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The Beautiful, the Sublime and the Aesthetics of Species in British Romanticism

Thursday, 23 September, 2010 - 14:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculty: Arts and Philosophy
Peter Heymans
phd defence

This dissertation studies the role of the human and non-human animal in the discourses of the
beautiful and the sublime in British Romanticism. Part 1 examines the moral workings of these
discourses in the green text, and clarifies how the sublime, as an aesthetic of violent
environmental alienation, can ultimately inspire a millennial reconciliation with nature and
animality. My focus here is on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
(1798) and William Wordsworth’s “Hart-Leap Well” (1800). Part 2 explores how the Romantic
aesthetic represented and influenced conceptions of subjectivity and species. Relying on Gilles
Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of becoming-animal, I concentrate here on that disruptive
encounter with animal otherness which erodes the subject’s unitary identity and creates a hybrid
being, fragmented between its humanity and animality. This Part discusses Wordsworth’s The
Prelude (1850), William Blake’s Lyca poems (1794), Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in
France (1790) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Part 3, finally, addresses the epistemological
characteristics of the beautiful and sublime, and analyses the rhetorical interaction between
literary and scientific representations of species. This Part extends the scope of this study to texts
that straddle literature and science, such as William Paley’s Natural Theology (1802) and Erasmus
Darwin’s philosophical poem The Temple of Nature (1803).