Edmund Burke's Aesthetic Ideology: Language, Gender and Political Economy in Revolution (Cambridge Studies in Romanticism)

Edmund Burke's Aesthetic Ideology: Language, Gender and Political Economy in Revolution (Cambridge Studies in Romanticism)

Tom Furniss

Language: English

Pages: 324

ISBN: 0521055482

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

This study develops a detailed reading of the interrelations between aesthetics, ideology, language, gender and political economy in two highly influential works by Edmund Burke: his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), and the Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Tom Furniss's close attention to the rhetorical labyrinths of these texts is combined with an attempt to locate them within the larger discursive networks of the period, including texts by Locke, Hume and Smith. This process reveals that Burke's contradictions and inconsistencies are symptomatic of a strenuous engagement with the ideological problems endemic to the period. Burke's dilemma in this respect makes the Reflections an audacious compromise which simultaneously defends the ancien régime, contributes towards the articulation of radical thought, and makes possible the revolution which we call English Romanticism.



















prefigures Burke is in speculating about the means through which terror might produce delight: 'But how comes it to pass, that we should take delight in being terrified or dejected by a description, when we find so much uneasiness in the fear or grief which we receive from any other occasion?' (Essays from the Spectator, p. 197). Addison's answer to this is strikingly Burkean. Such delight arises not from the way that the terrible object or event is being described, but from the reflection we

insidiously within the particular kind of self (or political state) which Burke is attempting to valorize. If the sublime's role is to reaffirm the sense of self as a kind of heroic labourer, purging itself of weakness through individual effort, the sublimity of the victorious subject is perhaps more an efficacious fiction than a genuine transcendence. Burke's analysis of the origins of the sublime often raises a suspicion that the sense of 'danger' necessary to the experience is 'something of a

of natural things. Even so, they inevitably exceed their representative function by sometimes affecting us much more strongly than the things they are supposed to speak for. Burke's aesthetic treatise, then, seems to display contradictions at every turn. Before going on to look at the internal contradictions of the Reflections and at the way the Enquiry and the Reflections seem to 'contradict' each other, it is important to reiterate that such contradictions are not being sought out for their own

way of making war from savagery. In defining the civilized subject's reaction to this 'triumph', Burke not only dictates the fitting response of English men and women to the Revolution, but also that of the National Assembly. Burke 'must believe' that the members 'must' feel as he does, and that they had no part in directing the authors and actors of these events: This, my dear Sir, was not the triumph of France. I must believe that, as a nation, it overwhelmed you with shame and horror. I must

of class distinctions 'which rested on nothing more than habit and tradition . . . With no more solid basis than that, it could easily be undermined' (Burke, p. 69). Recognizing capitalism's vulnerability to the 'egalitarian propa- 182 Edmund Burke''s aesthetic ideology ganda of the French Revolutionists and their English supporters', Burke is driven to disguise its politics by utilizing 'old [social and political] forms', and by putting 'a new bourgeois content into Natural Law': Burke

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