The Politics of Aesthetics

Recuperating Formalism and the Country House Poem
  • Heather Dubrow


In the current critical climate, many scholars are far more comfortable detailing their sexual histories in print than confessing to an interest in literary form.1 Indeed, in such circles the study of form is regarded as the irascible father who, unlike the obediently cheerful guests in the country house poems we will examine shortly, shows up uninvited at dinner parties at his children’s newly and proudly built post-structuralist house. After insisting that they replace Gehry’s dramatic entranceway of diagonal strips of sharp glass with some of those nice Corinthian columns, he attempts to dominate the dinner conversation with his unenlightening but unmistakably Enlightened pronouncements on Truth and Beauty despite—and more to the point because of—everyone else’s desire to talk about those subjects once unmentionable at dinner parties, sex, religion, and, of course, above all politics.


Cultural Capital Literary Critic Literary Type Aesthetic Experience Literary Form 
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  1. 2.
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    Certain philosophers argue that the beautiful is gendered female and the sublime male, a debate germane to but distinct from my argument. See, e.g., Paul Mattick, Jr., “Beautiful and Sublime: ‘Gender Totemism’ in the Constitution of Art,” in Feminism and Tradition in Aesthetics, ed. Peggy Zeglin Brand and Carolyn Korsmeyer (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
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    On the erection of prodigy houses and the decline of hospitality, also see two important studies of the country house poem: G. R. Hibbard’s article, “The Country-House Poem of the Seventeenth Century,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 19 (1956): 160–162;Google Scholar
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  27. and Linda Woodbridge, Vagrancy, Homelessness, and English Renaissance Literature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001). I am grateful to these authors for making their work available to me prior to publication. For a more detailed discussion of the domestic threats I cite, see my book Shakespeare and Domestic Loss: Forms of Deprivation, Mourning, and Recuperation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
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© Mark David Rasmussen 2002

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  • Heather Dubrow

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