The Literary Aesthetic; or, What Remains of Romanticism?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Literature Languages & Culture

Abstract

The Literary Aesthetic; or, What Remains of Romanticism? Asks what it might mean for criticism to approach works of literature in terms of the categories of aesthetics that emerged during the eighteenth century and continue to be deployed, albeit in substantially modified forms, in the work of contemporary continental theorists and philosophers.
The rise of literary theory in Britain and America during the 1980s and 1990s questioned and, to a large extent, side-lined earlier notions of literary aesthetics that tended to rely on universal and canonical accounts of 'aesthetic value'.
However, more recently, theorists and critics have begun to return to explore more philosophically sophisticated accounts of aesthetics, often those developed during the Romantic period, as a way of attempting to understand literature's ability to transform rather than simply represent experience.
The past few years have seen the publication of a number of studies in this area, and a central aim of the proposed project is to develop a systematic investigation of the origins, practices and implications of what has come to be called 'the new aestheticism'.
Beginning with a detailed discussion of the rise of aesthetics in the eighteenth century and its subsequent development in German Idealism and Romanticism,
it will go on to analyse the ways in which the aesthetic categories generated there provide important resources for contemporary discussions of literature's relationships with other forms of art, broader contemporary culture, as well as with questions of history, ethics, politics and community.

Publications

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Description Through analyses of influential Romantic-period writers and philosophers, and the ways their ideas are currently being re-interpreted by contemporary critics and theorists, the project has developed the argument that paying attention to the aesthetic impact of a work of literature enhances criticism's capacity both to explore that work's wider cultural, historical and political meanings, and also to develop means of discussing literature's appeal to readers that might be less practicable in traditional formalist or historicist literary criticism. The findings of this project are still developing in research that aims to expand the scope of the critical aesthetics so far presented to cover a wider range of literary and philosophical writing than has so far been discussed.
Exploitation Route Material I have published in this area has formed the basis of research publication by other academics in literary and cultural studies exploring arguments about aesthetics in relation to other areas of literature, art and culture. Reference to my work has also been made in teaching texts and courses aimed at undergraduate audiences. Findings from the project and related research should continue to have an impact on the study and teaching of literature and culture at university level, and might
Sectors Creative Economy,Education

 
Description This project was designed before the current criteria for measuring impact were introduced, and was therefore not conceived in relation to them. My findings and the material I have published in this area has formed the basis of research publication by other academics in literary and cultural studies exploring arguments about aesthetics in relation to other areas of literature, art and culture. Reference to my work has also been made in teaching texts and courses aimed at undergraduate audiences, which shows that the ideas at the centre of the project are beginning to have an impact on student learning in English Literature.