Openings on my ASECS Panel on Shafteburyan Traces

Hello, everybody:

Just sent this CFP reminder to C18-L, so posting it here may be redundant, but I haven’t stopped by the blogsite in a long time and if this prompts any discussion or queries, let’s have a go at it.

“Tracing the Line of Shaftesbury in Eighteenth-Century Studies” * William Levine, English Dept., P.O. Box 70, Middle Tennessee State U., Murfreesboro, TN, 37132; Tel: (615) 494-8846; Fax: (615) 898-5098; E-mail:

The panel will reconsider the place of Shaftesbury’s Characteristics, as well as its reception by later “moral sense” philosophers (Hutcheson, Hume, and Adam Smith), in recent critical discourse. Papers that re-examine Shaftesburyan lines of thought in the long eighteenth-century and in current scholarship in order to discuss the convergence of moral and aesthetic sense, the regulation of public and private modes of feeling and imagination, and the relationship between the cultivation of manners or sensibility and the body politic are welcome, particularly if they explore the ramifications of the Characteristics in such disciplines as art, social, and political history; the history and theory of literary criticism and aesthetics; and political science and philosophy. Douglas Den Uyl, the most recent editor of the Characteristics, has agreed to speak in this proposed seminar.

A paper that were to trace a selective genealogy of Shaftesburyan deployment in critical discourse from Bob Markley’s essay in the New C18 to the work of David Solkin and Lawrence Klein (among others) would be welcome. Or I could incorporate this overview into my remarks as a potential respondent if someone else would like to serve as session convener at the meeting.


6 responses to “Openings on my ASECS Panel on Shafteburyan Traces

  1. Carrie Shanafelt

    What a great idea for a panel, Bill!

  2. Hey Bill,

    Good hearing from you. The panel sounds interesting, too.

    I know Markley and Klein’s stuff, but not Solkin. What does he focus on?

    And any ideas why Shaftesbury had such an influence on so many different discipliness in the course of his career?


  3. Good to touch base once again, David and Carrie. Sorry we never heard from Parker last year, but maybe we’ll have better luck with others in the near future (and we can skip Robert Hume, whose arguments for more accountable historicism (or is it the impossibility of valid literary history?) I’m sure we’d just end up punching lots of large holes in).

    My quick answer to David’s question (if I may address Shaftesbury’s long-century reception rather than his influence during his career) is the open-ended potential, esp. past mid-century, for the conjunctions between aesthetics, moral sense, and political order to take root in “sensibility” and in a broader way to catalyze what Fred Bogel said long ago was a shift from a preoccupation with epistemology to ontology in later c18 culture. Long after Swift, among others, can satirize Shaftesburyan naive optimism about human nature, we have him being taken up, and taken quite in earnest, by the Scottish moral sense school, leading to even further “re-seedings” of his thought in a number of emergent disciplines, incl. associative psychology and arguably some strains of free market economics (that’s why the Liberty Fund puts him out!). So if Locke holds the high road of social progress throughout the century on all governmental and epistemological matters empirically derived, his somewhat rebellious student Shaftesbury is never far behind on the backroads and arguably pulls ahead on such issues as the assimilation of “enthusiastic” dissenters into mainstream culture.

    A separate essay would be required just to discuss the strains of Shaftesburyan aesthetics, but I’d recommend David Solkin’s Painting for Money to trace the ties between benevolent moralism, the mainstreaming of sentimental and polite aesthetics even in the most “masculinist” of fine art genres, and of course the market basis for such moves. If I’m not mistaken, he even traces certain iconographic patterns (as does Paulson in The Beautiful, Novel, and Strange) that derive from Shaftesbury’s rhetorical figurations. Some of these are reproduced in Doug Den Uyl’s Liberty Fund edition, which is worth a look even if this publication is subsidized by right-wing ideologues.


  4. Bill, you’ve mentioned this epistemology to ontology transition before, but my memories of Bogel are too foggy to remember much about how this was supposed to work. Would you mind filling this in a little, and share the cite? Thanks, DM

  5. I’ll have to dig up my copy of Bogel to give you a fuller answer, Dave, but for now, I can say that about 20 yrs I found a far more convincing explanation for the question of how to write poetry after Pope than, say, John Sitter had provided. The taxonomical premises and stringent policing (Foucauldian cliche, for lack of a better word) of the boundaries of truth and falsehood is supplanted by the fumbling quest for an authoritative lyric voice, tentatively established through the tissue of echolalia and self-consciously weaker imitations of classical and native models, in Gray and Collins (which nonetheless serve to dissolve the more firmly delineated subject-object relationships in Pope and other earlier c18 predecessors). The instability of this form of lyrical being is but one of several genre shifts and new formations that Bogel brings to bear upon his argument, though Lit and Insubstantiality is still a very selective version of lit history and the philosophical or other non-fiction prose currents that parallel the epistemological-to-ontological crisis.

    More to come, but it may not be til Thursday,


  6. [one week later]

    I like this link between Shaftesbury and the post-1760s literary genres of “ontology,” or “insubstantiality,” which would seem to include the attenuated classicisms of Collins and Gray, as well as the historicism and intertextual play of Walpole and the gothic writers (don’t remember whether Bogel talked about the gothic). Sterne, Goldsmith, Mackenzie the sentimentalists belong here, too, I suppose. To me, all this makes a lot of sense.

    Seeing Shaftesbury and his version of sentiment as the source ofthis kind of unapologetically modernizing viewof the “insubstantial” past seems plausible to me, at any rate.

    In retrospect, I wonder, though, to what extent Bogel’s narrative would encompass the formerly non-canonical female writers of the late 18th? Haywood, for example? Or alternative versions of the gothic etc. etc.?

    I don’t think this is an argument against FB, but do wonder whether its outlines depend on a high-canonicla mode of literary history that we’re less comfortable with nowadays.