Skip to content
Topics
Stories

Ornamental Aesthetics: The Poetry of Attending in Thoreau, Dickinson, and Whitman | Theo Davis

People in this story

Theo Davis, Professor of English

This book argues that ornamental aesthetics are central to the writing of Thoreau, Dickinson, and Whitman. It explores the stakes of such an ornamental aesthetics through a parallel investigation of the ornamental aspects of Heidegger’s phenomenological philosophy. It advances a new theory of ornament as a practice of attending, honoring, and noticing, in contrast to more familiar theories in which materiality, handcrafting, or historical grounding are emphasized. Literary criticism and theory are largely organized around a representational core, in which materially embodied forms are interpreted for their underlying meaning; in contrast, ornamental poetics and aesthetics shift the attention to how persons notice, come into contact with, and elaborate interest in objects, ideas, and experiences. Connecting phenomenology, theories of ornamental poetry and rhetoric, and references to Buddhist teaching, the book argues for the central, rich, and undetermined quality of the immediate experiences of aesthetic attending that ornamentation yields. At the same time, it insists on the non-self-evident qualities of such immediate aesthetic experiences, and critiques the emphasis on surface in critical approaches emphasizing readerly non-intervention. It argues against the antihumanism and materialism of much literary criticism, and offers ornamentation as a means to retheorize the centrality of immediate experience to the field of literary studies.

More Stories

Abortion-rights activists demonstrate against the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade that established a constitutional right to abortion, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 30, 2022.

In an uncertain legal landscape, why are companies offering to pay for abortion travel?

07.05.2022
In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, photo, Bremerton assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, obscured at center in blue, is surrounded by Centralia players after they took a knee with him and prayed after their game against Bremerton, in Bremerton, Wash. The Washington coach who was told by district officials to stop leading prayers after games went ahead with a prayer at the 50-yard line after a weekend game.

Is the Supreme Court doing away with the separation of church and state?

07.05.2022

What’s really behind the Iran-Venezuela bromance?

07.05.22
In the News