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This article is taken from PN Review 153, Volume 30 Number 1, September - October 2003.

Does Aesthete Rhyme with Effete? Lindsay Waters

The Financial Times ran an essay several months ago suggesting that the inability of the American left to mount any effective critique of the right at the present time was due to the fact that on almost every significant issue from federal government to domestic life the left had given up all the ground from which an attack might be mounted. When, over the course of the last thirty years, those of us in the academy teaching the arts killed off aesthetics by deciding that ethics trumped aesthetics - and we did do this when we admired Levinas (and so many others similarly minded) declaring that 'true poetry unsays itself and becomes ethics' - we were depriving ourselves of one ground from which we might criticise the ruling orthodoxy with their patriot games. The moralising of the arts over the last thirty years by the left fed into the patriot games. The fear of being accused of an immoral concern with the fripperies of art, with its violence and immortality, has lined up left with right so that we now have a truly bipartisan ethicism - I won't dishonour the word 'ethics' by calling the resulting attitude by that name.

Does aesthete rhyme with effete? From the point of view of this ethicism, a concern for how poems rhyme and how that tracking shot was composed, marks one as effete. But even more than effete, what aesthete rhymes with is 'reet petite,' an artwork we can best ...


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