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

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

by Forest Pyle


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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 that 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 from 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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780823251124
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Publication date: 12/27/2013
Pages: 328
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Forest Pyle is Professor of English at the University of Oregon.

Table of Contents

Introduction: "From Which One Turns Away
Aestheticism and Its Radicality, The Insistence of the Aesthetic, "Our Romantic Movement," Scene of Shipwreck
1. "A Light More Dread Than Obscurity": Spelling and Kindling in Percy Bysshe Shelley
"Frail Spells," "Wholly Political," Kindling and Ash, "A Shape All Light"
2. "I Hold It Towards You": Keats's Weakness
"Consumed in the Fire," Weakness, Threats, "On He Flared"
3. What the Zeros Taught: Emily Dickinson, Event-Machine
"The Plunge from the Front," "A Word Dropped": The Dickinsonian Event-Machine, "A System of Aesthetics," "Bright Impossibility"
4. Hopkins's Sighs
"Let Him Oh! With His Air of Angels Then Lift Me, Lay Me!" Hopkins's Breathturns, "The Fire of Stress," "The Fire That Breaks,"
5. Superficiality: What Is Loving and What Is Dead in Dante Gabriel Rossetti
On the Surface. . . , "One Face Looks Out," "A Blunder of Taste"; or, What Would Clement Greenberg Say? "Love Is Addressed to the Semblance"; or, What Would Jacques Lacan Say? The Promises of Glass,
6. "Rings, Pearls, and All": Wilde's Extravagance
The Soul of Man Under Aestheticism, Christ the Romantic, Christ the Dandy, The Cost of a Kiss, Covered with Jewels


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