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date: 04 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Although the field of aesthetics was consolidated in the nineteenth century, its study has been shaped by two contradictory tendencies: (1) the insistence that the aesthetic realm needs to be autonomous, independent of the world of common experience; (2) the ethical or political insistence that autonomy is impossible. Starting from this characteristic antinomy, and tracing it back to early theoretical formulations in Kant and Schiller, this chapter illuminates the ways in which the constant pull between form and reality, or between art and experience, was a fundamental characteristic of aesthetics in the Victorian period. The writings of Matthew Arnold, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, George Eliot, Walter Pater, William Morris, John Ruskin, and others show the challenges of negotiating a concept that at times seems the only thing reconciling one to the world and at other times seems to be pulling one away to an impossible realm outside human existence.

Keywords: aesthetics, Arnold, art, autonomy, beauty, disinterestedness, Kant, play, Ruskin, Schiller

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