Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Aesthetics of dependency: Early Modernism and the struggle against Idealism in Kierkegaard, Ibsen, and Henry James
by Lisi, Leonardo Francisco, Ph.D., Yale University, 2008, 404; 3342730
Abstract (Summary)

In this dissertation I offer an alternative to the prevalent understanding of Modernism as the culmination of an aesthetics of autonomy that has its origin in German Idealist philosophy. I argue instead that a central aspect of Modernist aesthetics results from the reaction against the principle of autonomy. I do so by tracing the formation of a different aesthetic paradigm in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, which instead is organized around the concept of dependency. Where the aesthetics of autonomy aims at the production of self-sufficient and harmonious aesthetic objects, what I term the "aesthetics of dependency" predicates the unity of a work's constitutive structures on their purposeful relation to an interpretative position that transcends and negates them. This paradigm arises through the struggle against Idealist philosophy in Scandinavia, and provides a central tool for understanding the emergence of a Modernist aesthetics in Søren Kierkegaard, Henrik Ibsen, and Henry James.

The dissertation begins by tracing the philosophical, literary, and historical foundations of Idealism, both in the context of German post-Kantian philosophy (Chapter One), and in that of its reception in nineteenth-century Denmark (Chapter Two). Chapter Three proceeds to show that Kierkegaard's theology contains a rejection of the principles of Idealist aesthetics so conceived, and an alternative to it in his conception of the dialectics of dependency. Chapters Four and Five explore Ibsen's related rejection of Idealism as an inadequate response to the rise of capitalist modernity, and his turn to an aesthetic structure similar to that in Kierkegaard as a more suitable answer to that historical transition. Chapter Six, finally, argues that the aesthetics of dependency found in Kierkegaard and Ibsen also provides the organizational structure for the late works of Henry James. To the extent that James is a central figure in the evolution of the Anglo-Saxon high Modernism that serves as the touchstone for critical conceptions of Modernism more generally, the presence in his work of an aesthetic structure imported from the cultural periphery of Scandinavia also points to the need to reassess the nature and genealogy of Modernist aesthetics more broadly defined.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lewis, Pericles, Fry, Paul
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 70/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Modern literature, Philosophy, Theology
Keywords: Aesthetics, Ibsen, Henrik, Idealism, James, Henry, Kierkegaard, Soren, Modernism
Publication Number: 3342730
ISBN: 9780549978022
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