The Western Theory of Tradition

The Western Theory of Tradition: Terms and Paradigms of the Cultural Sublime

Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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    The Western Theory of Tradition
    Book Description:

    This elegantly written book offers a new way to conceive of cultural tradition. Sanford Budick reveals an operative concept of Western cultures that has been only partially understood: according to this concept, the act of freely receiving and handing on cultural tradition and the act of achieving moral and aesthetic freedom in sublime representation are the same phenomenon. This dual phenomenon Budick calls the cultural sublime, and he traces it in literary, philosophical, and artistic works from Homer, Virgil, and the Bible to Rembrandt, Milton, Kant, Baudelaire, Freud, and Sarraute.Budick shows that if we cannot accomplish the cultural sublime, the act of tradition-making becomes impossible and the sublime degenerates into a pseudo-sublime. Thereafter, what claims to be tradition is no more than pure coercion that employs a pseudo-sublime as an instrument of victimization. By describing the terms and paradigms of the cultural sublime, Budick distinguishes tradition from pseudo-tradition and the structures of sublime representation from those of a pseudo-sublime. The making of tradition, he asserts, is always a struggle against the representations of a pseudo-sublime.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16053-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xx)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  6. CHAPTER 1 The Cultural Sublime: Descartes, Kant, and Rembrandt
    (pp. 1-24)

    As a way of first entering the world of experience that I call the cultural sublime, I seek to demonstrate that a hitherto unnoticed intimacy of consciousness links Descartes, Kant, and Rembrandt. These three figures can be understood as bound together by their connection with a particular place, namely, Amsterdam. Even work so unworldly as that of the philosophers may share worldly imagery with certain paintings by Rembrandt.

    Descartes’s record of the experience of his cogito (“I think, therefore I am”) prompts us to search for a strange intimacy of this kind. Indeed, it provokes in us the deepest questions...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Present Experience of Priority: Rembrandt and Jeremiah (and Isaiah and Ezekiel)
    (pp. 25-40)

    InJeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of JerusalemRembrandt’s continuities of figuration represent the identity between the experience of the sublime and the experience of the continuity of culture.² This identity forms the basis of what I will try to show is the central feature of this painting. For Rembrandt the urgency of the real is created by representation or experience of the priority—the anteriority or history—of the present.

    The relevance to the Kantian sublime of those features of the painting that Kant would have seen clearly in Schmidt’s etching is in no way diminished in significance by identifying...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Second-State Self in the Scene of Victimization and Resistance: Hegel and Virgil
    (pp. 41-58)

    The phraseshistorical experienceandhistorical consciousness, or their equivalents, are in frequent use in modern Western cultures, yet one might easily decide that each is a contradiction in terms. Contradictions internal to these phrases would seem to be inevitable because of two assumptions that appear to be inscribed as absolutes in the modern history of Western philosophy:

    Experience is of the present.

    Self-consciousness is identical with experience and consciousness.

    Indeed, what seems to make these assumptions modern is that they deny the significance, and even the possibility, of the experience of tradition. Yet when viewed from within the Western...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Surrealism of “Respect” for Tradition: Virgil, Homer, Kant
    (pp. 59-70)

    The experience of cultural continuity is at the heart of Virgil’s poetry. Yet weighed down by the imperialist claims that political institutions have made on theAeneid, we may become forgetful of the way its poetry continually suspends the institutional authority upon which that experience of continuity might seem to depend.¹

    In a variety of ways Virgil has made the representation of his final scene of revenge climactic for the work of his poetry. By delving further into that representation and its place in the Aeneid, I want to show now how Virgil represents a continuity of sublime experience in...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Apostrophe in the Westering Sublime: The Matrilineal Muse of Homer, Virgil, Dryden, Pope, and T. S. Eliot
    (pp. 71-88)

    In every historical experience there is a turning away from the here and now to an absent or dead person or object. Yet, in the West at least, this turning is not a sufficient condition for historical experience. In order for the act of turning away to enable the experience of history, or what I have termed the experience of priority, that act must be experienced in an effectively endless repetition of such acts or, what is the same thing, in a lineage of commonplaceness. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the Western cultural sublime the preeminent, but also...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Counterperiodization and the Colloquial: Wordsworth and “the Days of Dryden and Pope”
    (pp. 89-109)

