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Justice, Dissent, and the Sublime

Mark Canuel

Publication Year: 2012

In the past ten years, theorists from Elaine Scarry to Roger Scruton have devoted renewed attention to the aesthetic of beauty. Part of their discussions claim that beauty—because it arises from a sense of proportion, symmetry, or reciprocity—provides a model for justice. Justice, Dissent, and the Sublime makes a significant departure from this mode of thinking. Mark Canuel argues that the emphasis on beauty unwittingly reinforces, in the name of justice, the constraints of uniformity and conventionality. He calls for a more flexible and inclusive connection between aesthetics and justice, one founded on the Kantian concept of the sublime. The sublime captures the roles that asymmetry, complaint, and disagreement play in a complete understanding of a just society—a point, the author maintains, that was appreciated by a number of Romantic writers, including Mary Shelley. Canuel draws interesting connections between the debate about beauty and justice and issues in cosmopolitanism, queer theory, and animal studies.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

I am grateful for the questions and comments from several audiences who heard parts of this work as it unfolded—at meetings of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism and the Modern Language Association, at the English...

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pp. 1-13

I begin with one of the most obvious features of Mary Shelley’s celebrated novel Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus (1818, rev. 1831). The monster, we’re told over and over again, is ugly. Surely his creator, Victor Frankenstein...

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1. Beautiful People

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pp. 14-39

It would be both right and wrong to say that aesthetics has returned as a subject of urgent scholarly inquiry since the early 1990s. It would be right in the sense that recent critics—Peter de Bolla, Denis Donoghue, Umberto Eco, Elaine Scarry...

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2. Justice and the Romantic Sublime

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pp. 40-62

I’ve said that recent writing on aesthetics has usually avoided the oppositional, dissenting position of writers on the sublime. If this is an “argument” that beauty theorists have had with the sublime, it is an argument that can best be understood...

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3. The Reparative Impulse

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pp. 63-93

Kant’s encouragement of the formation of a corrective standpoint on legal and political institutions and discourses might stimulate us to modify the terms upon which the “public” is understood and addressed by the postmodern public...

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4. Biopolitics and the Sublime

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pp. 94-120

Recent political theorizing has taken a surprising, often unrecognized interest in the legal and political innovations of the late eighteenth century. Michel Foucault certainly brought attention to the disciplinary technology of prisons...

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5. Aesthetics and Animal Theory

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pp. 121-145

Thus far I have been examining the consequences of beauty’s privilege, because of its emphasis on symmetry, balance, and resemblance, as a model for justice or other political virtues. This aesthetic approach to social relations not only dominates...


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pp. 147-170


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pp. 171-175

E-ISBN-13: 9781421406091
E-ISBN-10: 1421406098
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421405872
Print-ISBN-10: 1421405873

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 867789027
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Justice, Dissent, and the Sublime

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Subject Headings

  • Aesthetics in literature.
  • English literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism
  • English literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism
  • Justice in literature.
  • Sublime, The, in literature.
  • Romanticism -- Great Britain.
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