On Mountain

Gradually though, the dragons and divinities were put to flight and our feelings toward mountains underwent an astonishing change. Fascination replaced trepidation. Adventure replaced reverence. As cities grew and we insulated ourselves away from nature the mountains called us back. The magic of mountains strengthened: their fierce beauty; their power to enchant; their challenge. We went to places that were intimidating and uncontrollable, that inspired in us the heavy blend of pleasure and terror, which we came to call the sublime. This search for the sublime drew us outwards and upwards. The great peaks of the world began to exert a force upon the imagination. A siren song that was easy to hear, hard to resist and sometimes fatal. But legends of death in high places spread the spell of the mountain wider still.
 Airan Kang,  The Critique of Judgment 2010,  on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Airan Kang, The Critique of Judgment 2010, on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Narrator (Willem Dafoe), Mountain - madmanfilms.com.au/mountain/. This is a snippet of the transcript from the film now available on wider release in iTunes. It was performed live at a number of venues last year by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Having seen it in Newcastle, I was struck by its use of the Enlightenment era concept of the sublime quoted above. One of the sublime's notable definitions occurred in Immanuel Kant's 1790 Critique of the Power of Judgment, much cited to this day for its influence upon later aesthetics. While perusing the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia some years ago I was similarly struck by Airan Kang's The Critique of Judgment 2010, which quotes Kant's work through a digital stack of books. The excerpt is from § 23: "For the beautiful is directly attended with a feeling of the furtherance of life, and is thus compatible with charms and a playful imagination." I've also been writing on later thinkers such as Jacques Derrida's reflections on Truth in Painting. Derrida particularly questioned whether Kantian sublimity locked beauty too much away into the interiority of human subjectivity. For instance, at another point in § 23, Kant wrote, “All that we can say is that the object lends itself to the presentation of a sublimity discoverable in the mind.” Much more could be said here about the human capacity to experience beauty and transcendence, but the sentiments were echoed time and again in the film. "Because the mountains we climb are not made only of rock and ice but also dreams and desire. The mountains we climb are mountains of the mind." If you've ever wondered what is happening when music and art make your spine tingle, then consider Kant's sublime. If you've forgotten what that feels like, then take a moment to watch this film. 

timothywstanley@me.com