The aesthetics of self-fashioning : Pater, Wilde, and Yeats / Po Fang.

Fang, Po.
2 v. (ix, 404 p.) ; 29 cm.
Local subjects:
Penn dissertations -- English.
English -- Penn dissertations.
This study examines Walter Pater's Epicureanism, Oscar Wilde's dandyism, and W. B. Yeats's theory of the anti-self mask as poses of self-representation. Their aesthetic views, centering on the etymological implication of the Greek word aisthesis, which refers to the whole region of human perception and sensation, can be well illustrated by the theory developed by Baumgarten, Shaftesbury, Kant, Schiller, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Freud. The three writers' most influential aesthetic precepts promulgate fulfilled self-development. With an attempt to enrich their perception, they all recommend an enlarged historical/critical understanding as a prerequisite for aesthetic self-cultivation.
Part One (Chapters I and II) explores Pater's strong aesthetic convictions before he became more restrained after 1874. In his portraits of various Renaissance figures, Pater emphasizes repeatedly the counter-balancing power of our aesthetic sense, and he presents the aesthetic sentiment mainly as a revitalizing or revolutionary force that emancipates the heart, and awakens the mind and the senses against the austere restrictions imposed on the individual.
Part Two examines the deeper and more serious aspects of Wilde's dandyism underlying his ostentatious flamboyancy and some crucial factors that motivated his resolute subversion of Victorian bourgeois culture and ideology. Wilde turned the aesthetic into a powerful, double-edged weapon both as a protest against the mean-spirited utilitarianism of his age and as a strategy for brilliant self-display. Chapter III interprets Dorian Gray as Wilde's aesthetic experiment in the possibility of a fully committed aesthetic existence. Chapter IV examines Wilde's dandiacal iconoclasm in the light of Kant's Enlightenment ethos, which requires us to evaluate constantly the historical era we are in. Foucault's theory of "transgression" also lends further justification to Wilde's aesthetic transgression against the established social norms and customs of Victorian England. Chapter V explores the subversive counter-discourse expressed in Wilde's comedies. Chapter VI proposes that Wilde's aesthetic paradigm embodies the triple character of the critic/the artist/the dandy.
Part Three (Chapters VII to X) demonstrates that Yeats's reinforced aesthetic view after the turn of the century can be summarized as the reassertion of the body. His idea of "unity of being" not only conjoins the sensual with the imaginative and rational, but also complements conceptual idealization with bodily energy and action. The figures of the dancer, the hero Cuchulain, and the ideal Renaissance courtier are representative Yeatsian aesthetic paradigms. Like Wagner, Yeats perceives a parallel between the reconstruction of the self and that of a state because both take "artistic reshaping." Yeats's exposure to the Japanese Noh around the year 1916 introduced to him the stylizing and unifying function of a ritual or ritualistic art form which develops and integrates as many different facets as possible into the art-work and the individual. Yeats's later emphasis on the interdependence of fair and foul and spirituality and sexuality and on the need to embrace one's antithetical mask may be considered as part of his on-going effort to achieve fuller integration.
The three writers' aesthetic ideals are best understood as a mode of refined consciousness or assumed poses. Their respective efforts to redefine the "perfected" life and their attempt to attain fullness of self-development are deeply impressive even after a century of further cultural losses.
Supervisor: Vicki Mahaffey.
Thesis (Ph.D. in English) -- University of Pennsylvania, 1999.
Includes bibliographical references.
Local notes:
University Microfilms order no.: 99-53527.
Mahaffey, Vicki, advisor.
University of Pennsylvania.
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