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The Topology of the Kantian Sublime

Lyotard, Heidegger, Rancière, Deleuze and Nancy



The tendency today to conceive our universe as a self-enclosed field can be suspended through its re-conceptualization. We assume the underlying topology associated with doing so is the same in all fields, from ontology itself to politics and aesthetics. In this paper, we examine the aesthetic theories of five contemporary thinkers organized around Kant’s conception of the sublime. We first indicate the deficiencies of Kant’s thinking of the sublime with respect to artworks and with the aesthetics field in general. We next briefly outline how it is possible to utilize the logic of the sublime found in the third Critique to re-read the first Critique. In this way, all objects – inclusive of artworks and political objects – may now be said to concern the sublime and not just the Ideas of reason. It is contended that this positing of the sublime directly into art is implicit in all these contemporary theories, with the exception of Heidegger whose failure to do so is utilized to better bring out the two very different, but necessarily coupled, responses of Lyotard and Rancière. Lyotard is seen as choosing the Kantian dynamical-masculine logic of the sublime to grant avant-garde artists guardianship over a precarious relation to the Thing of art, while Rancière opts for the Kantian mathematical-feminine whose logic is seen as generating that Thing and who must therefore maintain a symptomatic relation to Lyotard’s project. Deleuze and Nancy both go beyond these two specifications of the Thing, theorizing a paradoxical object as a ‘collapse’ of the aesthetic framework and thus revealing how the Thing is only the phantasmatic ‘filling-out’ of this sublime object (Lacan’s objet a). By reframing or embodying the schematic framework which discloses art, such a point can offer a way for the subject to suspend the aesthetic field and opt for a new one. Through homology, the logic of this subversive act can be extended to politics and to our ontological view of the universe.

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