English 300 - Fall 2004

This is my class journal for Professor Sexson's Critical Theory class.



So besides being a pretty decent band, "Sublime" is the highest achievement of literature. According to Longinus, "...Real sublimity contains muchc food for reflection, is difficult or rather impossible to resist, and makes a strong and ineffaceable impression on the memory" (139). So it is at least somewhat subjective, even though he goes on to say that when many diverse people agree about something then the conviction behind a claim of sublimity is stronger.

Anyway, Longinus gives us 5 aspects of sublimity. (p 140)

1. The Power to conceive great thoughts
2 Strong and inspired emotion
3. Figures of thought and Figures of Speech
4. Diction
5. Word Arrangement

Now there are a million texts I could use here, there really are. But I am going to use a song by Third Eye Blind that really seems to have sublime qualities, at least for me. This song has left a permanent impression in my mind, is so beautifully put together, and really does allow for reflection. So if I were Longinus I'd be able to say it achieves sublimity. Anyway, I'll type the full song out for you at the end of this entry and try to pick a part of it here.

And this is the last time (--)
we'll be friends again.
And I'll get over you,
you'll wonder
who I am.
And there's this burning,
just like there's always been.
I've never been so alone
and I've
--and I've
--I've never been so alive....

First of all I have the one dash in parentheses because it's unclear what the singer really means. It could mean "the last time that we'll be friends again" or, "This is the last time (something else).... We'll be friends again."

Anyway. So how does this piece of song qualify as something sublime? Let's analyse in terms of Longinus's theory.

1. Power to Conceive Great Thoughts
Now whatever I say here, you could probably argue, "that's not great!" Well, as Friedrich Nietzsche, I would say "nothing is great and nothing is not great because truth is an illusion so go away!"

The "great thought" I see here is "I've never been so alone, and I've never been so alive." Usually we associate being alone with loneliness, death--certainly not living it up. But by being alone physically, being separated from someone he loves (and can love no longer), the singer is SUFFERING--and this is one of the highest experiences (according to Nietzsche and others too) -- so in his torment he is more alive than he has ever been!

As painful as an experience this is, the singer has hit the truth dead-on. Pain lets you know you are really alive. Even though it sucks (for lack of better words), somewhere deep inside, one relishes suffering. At least some of us do.

Like John Rzeznik says in one of his songs, "I found something that was always there: / Sometime's it's gotta hurt before you feel..."

The image of "burning" that is used here also is an interesting paradox: fire consumes and it fuels. I've always loved the symbol/device of fire for this reason. It is destruction and it is empowerment. Same here. His feelings are destroying him but he can use them for strength as well.

2. Strong and Inspired Emotion.

This song is PACKED with strong and inspired emotion! Look, the guy is in love with someone he can never have. He has to force himself to get over her, so they can both move on with their lives. That is one of the hardest things a person will ever have to do--to suffocate true love. In the song, you can hear the building anger, frustration, sadness, and determination in the singer's voice when he says "this is the last time / we'll be friends again / and I'll get over you / you'll wonder / who i am" and is shouting by the time he gets to the part about burning and being alive.

Even the words in themselves are powerful. They are simple but cut straight to the core without any ornamentation--these are raw feelings.

The way he repeats "alone" and "so alive" really puts emphasis on these two conflicting emotions that at the same time augment each other.

3. Figures of Thought / Figures of Speech.

By using the common phrase "get over" for something that is so much deeper, the singer displays that he is overwhelmed by emotion (Plato would like this) and not thinking rationally and planning a unique and well-wrought manner with which to express himself. So there's a figure of speech for you.

For figures of thought, how about the part about burning. This is a concept we see a lot in literature. It can mean yearning, suffering, feeling ardent or passionate, craving, being driven -- and here every one of those senses (and all that I haven't mentioned) are present--all but the actual physical process of burning (i.e. he did not light a match and set himself on fire...at least not apparently.)

This is interesting because he seems so focused at this part of the song on the INTERNAL because that is what is tormenting him. (Later in the song he tries to distract himself by taking a boat out on the water but the song ends with his feelings--they keep drawing him back. Which is what happens with these sorts of emotions.)

4. Diction and 5. Word Arrangement

I decided to put these together because they are somewhat related.

For diction--go through and read the song if you can't listen to it, or at least read the above part of it. Read it like you're reading Beowulf. There is something about the way these words sound that really bring out the emotion. I know that's not very descriptive, but is anyone actually reading this anymore anyway?

The word arrangement allows for some confusion and ambiguity in the meaning--and hey, with emotions you've got confusion and ambiguity all over the place!

Like in the place I inserted the dash. That is ambiguous--there are two meanings you could get from that.

Also he mentions getting over his love and then her wonndering who he is. This implies that once he has gotten over her (and not before) he will be a completely new person. Or, that she will get on with her life, and by the time he is over her, she will not even remember who he is. Lots of stuff going on here.

Anyway, so obviously this song sticks in my mind, I've thought about it a lot, and it brings up some hardcore emotions for me--it's a song I can really relate to and it is so emotionally charged. And if that alone doesn't make it sublime, I think I sufficiently showed how Longinus's properties of sublimity make it sublime as well.

Here's the whole song for anyone who cares. :)

Motorcycle Driveby

Summertime, and the wind is blowing outside
in lower Chelsea, and I don't know
what I'm doing in this city,
the sun is always in my eyes.
It crashes through the window,
and I'm sleeping on the couch--
when I came to visit you,
That's when I knew
that I could never have you.
I knew that before you did.
Still I'm the one who's stupid.
And there's this burning
like there's always been.
I've never been
so alone
and I've
never been so alive.

Visions of you on a motorcycle driveby,
the cigarette-ash flies in your eyes
and you don't mind;
you smile,
and say the world, it doesn't feel with you.
I don't believe you,
you're so serene,
careening through the universe,
your axis on a tilt,
you're guiltless and free,
I hope you take a piece of me with you.

And there are things I would like to do
that you don't believe in.
I would like to build something,
but we'll never see it happen.
And there's this burning
--there is this burning...

Where's the soul?-- I wanna know.
New York City is evil;
the surface is everything,
but I could never do that.
Someone would see through that.
And this is the last time--
we'll be friends again.
And I'll get over you,
you'll wonder
who I am.
And there's this burning,
just like there's always been.
I've never been so alone
and I've
--and I've
--I've never been so alive....
So alive...

I go home to the coast, it starts to rain,
I paddle out on the water,
taste the salt and taste the pain,
I'm not
thinking of you again.
Summer dies and swells rise,
the sun goes down in my eyes,
see this rolling wave
darkly coming
to take me
And I've never been
so alone,
and I've
never been
so alive.


Blogger Nikole Didier said...


That was an amazing journal entry on Sublimity! I love being able to take what I am learning in class and apply it to stuff that I hear outside of school. If anything, it makes paying for school a little easier!

This journal entry would make an awesome paper!


22 September 2004 at 21:53  
Blogger jaimie hensley said...

Hey thanks :)
It's always awesome when something in class really strikes you -- when you find something you really connect with.

Anyway thanks for reading / commenting. :) Makes my day to see someone else "gets" what I'm saying and I'm not TOTALLY psycho!

24 September 2004 at 21:10  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Huh. I dont know what links brought us here, but myself and a friend were just now debating the meaning behind this song, and I gotta tell ya, you just blew us both away! ...Apparently this was written 2 years ago, but Im leaving my cents here anyway. Awesome, awesome stuff!

29 November 2007 at 12:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually it appears it was written 3 years ago...my basic math has failed me.

29 November 2007 at 12:32  

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