Beyond Burke’s Precedent and Back Again: Longinus and the Romantic Sublime

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This essay treats the relationship of Longinus’ Peri Hypsous to the history and criticism of sublime theory. Canonical narratives of the sublime suppress Longinus, reading Burke’s Enquiry as developing a theory of the sublime that is wholly new, without precedent. This essay puts Burke’s Enquiry into relationship with Longinus’ treatise in a manner that does not take for granted either Burke’s originality or Longinus’ obsolescence. By analyzing the theories of Burke and Longinus at a remove from the operative hierarchies and oppositions that have determined their relative value and meaning over nearly 300 years, this essay uncovers some of the complex ways that reception has ensured these very hierarchies and oppositions. Rather than the progressive model on which the canon of the sublime has for so long been staked, this model of intellectual entanglement is more attentive to the overlapping publication histories of Burke and Longinus on the sublime. The Peri Hypsous emerges as a treatise crucial to Romanticism as well as our present moment with regard to the theory of concepts as fundamental as originality, nature, art, and modernity itself.

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