This ambitious, intellectually captivating book gives appropriate conceptual form to a subject matter that is all but unbearable to represent. The subject of Art’s Undoing is an aestheticism that the Romantics and their successors did not espouse, commit, or undertake (3, 5, 6, 64, 148). Forest Pyle traces in art an intensity not compatible with its profession: “a radical aestheticism that offers no positive claims for art (either those based on ethical or political grounds or on aesthetic grounds, as in ‘art for art’s sake’)” and “provides ‘no transcendent or underlying ground’ for their validation” (4). Nor is Pyle’s concept of “radical aestheticism” understandable as the articulation of an oeuvre—the conduct of a writer’s professional project. An unthreaded sequence of alternately radiant and cindery moments provides the arresting features in this account, prized apart from the dominance of individual careers in ongoing motion and of literary history told as an...

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