Esthetics of the moment : literature and art in the French Enlightenment /

Main Author: Kavanagh, Thomas M.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, c1996.
Series: Critical authors & issues
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Review by Choice Review

By "moment" the author means "a present freed from the weight of past and future," an appreciation that characterizes and colors the art and literature of the French Enlightenment, and differentiates it from those eras that valorized the sequence of time and events. Coexisting within this cultivation of temporality is the sense of freedom, individuality, and quest for happiness that is the beginning of modernity. Kavanagh (French, Univ. of California, Berkeley) mines the writings of Diderot, Rousseau, and others for their exaltation of the present. But the weight of the author's argument is in his examination of 18th-century painting, beginning with Roger de Piles's emphasis on the "first glance" (premi`ere coup d'oeil) and the importance of surface, color, and other painterly attractions. These properties of painting invite active and sudden spectatorship, seducing the viewer to examine the image in a sensual moment in contrast to the more cerebral offerings of French "classical" art. Thereafter follow chapters on Watteau, Chardin, Boucher, Fragondard, and Greuze and analyses of the subtle gradations of the momentary that are found in their art. Kavanagh's thesis is provocative and presents a compelling reading of 18th-century French culture. Graduate; faculty. L. R. Matteson; University of Southern California

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.