On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Legacy of a Word

On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Legacy of a Word Common KnoWLEDgE of the analytic establishment, feeling answerable, he says, to their judgment, yet he has refused to follow their lead in defining his questions. Instead of abandoning the analytic audience he seems destined to disappoint, he has endured as the aesthetic conscience of their otherwise pretty philistine approach to philosophy. Cavell does not have an aesthetic theory as such. Instead, he has an art of philosophy whose engagement with art — the films of Fred Astaire, the voices of opera, characters in Shakespeare — is a method unlike any other for enacting philosophical engagement. — Barry Allen doi 10.1215/0961754x-2008-036 Angela Leighton, On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Legacy of a Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 288 pp. Arguably, the poetic question that continues to exercise poets and literary critics more than any other is the ancient one of whether poetry should be “for” or “about” anything other than poetry (politics or morality, say, or any referents in the material world). Leighton’s On Form bids not so much to settle this astonishingly — some would say, exasperatingly — long-lived dispute as to frame it in a way that’s fresh for being so fundamental. Instead of focusing on widely noted twentiethcentury flare-ups (in the 1930s or the last few decades, for example), Leighton turns back to the actual “art for art’s sake” provocation so cunningly fluttered, beginning in the nineteenth century, by aestheticism. Considering early avatars and usual suspects (Keats, Tennyson, Pater, Stevens) but also later metamorphoses (Sylvia Plath, W. S. Graham, Anne Stevenson, Roy Fisher), Leighton argues that the problem of poetry’s for-ness or about-ness is posed by the very notion of “form,” which moves promiscuously between inside and outside, immaterial and material, incipient and realized, writing and written-about, absence and presence, death and life. Some will miss attention to more avant-garde or “open” forms in modernist and contemporary poetry here, and it must be said that Leighton repeats her key ideas, albeit with intriguing variations, from chapter to chapter. There’s no denying the brilliance of her close readings, however; nor is it possible to come away from her book without a changed understanding of form’s meanings and of the persistence of aestheticism’s tropes in a line of poetry and poetics that continues to the present. — Douglas Mao doi 10.1215/0961754x-2008-028 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Common Knowledge Duke University Press

On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Legacy of a Word

Common Knowledge, Volume 14 (3) – Oct 1, 2008

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
© 2008 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0961-754X
eISSN
0961-754X
D.O.I.
10.1215/0961754X-2008-028
Publisher site
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Abstract

Common KnoWLEDgE of the analytic establishment, feeling answerable, he says, to their judgment, yet he has refused to follow their lead in defining his questions. Instead of abandoning the analytic audience he seems destined to disappoint, he has endured as the aesthetic conscience of their otherwise pretty philistine approach to philosophy. Cavell does not have an aesthetic theory as such. Instead, he has an art of philosophy whose engagement with art — the films of Fred Astaire, the voices of opera, characters in Shakespeare — is a method unlike any other for enacting philosophical engagement. — Barry Allen doi 10.1215/0961754x-2008-036 Angela Leighton, On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Legacy of a Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 288 pp. Arguably, the poetic question that continues to exercise poets and literary critics more than any other is the ancient one of whether poetry should be “for” or “about” anything other than poetry (politics or morality, say, or any referents in the material world). Leighton’s On Form bids not so much to settle this astonishingly — some would say, exasperatingly — long-lived dispute as to frame it in a way that’s fresh for being so fundamental. Instead of focusing on widely noted twentiethcentury flare-ups (in the 1930s or the last few decades, for example), Leighton turns back to the actual “art for art’s sake” provocation so cunningly fluttered, beginning in the nineteenth century, by aestheticism. Considering early avatars and usual suspects (Keats, Tennyson, Pater, Stevens) but also later metamorphoses (Sylvia Plath, W. S. Graham, Anne Stevenson, Roy Fisher), Leighton argues that the problem of poetry’s for-ness or about-ness is posed by the very notion of “form,” which moves promiscuously between inside and outside, immaterial and material, incipient and realized, writing and written-about, absence and presence, death and life. Some will miss attention to more avant-garde or “open” forms in modernist and contemporary poetry here, and it must be said that Leighton repeats her key ideas, albeit with intriguing variations, from chapter to chapter. There’s no denying the brilliance of her close readings, however; nor is it possible to come away from her book without a changed understanding of form’s meanings and of the persistence of aestheticism’s tropes in a line of poetry and poetics that continues to the present. — Douglas Mao doi 10.1215/0961754x-2008-028

Journal

Common KnowledgeDuke University Press

Published: Oct 1, 2008

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