After his work on language in The Differend, in which the stuttering and arresting of phrasing is accompanied by a feeling that something remains to be said, philosopher Jean-Franҫois Lyotard turned to the aesthetic of the sublime in order to thinking through this impasse found at the limits of language, largely through the art of the avant-garde. The aesthetic of the sublime, in its 18th century Burkean and Kantian inflections, continued to hold a prominent place in Lyotard’s thought until his vocation as a philosopher came to an end with his death in 1998. Yet, despite the extensive writing devoted to the sublime by Lyotard, the work of Pseudo-Longinus, a major figure in the history of the sublime, remained largely uninterrogated. By reading Pseudo-Longinus’ Perí Hýpsous alongside Lyotard’s The Differend, I attempt to provide a reason for Lyotard’s neglect of the former due to its tendencies to further tighten the situation of the differend rather than unravel it.
Undergirding every theoretical framework is a network of material referents upon which ideas collect, propagate, and disseminate. Academic discourses not only exert an influence on the world, but are themselves equally influenced by it: the egalitarian feedback loop between subject and object is dictated by the constraining fact that we are embodied beings in a physical milieu. Despite the seeming immediacy and intuitiveness of this statement, however, it is a well-worn adage that we must be mindful of the delicate balance of theory and praxis. This is not only a normative statement or an ethical injunction, but a methodological observation: from the intimacy of Platonic dialogues to Jane Bennett’s “thing-power,” the history of philosophy points not only to the value of lived experience on thought and reason, but also its inescapability.
While such a philosophical position is well accounted for in the abstract in contemporary literature—e.g., Donna Haraway’s notion of situated knowledge—the movement from “a conquering gaze from nowhere” into a place infused with tradition, language, and culture demands a robust understanding of what this really (perceptively and emotionally) looks like. In the spirit of intellectuals like Gaston Bachelard (The Poetics of Space), this investigation proposes use language as a springboard to enact a phenomenological ‘bracketing’ in the style of psychogeography and the context of Southwestern architecture, foregoing a symbolic unpacking of traditional cultural iconography in favour of narrowing in those distinctive features of regional design—from pastel hues to the unity of adobe walls—that give it a distinctive and influential ‘feel.’ We will therefore work to unbind the subject from its strictly intellectual tethers, transcending the liberal humanist subject and transforming it into something much more embedded in and indebted to the realm of the particular—the trance of our own material constitution.
In Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, the maiden Io describes, in violent terms, the sexual overtures of the god Zeus that are made to her in a dream. Her father, asking the oracle at Delphi for advice concerning these nightly visitations, is ordered by Apollo to drive his young daughter from her home to wander aimlessly over distant lands. Io describes how, attending her banishment, she is transformed into a heifer and driven mad. While the transformation into the heifer is directly attributed to Hera, Aeschylus leaves the origins and essential nature of Io’s madness vague. Compounded by contradictory accounts of her madness and its origins within the play itself, we are left with a patently mad young woman and yet with very little unambiguous reason for her madness. In order to resolve this ambiguity, I have chosen to make use of Lacanian psychoanalysis and its particular emphasis on the subject’s relationship with itself and with external reality. Focusing on Io’s account of her dream, I argue that her dream expresses her strong identification with an ego focused on childhood—an ego that is in the process of being undermined by her impending transition into adulthood. Ultimately, it is this state of contradiction, appearing in the figure of the Eye of Zeus, which reveals to Io the essential vanity of identification with both childhood and adulthood and which brings about her descent into madness.