Phantom Formations: Aesthetic Ideology and the Bildungsroman

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Marc Redfield maintains that the literary genre of the Bildungsroman brings into sharp focus the contradictions of aesthetics, and also that aesthetics exemplifies what is called ideology. He combines a wide-ranging account of the history and theory of aesthetics with close readings of novels by Goethe, George Eliot, and Gustave Flaubert. For Redfield, these fictions of character formation demonstrate the paradoxical relation between aesthetics and literature: the notion of the Bildungsroman may be expanded to apply to any text that can be figured as a subject producing itself in history, which is to say any text whatsoever. At the same time, the category may be contracted to include only a handful of novels (or even none at all), a paradox that has led critics to denigrate the Bildungsroman as a phantom genre.
Phantom Formations addresses the problem of the Bildungsroman through a rigorous examination of aesthetic ideology which explains the hysteria provoked by literary theory, clarifies the link between aestheticism and technologism, and questions the aesthetic presuppositions of the pragmatist and neo-professionalist ideologies of the modern bureaucratic university.

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About the author (1996)

Marc Redfield is Professor of Comparative Literature, Professor of English, and Chair of Comparative Literature at Brown University. He is the author of The Politics of Aesthetics: Nationalism, Gender, Romanticism, The Rhetoric of Terror: Reflections on 9/11 and the War on Terror, and Theory at Yale: The Strange Case of Deconstruction in America.

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