In the treatise On Sublimity ‘Longinus’ claims that the sublime, ‘produced at the right moment, tears everything up like a whirlwind, and exhibits the orator’s whole power at a single blow.’
This essay wishes to explore the role of violence in sublimity. It is an aspect of the sublime which has arguably been underemphasised in the current critical literature on the subject but nevertheless is a key theme in the three texts analysed in this essay: On Sublimity by "Longinus", Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry and Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime by Immanuel Kant. The essay argues for the centrality of violence to sublimity and also addresses questions of form and consequently agency in the relationship between artist and spectator. While the Classical text places power firmly in the hands of the artist, the role of the spectator is viewed as increasingly important in the two Enlightenment treatises. All three texts culminate in a discussion of the effect that sublime violence has on the spectator's self. The essay highlights the contrasting views each of the writers hold on how the self reacts to and is affected by sublime violence and, therefore, the overall purpose served by the feeling of the sublime.