The Case of the Missing Sublime in Latvian Landscape Aesthetics and Ethics
In perceptions of their landscapes the Latvians have denied the existence of the sublime, elevating rural and natural aspects as beautiful and good. While Latvian landscape aesthetics and ethics are based on the profound transformation of nature-landscape attitudes that occurred in Europe during the second half of the 18th century, when ideas of the beautiful, sublime, and the picturesque were debated, the existence of sublime characteristics within the borders of Latvia has not been recognized. In part the attitude derives from the lack of dramatic topography in Latvia. Part of it is due to historic contrasts of sublime wonders in foreign lands with the simple rural beauties and virtues of Latvia. Travelers' observations of rural beauty in specific places reinforced such attitudes. But it is also bound up with the complex history of Latvians as an underclass during colonial rule that began during the 13th century and did not truly end until 1991. As during the 19th century, Latvians began to develop their own national traditions; they used a voluminous collection of rural folk songs on which to build subtle literary and other artistic interpretations of what is moral and beautiful in rural life, work, and landscapes. A particularly important motif in Latvian writing is earth. The ethics of work, social responsibility, and care for living things are a powerful theme. If the sublime is mentioned, it is brought into the compass of the rural and the tame. Sublime elements of nature occur as metaphors for human actions. Thoroughly imbued with the above traditions, the author, at first unselfconsciously, discovered sublime aspects in Latvian landscapes and nature during the course of the past 11 years. It is his belief that as Latvians distance themselves from past colonial rule, they will begin to see their land in a less narrow fashion and recognize its sublime characteristics.
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