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362Philosophy and Literature The Idea of Rococo, by William Park; 138 pp. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992, $55.00. This is a beautifully presented volume, featuring some eighty-three illustrations , with the main body of six chapters being nicely rounded off by an informative section of endnotes, a well-balanced bibliography, and a helpful index of proper names, titles, and a few thematic entries. The introductory chapter reviews how the originally French notion of rococo has been employed as a stylistic tag and then permits the author to defend his intention of positing such a categorizational construct as the period style for the first half—and a little beyond—of the European eighteenth century. In spite ofall the illustrations which constantly remind the reader that the stylistic notion in question issues directly from the strikingly singular and yet peculiarly related forms of rococo visual art, it is clear from the outset tiiat Park's study is indeed to be a book about ideas. "My own 'method,'" he says, "depends on the ideological and the sociological" (p. 18)—"ideological," that is, in the traditional sense accenting, as he later summarizes, the "ideas behind . . . form" (p. 89). Elucidating his approach, again later in the study, Park quickly clears space—after nevertheless recognizing the argumentational strength of formal criteria shared among the rococo arts—for a viewpoint that may be problematic for some readers: "the most compelling arguments for pursuing the rococo ... as a period come more from the contents of the works of art than from their wanton and provocative forms" (p. 76) . But even the most hardened formalist should not lose patience, for there are fresh turns in Park's "ideological" account which merit close attention. For example, in the second of two chapters comprising "Part I: Rococo and the Arts," after perceiving "continuity and change" (p. 52) in the baroque's movement toward rococo, Park surprisingly brings British neo-Palladianism into his discussion of rococo through the gateway of what he calls in the following chapter "'inflating' and extending" (p. 83). There is room in the author's survey of rococo for "extensions" like neo-Palladianism because he adheres—in collapsing the compensatory opposition between interior residential rococo and exterior nonrococo (though Park actually argues for rococo echoes and affinities in exterior residential façades and gardens as well)—to the view that "if rococo is not everywhere, it is always nearby" (p. 13). But die collapsing of this and some of the many other binary oppositions put forward seems to turn away from the originally discussed "wish for order" (p. 13), neglecting, in a slippery poststructuralist sort of way, the spirit of distinction and categorization so fundamental to stylistic studies. One not-so-fresh turn in the initial chapter ("Rococo as Revolution") of Part I also merits comment. To see the rococo as a light-treading—or, in the author's witty phraseology, "pigeon-footed"—idiom, leading subtly but surely away from molds and models toward romantically subjective modernity, Reviews363 constitutes a sagacious accommodation of a bit of "received opinion," as Park says; but a less convincing recuperation of conventional thought about the rococo is found in his move from some general principles of "feminization" seemingly inherent in rococo art to the argued existence of a contemporaneous variant of "feminism" operative within the rococo's community of recep tion. The rococo indeed embodied a formal revolution, but a sexual revolution seems quite arguable. In "The Rococo Vision," Park's first of three chapters comprising "Part II: Rococo Culture," he makes the transition to his area of specialty, the literary rococo. And impressive erudition marks these final three chapters. Nevertheless , perhaps a litde more argumentation constructed around the linguistic "stuff" ofthe chosen literary examples would provide a welcomed complement to the sometimes broadly stroked ideas about the texts. If a little too much ambition for the rococo is the principal critique here, other readers of caution may be particularly surprised by the megathesis proposed in the penultimate chapter: "the novel itself is a rococo form" (from the jacket). But any penchant toward impatience should, once again, be checked, for the author is on to an interesting idea, permitting some...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 362-363
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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