Presenting the Unpresentable: Jean-François Lyotard's Kantian Art-Sublime

Rachel Zuckert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article reconstructs Jean-François Lyotard's theory of the sublime in contemporary art, focusing on his claim that such art 'presents' the unpresentable, and tracing its origins in Kant's account of the sublime. I propose that Lyotard identifies a difficulty concerning Kant's account: to understand why the disparate elements in the experience of the sublime (idea of reason, sensible representation) should be synthesized to form that experience. Lyotard recasts this difficulty as a pragmatic problem for artistic practice - how to 'testify' to the absolute in a non-absolute, sensibly perceivable object (the artwork) - that can be understood to drive avant-garde artistic experimentation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-565
Number of pages17
JournalKantian Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • Kant
  • Lyotard
  • abstract expressionism
  • abstract painting
  • idea of reason
  • imagination
  • modern painting
  • modernism
  • representation
  • sublime

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


Dive into the research topics of 'Presenting the Unpresentable: Jean-François Lyotard's Kantian Art-Sublime'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this