Walling out the World: Walter Pater and the Problem of Aesthetic Historicism. by Nineteenth-Century Prose

Walling out the World: Walter Pater and the Problem of Aesthetic Historicism.

By Nineteenth-Century Prose

  • Publication Date: 1997-09-22
  • Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines

Book Summary

As his influence on thinking about a crisis of interpretation as the dominant intellectual problem of the late twentieth century has become more widely recognized, Pater has been held up as an exemplar of how to live in a state of textual, social, and historical indeterminacy. His critical procedures have been identified as aesthetic historicism and commended for showing us how to face up to our relation both to history and to the history of art. This essay argues that Pater's aesthetic historicism is not a successful resolution of the problem of historical indeterminacy, but an impulse to wall out a disturbing world and substitute the satisfying pleasures of an ideal history for the imperfections, frustrations, and conflicts of real history. That substitution, upheld by teachers and critics as purveyors of cultural values, reduces artistic expression to projection and art to packaging--a "rearranging of the details of modern life." As a pernicious consequence of this distortion, students are in effect pulled out of their own defining social contexts and asked to have their being in the elaborate projections of "autonomous subjects" who have failed to recognize and acknowledge the systems that support them. **********

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