Posted in 03 The beautiful and the sublime, Coursework, Research and Reflection

The Sublime and Taoism

Approaching Assignment One I have decided to focus on my interpretation of the sublime. At first, I had intended to focus on beauty, after all, it is something that is believed to be innate to all, we have our own perception and definition of it and therefore can convey what it means to us. However the more I researched the sublime the more I found myself drawn down the path. Perhaps the element that most intrigues me is the fact that it is a term that breaches human comprehension, there is no set definition of the sublime, despite all the complex investigations and analysis there doesn’t seem to be an agreed or determined meaning. In that sense, it feels almost spiritual, unearthly, transcending into a new level. The course states that the sublime is something that we may have all felt at some point in our lives yet we have been unable to articulate the feeling into words. Recently I was researching Philosophy and religions in National Geographics ‘Knowledge Book’ and was introduced to Taoism in Chinese religion and philosophy.

Originating in fourth century B.C, Taoism is believed to have been founded by Tao Tzu who authored the Tao Te Ching (A piece of writing consists of 81 verses discussing the Tao) Tao means simply,  ‘way‘ and each person has their own Tao which should not be tainted or disturbed by immoral, corrupt or sinful acts. This makes me think of the Super Ego in Sigmund Freud diagram of the psyche (with the ID being impulsive and impatient, the Ego, ensuring that the ID is thoughtful and balanced and the Super Ego where moral lessons, family lessons and judgement lie.

The Tao is not a God which people, especially in Western cultures, can be led to believe (though there are deities in Taoism that are worshipped they are part of the Universe and bear references to historical figures)

“There was something undifferentiated and yet complete,
Which existed before Heaven and Earth.
Soundless and formless it depends on nothing and does not change.
It operates everywhere and is free from danger.
It may be considered the mother of the universe.
I do not know its name; I call it Tao.”

– Tao Te Ching

The Tao has no being, it is the blueprint of life in the Universe, yet it is more of that, it existed before the Universe, before Heaven and Earth, before life and death. It is described as the nameless yet it’s origin and meaning are a less significant, more important so is living at one with the Tao, the Universe, using it almost as a teaching to leave in harmony and peace which Taoism promotes. Some view it as a system of guidance. A way to go beyond the world and discover a place of peace.

Stepping past the limitations of the purely rational mind reveal a world very different to the one most of us believe to be real. A world less rooted in dominance, control, oppression and violence than the world created by the purely rational mind. Damien Walters

In my personal opinion I feel that the Tao and the Sublime are inextricably linked (and the psyche too) both are open to interpretations and exist I feel on a higher level beyond human comprehension.  The Sublime is articulated quite well through  The Tao Chin. This version below has been translated by Stephen Mitchell though there are many variations.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realise the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

– Tao Te Ching

Though I am new to Chinese Philosophy and Taoism, it feels to me like what is described here is not just the Tao, but the unconscious mind, the psyche and in regards to this assignment, the sublime too. Something that is heavenly, ethereal, transcendental. “The unnameable is the eternally real” in short, to put it into words would make it redundant and strip away such powers of majesty and wonder.

“No true translation can ever be achieved because the subject itself is beyond communication in language” Le Guin

Therefore it cannot exist when it is written down and forced to become a theory, an analysis or a definition. It is like catching clouds, you can’t pin a cloud down just as you can’t pin the Tao down or the sublime.  And in that respect this is why I feel the sublime is in the same genre, it is something that is spiritual and powerful, a feeling that many, if not everyone, has felt at some point, yet its power is realised in the fact that it cannot be articulated. The Sublime resists comprehension and understanding, throughout this learning log I often refer to my metaphorical butterfly, I feel there is no better way for to convey my thoughts on the subject  The more something is pinned down and classified the more it will fail to be beautiful or ethereal and will be surely a calculation, a mathematical equation. Like a butterfly once free and now impaled in a frame for all to admire or stare in horror at. Just like the butterfly, if the sublime was to possess a cemented definition then it would fail to become the sublime as it’s beauty comes from its resistance, from being devoid of control, devoid from classification. And as ‘The Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao,’ the sublime that can be described is indeed, not the sublime.

“There’s a certain beauty in your resistance, your defiance of categorisation…but it’s a beauty we can’t afford.”  Jeanine – Divergent 



The Tao that can be told is not the true Tao


National Geographic – The Knowledge

Pears Encyclopedia




Hi, I'm ChloeClik, artist, writer, photographer, musician, day dreamer and all round lover of life. I love so much in life and equally love to blog about it. I hope you enjoy sharing some of my adventures with me :)

2 thoughts on “The Sublime and Taoism

    1. Oh thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Oh yes it is fascinating learning about it; you can experience transcendence, I feel, purely by thinking of such things like the sublime, things that can’t be pinned down by science or logic. It’s wonderful 😀


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