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Transfigured World

Transfigured World: Walter Pater's Aesthetic Historicism OPEN ACCESS

Copyright Date: 1989
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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    Transfigured World
    Book Description:

    Exploring the intricacy and complexity of Walter Pater's prose, Transfigured World challenges traditional approaches to Pater and shows precise ways in which the form of his prose expresses its content. Carolyn Williams asserts that Pater's aestheticism and his historicism should be understood as dialectically interrelated critical strategies, inextricable from each other in practice. Williams discusses the explicit and embedded narratives that play a crucial role in Pater's aesthetic criticism and examines the figures that compose these narratives, including rhetorical tropes, structures of argument such as genealogy, and historical or fictional personae.

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-0712-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-10)

    I want to begin with a few words about the subtitle of this book: “Walter Pater’s Aesthetic Historicism.” The problematic and seemingly contradictory usage of the term “historicism” first alerted me to its great formal and conceptual potential. On the one hand, the term is often used to signal an attempt to know an object (a literary work, for example) by placing it within its contemporary historical context, and in this sense historicism seeks to define the specific historicity of the object. But on the other hand, the term often signals skepticism (whether mild or radical) about the possibility of...

  2. My choice to begin with the “Conclusion” is not an empty gesture, though it is a familiar and almost traditional opening gesture in discussions of Pater’s work. My reason has little to do with the fact that the “Conclusion” to the 1873 first edition ofStudies in the History of the Renaissancewas, and is, Pater’s most controversial piece, that it inaugurated the career of public notoriety which he both invited and evaded, and that it established him as the inspiration of an elite counterculture whose further elaborations often shocked him, precipitating his lifelong recoil into less and less vivid...

  3. Pater’s volume of Renaissance essays was his first major experiment in the “poetics of revival.” In that volume he attempts to stage a revival of the historical period preeminently known for its own revival. Pater’s choice of period was easily recognized (even at the time) as a subtle but sweeping polemic against Ruskin’s ”Gothic.”¹ Pater chose instead to “throw into relief” the age when classical art seemed to bring “the mind of man” back to its senses after the dark night of Christian asceticism. The perspective ofThe Renaissance—­Pater’s volume, like his imagination of the period—asserts a disengagement...

  4. During the composition ofMarius the Epicurean, Pater’s letters, usually curt and dry, become somewhat more expansive and revealing as he discusses the plan of his ongoing project. Writing in 1884 Violet Paget (“Vernon Lee”), he praises the success of her essay “The Portrait Art of the Renaissance,” but his attention remains on his own endeavors.¹ “It is noteasy,” he protests (and the plaintive emphasis is his)

    to do what you have done . . .—to make, viz.intellectual theoremsseem like the life’s essence of the concrete, sensuous objects, from which they have been abstracted. I always...

  5. Pater’s volume on Plato collects a series of lectures on the place of Plato in the history of philosophy. The lectures were meant to give the subject a “popular” treatment, and the volume was popular indeed. It was very well received by critics, and Pater counted it as the favorite among all his works.¹ Perhaps because they were written as lectures, the essays on Plato display an exceptional crispness and clarity of formulation. In new terms—motion and rest, centrifugal and centripetal, Ionian and Dorian—these essays rehearse the dialectic of aesthetic historicism on the stage of ancient Greece.


  6. Afterword (pp. 282-284)

    This particular “kind of inconsistency” has been the object of my attention throughout the preceding pages. In the short p:issage above, the narrator ofMarius the Epicureanexposes several characteristically Paterian elaborations of it.¹ For example, the spatial metaphorics imprisonment and “arrest” stand as usual for the retrospective, metafigural capacity and are ironically opposed to the temporal implications of textuality. (I call this opposition “ironic” simply because the retrospective narrator, who exposes with his wistful humor the futility of Marius’s youthful desire to imprison the transient perfume of experience, is engaged in just such a metafigural enterprise.) But the opposition...

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.
Funding is provided by National Endowment for the Humanities