Paper short abstract:
A visual analysis of Western representations of nature, destruction and the sublime reveals conflicting themes of awe and wonder, terror and horror, and the unimaginable and the abject, which take on new meanings in an era of anthopocene panic.
Paper long abstract:
Defined in Kantian terms as the awe-inspiring thrill of the "supersensible" in the face of unimaginable scale or force in nature, the Sublime has been a continuing theme in Western visual art for over 400 years. In this paper, key historical images of nature, destruction and the Sublime are identified and re-examined in their socio-cultural, critical and philosophical contexts. Baroque, Romantic, Victorian, Modernist and Postmodern depictions of nature and the Sublime are discussed. Themes of awe and wonder, terror and horror, and the unimaginable and the abject are explored, informing an analysis of how nature and environmental destruction are represented in contemporary visual arts practice. Drawing on this analysis, the author argues that the unthinkable global scale of climate change, industrial pollution, habitat destruction and species extinction in an era of anthropocene panic and escalating narratives of dystopian futures requires a new aesthetic of the Sublime. The paper concludes that the Sublime aesthetic must move beyond preservation of the autonomy of the subject in the presence of an overwhelming other, and towards a new version of the Eco-Sublime beyond panic and despair.