Edmund Burke's Aesthetic Ideology: Language, Gender and Political Economy in Revolution (Cambridge Studies in Romanticism)

Edmund Burke's Aesthetic Ideology: Language, Gender and Political Economy in Revolution (Cambridge Studies in Romanticism)

Tom Furniss

Language: English

Pages: 324

ISBN: 0521055482

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This study develops a detailed reading of the interrelations between aesthetics, ideology, language, gender and political economy in two highly influential works by Edmund Burke: his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), and the Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Tom Furniss's close attention to the rhetorical labyrinths of these texts is combined with an attempt to locate them within the larger discursive networks of the period, including texts by Locke, Hume and Smith. This process reveals that Burke's contradictions and inconsistencies are symptomatic of a strenuous engagement with the ideological problems endemic to the period. Burke's dilemma in this respect makes the Reflections an audacious compromise which simultaneously defends the ancien régime, contributes towards the articulation of radical thought, and makes possible the revolution which we call English Romanticism.

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most fully: 'if the sublime is built on terror', he writes, 'or some passion like it, which has pain for its object; it is previously proper to enquire how any species of delight can be derived from a cause so apparently contrary to it' (Enquiry, p. 134). Burke stresses that there is a crucial difference between terror and A theory not to be revoked 25 the sublime: 'When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain

their minds are erect with expectation, let it be reported that a state criminal of high rank is on the point of being executed in the adjoining square; in a moment the emptiness of the theatre would demonstrate the comparative weakness of the imitative arts, and proclaim the triumph of the real sympathy. (Enquiry, p. 47) Burke therefore reverses conventional claims that we can derive pleasure from representations of actions which we would be horrified to see in reality. Qualifying this,

revolutionary violence through a series of 'injokes' shared with his 'well-born' readers. And yet his subtle use of irony and allusion turns out to mirror the rhetorical ploys which he finds Price guilty of. Contrary to our received wisdom about irony, its use here betrays the fact that Burke can find no way of putting any distance between himself and the Revolution or between himself and Price. As Paul de Man puts it, 'irony is not a figure of selfconsciousness. It's a break, an interruption, a

forget, either those events, or the aera of this liberal refinement in the intercourse of mankind' (Reflections, pp. 163—4). 'History will record', and Burke is compelled to relate, that the queen of France was 'startled' from her sleep on the morning of 6 October 1789, by the voice of the centinel at her door, who cried out to her, to save herself by flight — that this was the last proof of fidelity he could give — that they were upon him, and he was dead. Instantly he was cut down. A band of

great efforts to distinguish Marie Antoinette - his embodiment of aristocratic ideology, aesthetics, and womanhood - from what even Wollstonecraft calls 'the lowest refuse of the streets, women who had thrown off the virtues of one sex without having power to assume more than the vices of the other'.10 That the virtues and vices characteristic of each gender and class may be thrown off or assumed in this way suggests that they function more like clothes than natural properties. Burke shares this

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