Art's Undoing: In the Wake of a Radical Aestheticism

Art's Undoing: In the Wake of a Radical Aestheticism

Forest Pyle
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Art's Undoing: In the Wake of a Radical Aestheticism
    Book Description:

    Radical aestheticism describes a recurring event in some of the most powerful and resonating texts of nineteenth-century British literature, offering us the best way to reckon with what takes place at certain moments in texts by Shelley, Keats, Dickinson, Hopkins, Rossetti, and Wilde. This book explores what happens when these writers, deeply committed to certain versions of ethics, politics, or theology, nonetheless produce an encounter with a radical aestheticism which subjects the authors' projects to a fundamental crisis. A radical aestheticism offers no positive claims for art, whether on ethical or political grounds or on aesthetic grounds, as in "art for art's sake." It provides no transcendent or underlying ground for art's validation. In this sense, a radical aestheticism is the experience of a poesis that exerts so much pressure on the claims and workings of the aesthetic that it becomes a kind of black hole out of which no illumination is possible. The radical aestheticism encountered in these writers, in its very extremity, takes us to the constitutive elements--the figures, the images, the semblances--that are at the root of any aestheticism, an encounter registered as evaporation, combustion, or undoing. It is, therefore, an undoing by and of art and aesthetic experience, one that leaves this important literary tradition in its wake. Art's Undoing embraces diverse theoretical projects, from Walter Benjamin to Jacques Derrida. These become something of a parallel text to its literary readings, revealing how some of the most significant theoretical and philosophical projects of our time remain within the wake of a radical aestheticism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5113-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xv)
  5. Introduction: “From Which One Turns Away”
    (pp. 1-26)

    This book is about something I am calling a radical aestheticism, the term that I believe best describes a recurring event in some of the most powerful and resonating texts of the British Romantic literary tradition. A radical aestheticism offers us the best way to reckon with what takes place at certain moments in certain texts by P. B. Shelley, Keats, Dickinson, Hopkins, D. G. Rossetti, and Wilde when aestheticized representations reach their radicalization. I will go on to argue that this aesthetic radicalization, however isolated or rare, has profound consequences, not only for the specific texts in which it...

  6. ONE “A Light More Dread Than Obscurity”: Spelling and Kindling in Percy Bysshe Shelley
    (pp. 29-65)

    Wilde characterized the “vital tendency” of Shelley’s poetry as “the democratic and pantheistic tendency.” I call it “politics.” This is the project that animates Shelley’s poetry; and politics is the term the poet would have been likely to use and that is inseparable from his legacy. I will examine several poems that are explicitly political in their subject matter, poems Shelley would have described as “wholly political.” But my principal focus in this chapter is the nature of Shelley’s political investment in the aesthetic. I am interested in Shelley’s representations of aesthetic experiences, effects, and judgments; and I want to...

  7. TWO “I Hold It Towards You”: Keats’s Weakness
    (pp. 67-102)

    The title of this opening section on Keats’s weakness comes from a poem that by some conventional reckonings inaugurates Keats’s strengths as a poet. The phrase “consumed in the fire” belongs to “On Sitting Down to ReadKing LearOnce Again,” a sonnet Keats wrote in 1818 on a page inside his folio Shakespeare, a sonnet that both anticipates and recalls the experience of reading. The poem opens with a closing and a leave-taking: an address to the “Romance,” to the “serene lute,” to what we could call the poet’s ownaestheticizing:

    O golden-tongued Romance, with serene Lute!

    Fair plumed...

  8. THREE What the Zeros Taught: Emily Dickinson, Event-Machine
    (pp. 105-142)

    What the zeros taught in the forceful opening line of one especially enigmatic Dickinson poem was “Phosphorus”: “The Zeros taught Us - Phosphorus - / We learned to like the Fire” (284).¹ Something comes from nothing, and that incendiary teaching leaves us with the lessons of fire. And as in so many Dickinson poems, the eruptive force that goes from the zeros to the fire subsequently asserts its opposite, nullifying the initiating event, making a something—even the originating “something” of our source of light and warmth—into a nothing, the blockage of an eclipse: “Of Opposite - to equal...

  9. FOUR Hopkins’s Sighs
    (pp. 145-169)

    What are the poetics of asigh? It is my premise that to read Hopkins is to confront that question. Interjections, exclamations, apostrophes—all just so many cries and sighs—punctuate Hopkins’s poems early and late. Rarely do these sighs affect themeaningof the poems as such; and yet the experience of Hopkins’s poetry is inconceivable without them. In the line from “Henry Purcell” quoted above—“Let him oh! with his air of angels then lift me, lay me!” ( l.9)—the ejaculatory “oh!” that occurs in the midst of the imperative seems simply to mark the stress of...

  10. FIVE Superficiality: What Is Loving and What Is Dead in Dante Gabriel Rossetti
    (pp. 171-206)

    … no artist appears more appropriate than Dante Gabriel Rossetti for inclusion in a study of the aestheticism that emerges in the wake of Romanticism. “Five English Poets,” the late sonnet-sequence Rossetti composed on the topic of Romantic poetry, is arguably the most engaged Victorianreadingwe have of Romantic poetics and is one index of Rossetti’s acute sense, even late in life, of his participation in what Wilde called “our Romantic movement.” Indeed, one consequence of Rossetti’s various reflections on and reprises of Romanticism is to restore the aestheticism that was always at work in those “Five English Poets.”...

  11. SIX “Rings, Pearls, and All”: Wilde’s Extravagance
    (pp. 209-244)

    Oscar Wilde poses a new and singular challenge to my argument. In each of the previous chapters, the author’s implicit or explicit project is something other than aesthetics as such. In the case of Keats, for instance, it is the poetry of a “humanized” ethical regard; for Dickinson the project is the event of poetry itself, figured as originarypoesis. In each chapter I explored the ways in which writers in this strain of Romanticism produced a poetry of and about aesthetic experience as an integral part of the projects they undertake, a poetry that on occasion results in an...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 245-302)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 303-312)