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The Egalitarian Sublime

A Process Philosophy

James Williams

Hardback (Forthcoming)

Maps the history of the sublime to reveal its dark heart and creates a new, anarchic approach

We call 'sublime' those things and experiences supposed to be the very best. But what if the best encourages the worst? What if the best leads to inequality and exploitation? Williams critiques the sublime over its long history and in recent returns to sublime nature and technologies. Deploying a new critical method that draws on process philosophy, he shows how the sublime has always led to inequality. This holds true even where it underpins ideas of cosmopolitan enlightenment, and even when refined by Burke, Kant, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Žižek.

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1. Introduction

2. Microcritique and the Sublime
i. Between Historical Objectivity and Radical Innovation
ii. Microhistory
iii. Method and the Problem of Exclusion
iv. Patterns of Fragments

3. Nietzsche Against the Egalitarian Sublime
i. Only for the Few
ii. The sublime as Effect
iii. Untimely, Sublime
iv. Sublime Individuals Against Cohesive Communities
v. Through the Few, but for the Many?
vi. Individuals and Masses

4. The Return to the Sublime
i. The Search for Value
ii. Nostalgic Social Sublime
iii. Diagrams of the Technological Sublime
iv. The Environmental Sublime

5. Sublime Miseries
i. From High to Low
ii. Kant: Equality in Universality
iii. Schopenhauer’s Sublime Consolations
iv. Žižek: A Depressing Lesson About Horror and Suffering
v. The Abject and Egalitarian Sublime

6. Defining the Egalitarian Sublime
i. The Sublime and Egalitarian Politics
ii. Unequal by Definition
iii. Not After the Sublime

7. Conclusion: The Sublime as Crisis


About the Author

James Williams is Honorary Professor of Philosophy and member of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization at Deakin University. He has published widely on contemporary French philosophy and is currently working on a critique of the idea of extended mind from the point of view of process philosophy.


In this exceptional work James Williams provides a fresh and wide-ranging examination of the sublime. He provides a series of valuable insights into classical modern theories of the sublime, such as we find in Burke, Kant, and Schopenhauer, but he also sheds much light on figurations of the sublime we encounter in provocative thinkers such as Nietzsche and Zizek. With this book Williams demonstrates that he is one of the finest philosophical minds of his generation, a truly original and uniquely critical voice. The book is highly instructive and will appeal to students and scholars in philosophy and across the humanities. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

- Keith Ansell-Pearson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Warwick

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