Practical Form

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Abstraction, Technique, and Beauty in Eighteenth-Century Aesthetics

Abigail Zitin

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A groundbreaking study of the development of form in eighteenth-century aesthetics
In this original work, Abigail Zitin proposes a new history of the development of form as a concept in and for aesthetics. Her account substitutes women and artisans for the proverbial man of taste, asserting them as central figures in the rise of aesthetics as a field of philosophical inquiry in eighteenth-century Europe. She shows how the idea of formal abstraction so central to conceptions of beauty in this period emerges from the way practitioners think about craft and skill across the domestic, industrial, and so-called high arts. Zitin elegantly maps the complex connections among aesthetics, form, and formalism, drawing out the understated presence of practice in the writings of major eighteenth-century thinkers including Locke, Addison, Burke, and Kant. This new take on an old story ultimately challenges readers to reconsider form and why it matters.

Abigail Zitin is associate professor of English at Rutgers University.

“Original and important, and of very complete scholarship, this book covers many discussions of eighteenth-century aesthetics with a highly unusual stress on craft and practice as they relate to aesthetics.”—John Bender, Stanford University

"In this brilliant study of Hogarth and Kant, Zitin shows that they developed a notion of form as the expression of the perceptual activity of abstraction on the part of both artist and spectator that is applicable to literary as well as visual art."—Paul Guyer, author of A History of Modern Aesthetics

"This dazzling history of aesthetic theory pursues the consequences of Hogarth’s practical formalism for literary study with spellbinding patience and impeccable logic in beautiful prose."—Marcie Frank, author of The Novel Stage: Narrative Form from the Restoration to Jane Austen

“Zitin offers an ambitious and persuasive account of what she calls ‘practical formalism.’ Equally insightful about a range of eighteenth-century accounts of beauty and contemporary theoretical debates, Zitin’s is a stunningly accomplished book.”—Frances Ferguson, University of Chicago

Finalist for the Susanne K. Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Symbolic Form, sponsored by the Media Ecology Association

Shortlisted for the Oscar Kenshur Book Prize, sponsored by The Indiana Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies
ISBN: 9780300255713
Publication Date: October 27, 2020
224 pages, x
6 b/w illus.
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