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American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions$
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Cindy Weinstein and Christopher Looby

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231156172

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231156172.001.0001

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From Hawthorne to Hairspray

From Hawthorne to Hairspray

American Anxieties About Beauty

(p.178) [8] From Hawthorne to Hairspray
American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions

Wendy Steiner

Columbia University Press

This chapter returns to an older tradition of aesthetics, one inextricably linked to ideas about beauty. It focuses on an aesthetic category—such as beauty—as the ground of relation, as the source of sociality. Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, “The Birthmark,” is emblematic of the killing effects of the quest for perfection, which is then traced through twentieth-century texts, such as Christopher Bram's Father of Frankenstein, the writings of Harvard ethicist Michael J. Sandel, and ending with the film musical Hairspray. To think of “beauty as an interaction” is to understand that interaction as ethical or unethical.“The Birthmark” represents the latter, Hairspray the former inasmuch as it makes the case not for gender unmoored from the constraints of convention but rather for a democratizing ethics of imperfection.

Keywords:   aesthetics, beauty, Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Birthmark, Christopher Bram, Father of Frankenstein, Michael J. Sandel, Hairspray, ethics

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