The Sublime II: Horizon(tal)

March 16, 2015 § 3 Comments

When I arrived at Leeds University in ’87, a group of us was shown around campus by a 3rd year English student.  It was a brief, psychogeographical tour: the Refectory where Led Zeppelin and The Who had played; The Faversham, a pub where he’d seen The Wedding Present; and ‘the longest corridor in Europe’, in the EC Stoner (!) Building, where they’d filmed scenes from Blakes 7.

While the Burkean sublime derives from a contemplation of natural vastness which is particularly evoked by the dizzying vertical scale, and mass, of Alpine landscapes, it can also be apprehended in the horizontal featurelessness of deserts and wastes: the moorlands referred to in my previous post, for example; or, in the case of Frankenstein, on the glacier at Montanvert and, more particularly, in the barren Polar region.

The university corridor seems to me to share some of the qualities of these landscapes.  Although clearly of a different scale, its uniformity and scale (the corridor is over 300m long) provoke the observer to look  along the horizontal plane towards a vanishing point.  As such, it can be described as an example of architectural or urban sublime.

What distinguishes urban sublime from the natural features and landscapes it evokes is, obviously, that it is man-made.  I mentioned in the previous post that moorland has developed as a result of human intervention: but this is about management – human interaction with nature.  The urban sublime, though it might be imitative, is constructed.

Which, some might say, makes the corridor more disconcerting than the moor.  The latter’s existence indicates the limitation of human endeavour in relation to the natural world; the former, either hubris (imitation of superior agency) – or a willed alienation.  Designing a corridor long enough that you can observe someone receding towards a horizon until they disappear suggests an identification with the non-human.


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