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Reading the Red Bull Sublime

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


The aesthetic of the sublime has long been associated with the language of elevation and height. Activities such as mountain climbing offer a physical correlative to this discourse. In these cases, the sublime is associated with a high point or summit, and the process of descent is minimized or erased. By contrast, what I call the Red Bull sublime—named for the energy drink company that claims to “give you wings”—uses technological innovation to draw attention to the aesthetic pleasures of falling. Taking Felix Baumgartner's 2012 space jump as its paradigmatic example, this essay elaborates the central features of the Red Bull sublime, connecting it with a Romantic tradition, represented here by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Keats, of peering over the edge of the abyss.

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Copyright © 2017 The Modern Language Association of America

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