Nature, the metropolis and the apocalyptic sublime

Conference paper


White, L. 2012. Nature, the metropolis and the apocalyptic sublime. Landscape & Eschatology. Tate Britain
TypeConference paper
TitleNature, the metropolis and the apocalyptic sublime
AuthorsWhite, L.
Abstract

RESEARCH QUESTIONS - How can we understand contemporary cinematic and cultural representations of the end of the world by contextualising these in a larger history of such representations? How are ecological anxieties mediated through the aesthetic category of the sublime, and what are the political implications of the resulting cultural schemata? Can these be understood to reveal a relationship between changing conceptions of the distinction between nature and the technological, urban and human realm, as these categories have been transformed under capitalist conditions? RESEARCH METHODS - The paper traces visual and textual tropes in recent Hollywood disaster and "doomsday" films (2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Wall-E). These are compared with eschatological representations from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially in John Martin, Alexander Pope and William Wordsworth. I draw on the aesthetic of the sublime as an aesthetic ostensibly of counterpurposive nature. RESEARCH CONTEXT - The paper was presented at the conference 'Landscape and Eschatology' at the Tate Britain. This co-incided with the John Martin exhibition there. The conference was funded by Middlesex University, Tate Research Centre: British Romantic Art and UCL. This event does not seem to be directly related to the Tate's recently completed AHRC research project 'The Sublime Object', but seems to draw from its concerns in foregrounding questions of the sublime and its relation to Romantic Culture. (My own work figured within two events related to that project). The paper itself drew on my larger body of work on the sublime and its legacies in contemporary art and culture, and develops the focus in this on tracing the relations between the aesthetic of the sublime and forms of capitalist culture. FINDINGS - My paper concludes that the category of the sublime mediates contemporary fantasy scenarios of the end of the world. These are shaped by an older aesthetic, which stretches back into early modernity. I argue that though such fantasies stage the end of the world as the return of a counterpurposive nature beyond human control, what lies underneath such images is in fact a set of displaced anxieties about the nature of capitalism and its effects on social (and natural) life. Such fantasies may well serve to bear out Slavoj Zizek's recent observation that it has now become easier to imagine the end of life on earth than the end of capitalism, and implicate the apocalyptic sublime in a failure of the political imagination on the grand scale.

Keywordssublime, sublimity, nature, technology, the city, the metropolis, capitalism, Marxism, Slavoj Zizek, eschatology, landscape, cinema, disaster movies, doomsday film genre,
Research GroupDiasporas
Visual Culture and Curating cluster
LanguageEnglish
ConferenceLandscape & Eschatology
Publication process dates
Deposited30 Mar 2012
Output statusPublished
Web address (URL)http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/eventseducation/symposia/24962.htm
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