Criticism and Modernity: Aesthetics, Literature and Nations in Europe and Its Academies

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Criticism and Modernity traces the conditions under which criticism emerges as a socio-cultural practice within the institutionalized forms of European modernity and democracy. It argues that criticism is born out of anxieties about national supremacy in the late seventeenth century, with the consequence that the emergent national cultures of the eighteenth century and since become sites for the regulation of the democratic subject through the academic form of arguments about the proper relations of aesthetics to ethics and politics. The central issue is that of legitimation: how can subjective aesthetic experiences regulate the norms of ethical justice? That question is posed not as an abstract philosophical issue, but rather as a question properly located within the struggles for national culture. The usual Germanic source of modern aesthetics and criticism is here placed in the broader European context, involving contests between England, France, Scotland, Ireland, and the emergent Germany and Italy. Writers addressed include Corneille, Dryden, Moliere, Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Schiller, Hegel, Schopenhauer; and, throughout, the legacy of these thinkers is found in the most recent contemporary theory, in work by Agamben, Badiou, Lyotard, MacIntyre, and others. A closing chapter considers the formation of the university across modern Europe, in Vico's Naples, Humboldt's Berlin, Newman's Dublin, Blair's Edinburgh, the France of Alain and Benda, the England of Leavis, as well as our contemporary institutional predicaments.