Imitation and Society: The Persistence of Mimesis in the Aesthetics of Burke, Hogarth, and Kant

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This book reconsiders the fate of the doctrine of mimesis in the eighteenth century. Standard accounts of the aesthetic theories of this era hold that the idea of mimesis was supplanted by the far more robust and compelling doctrines of taste and aesthetic judgment. Since the idea of mimesis was taken to apply only in the relation of art to nature, it was judged to be too limited when the focus of aesthetics changed to questions about the constitution of individual subjects in regard to taste. Tom Huhn argues that mimesis, rather than disappearing, instead became a far more pervasive idea in the eighteenth century by becoming submerged within the dynamics of the emerging accounts of judgment and taste. Mimesis also thereby became enmeshed in the ideas of sociality contained, often only implicitly, within the new accounts of aesthetic judgment. The book proceeds by reading three of the foundational treatises in aesthetics-Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Hogarth's Analysis of Beauty, and Kant's Critique of Judgment-with an eye for discerning where arguments and analyses betray mimetic structures. Huhn attempts to explicate these books anew by arguing that they are pervaded by a mimetic dynamic. Overall, he seeks to provoke a reconsideration of eighteenth-century aesthetics that centers on its continuity with traditional notions of mimesis.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The argument about Burke’s Enquiry is brilliant and original. The idea of treating aesthetics through mimesis rather than versions of affect (that is, treating aesthetic theory as if it were a poetics) is original, and I find Huhn’s argument convincing and illuminating. Especially interesting is his explication via mimesis of the terms ‘imagination’ and ‘judgment.'. . . Burke’s theory is a heavily invested area and Huhn says something original and important. Similarly, Huhn analyses Hogarth’s discourse in his Analysis of Beauty as if it were a philosophical discourse. This is an extremely useful thing to do—and it has not even remotely been done. . . . He has clarified points for me, and I’ve been studying Hogarth for forty years. . . . By treating his Analysis seriously as a philosophical text, Huhn has conferred a dignity on Hogarth’s thought that I find gratifying—and long overdue. He contributes to the growing sense we have of Hogarth’s being one of the central figures in English culture of the eighteenth century. . . . I can testify that Huhn’s Burke and Hogarth chapters are both knowledgeable and extremely intelligent.”
—Ronald Paulsen, The Johns Hopkins University

“Huhn's study is exactly what one hopes for from scholarly monographs—it is a learned and incredibly well informed exposition of major figures in intellectual and artistic history, coupled with an exciting and innovative new perspective. Huhn (School of Visual Arts, New York) argues that mimesis, far from being simple representation, is the mark of a conceptual breakdown in representation. He explores major figures of the 18th century—such as Burke, Hogarth, and Kant—and demonstrates how these figures wrestled with and transformed the concept of mimesis. Huhn is that rare specimen of scholar who wears his learning lightly. He has clearly immersed himself deeply in the work of Theodor Adorno and come to an original and fresh interpretation of him. His investigations of Burke, Hogarth, and Kant are not only brilliant explications in and of themselves—they are profound and stimulating meditations on the implications of Adorno's thoughts on aesthetics and philosophy. This is one of those wonderful books that one can recommend to anyone interested in either Burke, Hogarth, or Kant—as well as anyone interested in Adorno, contemporary aesthetics, or the theory of mimesis. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty.”
—S. Barnett, Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271024684
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Series: Literature and Philosophy
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Huhn teaches aesthetics and philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

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Table of Contents

1 Burke and the ambitions of taste 15
2 Hogarth and the lineage of taste 65
3 Kant and the pleasures of taste 103
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