Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Philosophical Aesthetics and Simms's Poetry and the Practical >> Page 67

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 67 THE SIMMS REVIEW

template that which is particularly striking or impressive (the sublime,
as Kant calls it), we discover that our response is such that it raises "the
energies of the soul above their accustomed height and discover[s] in us
a faculty of resistance of a quite different kind, which gives us courage
to measure ourselves against the apparent almightiness" of the thing we
are contemplating (100-101). Obviously, aesthetic judgment is, for Kant,
a type of thinking that goes far beyond simply identifying states of affairs
or attending to moral obligations. Indeed, the typical result of contem-
plating a supremely impressive event or spectacle is that it provokes us
to become aware of ourselves as beings who are capable of "judging it
fearlessly and of regarding our destination as sublime in respect of it"
(104). That is, it provokes us to remember that own spiritual destiny is
more impressive than anything we can possibly encounter in the natural
scheme of things. Ultimately, the fruit of aesthetic experience is that it
makes possible a new kind of self-consciousness, which is a foretaste or
a revelation of our own spiritual destiny.
Kant also claims in The Critique of Judgment that aesthetic
experience acts as a mediating force or as a bridge between the ideas
that come to us from sensory experience and the ideas that are associated
with moral imperatives. Aesthetic judgment is a faculty that borrows
ideas from both pure theoretical reason and pure practical reason, thereby
synthesizing these two faculties in its own operation. In part, what Kant
means by this is simply that, when we encounter artistic representations,
such as poems or paintings, we are actually encountering phenomenal
things that have been designed with purposes in mind. On one level,
the actual physical materials of an artwork may be cognized as sensible
objects, but at the same time we can see that these things bear the impress
of an artistic intention. On another level, in the events of a narrative, such
as a story or a novel, we can see that the actions of the characters are
intelligible both as sensuous events and as morally meaningful gestures.
However, it is perhaps Friedrich Schiller (one of Kant's earliest
disciples) who gives the clearest account of art's power to synthesize the
moral and the sensory dimensions of human experience. In his essays
on sublimity and on tragedy, and especially in his famous Letters on
the Aesthetic Education of Man, composed in the immediate aftermath
of the Kantian critiques, Schiller sets out to explain how literary study
produces superior self-consciousness and, at the same time, creates an
enlightened citizenry, capable of appropriately enjoying the political