In a dialogue whose precedents include Oscar Wilde's “Critic as Artist,” two fictional professors of English take up the relationship between aestheticism and quietism. Their conversation begins with a debate on the necessity of treating sociopolitical contexts when teaching literature then moves to connections among aesthetic experience, political disengagement, inactivity, and contemplation explored by Wilde, Miguel de Molinos, Aristotle, Hannah Arendt, Walter Pater, Arthur Schopenhauer, Johann Winckelmann, and others. Having described the influence of nineteenth-century science and determinism on Wilde's gospel of inaction, as well as Pater's adaptation of the Winckelmannian view that people and things express their nature most truly when still, one speaker wonders whether aesthetic experience gains some of its significance from its affiliation with leisure. The other resists the idea that repose might constitute one of life's key desiderata, but notes at the close how both his own view and his interlocutor's are adumbrated in the Wallace Stevens poem that furnishes the dialogue its title.
Douglas Mao; The Lack of Repose. Common Knowledge 1 August 2009; 15 (3): 412–437. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2009-021
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