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America unbound

It was in their landscape that American artists reshaped a European idea of the sublime

By Geoff Dyer   March 2002

‘Aurora Borealis’ by Frederic Edwin Church

The sublime is no longer what it used to be, but there’s no need to get nostalgic. In 1757, Burke used the term to include whatever would “excite ideas of pain or danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible.” Kant amended this principle of “delightful horror” to denote something requiring “a transcendent scale of reference… a greatness comparable to itself alone.” Partly because the landscapes suggestive of that original terror have been rendered familiar by the history of art, that older Gothic-tinged patina has worn away and the word has…

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