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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§ 3 Responses to The Sublime II: Horizon(tal)

  • liz cashdan says:

    I like the idea of the corridor being an urban sublime image but it is perhaps too linear to partake of the sublime. Have you read Tim Ingold’s book: Lines, a short history. Great stuff looking a what writing, drawing, walking, swimming, textile threads have in common. I hadn’t thought of walking corridors.
    Liz

  • Rob says:

    Thanks Liz, I’ll look out the Ingold book. My sense of the sublime has to do with a shift in perception – a dizziness, possibly – brought about by scale: often, a looking up, and out, over the vastness of a mountain range (my Alps were the southern ones on New Zealand’s South Island); but, though the same outcome (certainly for an altophobe like me) results from looking up at a skyscraper, say, I do think the horizontal plane can elicit a similar disorientation.

  • […] A special performance of Rob Hindle‘s The Purging of Spence Broughton, co-presented by Longbarrow Press for the South Yorkshire Poetry Festival, takes place at Boston Castle, Rotherham, on Wednesday 20 May. Hindle will be joined by co-reader Ray Hearne for this unique open-air event in the castle grounds (overlooking Attercliffe, where the eponymous antihero of Hindle’s sequence was gibbeted in 1792); an atmospheric setting for an evening of poetry, history, politics and folk legend. Click here for more information about the event. The ‘haunting’ of the English landscape (a themed obliquely explored in The Purging of Spence Broughton) is addressed by Hindle in a new post on his website, in which he challenges some of the assumptions that appear to underwrite the aestheticisation of the ‘eerie'; click here to read ‘Aerg!’. His two recent posts on the manufactured, yet inhuman, horizons of the post-Burkean sublime are also worth investigating: you can read the first here and the second here. […]

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