“For a piece is truly great only if it can stand up to repeated examination, and if it is difficult, or, rather, impossible to resist its appeal, and it remains firmly and ineffaceably in the memory. As a generalization, you may take it that sublimity in all its truth and beauty exists in such works as please all men at all times. For when men who differ in their pursuits, their ways of life, their ambitions, their ages, and their manners all think in one and the same way about the same works, then the unanimously judgement, as it were, of discordant voices induces a strong and unshakeable faith in the object of admiration.” —Longinus
The spirit of our age seems to be about setting ourselves apart—who is the most creative, unique, talented, who is the smartest, who has the most followers, the most titles, the most degrees, the most power, the best look. Everything is framed as a competition that most of us must lose, since there can only be one “best.” We try to to get around it by creating roughly eight billion categories, so then everyone can win, at least once. Zero sum game, and all that.
It’s startling and powerful to read this 1,900ish-year-old expression of the sublime not as a moment of aesthetic or intellectual bestness but as a moment of consensus, a communal experience of being moved, together. This way of thinking of the sublime resonates with me, as for me the sublime lies in connection, the capacity to transcend the many opportunities for division that throw themselves across our paths and experience communion.
What is the sublime for you?