Literature, Art and the Sublime

Module code: EN3154

Module co-ordinator: to be confirmed

In this module you will consider how writers, artists and philosophers respond to the concept of the sublime. From its origins in the classical age to its development as a key theoretical term in the Enlightenment and Romantic periods, the sublime has been used to refer to ideas of the great, the awe-inspiring and the overpowering. Today, in a world beset with massive political, cultural, technologica, and environmental challenges, the sublime is back in vogue.

Organised through a series of interdisciplinary seminars, we will begin with a reading of pseudo-Longinus' landmark essay On Sublimity (1st century CE), focusing on its influence on Roman, medieval European and Renaissance literature. We will then look at how the sublime was developed in the 18th century in the writings of the Irish statesman and theorist Edmund Burke and in the work of the German Idealist philosopher Immanuel Kant. In the second half of the module we will turn our attention to the Romantic and Victorian periods. We will consider how poets such as Coleridge and Shelley, and painters such as Turner and Martin, forged their own, unique visions of the sublime. Turning to the 20th century, we will examine the work of the American Abstract Expressionist painters Rothko and Barnett. The module will conclude with an assessment of the 'postmodern sublime' in writings by Jean-François Lyotard and Slavoj Žižek and in art works by, for example, Walter De Maria, Mariele Neudecker and James Turrell.

In addition to the set reading for this module, you will make use of the resources available on the Tate's 'Sublime Object' website




  • Essay, 2,000 words - plus project, 3,000 words, or
  • Essay, 5,000 words