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The Rise of Science and the Aesthetic Reaction to It - Essay Example

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By the 19th century, the primacy of science, sparked by the Enlightenment of the 18th century was fully evident in the progress outwardly seen in society and the economic industrialization of the West. Religion was toppled down from its pedestal of spiritual or inward source of faith…
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The Rise of Science and the Aesthetic Reaction to It
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The Rise of Science and the Aesthetic Reaction to It

The reaction to Darwin and Freud (whose psychological theory did not as much as put forward the rationality of man, rather that he is driven by irrational forces) was seemingly two-fold in fin de siecle literature. First, was the depiction of the separation of inner and outward character (a painting that serves as the mirror of the soul of a debauched, perfect-looking man in Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray or a Mr. Hyde, the monster to the respectable Dr. Jekyll in the famous novel by Robert Louis Stevenson) whose reconciliation would not happen in actual life but would be brought about only by death. Second, was the cold-blooded, detached view of life as a field where one can experiment and perform whose boundaries need not be set by society, but by only the individual. In both cases, the case of appreciation for what constitutes beauty or in general, what constitutes art, is laid at the mercy of a conscious or unconscious imitation of the scientific method. But does science lends itself to the cause of art or the appreciation of what is true or beautiful Walter Pater who influenced Oscar Wilde as a student, wrote in his essay, Style that literature's enterprise "may well lie in the naturalization of the vocabulary of science, so only it be under the eye of a sensitive scholarship--in a liberal naturalisation of the ideas of science too, for after all the chief stimulus of good style is to possess a full, rich, complex matter to grapple with" (Pater p. 16). In the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the "full, rich, complex matter to grapple with" has been introduced to Dorian Gray by Lord Henry Wotton whose fascination with the methods of science was applied to the investigation of human life (Wilde chapter 3). That the main character in the novel would indeed take literally Lord Wotton's advice that "the only way to the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it" (Wilde chapter 2), is shown how seemingly the material of life is under the control of the individual - much like a scientist is in control of laboratory. The difference lies of course is that a scientist what experiments from are inanimate - not creatures of feelings, sensibilities or complex passions. What Dr. Jekyll at the start enjoyed over the safety of limiting his evil side to Mr. Hyde, would unravel when the evil side eventually took over his own body - the case of the material devouring the creator or the artist.
The aesthete character as depicted in fin de siecle literature also shows how detachment and obsession are the contradictory attitudes towards beauty. It is not as much as morality or insistence on the weight of value has no part in it, as much as beauty seems to be confined in the recesses of the mind, its purity guarded and valued for its own sake - only to be wasted away when its feet touches the ground. In Dorian Gray, as much as the tiring paradoxes mouthed by Lord Wotton, beauty is only in the mind, and its attainment is through its defilement and destruction in real experience. To a certain extent, the character of Gilbert Osmond who fascinated the main character enough to fall into his trap in Henry James' A Portrait of Lady is a fine specimen of such an ... Read More
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