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Pater begins his discussion by stating in the preface that beauty is relative, and like all abstract terms has meaning only in the concrete. To give meaning to the concept of beauty, the observer does not need to "possess a correct abstract definition" of it, but instead should have "a certain kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects. He will remember always that beauty exists in many forms." Each chapter develops this theme through discussion of a specific artist or critic. Especially interesting are his essays on Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Botticelli. Pater demonstrates his own ability to be "deeply moved" by the artists he considers, using terms such as "charm," "strangeness" and "sweet" along with more traditional historical and critical terms to describe their work. The concluding chapter on Winckelmann synthesizes various points from his treatments of the individual artists into one coherent statement of the meaning and role of beauty in our lives. Art, he says, must be enjoyed for its own sake and not for other more extraneous reasons. It "comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments' sake."
Pater has an elegant and engaging writing voice that draws the reader through his various arguments. His prose style is itself an object of beauty. His larger argument has been validated repeatedly throughout the 125 years since he lived. Reading this book, I found myself wondering why it was considered so controversial when it first appeared. Perhaps it was considered revolutionary for its day; but from the perspective of 2014, I found it hard to understand what all the fuss was about.
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I bought this book on the basis of a rave mention of it in one of the other books I reviewed, it might have been a year ago. It's been sitting in my airplane pile for a while.
At a professional level of erudite literary dissection and amplification, this is clearly both a supreme professional accomplishment and a labor of love. From the note to the bibliography to the chronology, this is one of the best constructed and presented "packages" I have ever held in my hands.
It leaves me cold. I simply do not see, feel, or comprehend the bru-ha-ha over this being a clarion call to flagrant abandon, an ode to homosexuality, a challenge to the ruling class, etcetera.
I *do* see the celebration of the senses and the emphasis on appreciation in context, each piece is different for each person, it is the interaction of the person, the piece, and the moment that "creates" the unique sensory experience.
I *do* see the challenge to the Church and traditions (mostly very hypocritical as the prudes in public often turned out to be libertines in private).
I *do* learn at aestheticism has been associated with homosexuality in the past, and have to look up the word to learn that its secular meaning is (Merriam Webster Online:
1: a doctrine that the principles of beauty are basic to other and especially moral principles 2: devotion to or emphasis on beauty or the cultivation of the arts
I *do* get that the author (Pater) strives to celebrate both the human intellect and the human body as in "sound mind in sound body" but I do not see where this makes the book any kind of celebration of manly love.
I paid special attention to the conclusion, and found it bland in relation to all the bru-ha-ha.Read more ›
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