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The capacity for wonderment: Transformations and transfigurations of the aesthete figure in selected works of English and German fiction from 1891 to 1927

Krosny, Katharina Anna; (2003) The capacity for wonderment: Transformations and transfigurations of the aesthete figure in selected works of English and German fiction from 1891 to 1927. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The thesis argues that, from the early nineteenth century onwards, primarily in response to the ever more assertive inroads of science, technology, and industrialisation, key thinkers and writers within British and German culture upheld the cardinal importance of art and the aesthetic. That reaction was the expression of and response to an urgent sense of cultural crisis. The thesis begins with an introduction that offers a brief historico-cultural survey of England, Germany, and Austria in the nineteenth century. There follows a lengthy chapter which summarises the theories of art advanced by both English and German thinkers from the Romantics to Pater and Nietzsche. The contention here is that aesthetic theory moves beyond the confines of the, as it were, technical discussion of a particular discipline and becomes, rather, the governing discourse for the expression of the central philosophical concerns of modernity. Chapter 3 then concentrates on two major figures whose oeuvre embraces, in both essayistic and narrative modes, the full range of epistemological and cognitive issues to do with aestheticism - Oscar Wilde and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Various chapters of detailed analysis follow which explore seven seminal texts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, texts in which the theme of art is tested experimentally against the lived experience of a protagonist who provides the psychological, moral, social, and existential context for the aesthetic life. Chapter 4 concerns Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Chandos-Brief and explores a crisis of language that can be overcome only by the temporary fusion of subject and object in the revelatory moment of the epiphany. Chapter 5 investigates the ethical dimension of art as presented by Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Chapter 6 looks at James Joyce's rendering of the aesthetic theories of Thomas Aquinas in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and its view of art as a means of spiritual and social liberation. Chapter 7 deals with aesthetic enjoyment as an anaesthetising rather than emancipating experience in Robert Musil's Die Verwirrungen des Zoglings Torless. Chapter 8 presents Thomas Mann's Tonio Kroger and Der Tod in Venedig as explorations of the cognitive and ethical incompatibility of life and art. Chapter 9, finally, shows Virginia Woolf, in To the Lighthouse, expanding the focus of epiphanic experience from the artist to comprehend the multiple perceptions and creations of fiction as an inevitable part of human existence. The Conclusion continues the argument into the 1930s with a brief discussion of Walter Benjamin, who sees the forms of modern art as symptomatic of the health and sickness of the political culture of Europe as a whole.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The capacity for wonderment: Transformations and transfigurations of the aesthete figure in selected works of English and German fiction from 1891 to 1927
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Language, literature and linguistics; Aesthetic
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10100092
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