The following seem to me like five promising areas of inquiry you might pursue; if you have questions or suggestions please comment and i will try to elaborate.
These topics pose theoretical questions; your paper should address one of these questions by analyzing one or more works of imaginative literature or film from our syllabus. I offer suggestions of plausible pieces of literature for each topic but these aren’t mandatory but only suggestions.
1. Forced choice: how can compulsion, the feeling that my life (what i do, whom i love, what i feel guilty about) was decided for me in advance, be commensurable with freedom, with individual autonomy? why for thinkers like Rousseau and Zizek is it even a necessary condition of such autonomy? This is a very broad, umbrella topic that is also involved in the more specific topics below.
2. Trauma, Horror and/or Abjection: what is the relation between sublimity and trauma? what Kristeva calls abjection, Benjamin ‘shock’ and Freud the death drive imply a breakdown of meaningful subjective experience. how does such breakdown figure in the aesthetic experience of the sublime in writers such as Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Baudelaire, Kermode, Lear and Hardy? or even in what Auden found so “shocking” in Austen, “the amorous effects of brass”?
3. Self-reification and “rhythmic,” impersonal sociality: what does Bersani mean by impersonal intimacy and how is it different from the kind of self-reification Adorno finds in Odysseus? why does Bersani characterize this in terms of rhythm? how might such rhythm relate to Nietzschean laughter, Wordsworthian repetition, Keatsian negative capability and life of allegory, or courtship in Austen?
4. Hollywood and the Star System: here i would ask you to consider not just how a particular hollywood product like The Searchers makes use of sublime aesthetics, but also how such aesthetics may be implicit in the distinct form of art that is hollywood cinema per se, the celebrity “star system” etc., and how a film like The Searchers exploits and comments on this art form.
5. God and/or the Nation: what would it mean to speak of the sublimity of God and/or the nation? Consider how Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Keats and/or what Vermeule calls “God novels” make notions like God, eternity and millennial time available for a critical aesthetic experience that is not, and perhaps even cannot be, limited by religious doctrine. Alternately, consider how the idea of the “Crow” nation or the “American” nation functions in Lear’s Radical Hope and The Searchers respectively: to what extent can the nation be said to consist in an aesthetic experience of the sublime?