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Queer Beauty: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond
     

Queer Beauty: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond

by Whitney Davis
 

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The pioneering work of Johann Winckelmann (1717-1768) identified a homoerotic appreciation of male beauty in classical Greek sculpture, a fascination that had endured in Western art since the Greeks. After Winckelmann, however, sometimes the value (even the possibility) of queer beauty in art was denied. Several theorists after Winckelmann, notably the philosopher

Overview

The pioneering work of Johann Winckelmann (1717-1768) identified a homoerotic appreciation of male beauty in classical Greek sculpture, a fascination that had endured in Western art since the Greeks. After Winckelmann, however, sometimes the value (even the possibility) of queer beauty in art was denied. Several theorists after Winckelmann, notably the philosopher Immanuel Kant, broke sexual attraction and aesthetic appreciation into separate or dueling domains. In turn, sexual desire and aesthetic pleasure conceived as discrete categories had to be profoundly rethought by later writers.

Davis argues that these disjunct domains could be rejoined by such innovative thinkers as John Addington Symonds, Michel Foucault, and Richard Wollheim, who reclaimed earlier insights about the mutual implication of sexuality and aesthetics. Addressing texts by Arthur Schopenhauer, Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, Vernon Lee, and Sigmund Freud, among many others, Davis criticizes modern approaches, such as Kantian idealism, Darwinism, psychoanalysis, and analytic aesthetics, for either reducing aesthetics to a question of sexuality or for removing sexuality from the aesthetic field altogether. Despite these schematic reductions, sexuality always returns to aesthetics, and aesthetic considerations always recur in sexuality. Davis particularly shows that formal philosophies of art since the late-eighteenth century have had to respond to nonstandard sexuality, especially homoeroticism, and that theories of nonstandard sexuality have drawn on aesthetics in significant ways.

Many of the most imaginative and penetrating critics wrestled productively, though often inconclusively and "against themselves," with the aesthetic making of new forms of sexual life and new forms of art made from reconstituted sexualities. Through a critique that confronts history, philosophy, science, psychology, and dominant theories of art and sexuality, Davis challenges privileged types of sexual and aesthetic creation imagined in modern culture-and still assumed today.

Editorial Reviews

Victorian Studies - Kevin Ohi
... A difficult but thrilling book to read.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231519557
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
09/22/2010
Series:
Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
416
File size:
2 MB

What People are Saying About This

Daniel Herwitz
Whitney Davis is a wonderful art historian with a supple mind, a feel for the broader humanities, and deep interests in philosophy, aesthetics, and psychoanalysis. He is also a scholar with a profound knowledge of the history of queer theory and gay life. These qualities and interests make him the ideal—perhaps uniquely ideal—person to write this book.

Michael Kelly
In Queer Beauty, Whitney Davis inspires us to view Kant—and all aesthetics—differently. Davis critiques 'disinterestedness' and other modern concepts to show that they sustain sexuality and aesthetics in recursive relationships. Who else but Davis could give a philosophical account of the genealogy of sexuality and aesthetics that, politically, allows homoerotically inclined viewers to '(re)discover their participation in the dynamical constitution of ideals of beauty' and, ethically, reveals that a task of art is the idealization of erotic sociability 'that might eventually ensure that humanity will flourish rather than decline?' Who else could invoke the 'sniper' of the 'Monk's Head' orchid as a metaphor to give queer beauty and beauty queered their philosophical due and forever change our thinking about sexuality and aesthetics?

Meet the Author

Whitney Davis is professor of history and theory of ancient and modern art at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of A General Theory of Visual Culture and five other books on prehistoric, ancient, and modern arts and art theory, as well as on the history and theory of sexuality.

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