The aesthetics of ugliness
Baker, Anna Elizabeth, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Bennett, Benjamin, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Grossman, Jeffrey, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Bjorklund, Berniel, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Megill, Allan, Department of History, University of Virginia
Against the backdrop of eighteenth century history, philosophy and literature, this dissertation investigates the changing discourse concerning ugliness. Specifically, this study examines how the previously negligible role of ugliness develops into a functional one within aesthetics and Enlightenment culture; further, ugliness comes to manifest itself formally and thematically in literature.
This investigation focuses on four authors that epitomized the interstices between culture critique and aesthetic philosophy: Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Friedrich Schiller, Heinrich von Kleist and Mary Shelley. This project consists of four chapters, which focuses on these authors who challenged the normative constraints of representation by reappropriating ugliness. Each chapter focuses on a specific type of ugliness: Jewish, criminal, female, and foreign ugliness. Chapter 1, which is a discussion about Gottfried Ephraim Lessing's Nathan der Weise, examines the connection between Jewishness and ugliness. Using Moses Mendelssohn as his model for Nathan, Lessing shows how racial stereotypes adversely affect society. Chapter 2 focuses on Friedrich Schiller's aesthetic essays and his novella "Der Vebrecher aus verlorener Ehre" in order to demonstrate the fallacy between the Enlightenment project of tolerance and the pernicious connection between ugliness and social expulsion. Chapter 3 investigates the constructedness of female beauty in Heinrich von Kleist's Das Käthchen van Heilbronn while Chapter 4 focuses on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the consequences of negative judgments against non-Europeans. Each of these authors demonstrates their political and social consciousness, and each author reappropriates ugliness as a valuable weapon against social prejudices. This dissertation addresses this historical juncture, specifically how ugliness assumes a useful function in philosophical and social views.
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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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