Immanuel Kant and the Acura T1

Acura t1 ad I never had a chance to meet Immanuel Kant (wrong century), but I think I got a glimpse of him on a B.C. Ferry.  

We were travelling from Vancouver to Victoria, my parents, my sisters and me. The Ferry is not a fun ride, as my parents' liked to point out with some frequency. These big ships ambled through the Stait of Juan de Fuca, trailing gulls, moving wih a certain solemn, elephantine grace

Prevented from sprinting on deck (because the ferry is not a fun ride), I was obliged to entertain myself another way and I decided to see if I could calculate how much water was under the ferry. I didn't have any device for measuring, and because I was 7, I didn't have a metric.  

No, I just decided to see if I could "think about" all the water that was under the ferry.  That would be my first "measure."  Having done that, I then decided to "think about" all the water that was around the ferry.  My second measure.  I then began casting the net of calculation across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  My conclusion: there was a lot, really a lot, of water here.  

There was so much water I could feel my attempt to measure it collapse.  There was too much water.  It was immeasurable.  And probably not because I was 7.  It was just fantastically large.  It was so large it exploded my attempts to "think about" it.

This was my introduction to the sublime (I realized later), which Kant describes as something that  

contravene[s] the ends of our power of judgement, [and proves to be] be ill-adapted to our faculty of presentation, and to be, as it were, an outrage on the imagination, and yet it is judged all the more sublime on that account.

I think our feeling for the sublime is in retreat for three reasons.  The first is that we now have a GPS device in most cars that can find and guide us to any address in the continental US.  If America ever seemed limitlessly large, it doesn't any more.  

The second is that the American economy no longer feels like it is as expansionary as it once was.  It might be the rise of China and India.  It could be a number of things.  But that feeling that we had at mid century, of limitless wealth, has passed.  

The third is that with the meltdown of financial institutions in the last few months, capital no longer feels as sublime as it used to.  (I don't doubt that it is.  It just doesn't feel that way now.) 

Of course, this is merely the downside of a good thing.  Everyone was pretty excited when we could see pictures of earth taken from a NASA spaceship.  I mean, there were we all were together in a very odd ferry, perhaps for the first time unmistakably "in the same boat." There's a good chance that this revelation may sometime mean that we will be more kind to the planet and one another.  Maybe.  

And we might also say that while our natural, economic and financial worlds are now smaller, the internet has opened up a new domain that is limitless in ways those worlds could never be.  What we lost on the one side, we made up on the other.  

Still, I miss the sublime, the old fashioned kind.  I loved having my "power of judgement" outstripped, my imagination outraged.  It was exciting.  This is anthropologist's idea of a "fun ride."  Almost as much fun as running on a ferry and probably much less dangerous. 

Which brings me finally to the magnificent Acura T1 ads.  Have a look at this:  A bullet enters a bottle and out of the debris comes a car.  See the ad on YouTube here.  Or have a look at this one.  In the case the T1 emerges from a watery churn here.  This really is magnificent. Proof that the sublime can be evoked in 30 seconds and 2 dimensions.  Pretty impressive.  Whether this speaks to a new yearning for the sublime, well, we shall see.  Hat's off to RPA and the creative team (as below).  And special tip of the hat to Nicolai Fuglsig for his part here.  We have had occasion to marvel at his work before.  


Kant, Immanuel. 1952. The Critique of Judgement. translator James Creed Meredith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 91.  


Creative Director: John Hage
Senior Art Director: Eric Goldstein
Copywriter: Grant Holland
Agency Executive Producer: Jake Epsteen
Director: Nicolai Fuglsig
Executive Producer: Eric Stern
Line Producer: Emma Wilcockson
Director of Photography: Barry Peterson
Agency: RPA

4 thoughts on “Immanuel Kant and the Acura T1

  1. James

    Great post, Grant. The problem, I think, is that if your first encounter with the new Acura is through these ads, you expect beauty. But then you see one on the street and it looks like someone stuck a cookie sheet to its nose. They’re butt ugly. Too bad they spent the budget on beautiful ads and not on designing a beautiful car.

  2. Pippin Barr

    Nice post. Kant’s sublime isn’t something I knew anything about, but it definitely strikes a chord.

    I actually ended up writing a little post of my own referencing this piece and connecting it to video games, which is here:


    Thinking more about it, though, I think there’s a further funny thing in video games which tend to guide you along a fixed track through their world. (First Person Shooters are a classic examples, but a lot of other games do this to come extent, too.) In that instance, too, there’s this weird conflict between the representation of a fully-realised world (you can see a forest in the distance, say), and the way in which the game necessarily has to make you not want to go there, because you actually can’t.

    I guess you could say that at least, unlike GPS, they continue to try to give the illusion that the real world is still out there in all its possibilities, except that, unlike in the case of GPS, it’s really not there. Peculiar.

    Bit of a muddle, but I think there’s stuff of interest in there.

  3. Tom Guarriello

    Late to the party though I am, I would like to pose a nominee for our newest access point to the Kantian notion of the sublime: The Internet. Juan de Fuca’s newest soul brother?: Google.

  4. Sarah

    To fellow “Kantians” who can help me out,

    Im only new to Kant, but i am trying to the book which contains his writings on perfect and imperfect obligations. Can someone point me in the right direction please, i would be most grateful?

    Many thanks

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