The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory - Vol. 2

The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory - Vol. 2

The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory - Vol. 2

The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory - Vol. 2


This is the first comprehensive multi-volume encyclopedia of literary and cultural theory. Arranged in three volumes covering Literary Theory from 1900 to 1966, Literary Theory from 1966 to the present, and Cultural Theory, this encyclopedia provides accessible entries on the important concepts, theorists and trends in post-1900 literary and cultural theory. nbsp; With explanations of complex terms and important theoretical concepts, and summaries of the work and ideas of key figures, it is a highly informative reference work for a multi-disciplinary readership
  • Part of the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literature
  • Contains overnbsp; 300 entries of 1000-7000 words written by an international cast of nearly 300 leading scholars in literary and cultural theory
  • Provides explanations of complex terms, important theoretical concepts, and tools for critical analysis
  • Provides summaries of the work and ideas of key figures such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Slavoj ?i?ek, and many more
  • Online version provides students and researchers with 24/7 access to authoritative reference andnbsp; powerful searching, browsing and cross-referencing capabilities
  • Special introductory price available


Aesthetic theory examines the relationship between perceptual, sensory experience and value judgments and raises questions about taste, art, value, and truth. While aesthetic theory is often held to be synonymous with the philosophy of art, its importance extends far beyond this realm. Indeed, as reflection on a fundamental part of human experience, aesthetic theory has consequences for many different discourses, impacting on notions of subjectivity, politics, and ethics. Having fallen out of fashion in the mid-twentieth century, the field has been brought back to the fore recently and is currently recognized as an area of critical importance in contemporary philosophical inquiry.

To grasp what is at stake in late twentiethcentury aesthetic theory, it is important to understand the field as developing out of and reacting against “high” modernist aesthetics. In the American context, the influence of modernist aesthetics reached its zenith in the 1960s but extended well into the 1970s. Formalist critics such as Clement Greenberg (1966 [1961]) argued that art is “disinterested” or autonomous from social systems such as history, politics, and economics. This autonomy is grasped positively as freedom from the utilitarian concerns and pragmatic considerations of everyday life. Art is situated as the haven of values which transcend individual concerns and the particular, material conditions of production and reception. In this sense, modernism holds aesthetic values to be superior to those inscribed by “interested” judgments which are made according to the subjective needs and desires of the moment. If art concerns itself with such “interests” it is in danger of being reduced to propaganda, or merely reinforcing the values of the dominant social group. The distance between art and life, between aesthetic values and nonaesthetic values, must therefore be constantly reinscribed in order to preserve a space for values uncontaminated by political or economic concerns. “High” modernism thus appears to depend upon the idea of aesthetic values as universal and timeless rather than historical and contingent. In such a framework, taste is held to be the critic’s ability to discern these universal values in the artwork rather than a purely subjective individual judgment.

It has been against the apparent timelessness and universality of aesthetic value and against the authority of critical taste that much “postmodernist” aesthetic theory has been directed. Critics have attacked the narrative of modernism, arguing that aesthetic values, like all other values, are historical and socially constructed (Krauss 1972).

The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory General editor: Michael Ryan ©2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

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