    In this chapter my larger subject is once again sublime experience in a line of culture. But my immediate subject is only one condition of that experience all along any given line of Western culture. This is the way in which, in a given line, the writings of an earlier and a later writer, each exemplary of their period, form configurations which are not only strongly oppositional, but also reciprocal. Elements of such periodic reciprocity manifest themselves within matched oppositions, where such opposition is expressed both temporally backward (i.e., a later writer contra a writer of an earlier period) and...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Reinvention of Desire: Milton’s (and Ezekiel’s) Sublime Melancholia
    (pp. 110-139)

    I now seek to demonstrate that Milton’s representation of sublime melancholia functions as an antidote to a pathology of victimization that he views as being inherent in language. This sublime melancholia is the experience of a line of language constituted by representations that are both self-depriving and cross-gendered. The experience in question is different from what is usually understood as either melancholia or mourning.¹ I believe it can be shown that the representation of sublime melancholia has considerable significance for the Western tradition, ancient as well as modern. But I need, first, to clear the ground for my demonstration.


  13. CHAPTER 8 Self-Endangerment and Obliviousness in “Personal Culture”: Goethe’s “Manifold” Tasso
    (pp. 140-160)

    That which Goethe calls “personal culture” is equivalent, I believe, to what Harold Bloom has termed “being-with-oneself.” Before I turn to Goethe, a word is in order about Bloom’s concept, even though, in the historical unfolding of my chapters, I have confronted the elements of this concept mostly in the Hegelian form which I take to be Bloom’s model, namely, Hegel’s “being-for-self” of a “self-consciousness” that is achieved by “antithesis” (Phenomenology of Spirit, section 392 and passim).¹ More than any other contemporary critic Bloom has evoked the intensity of intertextual encounter in European literature of the past three hundred years....

  14. CHAPTER 9 The Modernity of Learning: Baudelaire’s and Delacroix’s Tasso “roulant un manuscrit”
    (pp. 161-179)

    Few writers are more directly associated with the advent of modernity—sometimes even with the emergence of our latest modernity or postmodernity—than Baudelaire. This is one of the reasons that Paul de Man chose Baudelaire, specifically his “Le peintre de la vie moderne,” as a test case in his provocative essay “Literary History and Literary Modernity.”¹ De Man says that “modernity exists in the form of a desire to wipe out whatever came earlier, in the hope of reaching at last a point that could be called a true present, a point of origin that marks a new departure.”...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Limping: Freud’s Experience of Death in His Tassovian Line of Thought
    (pp. 180-200)

    Iam aware that the term which may seem least credible in my account of the Western theory of a cultural sublime is a dying-away which is not recuperated—made part of life experience—by individual consciousness. It is therefore of special interest to me that the concept which has caused most incredulity in Freud’s lexicon of human experience is that of a “death instinct” which, he insists, is unrecuperable by life instincts. This is a term, furthermore, which inBeyond the Pleasure Principlebecomes available to Freud in his anciently derived “line of thought” (Gedankengang).¹ InBeyond the Pleasure Principle,...

  16. CHAPTER 11 The Real in the Commonplace: Sarraute’s Feminine Sublime of Culture
    (pp. 201-221)

    In earlier chapters I have at various points noted that, in the West, sublime experiences of cultural transmission have frequently depended upon a line of representations, each a commonplace scene, of female suffering. In these commonplace scenes the female sufferer remains largely without recourse to means of representing her own scene of pain. This lack of recourse to representation has seemed to mean that for the most part women do not participate either in sublime experience or in cultural transmission. Yet on more than one occasion I have noted recurring signs of a feminine force of representation within this recurrent...

  17. CHAPTER 12 Of the Fragment: In Memory of Our Son Yochanan
    (pp. 222-242)

    What I have to say about the fragment is impersonal in the extreme, but my broaching of it is in the first instance necessarily personal. This is the way with the experience of the fragment, as I will try to show. Allow me to begin by sharing with you a photograph of our son Yochanan, taken at Prague by my wife in July 1991, and an epitaph, inscribed on his tombstone in July 1992. I reproduce the photograph from our family album, as best I can, in words:

    In the photograph Yochanan bends forward, fascinated by the legend of the...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 243-290)
  19. Index
    (pp. 291-293)