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The Present State of Studies on Period Style Patrick Brady T HE USEFUL VOLUME by John Steadman reviewed by Edmund Campion in this issue of L ’Esprit Créateur (see also my review in The Eighteenth-Century: A Current Bibliography) has, to some extent, the function of reviewing the present state of period style research, and it is pointless to repeat his work here.1However, given the apologetic tone of much of the Steadman volume, especially the Afterword with its avowed preference for atomistic empiricism as against such holistic thinking as that represented by period style concepts (ibid., 162), one ends with the impression not only that the approach being used is oldfashioned and “ pre-theoretical” but also that Steadman himself doesn’t really believe in period style research—the very perspective he is writing about. This attitude may perhaps explain the fact that his study has two limitations: (a) he leaves the crucial question concerning content (what are the key areas of study in period style research?) answered incomplete­ ly; and (b) he leaves the other crucial question concerning theory and methodology (in what ways has period style research been renewed by the revolution in critical theory that has characterized the last three decades?) not even addressed. (a) With regard to content, we must point out that Steadman limits his coverage to three styles: Renaissance, Baroque, and Mannerism, although he does also attempt to deal with the Metaphysical “ style,” particularly in its relationship with the Baroque. There are significant styles both earlier (Romanesque, Gothic) and later (Rococo, Romanti­ cism, Naturalism, Impressionism, etc.). In indicating the limitations of this coverage, I am not criticizing the scope of Steadman’s study, since every author has the right to define and delimit his subject in any way he chooses. However, I do feel that his main title, Redefining a Period Style, is so general that one might reasonably expect it to deal, if not with merely one particular period style, nor with all period styles, then at least with all the significant period styles. In modern times, the triad of styles that has generated the most controversy and the most searching period style theory is that of Mannerism, the Baroque, and the Rococo. This was already true at the time of the organization of the international conVol . XXXIII, No. 3 3 L ’E sprit C réateur gress on period style at Rome in 1960 and is clearly reflected in the title of the Proceedings, published in 1962 under the title Manierismo, Barocco, Rococò} It has become much more strikingly true since that time. Never­ theless, Steadman ignores the Rococo completely, although it is obvious­ ly a much more valid period style than is the Metaphysical strain in English poetry to which he devotes considerable attention. Indeed, Steadman fails to make any case whatsoever for a manifestation of the Metaphysical “ style” in any of the arts other than literature (and English literature, at that), so that it is not a period style at all in the generally accepted sense of the term. (b) With regard to theory and method, Steadman makes no mention of the contributions to period style theory and criticism made by new perspectives such as structuralism (in its many modes), let alone chaos theory. Such contributions are not even presented and attacked; they are ignored. Perhaps these have played no role in recent research into the three styles he has chosen for study (indeed, the relatively uncontroversial status of Renaissance Style is such that it probably explains why Steadman has appendices on Mannerism, Baroque, and the Metaphys­ ical poets but none on Renaissance Style). If this is the case, however, it does not eliminate the unfortunate effect of the limitation referred to but simply means that the limitation with regard to theory and method stems directly from the limitation in content (the choice of styles). The fact is that period style research had gone from the revelation of the importance of the Baroque, long ignored and neglected, to the dis­ covery of that of Mannerism, and from the study of Mannerism to that of the Rococo. Perhaps for this reason, namely that the Rococo is the latest style to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 3-8
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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