Theses Doctoral

Transformations of the Beautiful: Beauty and Instability in Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century German Literature

Salvo, Arthur Kemble

Transformations of the Beautiful reexamines a problem that emerges during the mid-eighteenth century: the devaluation of the aesthetic category of the beautiful. In opposition to accounts that identify this problem with the rediscovery of the sublime, this dissertation emphasizes the crucial yet underexamined role that historicization played in the destabilization of beauty’s normative status in German aesthetic discourse. Additionally, I demonstrate that literary discourse became a key mode through which the beautiful’s problematic status was negotiated. Assembling literary texts from 1759-1817 that thematize beautiful objects or phenomena in terms of their historicity or instability, and transform them, I argue that these moments constitute discrete instances in which literature responds to the precarious position of beauty in modernity. With recourse to texts by Winckelmann, Schiller, Jean Paul, Ernst August Friedrich Klingemann and Eichendorff, I focus on the specific literary techniques employed by different genres—description, elegy, and narrative fiction—and how they reconfigure the relationship between the modern subject and the beautiful. In so doing I demonstrate how literary texts intervene in aesthetic discourse to reevaluate and generate alternative conceptions of the beautiful.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
von Müecke, Dorothea E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 24, 2015