"Beauty" and the Beast: Re-visioning Aesthetics in a Pluralistic Age

By Michael Broek.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Can we talk about Beauty or aesthetics anymore? Do we always risk quashing freedom of expression if we regularly judge what is "valuable" or "good"? Can such judgments be made not on the basis of who a writer is or the context of their work but rather on their artistic content? Of course book and film reviewers give audiences their "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" all the time, but the criteria that they use for making such judgments aren't objective or scholarly, are they? Using the literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville as case studies, this paper will argue that examining a work of art in terms of its vision of Beauty is both fair and necessary if one is to maintain that the Humanities are at all relevant to public life. Such an examination, I will show, does not have to result in canonizing certain works or excluding "strange" visions, but rather such an examination can free the Humanities to engage larger issues of critical thinking.

Keywords: Literature, Beauty, Humanities, Aesthetics

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.103-110. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 513.625KB).

Prof. Michael Broek

Professor, English Department, Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, New Jersey, USA

As a doctoral student at the University of Essex, I am examining the fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville in terms of their aesthetic response to the myth of American Exceptionalism, arguing that they challenge the myth by offering an open-ended, multivalent conception of Beauty, rather than a closed, single perception. In a larger context, I am examing what this aesthetic response means in terms of our contemporary conceptions of Beauty. I am suggesting that the Humanites will remain relevant as long as they continue to ask difficult questions that require the development of discreet judgments about "value" and "beauty." Within this conception, the Humanities remain relevant because they provide a model for making critical judgments about all types of human endeavors - political, economic, and social. As a scholar, professor, and publishing poet, I am particularly interested in how creative judgments (those made by the artist as they are in the process of making art) are similar to or inform critical judgments. Can we talk about Beauty in any kind of objective way? I believe so and further would argue that such a conversation is crucial to keeping the Humanities vital.

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