"The effect of elevated language upon the audience is not persuasion but transport." Discuss with reference to On the Sublime by Longinus.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is an intriguing question to consider because Longinus in his treatise opens up the debate about whether achieving excellence in literature (which he defines as sublimity) is a result of natural genius or learnt skill and artifice. On the one hand Longinus, in opening up this debate, quotes critics who argue that a "lofty tone" is "innate." He quotes what is obviously some sort of maxim or creed from his day to support this view:

Works of nature are, they think, made worse and altogether feebler when wizened by the rules of art.

Such critics therefore believe that it is transport that causes the effect of elevated language upon the audience, as persuasion is a skill that is based on learnt rhetoric and not something that is innate and instinctive, a result of natural genius. However, Longinus interestingly takes a middle ground in this debate, arguing that both "nature" and "system" have their rightful place in the creation of sublimity:

While nature as a rule is free and independent in matters of passion and elevation, yet is she wont not to act at random and utterly without system.

Achieving elevated language therefore necessarily involves transport, but part of that achievement also involves persuasion, as learnt skill hs its place in helpfully curbing innate genius and natural expression. In short, Longinus argues through his emphasis both on "nature" and on "system" that elevated language has the effect primarily of transport, but that persuasion is a secondary and important effect as well. The truly excellent author is able to recognise when he or she needs to use rhetoric and other learnt skills to curb their unbridled genius.

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