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The varieties of aesthetic experience in American modernist literature

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Text
TitleInfo (ID = T-1)
Title
The varieties of aesthetic experience in American modernist literature
Identifier (type = hdl)
http://hdl.rutgers.edu/1782.2/rucore10001600001.ETD.17033
Identifier (type = FEDORA_PID)
rutgers-lib:24042
Identifier
ETD_300
Language
LanguageTerm (authority = ISO 639-3:2007)
English
Genre (authority = marcgt)
theses
Subject (ID = SBJ-1); (authority = RUETD)
Topic
Literatures in English
Subject (ID = SBJ-2); (authority = ETD-LCSH)
Topic
Aesthetics in literature
Subject (ID = SBJ-3); (authority = ETD-LCSH)
Topic
James, Henry, 1798-1876--Criticism and interpretation
Subject (ID = SBJ-4); (authority = ETD-LCSH)
Topic
Moore, Marianne, 1887-1972--Criticism and interpretation
Subject (ID = SBJ-5); (authority = ETD-LCSH)
Topic
Stevens, Wallace, 1879-1955--Criticism and interpretation
Abstract
My dissertation focuses on three American Modernists--Henry James, Marianne Moore, and Wallace Stevens--whose major works portray the sacralization of art as a problematic aspiration. All three are known for essays, journals, or letters which argue that literature can be seen either as a secular replacement for religion (James, Stevens), or a secular conduit for rumination on divine grace (Moore). However, the dominant tendency in their literary writing is to depict these projects as unaccomplished and perhaps unaccomplishable. In their fiction and poetry, James, Moore, and Stevens suggest that when aesthetic experience is spiritualized, the writing that results will be solipsistic, imprecise, and ontologically implausible. I examine these writers' descriptions of the limitations and inconsistencies of imagining literature as a source of spiritual experience, and I demonstrate that the sacralization of art in American Modernism was not a dead metaphor but an ongoing problem.
James, Moore, and Stevens conceived the parameters of this problem with language drawn from contemporary debates about religious experience. My methodology therefore seeks to contextualize these writers by examining their responses to particular aesthetic and theological issues--James on the afterlife, Moore on Neo-Orthodox doctrines of original sin, Stevens on mystic conceptions of "pure poetry." I suggest a more general context in my introductory chapter, where I argue that all three of these writers define the spiritual dimensions of art in ways that are closely tied to the intellectual legacy of American Protestantism. Unlike Matthew Arnold, who envisioned a civic religion of art with a redemptive, public mission, the writers I examine imagine that the spiritual work of literature is conducted in isolation, and does not allow the writer to heal the world but to escape it. James, Moore, and Stevens follow writers like Emerson, William James, and Reinhold Niebuhr in imagining individualism to be essential to spirituality, but they also criticize this individualist model, as can be seen when they worry that devotion to art leads to loneliness, greed, and withdrawal from life. This uneasy continuity between Protestantism and Modernism exemplifies the complex and incomplete ways that secularization occurred in American intellectual culture.
PhysicalDescription
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vi, 222 pages
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Note (type = degree)
Ph.D.
Note (type = bibliography)
Includes bibliographical references (p. 210-221).
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Johnson
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Benjamin G.
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1977-
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Benjamin G. Johnson
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Marcia
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Marcia Ian
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Manganaro
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Marc
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Marc Manganaro
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Warner
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Michael
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Michael Warner
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Fabian
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Ann
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outside member
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Ann Fabian
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Rutgers University
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Graduate School - New Brunswick
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school
OriginInfo
DateCreated (qualifier = exact)
2007
DateOther (qualifier = exact); (type = degree)
2007-10
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NjNbRU
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Title
Graduate School - New Brunswick Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Identifier (type = local)
rucore19991600001
Identifier (type = doi)
doi:10.7282/T3NC61MJ
Genre (authority = ExL-Esploro)
ETD doctoral
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The author owns the copyright to this work.
Copyright
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Availability
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Open
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Name
Benjamin Johnson
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Affiliation
Rutgers University. Graduate School - New Brunswick
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Author Agreement License
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I hereby grant to the Rutgers University Libraries and to my school the non-exclusive right to archive, reproduce and distribute my thesis or dissertation, in whole or in part, and/or my abstract, in whole or in part, in and from an electronic format, subject to the release date subsequently stipulated in this submittal form and approved by my school. I represent and stipulate that the thesis or dissertation and its abstract are my original work, that they do not infringe or violate any rights of others, and that I make these grants as the sole owner of the rights to my thesis or dissertation and its abstract. I represent that I have obtained written permissions, when necessary, from the owner(s) of each third party copyrighted matter to be included in my thesis or dissertation and will supply copies of such upon request by my school. I acknowledge that RU ETD and my school will not distribute my thesis or dissertation or its abstract if, in their reasonable judgment, they believe all such rights have not been secured. I acknowledge that I retain ownership rights to the copyright of my work. I also retain the right to use all or part of this thesis or dissertation in future works, such as articles or books.
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