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Jackson Lears - Cultural and Intellectual Historian



Jackson Lears, cultural and intellectual historian and distinguished professor of history at Rutgers University, discusses the evolution of "the American sublime." Originally arising from a Romantic, Protestant faith in the divinity of wild nature, the notion was transformed and fragmented in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Americans came to attach notions of sublimity to technology and celebrity but remained attracted to a more complex vision of nature, one that oscillated between ecological perceptions of dense biodiversity and minimalist conceptions of emptiness and openness—what Wallace Stevens called "the empty spirit / in vacant space." By the early 21st century, postmodern theorists advanced the idea that nature was culturally constructed. Lears asks: Has any coherent idea of sublimity survived?
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