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The Politics of Decoration: Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Poetic Form

In the early twentieth century the arts of the previous generation were frequently discredited by ardent modernists and modernisers as purely decorative: a Victorian love of pattern was seen to obscure and evade politics. Never more so than in the ‘art for art’s sake’ movement toward the end of the nineteenth century. Yet as Walter Benjamin has pointed out ‘L’art pour l’art’ was ‘scarcely ever to be taken literally; it was almost always a flag under which sailed a cargo that could not be declared’. This lecture will uncover a surprising politics of pattern in one of the most unlikely places: in the fashion for fixed poetic verse forms (the rondeau, the triolet, the villanelle, etc), whose highly stylized patterns, I argue, were at the heart of a debate about cosmopolitanism, nationalism, and socialism, that has never seemed more modern or more relevant than it does today.

Marion Thain is Professor of Literature and Culture, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. She began her career as a Junior Research Fellow at Cambridge University, and worked in English departments at Russell Group universities before moving to New York University as a professor of Arts and Literature in the school of the interdisciplinary global liberal arts (Liberal Studies) and as Director of Digital Humanities for NYU. She returned to the UK in 2018. She publishes primarily on: aestheticism; poetry and poetics; technology and the arts.  Book publications include: The Lyric Poem and Aestheticism: Forms of Modernity (2016); The Lyric Poem: Formations and Transformations (2013); Michael Field: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Fin de Siècle (2007); Poetry of the 1890s (1998).

This lecture is free to attend and will be followed by a reception. 

Event details

Safra Lecture Theatre
Strand Campus
Strand, London, WC2R 2LS