Disciplining the Senses: Aestheticism, Attention, and Modernity

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Title: Disciplining the Senses: Aestheticism, Attention, and Modernity
Author: Shaup, Karen L., 1979-
Abstract: In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Aesthetic Movement in England coalesced literary and visual arts in unprecedented ways. While the writers associated with the Aesthetic Movement reflected on visual art through the exercise of criticism, their encounters with painting, portraiture, and sculpture also led to the articulation of a problem. That problem centers on the fascination with the attentive look, or the physical act of seeing in a specialized way for an extended period of time that can result in a transformation in the mind of the observer. In this dissertation, I consider how Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Henry James, and Oscar Wilde utilize the attentive look in their poetry, fiction, and drama, respectively. As I argue in this dissertation, the writers associated with the Aesthetic Movement approach and treat attention as a new tool for self-creation and self-development. As these writers generally attempt to transcend both the dullness and repetitiveness associated with modern forms of industrialized labor as well as to create an antidote for the endless distractions affiliated with the modern urban environment, they also develop or interrogate systems for training and regulating the senses. What these writers present as a seemingly spontaneous attentive engagement with art and beauty they also sell to the public as a specialized form of perception and experience that can only be achieved through training or, more specifically, through an attentive reading of their works. While these writers attempt to subvert institutional authority, whether in the form of the Royal Academy or the Oxford University system, they also generate new forms of authority and knowledge. Even though the Aesthetic Movement is not a homogeneous set of texts and art works, the Aesthetic Movement can be characterized in terms of its utilization of attentiveness as a way to both understand and create modern subjectivity.
Description: vii, 157 p.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/12094
Date: 2011-09


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