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EN974 - Aesthetics and Modernity 1: The Question concerning Experience

This MA module is designed to allow for an exploration of the importance of the concept of experience in relation to both aesthetics and modernity. In exploring this, we will cover a number of areas of inquiry. These will include explorations across a number of interlocking themes: a) the ways in which the formation of ‘taste’ in aesthetics is related to political and cultural ideas of modernity; b) how taste and judgement relate to the category of experience; how experience relates to the formulation of laws and norms; d) the role of experience in learning and thus also in formal institutions of literary and other educations; the relation of experience to the University as an institution of modernity; the formulation of the cultural norms of modernity through aesthetic experience; the question of how we might attempt to give legitimisations to judgements; the issue of justice. We will engage with these issues through consideration of some literary texts, considered alongside some philosophical arguments.


This is a graduate level module. Accordingly, its actual shape will be partly determined by the evolving research interests of the student cohort. We will beging with issues of experience in relation to modernity in Montaigne and Descartes. This will probably take the first two weeks of the seminar. The actual schedule following this will be by agreement.


Montaigne, 'De l'expérience'

Descartes, Discours de la méthode

Moliére, Le bourgeois gentilhomme

Giambattista Vico, selection from Rectorial Orations in the Universitá di Napoli

Swift, A Tale of a Tub

Schiller, Selections from Letters on Aesthetic Education

Eliot, selections from Selected Essays

Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'


as above for primary materials

Secondary materials might include:

Dalia Judowitz, Descartes and the Subject of Modernity

Thomas Docherty, Criticism and Modernity (OUP, 1999)

Antony Cascardi, The Subject of Modernity (CUP, 1992)

Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History (Verso, 2007); The Man without Content (Stanford UP, 1999)

Alain Badiou, Conditions (Seuil, Paris, 1992)

Shakespeare, Hamlet

John Joughin and Simon Malpas, eds. The New Aestheticism (Manchester UP, 2004)


Thomas Docherty