Walter Pater's Individualism: Philosophical Aesthetics and the 'Elusive Inscrutable Mistakable Self'
Hext, Kate J.
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
It is the individual and not art that is at the heart of Walter Pater’s philosophical aesthetics. Even as Pater realizes the ‘illusive inscrutable mistakable’ nature of the individual under the conditions of modernity, his aesthetics revolve around it. He boldly attempts to reconsider the kind of individualism that will be possible in the wake of modernity, searching within the chaos and ephemera of a Godless universe to seek Man’s raison d’etre within the imagination. Certainly, his idiosyncratic thought is not a system, nor even a consistent vision, so much as a faltering meditation on what kind of individualism is possible under the conditions of modernity. It is a discourse situated at a schism in humankind’s consciousness of itself: on one hand, looking to the philosophies Pater studied carefully -- those of Hume, Kant, Schiller and Goethe, amongst others -- and on the other hand, understanding that the emerging future will require its own conception of reality. With these issues in mind, my study has two main aims. First, it explores the troubled vicissitudes of Pater’s conception of the individual. Second, it argues that Pater has a significant position, not only in the history of literary style, but in the history of ideas, by tracing how his thought interacts with and reconceives the philosophical traditions of British empiricism, German Romanticism and Idealism. Its chapters are organized around six central concerns: the relationship between self and world, the nebulous conceptions of ‘spirit’ and ‘soul,’ sensuality, the body as subject and object, passing time and the eternal moment, and ethics. These issues are considered with reference to the full range of Pater’s essays and imaginary portraits, including his unpublished manuscripts, ‘The History of Philosophy and ‘The Aesthetic Life.’ Their significance is understood within the context of Pater’s intellectual milieu, his own life and their resonances through literary modernism.
PhD in English