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??? COHPAnATIST In sum, The Aesthetic Contract is a strong, broad comparative study ofmajor patterns in the modernity ofthe West from the time ofthe Protestant Reformation to our own, soon-to-expire, century. David HalliburtonStanford University GENE H. BELL-VILLADA. Artfor Art's Sake and Literary Life: How PoUtics and Markets Helped Shape the Ideology and Culture ofAestheticism 1790-1990. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1996. ? + 339 pp. It is very much to the credit ofthe author ofArtforArt 's Sake and his intellectual curiosity that he undertook writing a history ofaestheticism despite his own misgivings concerning the doctrine and its predominance in twentieth-century literary thought. Apparently, Bell-Villada's academic encounterwith "assorted formalisms that [. . J kept verse and fiction cut offand at a lofty remove from the rest ofhuman experience" prompted him to explore the origin and growth ofaestheticism (289). The book provides its readers with a comparative overview of l'art pour l'art throughout its history since the Enlightenment and in its various manifestations in different countries on two continents. In accordance with his own ideological position , Bell-Villada explores the socio-political and economic contexts that have shaped the diverse articulations ofaestheticism. He also sketches concrete profiles of its major representatives—from Friedrich Schiller to Paul de Man. The book is organized chronologically, and each ofits seven chapters contains sufficient cross-references so that any reader interested in one chapter alone can still follow the narrative. In succinct prose and with an engaging style, Bell-Villada introduces readers to the complex development ofaestheticism, the wide range of political affiliations associated with Art for Art's Sake, and the nexus between aesthetic creed, literary vision, and social order. Even though the author is, on all accounts, not interested in scoring points for "political correctness," he has written a literary history that is interdisciplinary and cross-cultural. The author's apologies for not being a "high theorist" suggest his recognition that his approach to the set task may not be sufficiently informed by contemporary theoretical perspectives. Unfortunately, without really engaging in an intellectual dialogue with any previous critical studies of the tradition of l'artpour l'art, Bell-Villada promises to explain the reasons for the rise and the continued existence of aestheticism. His central thesis sounds like a truism: "There are concrete social, economic, political, and cultural reasons for the emergence, growth, diffusion, and triumph of l'artpour l'art over the past two centuries" (11). Bell-Villada's investigation into those reasons , however, allows the reader to gain valuable insight into the "integrated history ofthat ever-changing causal matrix as well as ofthe developing general doctrine, its associated politics, and the successive spokesmen who have adapted the idea (and themselves) to the conditions oftheir respective times and places" (11). Bell-Villada locates the conceptual origins and ideological foundations ofArt for Art's Sake in the critique ofthe cultural status quo expressed in the writings of Shaftesbury, Kant, and Schiller. What intrigues the author about Kant's Critique of Judgment and Schiller's Letters on Aesthetic Education is their insistence on a strong bond between beauty and moral concerns, their beliefin an inseparable coexistence ofaesthetic experience and cognitive capacities, and their conviction that VcH. 23 (1999): 175 REVIEWS appreciation ofthe Beautiful helps build spiritual integrity ofthe individual and, by extension, ofsociety. It is therefore disappointing for the author to acknowledge that the dissemination ofthese thinkers' ideas was quite inadequate. Only selective and simplified passages or reductive summaries oftheir seminal texts were exported to France, and the complex connection between beauty, morals, and truth started to dissolve. In his analysis ofthe further development ofaestheticism—moving from France to England, the United States, and Latin America—Bell-Villada traces several patterns : The emergence of the industrialized literary market with new market rules concerning production, supply, and demand pushed many poets/writers to the margin and rendered their aesthetic creations superfluous. The unmarketability of their "products" led them to self-defense and to claim a superior spiritual stance. The aesthetic experience increasingly became a self-contained experience, and the writers were confronted with a severe split between their poetic selves and the bourgeois , materialist world surrounding them, no matter how dependent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 175-176
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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