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Restless SecularismModernism and the Religious Inheritance$
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Matthew Mutter

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780300221732

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300221732.001.0001

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“Tangled in a Golden Mesh”: Virginia Woolf and the “Deceptiveness” of Beauty

“Tangled in a Golden Mesh”: Virginia Woolf and the “Deceptiveness” of Beauty

(p.65) 2 “Tangled in a Golden Mesh”: Virginia Woolf and the “Deceptiveness” of Beauty
Restless Secularism

Matthew Mutter

Yale University Press

There has been a small movement among recent critics and philosophers to rehabilitate the reputation of beauty, which suffered under the modernist fascination with ugliness, Romantic and postmodern prejudice in favor of the sublime, and political criticism of beauty as elitist, inefficacious, and complicit with injustice. This chapter seeks to reframe these debates by examining the link between beauty and religious ontologies. Weber, following Nietzsche, insisted that secular modernity had broken sympathetic relations between beauty and goodness, but in Woolf’s novels the beautiful cannot shed its theological aura: its promise of reconciliation, peace, and divine benevolence. Woolf’s famous conception of “the world as a work of art”—which has, nevertheless, no “creator”—remains entangled in the aesthetic theodicies she repudiates. Her novels struggle to conceptualize secular, mundane models of beauty while simultaneously clinging to intimations of a metaphysical and moral order implicit in aesthetic experience. Beauty is, in her writing, the last and most intractable stronghold of mystical feeling.

Keywords:   Beauty, Aesthetics, Sublime, Eschatology, Anthropomorphism, Theodicy, Transcendence, Immanence, Ethics, Secularism

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