Chimborazo and the Sublime | National Humanities Center

Humanities Moments

Chimborazo and the Sublime

July 17, 2020

Barlow, Emma (Student)

The Sublime; Aesthetics; Classical Music; Volcanoes;

There is a term in the humanities known as “the Sublime” (Rabb). The Sublime specifically refers to a concept in art established during the Romantic era when landscape paintings thrived. The Sublime alludes to the beauty in the untamed and dangerous aspects of nature; it is the “awe and reverence for the wild…[it] can also be uplifting, but in a deeply spiritual way” (Rabb). My humanities moment occurred the first time I truly felt the Sublime.

Even though my humanities moment was not associated with a painting or physical piece of art, it transpired in nature – allowing the sense of the Sublime. It took place in December of 2017 in Ecuador. I currently live in Ecuador with part of my family and around the Holidays, we decided to visit a city about two hours away called Riobamba. To get from Quito (where we live) to Riobamba, however, you have to drive past Chimborazo. Chimborazo is an active volcano sitting at about 20,000 feet and, because of the equatorial bulge, it is the furthest point from the center of the earth. This volcano is huge and magnificent and because of the altitude, it is rarely clear enough to see it as clouds usually perch at its peak. That day, as we drove closer to the base of Chimborazo, we reluctantly resigned to the fact that the opportunity was most likely gone and the clingy clouds would block our view that day. However, as we continued to drive, we turned a corner and found ourselves right below the colossal Chimborazo. At that exact moment, the clouds quickly parted and the sun shone down right onto its exposed crest. Instantly, everyone in the car went silent and my breath was physically taken away. The Sublime was so real in that moment. This towering, formidable, awe-inspiring mountain made my heart sink and tears come to my eyes. It was the first time I remember something not man-made and so coincidental evoke such a feeling and a reaction; something non-human or not created by a human could make me feel human. We all sat there staring at the majesty and grandeur and wallowing in the Sublime.

As I look back on it now, I realize that there was a second element that elevated my humanities moment. As we turned the corner a song was playing; a type of song that had never made me feel anything before, but in that moment it did and it exalted the experience of the volcano even further. The song is called “On Earth As It Is In Heaven” composed by Ennio Morricone from the movie The Mission. This score has always been considered ‘celestial music’ in my family however, it never really spoke to me. In fact, classical music in general has never really spoken to me, until that day at Chimborazo. As the clouds parted and the sun shone and that song climaxed, the feelings were indescribable. I chose this experience as my humanities moment because multiple things impacted me in ways I had never experienced. First, nature had never before given me that feeling of the Sublime. I had never become so reverenced and awe-inspired by untamed and wild nature before, to the point of tears and speechlessness. Also, no piece of classical music had ever before made me feel something or evoke an emotional response until that day. I could always take or leave classical music and I never had a passion for it until then. Because of this experience, I have learned to appreciate more the natural and beautiful things in life. I have learned to allow myself to be moved by nature and art and to enjoy the world around me. Because of that music and the Sublime, I will never forget that day at Chimborazo.


Environment and Nature / Music / The Sublime / Aesthetics / Classical Music / Volcanoes /

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