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The Primitive, the Aesthetic, and the Savage

An Enlightenment Problematic

Tony C. Brown

Publication Year: 2012

Tony C. Brown examines “the inescapable yet infinitely troubling figure of the not-quite-nothing” in Enlightenment attempts to think about the aesthetic and the savage. The various texts Brown considers—including the writings of Addison, Rousseau, Kant, and Defoe—turn to exotic figures in order to delimit the aesthetic, and to aesthetics in order to comprehend the savage.

In his intriguing exploration Brown discovers that the primitive introduces into the aesthetic and the savage an element that proves necessary yet difficult to conceive. At its most profound, Brown explains, this element engenders a loss of confidence in one’s ability to understand the human’s relation to itself and to the world. That loss of confidence—what Brown refers to as a breach in anthropological security—traces to an inability to maintain a sense of self in the face of the New World. Demonstrating the impact of the primitive on the aesthetic and the savage, he shows how the eighteenth-century writers he focuses on struggle to define the human’s place in the world. As Brown explains, these authors go back again and again to “exotic” examples from the New World—such as Indian burial mounds and Maori tattooing practice—making them so ubiquitous that they come to underwrite, even produce, philosophy and aesthetics.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xvii

The reader will quickly recognize this book’s apparent dual nature. On the one hand, it pursues a subject matter we might call historical (roughly, eighteenth-century aesthetics), and on the other, it takes an approach we might call theoretical, or any number of lose synonyms (philosophical,...

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pp. xix-xx

I wrote this book with the support of certain grants, fellowships, and institutions, and I would like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to them. At the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, I have been supported by a Faculty Summer Fellowship/McKnight Summer Fellowship from...

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Note on Texts and Translations

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pp. xxi-23

All translations are my own except where indicated. When I use a published English translation of a work alongside an edition of the work in its original language, citations that follow the initial full references include only the author’s name, the original-language title, and two sets of page...

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Introduction: An Enlightenment Problematic

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pp. 1-22

This book addresses the operative force of exotic figures in eighteenth-century aesthetics. Taking the aesthetic as both object and modality of inquiry (something to think about and to think with), I will show how the exotic, and especially the savage, play a critical role...

I. Primitive, Aesthetic, Savage

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pp. 23-47

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1. The Primitive

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pp. 25-44

Historically speaking, the term primitive carries considerable weight in the eighteenth century. Understood as designating the first or original of something, it proves centrally important in a context marked by the keen interest origins. A point of origin was, broadly...

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2. The Aesthetic

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pp. 45-61

As I understand it, eighteenth-century aesthetics emerges between the withdrawal of God and the advent of Hegel’s immense and systematic Historicism. Neither God nor Geist directly occasion or govern aesthetic experience. It is a natural human experience. Such a construal...

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3. The Savage

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pp. 63-72

I have suggested that aesthetic theorists deploy exotic figures to determine the aesthetic and that they do so because their object (aesthetic experience and its agent, the aesthetic faculty) lacks in the distinct, and thus differentiating, characteristics required for a direct description...

II. Delimiting the Aesthetic

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pp. 73-97

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4. Joseph Addison’s China

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pp. 75-103

This chapter and the next address the respective attempts of two notable aesthetic theorists to delimit their object. We will see how both Joseph Addison and Immanuel Kant proceed by way of the problematic that requires them to determine a relation between an atemporal...

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5. Kant’s Tattooed New Zealanders

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pp. 105-144

We have seen how Joseph Addison formulates the aesthetic faculty as a primitive human capacity, and how in doing so he opens an unconditioned gap in the self at once necessary for aesthetic experience and yet potentially hazardous for an experiencing self if the gap is not in...

III. Aesthetic Formations of History

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pp. 145-169

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6. Adding History to a Footprint in Robinson Crusoe

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pp. 147-180

We have seen how Joseph Addison and Immanuel Kant each allot a central place in aesthetic experience to certain unconditioned elements. For both, the faculty of the imagination is in some sense primitive, which is to say, original and without predetermined content. To clarify...

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7. Indian Mounds in the End-of-the-Line Mode

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pp. 181-216

Once again I will be addressing the attempt to recast something singular as something historical by way of a certain aesthetic logic— though not, in this case, a logic of the sublime but rather a logic I suggest we call one of serendipity. More concretely, I will be discussing North...

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Conclusion: . . . As If Europe Existed

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pp. 217-225

Descartes ends his prefatory synopsis to the Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) by restating his claim that the world of body and extension exists. Descartes may have famously separated soul and body, subject and object, but he does not reduce the latter (body,...


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pp. 227-262


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pp. 263-278

E-ISBN-13: 9780816682683
E-ISBN-10: 0816682682
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816675623

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012