Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine

Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine

Naomi Schor

Language: English

Pages: 280


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Who cares about details? As Naomi Schor explains in her highly influential book, we do-but it has not always been so. The interest in detail--in art, in literature, and as an aesthetic category--is the product of the decline of classicism and the rise of realism.

But the story of the detail is as political as it is aesthetic. Secularization, the disciplining of society, the rise of consumerism, the invention of the quotidian, have all brought detail to the fore. In this classic work of aesthetic and feminist theory, now available in a new paperback edition, Schor provides ways of thinking about details and ornament in literature, art, and architecture, and uncovering the unspoken but powerful ideologies that attached gender to details.

Wide-ranging and richly argued, Reading in Detail presents ideas about reading (and viewing) that will enhance the study of literature and the arts.











and Barthes, imposed themselves on me with something like the force of necessity. This is not to say that other paths might not have been taken-one might, for example, have focused on such movements as the baroque and on such major detailists as Morelli or Walter Benjamin-but the shape of the emergent narrative would, I suspect, remain very much the same, a story of sublimation and desublimation. Each of the five chapters in Part r is designed to function as a freestanding essay, while at the

fact, and it is on this semimythical, semiscientific assoCiation that II modern-day critics have based their assessments of men's and women's respective contributions to the arts. Thus Jean Larnac, the author of the classical Histoire de la litterature feminine en France (1929), grounds his unshakeable belief in the absolute difference between men's and women's writing on what must have passed in his time for the latest in scientific evidence. According to one Iastrow, writes Larnac, it has

of what we might call deferred mimeticism, of .dr.awing f~om memory rather than from the model. Recollection, as It IS practiced by Constantin Guys, screens out parasitical details. Thus when a mnemonic artist like Guys is confronted with the model, he is overwhelmed by the multiplicity of details the model presents: In this way a struggle is launched between the will to see all and forget nothing and the faculty of memory, which has formed the habit of a lively absorption of general colour and

ornaments, one would rob them of a part of their attraction and their novelty." The flowers turn out to be, to mix metaphors, "feathers~' in their caps, the ornaments, ornaments. It is then a question of reonenting the article, of abandoning polemics in favor of a simple stat_ement of facts but hardly has Wey started down this path, than he enhsts an analog; borrowed from classical rhetoric. The immediate effect is to bring his argument back to its starting point: The object of this article is

certain novels, biographies, and historical works" (PoT, 53), I think it is no accident that the two examples he provides are both drawn from non-fictional prose works: an episode of clerical life recounted by Stendhal and a weather report noted by Amiel in his Journal. The discursive punctum draws its force from its indexation on a referent guaranteed by a subject, apprehended in his or her most intimate specificity. Therefore it is not in the least surprising that it should be in one of

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