Historicizing the Enlightenment, Volume 2: Literature, the Arts, and the Aesthetic in Britain (Paperback)
Enlightenment critics from Dryden through Johnson and Wordsworth conceived the modern view that art and especially literature entails a double reflection: a reflection of the world, and a reflection on the process by which that reflection is accomplished. Instead “neoclassicism” and “Augustanism” have been falsely construed as involving a one-dimensional imitation of classical texts and an unselfconscious representation of the world. In fact these Enlightenment movements adopted an oblique perspective that registers the distance between past tradition and its present reenactment, between representation and presence. Two modern movements, Romanticism and modernism, have appropriated as their own these innovations, which derive from Enlightenment thought. Both of these movements ground their error in a misreading of “imitation” as understood by Aristotle and his Enlightenment proponents. Rightly understood, neoclassical imitation, constitutively aware of the difference between what it knows and how it knows it, is an experimental inquiry that generates a range of prefixes—“counter-,” “mock-,” “anti-,” “neo-”—that mark formal degrees of its epistemological detachment. Romantic ideology has denied the role of the imagination in Enlightenment imitation, imposing on the eighteenth century a dichotomous periodization: duplication versus imagination, the mirror versus the lamp. Structuralist ideology has dichotomized narration and description, form and content, structure and history. Poststructuralist ideology has propounded for the novel a contradictory “novel tradition”—realism, modernism, postmodernism, postcolonialism—whose stages both constitute a sequence and collapse it, each stage claiming the innovation of the stage that precedes it.
Published by Bucknell University Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.
About the Author
MICHAEL MCKEON is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in New Jersey. He is the author of Politics and Poetry in Restoration England, The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740, The Secret History of Domesticity: Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge, and many articles, as well as the editor of Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach.
"The essays collected in these remarkable volumes offer a stirring defense of the revolutionary nature of early Enlightenment thought. McKeon reminds us—forcefully—just how much insight and reach can be achieved by an intellectual history as fearless and dialectical as his."
— Wolfram Schmidgen
"Historicizing the Enlightenment adds to intellectual history’s customary mix of political, social, economic, and religious contexts a detailed analysis of literary works, period aesthetics, and cultural commentary. These two volumes will be essential reading for scholars across a number of fields."
— April London
"Michael McKeon’s signal achievement as an intellectual historian and literary scholar is to capture the force of concepts in the making. His account of the Enlightenment is unparalleled in its depth and breadth."
— Frances Ferguson
"With one party to the culture wars monumentalizing the dubious sides of imperialism and their opposition editing history to shame them, it is a welcome sign to see Michael McKeon returning to the history of the Enlightenment in order to use periodization ‘as a tool to think with.'"
— Jonathan Lamb