The sublime response is an aesthetic or emotional state described as an agreeable kind of terror related to awe and often encountered in nature. Seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophers, visual artists, and writers explored the idea of the sublime related strongly to natural and spiritual phenomena. The sublime response is in effect when human reason and emotion produce a sensation of awe – or a negative pleasure that combines an unsettling anxiety with feelings of pleasure.
Through landscape imagery, I wish to link traditional concepts of the sublime with contemporary issues related to climate change and the dangers of human action and inaction. Edmund Burke proposed in 1757 that, “experiencing otherwise terrifying phenomena from a position of safety can elicit ‘a sort of delightful horror, a sort of tranquility tinged with terror; which as it belongs to self-preservation, is one of the strongest of all passions.’”* Burke’s assertions were true in his day, but are nearer and truer now as we face potential dangers with seeming tranquility. The pleasures and terrors of our present dilemma provide aesthetic and fearsome possibilities.