Profanation of the Sublime

(Warning: this entry has strong language, but it’s all for a point.  If you’re sensitive to strong language, regardless of the point, please stop reading.  That’s right, I’m looking at you, Mom.)

We live in two different worlds: the world of profanity and the world of sublimity.  All of life’s joys and sorrows fall into one of these two categories, and they are mutually exclusive.  But they shouldn’t be, because there is no line between them.

There is no better way to explain the difference than to bring up the world of music.  Classical Music, often deemed a high art, is supposed to be an expression of something beautiful, heavenly, ethereal.  Gangsta Rap is supposed to be violent, earthy, the face of the slums, crude, real.  Whatever PR firms represent these two genres understand the Profane v. Sublime division, and they market accordingly – classical music with images of enraptured cellists prancing barefoot through a meadow, gangsta rap with images of unhappy men and guns.

This is bullshit.

If there’s one thing that irritates me about classical radio, it’s their obsession with the sublime innocence of their art.  They use words like, “lovely, relaxing, delightful,” as if all of classical music is about tea time.  There isn’t a single four-letter word in the entire lexicon of high-art cultural expression.  But there should be, because sometimes classical music is more than “delightful,” it’s “fucking awesome.”

Classical music has too much of this:

KBRNGcropAnd not enough this:


Yes, it’s vulgar.  But cussing is a part of our language, and an extremely powerful part of our language at that.  We have chosen to relegate these words to moments of pain, anguish, and frustration, or perhaps to bring emphasis on otherwise unremarkable points in every day colloquial conversation.  Yet, our acute awareness of cuss words gives them a power over us; we are at their mercy, their beck and call.  When they are used, we notice.  Why waste this mighty power on the profane?  Why not harness this power on behalf of the sublime?

That is to say, why are these words somehow acceptable to use when we stub our toes, and not when we listen to Shostakovich symphonies?  Stubbing your toe is a frequent and unpleasant occurrence – one that happens and then fades away into the depths of irrelevance.  A symphony is an experience to behold, delving into the depths of horror and joy unlike any to be had in our daily, banal lives.  Shostakovich symphonies are fucking incredible.  Stubbing your toe is just a minor nuisance.

The other day, I decided to catch the Central Texas wildflower blooms before they all die for the summer.  It was sublime.  The entire time, I wanted to say, “Holy shit, are those Bluebonnets?!  Christ Almighty, they’re fuckin’ beautiful!”  But I didn’t.  I said, “Wow, are those Bluebonnets?  Wow, they’re really beautiful.”  Something about that seems inadequate.  They’re not just beautiful.  They’re fuckin’ beautiful.  There is never a better time to cuss than when talking about wildflowers.

Red Wildflowers

May we look no further in regards to our division of profanation and sublimity than how we treat the naked body: a highly esteemed subject of art for centuries.  But at what point does art become porn?  Is it the language with which we talk about it?  If Da Vinci paints a picture of breasts, is it not beautiful?  What if he paints a picture of tits?  Does it become pornographic?  Is it our language itself that identifies something as representing the beauty of sexuality versus the distastefulness of it?  What if Renoir painted two lovers having sex?  Is it art because he does it with oil on canvas?  What if the same exact painting is described as two lovers banging?  Does our language deny it the right of being art?

Why grant swear words this holy power over the finer things in life?  Why let them decide what is decent and indecent?  It is a privilege our culture has bestowed upon them, and yet we allow it to reduce our experiences of the sublime to something only ever lukewarm?

Cuss words are like a currency.  The more you use them, the less valuable they become.  So instead of keeping them away from our sublime experiences, why not use them exclusively for our sublime experiences?   Because holy shit, wildflowers!  Jesus Christ!

Rainbow WildflowersBadass.

About Doctor Quack

Just another bonehead with an internet connection.
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4 Responses to Profanation of the Sublime

  1. i am a very bad woman, I swear all the time!! Well not all the time, I try to not shock the shockable. But at home, the gloves are off!! Always have, its who I am. When my children were small I ran a monitor across my brain and managed not to do it, but now they swear as though its out of fashion! I blame Chaucer, a big influence on me . Love the wild flowers. Simply fabulous. You’re right – doesn’t cover it does it.

  2. Pingback: Vain | (a)typical amateur

  3. subodai213 says:

    Hey, I like classical. There really are moments (or movements, as they say, although that sounds scatalogical) in some of the ‘works of art’ that will make your heart stop. But much, indeed, most of classical is crap. Which is a lot what life is like, no? The problem is we have words to express, as you say, the pain, anguish, frustration, and anger of life…yet too few words that describe beauty. Sublime, ‘pretty’, and beautiful. That’s about it. Why?
    Well, I think it’s because, of the emotions, the ones that move us with their beauty are felt differently than ones that are more…active.
    And, I think, cussing…saying ‘that if fucking beautiful’…seems to be the verbal equivalent of throwing shit on whatever is beautiful.
    I cuss, but I try not to. It’s not necessary, really.

  4. Rick Bailey says:

    There are other perspectives. . . The words certainly have power, I’ll grant you that. They have the power to devalue any experience by associating it with the crude, vulgar and debased. Those words have power because they are used so publicly, so inappropriately, so often, and reference things that are commonly not referred to in a public, or common fashion. What they convey to me is a poor vocabulary, thoughtlessness, and a disassociation of the words themselves with their real meaning. If you need to use a modifier or an expletive, why choose a word that embodies the crude and vulgar? Unbelievably, many people respond to an annoying injury with – “Ouch! That really hurts!” and they say 10 or 20 times. Who knew?

    Here’s another perspective: The cussers tend to be completely unaware of anyone around them. They are often oblivious to any other person’s values or sensitivity. I’m especially thinking of people with young children. Most parents don’t appreciate the “limited vocabulary” of cussing.

    Here’s another observation: People who use crude language constantly and publicly seem to assume (I’m not sure what they assume, but it appears this way) that everyone else is okay with their word choice, and everyone else uses those words as well. This assumption is simply wrong.

    One more thing: If you own a big, old-style dictionary (say, a “collegiate” edition with lots of entries), start thumbing through it for 10 minutes a day. I guarantee that you won’t recognize half the words on each page (neither will I, for that matter). I think many people are in the same position, and this may indicate that cuss-word choice is as much a function of ignorance as it is of habit or thoughtlessness.

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