Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan
From the opening of trade with Britain in the 1850s, Japan occupied a unique and contradictory place in the Victorian imagination, regarded as both a rival empire and a cradle of exquisite beauty. Quaint, Exquisite (Princeton, 2019) explores the enduring impact of this dramatic encounter, showing how the rise of Japan led to a major transformation of Western aesthetics at the dawn of globalization. Through an analysis of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, English derivations of the haiku, and retellings of the Madame Butterfly story, and drawing on a range of philosophical and theoretical texts, Grace Lavery (English) argues that the global popularity of Japanese art in the late nineteenth century reflected an imagined universal standard of taste.
Lavery is joined by Judith Butler (Comparative Literature). After a brief conversation about the book, they open the floor for discussion.