Classical understanding pairs beauty with form and ugliness with formlessness. The rupture of the sublime within this otherwise static, polar construction, reveals the slippage between ways of knowing and the vast field of existence that such tools attempt to map.
The sublime resolves neither in structure and beauty, nor chaos and ugliness, but as an incomprehensibility that points not simply to boundlessness in the abstract and infinite sense, but to a pervasive, and banal unknowability underlying everything.
Even as the sublime experience threatens the stability of our understanding, we rationalize it away as a necessary questioning of the limits of knowing to revitalizes our drive to know more. This timid avoidance is fueled by an arrogance of ego and bolstered by language’s hegemonic desire to contain, control, and remain seamless.
The real power of the sublime lies in that directionless moment before we rise to the challenge of pushing knowing into the newly revealed unknown. The truth of the sublime is that moment of seeing just beyond the edge of sight. The sublime instant is a fundamental visceral understanding of the material limitations of existence and an honest awareness of the feeble tools with which we hack from our location at the incomprehensibility surrounding us. We glimpse for an instant that beyond the exceedingly narrow path of language and the only slightly broader swath of human experience, lies an infinity of untouchable and unknowable being that we cannot experience or understand any more than we can know how a bat feels being a bat.
The experience is, indeed, a negative pleasure combining the pain of understanding that the imagination is inadequate, with the soothing recognition that an ungraspable existence is beyond the capacity of our mind. This, coupled with the brevity of our glimmer of life, absolves us of the responsibility to know and understand; freeing us to exist with an absorptive innocence, previously avoided out of a sense of obligation.