Art for Art's Sake & Literary Life: How Politics and Markets Helped Shape the Ideology & Culture of Aestheticism, 1790-1990

Art for Art's Sake & Literary Life: How Politics and Markets Helped Shape the Ideology & Culture of Aestheticism, 1790-1990

Art for Art's Sake & Literary Life: How Politics and Markets Helped Shape the Ideology & Culture of Aestheticism, 1790-1990

Art for Art's Sake & Literary Life: How Politics and Markets Helped Shape the Ideology & Culture of Aestheticism, 1790-1990

Synopsis

Art for Art's Sake and Literary Life is a dynamic history of literary aestheticism from the eighteenth century to academic deconstruction in our own time. Gene H. Bell-Villada examines an enormous range of writings by critics, philosophers, and writers from Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Uniting all is his conviction that "there are concrete social, economic, political, and cultural reasons for the emergence, growth, diffusion, and triumph of l'art pour l'art over the past two centuries". Bell-Villada begins by considering how such thinkers as Shaftesbury, Kant, and Schiller described beauty as a phenomenon to be weighed not in isolation from other aspects of our existence but as part of our general development as human beings. He recounts how the original vision of Kant and Schiller was simplified and debased within new cultural, political, and economic contexts, leading to the "aesthetic separatism" promoted by lyric poets in France. Bell-Villada then examines how the ideology ofArt for Art's Sake took on new forms in Europe and the Americas, culminating in present-day versions associated with the academicization (and ever greater marginalization) of literature. Artfully combining an exceptional amount of learning with a sharp polemical focus, Art for Art's Sake and Literary Life will appeal to a wide range of scholars and general readers for whom literature, aesthetics, and the relations of culture and society are vitally important matters.

Excerpt

In the Far East what is called the "esthetic emotion" still retains a religious dimension, even among intellectuals. -- Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane

Art for Art's Sake. the phrase today sounds slightly quaint. It inevitably suggests Oscar Wilde and the epigrams he gave common currency in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. To our English and American ears, the aestheticist ideal is most aptly summed up in such provocative Wildean notions as "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written, that is all"; or that antimoralistic assertion, "No artist has ethical sympathies. . . . Vice and virtue are materials for art"; or Wilde's most ironic and perverse of reflections, "All art is quite useless."

To associate Art for Art's Sake so exclusively with Oscar Wilde, however, is to blind ourselves to the wider spread of aestheticist doctrines, both past and present. the idea neither begins nor ends with Wilde, whose aphorisms are actually a distillation and indeed a simplification of some arguments learned from his high Oxford mentors, John Ruskin and Walter Pater, while his general vision is an outlook consciously akin to that of French Romantic and Symbolist poets such as Gautier and Baudelaire. Baudelaire for his part had learned a few lessons from Poe, who had misread Coleridge, whereas Gautier early on had set forth a much-simplified if memorable version of a theory taught by some Parisian professors, notably Victor Cousin.

Meanwhile, Cousin's lectures take their initial cue from the weighty treatises of a remote, recondite thinker named Immanuel Kant; and Kant's magisterial aesthetic arguments in the Critique of Judgment, in turn, stem ultimately from the rapt intuitionism of the Third Earl of Shaftesbury. (The Kantian Idealist traditions, conversely, were to become influential in the critical endeavors of Coleridge and . . .

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