The political sublime: An oxymoron

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The sublime has been a categorical refuge in a number of important 'postmodern' critical and theoretical projects, most of which are aimed at retrieving or inventing a more radical, liberating, or progressive politics. Using Kant's theory of the sublime, an über-theory for postmodern thought, this essay argues that the political sublime is self-defeating because it precludes differentiation, a sine qua non of politics. Furthermore, I argue that where the sublime takes on political purchase it slips into the beautiful - the 'political sublime' is a form of the beautiful. The political sublime is a means of pronouncing the limits of one set of political practices and displacing them with another, purportedly stronger, politics. I make this argument through two distinct but interconnected approaches: (1) through a reading of theories of the political sublime in Jean-François Lyotard and Hayden White, and (2) through reading of CNN's live US coverage of the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)889-915
Number of pages27
JournalMillennium: Journal of International Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 28 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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