description Full Text is available to authenticated members of The University of Auckland only. en
dc.description.abstract With the current climate undergoing such dramatic environmental upheavals, the human relationship to the natural world is an urgent discussion of our time. This thesis seeks to clarify and reposition the sublime aesthetic within an Anthropocentric world. No longer can the convictions of economic growth and the legitimacy of human’s dominion over nature be taken for granted. Everything is interconnected and it appears increasingly clear that our continued abuse on the planet threatens these very foundations. With a call for a more aesthetic-moral relationship with the environment, I argue for the need to locate a new role for the sublime with increased relevance in contemporary thought. Although the environmental issues currently presented to humanity are unique in the course of history, it is this uncharted territory that dictates the necessity to look the past for clarity in navigating our present position to nature. For the purposes of this thesis, I have chosen to define the following terms as such: 1. Sublime:“producing an overwhelming sense of awe or other high emotion through being vast or grand” (“Sublime”). 2. Anthropocentric: “regarding humankind as the central or most important element of existence” (“Anthropocentric”). 3. Anthropocene: “relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on the climate and the environment” (“Anthropocene”). The increased accessibility to previously unreachable parts of the world, afforded to modern society, has made the original understanding of the sublime an outdated concept. The human factor has unintentionally emerged as an irreducible dimension in determining the present Earth conditions. Art seeks to make sense of how human existence has inserted itself within this complex and multilayered landscape as a colossal force. While my own art practice is deeply entrenched into the traditional modes of the photographic silver gelatin processes, the purpose of this thesis is not to track or explore the evolution of landscape photography. Rather it is intended as a discussion into the philosophy and aesthetics that underly human’s relationship with the natural world, namely the historical concept of the sublime. I argue the need for a new ecological sublime that takes into consideration the interdependent and intimate relationship between humanity and nature. Where once, humanity was viewed as the stronger living entity, the precarious unpredictability of today’s climate has tipped the scales. An assumed position of safety from which to consider the surrounding environment no longer exists. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and flash floods demonstrate the power of nature over humanity. Art provides the opportunity to visually depict this unequal yet ongoing struggle. Nature cannot exist separate or subservient to humanity, for it is an inscrutable and unpredictable entity, with a tendency towards violence and volatile mood swings. It is accurate to term our Earth as sublime for She presents both beauty when calm and terrifying when enraged. The sense of an humanity-mediated apocalypse results in a type of dreadful beauty found only in powerlessness. Ironically it is the fight against this powerlessness, that is bringing the environmental apocalypse so much closer. The Anthropocene is a consequence of the everyday life choices of over seven billion people. The sense of human invulnerability enjoyed over the last two centuries of the Holocene has met its demise. Therefore, as the global environment shows ever-increasing signs of distress, it is incumbent on students and scholars to question the nature of our shared enterprise and the philosophy driving such behaviour. The very magnitude of the crisis would dictate that our gaze is directed outwardly, yet coming to understand the anthros must surely entail looking within as well. The advent of the Anthropocene means the humanity has literally shaped and recreated the fabric of the Earth, far surpassing the metaphorical reconstruction as extolled by historic philosophers; Longinus, Kant, and Burke. Through linguistic tools these philosophers depicted the sublime as an experience of the vast and powerful natural world with its capability of inducing both pleasure and pain. This literal reshaping is illustrated through human’s relationship with technological advancements, which operate as an extension of themselves. As technology grows and strengthens so does the active relationship humanity has with the environment. Concepts such as the deep time scales of the Anthropocene, the Colossal and the intimacy of objects and subjects, collectively work towards a revitilasation of the sublime aesthetic. The safe distance of the historical sublime is no longer assured, for it is a privilege we have forfeited. How far will humanity go in pushing science and technology and to what end? To subdue the landscape or to make it possible to co-exist within? We cannot know the extent of the implications on our future condition as it is impossible to fully understand the magnitude of the changing environment. As the struggle for dominance wages amongst human factions, this unrest is thrust upon nature. It is now the artist’s role to attempt to create a space in which the conflicting forces of humans and nature can co-exist. I propose a discussion on Hyperobjects, a term coined by eco-critic Timothy Morton to give definition to the massive entities such as global warming or radiation, as a way of relocating the sublime aesthetic within the contemporary Anthropocene. It is an ecological sublime that, through drawing on historic traditions of the fearsome awe, elicits a response to action within the individual. Humanity’s position within the Anthropocene is an extremely topographical and ethical current discussion. In light of this, the sublime’s ability to understand human psychology and moral aesthetics, ensures it is vital that it is granted a fresh consideration and re-articulation. en
dc.publisher ResearchSpace@Auckland en
dc.relation.ispartof Masters Thesis - University of Auckland en
dc.relation.isreferencedby UoA en
dc.rights Items in ResearchSpace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated. Previously published items are made available in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. en
dc.rights Restricted Item. Full Text is available to authenticated members of The University of Auckland only. en
dc.rights.uri https://researchspace.auckland.ac.nz/docs/uoa-docs/rights.htm en
dc.rights.uri http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/nz/ en
dc.title A Reconfiguration of the Sublime Aesthetic Within the Anthropocene Epoch en
dc.type Thesis en
thesis.degree.discipline Fine Arts en
thesis.degree.grantor The University of Auckland en
thesis.degree.level Masters en
dc.rights.holder Copyright: The author en
pubs.elements-id 797209 en
pubs.record-created-at-source-date 2020-04-02 en

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