What we do to keep the web editor off our backs

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Sublime nature in action
  • John William Edy
  • Sublime nature in action

Because the Internet is insatiable, bloggers such as myself are always on the lookout for fresh meat to toss into its maw. The other day I spotted a juicy morsel. Headed downtown for an important meeting with a doctor I’d been referred to, I elbowed my way into a bus seat and then looked left and right to size up my fellow passengers. In the seat next to mine a young scholar was perusing some sort of Xeroxed essay; it had the look of something a professor had run off several copies of, stapled together, and handed out as a reading assignment. Most likely it was something the professor had written himself.

My eye was arrested by the title: "On the Modality of a Judgment About the Sublime in Nature." To me, this rang of postgraduate pretension and desperation. Surely there'd been many a paper written on nature, and more than a few (plus an infinite number of bad poems) on the sublime in nature. And judgment on the sublime in nature had been frequently passed. (Most people seem to like it.) But had anyone ever tackled the modality of that judgment? No? Then I will.

Modality is one of those $5 words that I don't use as often as I probably should because I don't actually know what they mean. Pie a la modality comes to mind, but that doesn't get us anywhere. I was tempted to ask the young scholar what the author was driving at, but having already given him an elbow to the side I hesitated to distract him again. Instead, I wrote the name of the essay on the back cover of the magazine I was carrying and retreated into my thoughts.

For I had immediately sensed myself in the presence of something Bleader-worthy. I simply had to work out my approach. There is a game my family likes to play called Book. Each participant in turn takes a book off the shelf, a book that preferably no one else has heard of, and announces the title and author. Everyone else composes a first line that suits the title. These are read aloud, along with the actual first line, and points are awarded: a point to everyone who guesses the correct line and a point to the author of each made-up line for every person who guesses it.

That was it! I would challenge readers with "On the Modality of a Judgment About the Sublime in Nature." Write your own opening line, I'd tell them. Incomprehensibility would be favored.

The doctor I'd been referred to did the usual tapping and squeezing and then opened his computer and began to scrutinize my medical history. He made occasional remarks along the lines of "This looks pretty good," but mainly he studied the screen in deepest thought. I began reading my magazine. I read one article and then another, and in a corner of my mind "On the Modality of a Judgment About the Sublime in Nature" became an itch I couldn't wait to scratch. Does he still need me? I wondered. I've got to get my Bleader post written.

I looked up from my magazine to ask the doctor's permission to leave. He was sound asleep. I nudged him. I nudged him harder. I got up and stood behind him and yanked his shoulders. He snapped to and went right back to the computer screen. Then he pronounced his verdict. "I have no idea why you're here," he said.

Was this visit an omen of futility yet to come? During the ride home I recognized that I could not write mocking On the Modality of a Judgment About the Sublime in Nature until I'd googled the title just in case Google had something to tell me about it, and when I googled the title I discovered the essay had been written by Immanuel Kant. It's chapter 29 of Kant's Critique of Judgment.

The opening line, in case you're interested, is: "Beautiful nature contains innumerable things about which we do not hesitate to require everyone's judgment to agree with our own, and can in fact expect such agreement without being wrong very often."

I discussed the day's events with a friend up the street. "Write it anyway," he said.

And with my wife.

"They better not bill us," she said.

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