On the Sublime

by Longinus

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What is false sublimity? Explain with reference to On the Sublime by Longinus.

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In On the Sublime, after some initial remarks and before the presentation of the sources of genuine sublimity, Longinus describes the several pitfalls to which a writer is susceptible in striving for sublimity. The first species of the false sublime that Longinus distinguishes from true sublime is "bombast." This is extravagant swelling that results from elevating a thing beyond what is fit or natural for it or else by the use of overblown language.

The second kind of false sublime that Longinus describes is "puerility". Whereas bombast errs by elevating beyond the limits of the true sublime, puerility errs in the opposite way, being diametrically opposed to grandeur. According to Longinus, it is caused by a pedantic habit of mind that aims at refinement and precision only to dwell overmuch upon trifles.

The third false sublime Longinus identifies is "Parenthyrsus," which means the expression of an ill-timed or empty display of emotion given the context at hand. Thus, the false sublime falls into the above mentioned types of errors, according to Longinus.

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False sublimity is any writing that has the outward appearance of sublimity whilst not succeeding in transporting the reader through real, genuine elevated language. For Longinus, any writing that truly achieves the state of sublimity can easily be discerned through its impact on the reader, which he likens to a state of flight. Truly sublime writing elevates the soul of the reader and will, in addition, be writing that will stand re-reading and will stand the test of time, never losing its ability to transport the reader.

False sublimity therefore is writing that tries to attain sublimity but fails to achieve its goal. Note what Longinus says about writing that can be described as being falsely sublime:

They are turbid in expression and confused in imagery rather than the product of intensity, and each one of them, if examined in the light of day, sinks little by little from the terrible into the contemptible.

Longinus therefore develops his description of literature that is "not sublime but high-flown," and thus helps to distinguish between writing that achieves sublimity and writing that does not through the author trying too hard or aiming for sublimity but falling short of the mark and merely ending up using bombastic language that fails to elevate the reader.

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What is false sublime? Explain with reference to Longinus's On the Sublime.

Longinus, in his treatise On the Sublime defines the main topic of its writing as

 a certain distinction and excellence in expression.

Longinus explains that, for something to be categorized as "sublime", it must reunite traits that are hard to reach and quite complex to perform; anybody can be a writer, or a speaker, but it takes someone with a superior command of language and pragmatics to instill in the listener a sense of near-cosmic connection to the message.

To be sublime is to awake in the listening audience a transcendental experience that spark innermost emotions. The use of language is elevated not in form, but in substance and use; in not so many words, it is a mastery that is only achieved by those who truly mean to express a deep and sincere emotion through words.

According to Longinus, the effects of the sublime are quite defined. It is

to feel our souls lifted up by the true Sublime, and conceiving a sort of generous exultation to be filled with joy and pride, as though we had ourselves originated the ideas which we read

Therefore, the FALSE sublime consists on the opposite: on using flamboyant language and over-complicated discourse to merely sound as if an important point is being made but, in actuality, the message that comes out of the over-used language is empty, shallow, or inconsequential. Longinus would argue that if you, as a speaker, cannot move your audience, you are carrying on discourse unnecessarily or unproductively; the only way to convey magic behind words is by reaching that physical and spiritual range of self awareness and contemplation. Once words and their meaning are solidly combined and used by an inspiring speaker, the sublime will manifest. If the opposite occurs and all you hear are big words with no inspiration behind them, then that would be classified as "False" sublime.

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