Nature's Sublime: An Essay in Aesthetic Naturalismby Robert S. Corrington
Nature’s Sublime uses a radical new form of phenomenology to probe into the deepest traits of the human process in its individual, social, religious, and aesthetic dimensions. Starting with the selving process the essay describes the role of signs and symbols in intra and interpersonal communication. At the heart of the human use of signs is a creative tension between religions symbols and the novel symbols created in the various arts. A contrast is made between natural communities, which flatten out and reject novel forms of semiosis, and communities of interpretation, which welcomes creative and enriched signs and symbols. The normative claim is made that religious sign/symbol systems have a tendency toward tribalism and violence, while the various spheres of the aesthetic are comparatively non-tribal, or even deliberatively anti-tribal. The concept/experience of beauty and the sublime is meant to replace that of religious revelation. The sublime is not merely an internal mode of attunement, contra Kant, but comes from the very depths of nature in the potencies of nature naturing.
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Robert S. Corrington is professor of philosophical theology in the graduate division of religion at Drew University, Madison, NJ. He has published nine previous books as an ongoing project of creating and expanding the philosophical and theological perspective of his ecstatic naturalism. From the beginning his work has been concerned with bringing classical American philosophy into dialogue with Continental thought. As important is his commitment to Post-Freudian psychoanalysis and its correlation to semiotics and metaphysics. He has served on the Boards of the Semiotic Society of America and the Highlands Institute and as president of the Karl Jaspers Society of North America.
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Corrington's Nature's Sublime is a unique and thoroughly original offering in a growing body of literature that might best be categorized under the broad heading of "religious naturalism." Corrington fits loosely into this category since he seeks to explore, along with other religious naturalists, the possibilities for deep spiritual fecundity and potency within the complexes of nature itself, rejecting supernatural explanations for such spirituality in favor of the assumption that "nature," broadly conceived, is all that there is. But Corrington’s work is also intended to serve as a critique of the notion that such fecundity and potency in nature is best understood as a “religious” quality. Religion, for Corrington, is too narrow a term in that it represents an innately tribal phenomenon that puts strict boundaries around community identities and thus limits and tames a community’s response to nature’s more universal depth dimensions. This is why Corrington prefers the term “aesthetic naturalism” in this work (a development of his earlier theory of “ecstatic naturalism”), which places a higher value on aesthetic experience (which seems to peak in genius-originated works of art) as the means by which sublime beauty irrupts and bursts into the human process. The world that Corrington illustrates for his readers is an adventurous and colorful one, where pulsing energies, spirits, and deities, along with theories of karma and reincarnation, are re-imagined within a robust naturalist framework guided by what Corrington calls the principle of “ordinality.” Ordinality, when applied to phenomenology and psychoanalysis (Corrington’s preferred modes of operandi), dissolves all metaphysical hierarchies and locates our various interpretations and experiences of the world as part of an innumerable and infinite series of possibilities, neither one more “real” than any other. To be “ordinal” in one’s perspective is to detach oneself from fixations on particular metaphysical, phenomenological, or psychoanalytic interpretations, allowing a wider clearing for the potencies of nature’s depths to blow through. Nature’s Sublime seeks to apply this ordinal perspective to all of the dimensions of the human process, whether they are processes of individual selving or communal formation, and whether they involve evolutionary adaptation or what Corrington calls the “involutionary” growth of one’s own spiritual capacity for ecstatic experience. Corrington, as he does throughout his entire corpus of work, continues to define himself as one of the most creative and out of the box thinkers within American philosophy today. His ideas are provocative, his claims are controversial, and his method (blending and weaving together phenomenology, ontology, and psychoanalysis like nobody else writing today) is dizzying and requires patience along with a willingness to reorient one’s expectations. But there is great reward to joining him on this trip down the rabbit hole, which casts the great mystery that is Nature’s Sublime in a fantastical and mesmerizing new light.