Beautiful Democracy: Aesthetics and Anarchy in a Global Era

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Overview

Beautiful Democracy explores the intersection of beauty and violence by examining university lectures and course materials on aesthetics from a century ago alongside riots, acts of domestic terrorism, magic lantern exhibitions, and other public spectacles. Philosophical aesthetics, realist novels, urban photography, and black periodicals, Russ Castronovo argues, inspired and instigated all sorts of collective social endeavors, from the progressive nature of tenement reform to the horrors of lynching. Discussing Jane Addams, W.E.B. Du Bois, Charlie Chaplin, William Dean Howells, and Jacob Riis as aesthetic theorists in the company of Kant and Schiller, Beautiful Democracy ultimately suggests that the distance separating academic thinking and popular wisdom about social transformation is narrower than we generally suppose.

About the Author:
Russ Castronovo is the Jean Wall Bennett Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

"Eclectic and sometimes elusive, this richly written, exhaustively researched work ultimately yields a well-woven thesis."

Journal of American History
The lesson is that democracy in this formative period was deeply concerned with questions of aesthetics and beauty. . . . For those interested in aesthetics . . . and in a rich, theoretical treatment of the complicated symbolic economy of democracy, the payoff can be great.

— Jeremy Engels

J. Modern Language Quarterly
Beautiful Democracy is an essential book for all who are committed to cultural studies.

— Martha Banta

Lawrence Buell

Beautiful Democracy is a highly original and mind-expanding critique of American literature, art, philosophy, and cultural criticism from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century that demonstrates as never before the profoundly disquieting admixture of idealism and violence that has tended to shape—and misshape—initiatives undertaken in the name of the aesthetic.”—Lawrence Buell, Harvard University

Paul Giles

“Although Castronovo’s specific focus is on U.S. culture between 1877 and 1936, his arguments about the interrelationships between art and politics, between aesthetic forms circumscribed by national ideals and more amorphous global horizons, carry a much wider resonance. This is an important book.”—Paul Giles, University of Oxford

Donald E. Pease Jr.

Beautiful Democracy is an elegantly written and conceptually innovative account of the contradictory roles that aesthetics historically played in the Americanization of the globe. Through careful readings of a range of cultural artifacts and geopolitical tracts, Castronovo convincingly demonstrates how American writers, politicians, teachers, and artists have deployed the ‘aesthetics of democracy’ either to generate harmony or to mobilize the anarchic impulses of the social formations they addressed.”—Donald E. Pease Jr., Dartmouth College

Journal of American History - Jeremy Engels

"The lesson is that democracy in this formative period was deeply concerned with questions of aesthetics and beauty. . . . For those interested in aesthetics . . . and in a rich, theoretical treatment of the complicated symbolic economy of democracy, the payoff can be great."

Modern Language Quarterly - Martha Banta

"Beautiful Democracy is an essential book for all who are committed to cultural studies."

Choice

"Eclectic and sometimes elusive, this richly written, exhaustively researched work ultimately yields a well-woven thesis."—Choice

Journal of American History

"The lesson is that democracy in this formative period was deeply concerned with questions of aesthetics and beauty. . . . For those interested in aesthetics . . . and in a rich, theoretical treatment of the complicated symbolic economy of democracy, the payoff can be great."—Jeremy Engels, Journal of American History

— Jeremy Engels

J. Modern Language Quarterly

"Beautiful Democracy is an essential book for all who are committed to cultural studies."—Martha Banta, Modern Language Quarterly

— Martha Banta

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226096285
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2007
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Russ Castronovo is the Jean Wall Bennett Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.  

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Table of Contents


Illustration     ix
Acknowledgments     xi
Introduction: Aesthetics and the Anarchy of Global Culture     1
The Cultured Few     4
Aesthetics 101     8
The Popular Rage     18
Artwork Essays at the Antipodes     22
Flowers and Billy Clubs: The Beauty and Danger of Ethical Citizenship     27
Beauty and Civic Identity     30
Beauty and Science     37
Beauty and Crowd Control     45
Beauty and Danger     55
American Literature Internationale: Translation, Strike, and the Time of Political Possibility     65
Translating Aesthetics to the Common     66
The Time of American Literature     73
1877: The Time is Now     82
Art for the Post-Revolution: Whitman and Santayana     88
The Hazards of New Translation     92
Novelists for (against?) Change     104
Beauty Along the Color Line: Lynching, Form, and Aesthetics     106
Aesthetics versus Art     110
Aestheticizing Violence     116
Organized Propaganda     122
Gendering Aesthetics     128
Alternative Aesthetics     132
"Bombs of Laughter": Motion Pictures,Mass Art, and Universal Language     136
Classic Beauty for Modern Times     141
Du Bois at the Movies: Ugliness, Endlessness, and Jim Crow     152
The Sound of the Image: Chaplin and International Laughter     157
Esperanto of the Eye: Anarchy and Internationalism     173
Geo-Aesthetics: Fascism, Globalism, and Frank Norris     180
Worldwide Unity and Formalism     183
Art and Terror     190
Literature "As Such"     194
Geo-Aesthetics     201
Postfascist Form     209
Afterword     213
Notes     217
Works Cited     255
Index     271
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