Well, as regular readers may have noticed, this Philosopher has been on blog hiatus so she can get her PhD written. But today I have put a pause on the thesis-ing to do a bit of blogging to celebrate the second birthday of How to be a Philosopher!
Since I really can’t escape my thesis at the moment, I thought I would deviate from talking about philosophical practice and tell you about some philosophical content. You guessed it, my thesis. Definitely not my academic pitch, the ‘thesis of my thesis’ for fellow philosophers, but the after a pint or three in the pub ‘well you asked for it’ random punter pitch.
Yet, this will be much less swear-y and you will just have to imagine the drunken slurring. (In truth I have done an uncensored version sober for fellow philosophers, you can approximate it for yourself here by replacing every ‘oh GOD!’ with a ‘F*CK me!’.)
Here we go. [Spoiler alert: GoT Series 7 finale referrence below.]
So you know that feeling you get on rollercoasters, that thrilling ‘oh God!’ sensation of the adrenal load suppressing the impulse to evacuate your bowels? For those of you who only get the impulse to evacuate your bowels, how about the thrill looking out off a cliff over a storm-whipped sea, the awesome ‘oh God!’ might of the ocean? If you think we should really be tucked up in bed on such occasions, what about when you come? Yes, you know, orgasm. That, no matter how you get there, feeling of ‘oh GOD!’
Well a heap of dead, white, did I mention privileged, eighteenth-century blokes mostly in Britain got all hot under the collar about how to understand that ‘oh God!’ feeling philosophically. They even gave it a name — the sublime.
By the middle of that century, all these blokes could think about was how the seemingly terrible could bring so much delight — the ‘oh God!’ of not only those crashing oceans but also ragged mountains. Remembering, it was a relatively new thing to find the vista of the Alps in any way delightful rather than just jolly terrifying. But before then the ‘oh God!’ of the sublime was all about jolly good poetry.
That’s right, poetry.
The sublime originally arrived in Britain via a popular French translation of a rediscovered ancient Greek fragment of a rhetorical text, commonly known in English as, Longinus’ On the Sublime. In it that ‘oh God!’ feeling is first described as ‘irresistible transport’ in poetry.
You know that feeling when you just get caught up and ‘oh God!’ taken up in a thrilling literary expression. If unlike the well-bred gentleman of early modern polite society and you haven’t been moved by Achilles rage, the fate of Dido, or the Lucifer of Paradise Lost, then for the timely popular reference, think of Daenerys ‘oh GOD!-ing!’ on a dragon and/or Jon Snow.
Apart from some truly hilariously chaste allusions to the true beauty of loving the ‘fairer sex’ there is no Dany on Jon ‘oh God!-ing!’ But there is definitely the ‘oh God!’ of an epic’s sublime hero exercising the height of her moral character, who happens to accessorise with a couple dragons.
Although they are the first to discuss it, currently the earliest literary critical accounts in Britain are thought to play no part of the story of the sublime in philosophy, they are only interested in rhetoric not aesthetics. Instead that privilege goes to Third Earl of Shaftesbury, who first described ‘oh God!’ in a forest.
But what the current picture misses (and this is my thesis) is that when you look closely at both the literary critical accounts and Shaftesbury both are actually talking about the sublime as a harmonious ecstatic experience of coming together with god. A divine orgasm? Significantly, they think that only the best and wisest of us have the character for it. Not all is lost for us low-born, apparently we can learn, it just takes practice.
There you go, then, my philosophy PhD is all about how to have the best eighteenth-century orgasm with god.
What about that for a birthday treat?
P.S. Better get back to the thesis-ing. Expect How To Be A Philosopher to return to regularity in the new year. In the meantime you can always browse the back catalogue. Check out the full list here.