Greek Art: Laocoon and his sons

Greek Art: Laocoon and his sons

In his introduction to The Introduction to Visual Culture, Nicholas Mirzoeff discusses this statue as an example of a typical sublime work of art.  It immortalizes the story of the Trojan warrior and his children fighting with a serpent that will ultimately kill them.  Mirzoeff defines the sublime as "the pleasurable experience in representation of that which would be painful or terrifying in reality, leading to a realization of the limits of the human and of the powers of nature" (p. 16).  According to Mirzoeff, Kant distinguished between the sublime and the beautiful with the former being "a more complex and profound emotion…a preference for the ethical over the aesthetic" (p. 16).  It is this preference that has led Lyotard to see sublime as a key term for postmodernism: "The task of the sublime is to present the unpresentable, an appropriate role for the relentless visualizing of the postmodern era" (p. 16).  He goes on to say,

"Unlike the beautiful, which can be experienced in nature or culture, the sublime is the create of culture and is therefore central to visual culture.  Of course, the representation of natural subjects can be sublime, as in the classic example of a shipwreck or storm at sea.  However, the direct experience of a shipwreck cannot be sublime because one would presumably expreience only pain and the (sublime) dimension of pleasure would be missing" (p. 16).  But what about someone watching?  Certainly, those who jumped to their deaths on 9/11 where experiencing only horrible pain and suffering, but did we who watch also experience pleasure?  I remember those tapes being played over and over, and I finally had to stop watching because the raw, live pain was too much to bear. 


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