The Promise of Art and the Problem of Difference: Aesthetic Universalism in Romantic-Era Britain

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The Promise of Art and the Problem of Difference: Aesthetic Universalism in Romantic-Era Britain
Chander, Manu Samriti (creator)
Keach, William (director)
Bewes, Timothy (reader)
Chow, Rey (reader)
George, Olakunle (reader)
Brown University. English (sponsor)
Copyright Date
This dissertation examines the post-Enlightenment concept of aesthetic universalism as it figures in British art and literature of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. During the Romantic era, I argue, the belief in the potential for art to bring about universal accord comes to structure both real and imaginary relations between subjects, between audiences, and, crucially, between "the West and the rest." Drawing on recent scholarship on Romantic Orientalism, I show how aesthetics and Orientalism form a unified project wherein a universalist understanding of subjectivity, paradoxically coded along lines of race and nation, is articulated. Romantic aesthetics, beginning with Kant, describes this subjectivity, and Romantic Orientalism, as an aesthetic, makes visible the systematic exclusion of the Other from the category of the universal. In Chapter 1, I locate the historical roots of modern universalism within the persistent aesthetic controversies?such as the "Pope controversy" and the controversy over the Lyrical Ballads?of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, offering a close reading of S.T. Coleridge's "Fears in Solitude." My second chapter shows how Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater mobilizes aesthetic universalism and Orientalism toward the creation of an imagined national identity. In Chapter 3, I discuss the Orientalist aesthetics of Percy Shelley's Alastor and of David Roberts's lithographed images of the Near East. Specifically, I read their common strategy of "framing" as a means of foreclosing the Oriental Other, and I foreground the ideological particularism that underlies their universalist visions. My concluding section considers the possibilities for Romantic aesthetics to unwork the very ideological investments identified above. Reading Kant's analysis of beauty in the Critique of Judgment next to Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," I show how the category of the beautiful offers up an ethical alternative to the understandings of cultural difference that were forged in the Romantic era and that have persisted throughout the modern age.
Thesis (Ph.D.) -- Brown University (2009)
vi, 134 p.


Chander, Manu Samriti, "The Promise of Art and the Problem of Difference: Aesthetic Universalism in Romantic-Era Britain" (2009). English Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.