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Sublimity & the Image: A Phenomenological Study Open Access


Other title
phenomenology of practice
hermeneutic phenomenology
aesthetic experience
The sublime
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Goble, Erika LM
Supervisor and department
van Manen, Max (Secondary Education)
Adams, Catherine (Secondary Education)
Examining committee member and department
Pente, Patti (Elementary Education)
Seamon, David (Architecture)
Dust, Tom (Secondary Education)
Austin, Wendy (Nursing)
Department of Secondary Education

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The sublime has fascinated human beings for over two thousand years. Appearing in some of our oldest written works and most major religious texts, it has inspired literature, architecture, the fine arts, and even our forays into nature. Historically, “the sublime” was understood as the simultaneous experience of awe and terror evoked by something that exceeds our cognition. It was seen as the evocation of, or that which evokes, an enthusiastic terror. Some scholars deemed it to be the height of aesthetic excellence, while others claimed it evidence of transcendence and that which enabled one to glimpse the divine. More recently, the sublime has been called an emotion, an aesthetic judgment, and a theory. Over the last century alone, it has been reinterpreted by psychoanalysis, critical theory, feminism, postmodernism, and post-postmodernism. And yet, despite the sublime’s persistence over time, its presence across cultures, and its prevalence as a subject for philosophers and artists, our understanding of it remains elusive. In order to gain insight into the sublime as a potential human experience, therefore, this study returns to a basic but fundamental question: what is it like to experience the sublime, specifically when that experience is evoked by an image? This study uses the human sciences methodology of the phenomenology of practice. The purpose of the phenomenology of practice is not to explain or theorize, but rather to generate a descriptively rich and reflective text that evokes in the reader an embodied, pathic understanding of a phenomenon as it is experienced pre-reflectively. To this end, concrete experiential descriptions of the phenomenon were collected through interviews and guided writing activities, and were supplemented with descriptions from previously published material. The accounts were reflected upon using various philosophical, human science, and philological methods in order to identify variant and invariant dimensions of the experience. In the resulting text, the sublime is explored through its manifestation as different paradoxes: awe and terror, the exquisite and the monstrous, horror and delight, clarity and mystery, and existence and inexistence. Also considered are the myriad ways in which the sublime can appear. The study concludes with a consideration of what the experience of sublimity reveals about our relationship with images, ourselves, and our world, and a discussion of the need for an expanded understanding of the impact images can have in our lives.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
E. Goble, (2013). Sublimity & the Image: A Hermeneutic Phenomenological Exploration. Phenomenology & Practice 7(1), 82-110.E. Goble, (2008). Encountering the sublime through art. Phenomenology Online. Available at:
, E. & Cameron, B. (2014). Air Hunger: The sublime in nursing practice. Akademisk kvarter/ Academic Quarter (special issue on Creativity), 9 (Autumn), 363-375. Available at:

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