The sixth sense : synaesthesia and British aestheticism, 1860-1900
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“The Sixth Sense: Synaesthesia and British Aestheticism 1860-1900” is an interdisciplinary examination of the emergence of synaesthesia conceptually and rhetorically within the ‘art for art’s sake’ movement in mid-to-late Victorian Britain. Chapter One investigates Swinburne’s focal role as both theorist and literary spokesman for the nascent British Aesthetic movement. I argue that Swinburne was the first to practice what Pater meant by ‘aesthetic criticism’ and that synaesthesia played a decisive role in ‘Aestheticising’ critical discourse. Chapter Two examines Whistler’s varied motivations for using synaesthetic metaphor, the way that synaesthesia informed his identity as an aesthete, and the way that critical reactions to his work played a formative role in linking synaesthesia with Aestheticism in the popular imagination of Victorian England. Chapter Three explores Pater’s methods and style as an ‘aesthetic critic.’ Even more than Swinburne, Pater blurred the distinction between criticism and creation. I use ‘synaesthesia’ to contextualise Pater’s theory of “Anders-streben” and to further contribute to our understanding of his infamous musical paradigm as a linguistic ideal, which governed his own approach to critical language. Chapter Four considers Wilde’s decadent redevelopment of synaesthetic metaphor. I use ‘synaesthesia’ to locate Wilde’s style and theory of style within the context of decadence; or, to put it another way, to locate decadence within the context of Wilde. Each chapter examines the highly nuanced claim that art should exist for its own sake and the ways in which artists in the mid-to-late Victorian period attempted to realise this desire on theoretical and rhetorical levels.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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