Art for Art's Sake and Literary Life: How Politics and Markets Helped Shape the Ideology and Culture of Aestheticism, 1790?1990

Gene H. Bell-Villada, Author
Gene H. Bell-Villada, Author University of Nebraska Press $60 (342p) ISBN 978-0-8032-1260-2
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
Paperback - 342 pages - 978-0-8032-6143-3
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In his lucid, humane history, Bell-Villada, professor of Romance languages and literatures at Williams College and author of Garcia Marquez: The Man and His Work, describes the history of l'art pour l'art, the notion that beauty, divorced from utility and morality, is a desirable end in itself. He traces the idea from (mis)readings of Kant and Schiller through Theophile Gautier, Walter Pater, Edgar Allen Poe and Latin American Modernismo to the New Critics and Paul de Man. Some of this genealogy has been investigated before, but Bell-Villada brings both a readable style and a wide knowledge of literature, social influences, politics and markets to his story. The invention of paint tubes and prefabricated canvases in the first half of the 19th century and the academicization of criticism and literary life in the middle of this one share space with a thorough reconsideration of Joyce's presumed aestheticism. The general reader will find succinct background material on all the germane people, concepts and contexts. There are some peculiarities: Bell-Villada goes far out of his way just to apply a rather lame market analogy to Modernism, and his bilious analysis of Nabokov's work is likely to raise some hackles. But overall, this is a wide-ranging, erudite, well-written study with a refreshing disdain for doctrine. (May)
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