The Endgame of Taste: Keats, Sartre, Beckett

article by Denise Gigante (Stanford University)


[. . .] life is a thing of beauty, Gaber, and a joy for ever. He brought his face nearer mine. A joy for ever, he said, a thing of beauty, Moran, and a joy for ever.

Beckett, Molloy

Monsieur, at one time I ventured to think that the beautiful was only a question of taste. Are there not different rules for each epoch?

Sartre, Nausea


In the context of deciding what kind of weather was better fitted to his taste, Beckett’s absurdist quest-hero Molloy decides that he has no taste, that he had lost it long ago.[1] To be sure, modernism never wholly let go of the aesthetic legacy of taste, but by 1947 when Beckett was working on the first in his series of three novels, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, it had already experienced this legacy in the form of an existentialist nausea. For Molloy, as well as for Sartre’s existential man in Nausea (1938), there could be no escape from the imperative to exercise taste, although there could be no actually doing so either. Both were born on the wrong side of Romanticism as to taste, for that is where taste as a means of aesthetic self-making begins to fail. Perhaps nowhere do we see this more clearly than in Keats’s late fragmentary epic,Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, where the metaphor of taste gives way to into an all-pervasive sickness seated in the stomach. While the starving speaker of The Fall of Hyperion fails to relish the stale banquet he is offered at the outset of the poem, the defeated gods of Hyperion suffer an existential queasiness that plays itself out in bodies that are “crampt and screw’d” (II.25). Even the eponymous hero Hyperion experiences a “nauseous feel” from the repulsive smells he is forced to consume. Critics since Walter Jackson Bate have noticed the proleptically existential tone of the Hyperion poems, the fact that they “anticipate much that we associate with existentialism (no other major nineteenth-century poem does this to the same extent)” (591). Here, I would like to pursue the possibility, evinced by Keats, that existentialism itself—and its dominant paradigms of nausea and disgust—constitute the philosophical aftermath of aesthetic taste.(para seguir leyendo este artículo, haga click aquí)

Autor: literatura inglesa

Cátedra de Literatura inglesa de la Universidad de Buenos Aires. Publicación de artículos, notas y trabajos monográficos de profesores y alumnos y de información de interés inherente a la materia.


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