In this book, I have argued that the development in the eighteenth century of a distinct field of inquiry that we now know as aesthetics was slow to produce a concept of form that now seems central to humanistic study. Because of my training and my institutional position, my approach to this argument is literary. I use methods of interpretation associated with literary texts—but the texts I spend the most time with in this book are not literary in the most familiar sense, not plays or novels or poems. And arguably, my focus on form as a problem is just as much a product of my literary orientation; we in literary studies have been arguing about form for years. (We seem never to tire of calling formalism “new,” or of declaring that form is over.) But our form problem does not necessarily define the other humanistic disciplines that fall under the domain of the aesthetic. Moreover, my literary orientation does not mean that the understanding of form that I develop in this book lends itself easily to literary use, integrally related as it is to the practice of the visual arts. Should it, though? More fundamentally: could it? In the last few pages of this book, I speculate a bit in response to these two questions....
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