The Politics of Aestheticism

Winter 2011-2012


Benjamin Morgan

Because the founding gesture of British aestheticism was to deny the social and political utility of art, the movement provoked critics to unmask its implicit social and political investments from its inception. In this course we return to this longstanding question, turning a critical eye on the meaning of “politics” and the boundaries of “aestheticism.” Among the topics we will consider are the relation between aestheticism and atheistic materialism; the textual encoding of homoeroticism and Greek pederasty; exoticism and japonisme; feminism and misogyny; relations to ecology and environmentalism; and the Frankfurt school critique of aestheticization. Authors may include Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, Vernon Lee, Aubrey Beardsley, Max Beerbohm, Arthur Symons, John Davidson, Ouida, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and Michael Field.