Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

The Primitive, the Aesthetic, and the Savage

An Enlightenment Problematic

2012
Author:

Tony C. Brown

The Primitive, the Aesthetic, and the Savage

How the exotic constitutes Enlightenment aesthetic theory

Tony C. Brown examines “the inescapable yet infinitely troubling figure of the not-quite-nothing” in Enlightenment attempts to think about the aesthetic and the savage. The various texts Brown considers—including the writings of Addison, Rousseau, Kant, and Defoe—turn to exotic figures in order to delimit the aesthetic, and to aesthetics in order to comprehend the savage.

Mounting a strong critique of historicism in recent literary studies for implying causal relations, Tony Brown attends instead to the conditions of possibility of history. In The Primitive, the Aesthetic, and the Savage, Brown reevaluates the importance of the notion of the primitive in funding an ur-history that can only be conjectural. He points to the interest in the origins of language in making it possible to think in terms of the human capacity to develop and become historical. This is compelling work that suggests the important interconnections among aesthetics and anthropological thought.

Frances Ferguson, Johns Hopkins University

Tony C. Brown examines “the inescapable yet infinitely troubling figure of the not-quite-nothing” in Enlightenment attempts to think about the aesthetic and the savage. The various texts Brown considers—including the writings of Addison, Rousseau, Kant, and Defoe—turn to exotic figures in order to delimit the aesthetic, and to aesthetics in order to comprehend the savage.

In his intriguing exploration Brown discovers that the primitive introduces into the aesthetic and the savage an element that proves necessary yet difficult to conceive. At its most profound, Brown explains, this element engenders a loss of confidence in one’s ability to understand the human’s relation to itself and to the world. That loss of confidence—what Brown refers to as a breach in anthropological security—traces to an inability to maintain a sense of self in the face of the New World. Demonstrating the impact of the primitive on the aesthetic and the savage, he shows how the eighteenth-century writers he focuses on struggle to define the human’s place in the world. As Brown explains, these authors go back again and again to “exotic” examples from the New World—such as Indian burial mounds and Maori tattooing practice—making them so ubiquitous that they come to underwrite, even produce, philosophy and aesthetics.

The Primitive, the Aesthetic, and the Savage

Tony C. Brown is associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where he teaches eighteenth-century literature and literary theory.

The Primitive, the Aesthetic, and the Savage

Mounting a strong critique of historicism in recent literary studies for implying causal relations, Tony Brown attends instead to the conditions of possibility of history. In The Primitive, the Aesthetic, and the Savage, Brown reevaluates the importance of the notion of the primitive in funding an ur-history that can only be conjectural. He points to the interest in the origins of language in making it possible to think in terms of the human capacity to develop and become historical. This is compelling work that suggests the important interconnections among aesthetics and anthropological thought.

Frances Ferguson, Johns Hopkins University

The Primitive, the Aesthetic, and the Savage

Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Note on Texts and Translations
Introduction: An Enlightenment Problematic

I. Primitive, Aesthetic, Savage
1. The Primitive
2. The Aesthetic
3. The Savage
II. Delimiting the Aesthetic
4. Joseph Addison’s China
5. Kant’s Tattooed New Zealanders
III. Aesthetic Formations of History
6. Adding History to a Footprint in Robinson Crusoe
7. Indian Mounds in the End-of-the-Line Mode
Conclusion: …as if Europe Existed

Notes
Index