Sublime

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Posted on : 3/29/2013 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Being oriented more towards the science end the world, I am more familiar with the use of the term "sublimation" than with the term "sublime".

Sublimation is the process of a material transitioning from being a solid to being a gas.  Gasses are considered to be a higher state relative to solids.  Liquids fall in between.

The descriptive use of sublime later became associated with a peak condition or experience.  The pretentious will routinely use the term "sublime" thus rendering it less than sublime.  The redundant will use the term "most sublime".

As with many superlatives, we may be better served by reserving the descriptive use of "sublime" for those occasions that more accurately reflect its meaning.  From a non-scientific perspective, such occasions might be those where an event transends from the base process or elements to become something truly unique.

Consider for a moment the lowly comic strip.  In particular, consider strip number 1190 from Randall Munroe of XKCD fame.

XKCD #1190


The strip began in the wee hours of March 26th using the alternate (mouse over) text "Wait for it".  The image changed ever so slightly every half hour or so.  Over the course of the day (now 12 hours in as of this writing), the image has changed so that it appears as a sort of stop action film when viewed sequentially.  I have no idea how the images will unfold or when they will cease.  Randall's history suggests that this could be a massive undertaking that may last for days.  It might also be a huge April Fool's Day joke for all we know.

Only time will tell.

The art of XKCD is almost uniformly simplistic.  Yet it is through these simple images that Randall communicates thoughts ranging from base puns and geeky legerdermain to observations that come dazzlingly close to sublime.

As the successive images have unfolded thus far, a couple has been seen sitting on a beach.  They give the impression of being together, talking, walking a short distance, and building a sand castle.  One of the couple left the scene at one point and seemingly returned later on.  The other person continued to work on the castle throughout the elapsed time.

The reaction to this strip suggests that it is transcending the initial impression of simple stick figures in motion into being a larger commentary on human perceptions.  Within twelve brief hours, XKCD forum posts on this cartoon had jumped up to near 800.  Those comments ranged from very technical discussions regarding the computer code required to pull off this digital feat to broader discussions about perceptions of time and the relevance of this piece of art.

One comment that I enjoyed a great deal was by Clavuluza:
Is anyone else concerned at the fact that half-hours go by so quickly? I mean, I can measure my life in half-hours and they seem so ephimeral; reminds me of the Fight Club quote, "this is your life and it's ending one minute at a time". Also, this comic is making us wait to see developments, which is awfully close to real life interactions with stuff (which is kinda cool and very very meta). Furthermore, I am quite amazed at how everyone is trying to figure out some meaning behind it all when maybe, and quite possibly, it's just a pretty comic (much like real life, again), (though by being art it carries meaning just for existing).

Am I making any sense? Whatever, I'm really enjoying this experience.

(And to the people making unhappy predictions, if/when the comic ends and if/when it does it terribly, you can rightly say "I told you so" all you want; but for now, shut up! you're depressing everyone).

Whether or not these images are intended to have Deep Philosophic Significance, they have inspired a great deal of introspection.  Obviously, these images invite recursive analysis regarding the comments they inspire.

There are times in life when one should exist within the moment rather than being focused on deconstructing and analyzing the world around them.  In such times, it is as important to see and experience as it is to process and comment.  These are rare occasions.  And in this case, it is sublime.

Enjoy.

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