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Christopher Huck, IDSVA





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Although much has been written on the phenomena and aesthetics of the sublime, especially over the past thirty-five years, I argue that a further interrogation is needed. This is because the Indo-Tibetan Yogācāra-Madhyamaka philosophy of ‘emptiness’ (Skt: śūnyatā) more precisely and elegantly elucidates what is happening in the mind when we experience the sublime. Therefore, I assert that a thorough interrogation of the Yogācāra-Madhyamaka notion of ‘emptiness’ (śūnyatā) will clarify our (mis)understandings of the aesthetic and phenomenological concepts of the sublime.

I address several epistemological and ontological problems inherent in understanding the sublime, as has been widely postulated both in and outside the work of art. While employing a method of dialectic in this project, my critique of ancient, modern, and postmodern theses of sublimity postulate new insights into concepts of the sublime. I demonstrate that the theses of the sublime are burdened by several not-insignificant epistemological and ontological problems, which reveal both incoherences and contradictions. Finally, I argue that to promote a coherent theory of the sublime is, in the end, absurd, by virtue of the fact that sublimity can be neither a coherently understood object of experience, nor anything short of an epistemological contradiction. I propose in response what I call the empty-sublime, and then turn to twentieth-century American artists Robert Rauschenberg and Agnes Martin, and the contemporary German artist Wolfgang Laib, whom I argue are examples of its authentic aesthetic praxis.


Philosophy | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


Insitute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts


Portland ME

THE EMPTY-SUBLIME: From ‘Je ne sais quois’ To Śūnyatā



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