Presenter: Samantha Wilson

Title: Framing the View:  The Aesthetics of Astonishment and Contemplation in the Expanding Industry Surrounding the Appreciation of Nature

Abstract: This presentation will examine one of least discussed aspects of the 18th century British sublime; the model of spectatorship that it prescribed for those who wished to experience its transcendental properties. Rhetoric dedicated to the model described it as a precarious place, somewhere which allowed the viewer to be both close enough to be immersed within the landscape and yet far enough away to allow for the detached contemplation. The aesthetic category seemed, in fact, completely counter intuitive to each of the other categories valued by the period, and yet this precariousness only enhanced its culture and conceptual cache, eventually expanding to initiate its own cultural industry. The aesthetic category and industry both attempted to unravel a larger cultural anxiety over where spectator and natural phenomena should meet. This anxiety was a by-product of both the massive economic and social upheaval caused by industrialization and the increasingly indeterminate relationship that that upheaval produced with regards to the natural landscape.

I will use this discursive lineage to analyze the particular role nature documentaries and tour guides have played in representing our ability to make contact with aspects of the natural sublime. I will compare a key document from the cultural practice, William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes (1835), to the British Transport Film, The Heart of England (1954), through the patterns of proximity and distance that each presents. Both texts embody the very dialectic that remains at the forefront of the field of environmental aesthetics: the intersection of contemplation and immersion.

 

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