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Lingnan University
Aestheticism on the Margins: Aesthetic Detachment and the Ethics of Testimony in Twentieth-Century Literature

We usually associate aesthetic detachment with indifference to moral considerations. In the famous formulation of Oscar Wilde, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.” Unsurprisingly, such commitment to ethical indifference comes under pressure when literature turns to the representation of great historical traumas. Can we afford to say that a book is simply “well written or badly written” if it deals with such topics as the Holocaust or the transatlantic slave trade? Focusing on such diverse figures as Christopher Okigbo, Danilo Kiš, Caryl Phillips, Milan Kundera, and Boualem Sansal, my ongoing project explores the ways in which these authors balance aesthetic and ethical considerations, the kinds of theoretical arguments they produce in the process, and the formal choices they make in the name of this dual commitment.


Aleksandar Stević is an assistant professor of English at Lingnan University. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale University and has previously taught at the University of Belgrade, Hampshire College, King’s College, Cambridge, and Qatar University. His research focuses primarily on the intersections of the history of the novel with social and intellectual history across the 19th and 20th centuries. He is the author of Falling Short: The Bildungsroman and the Crisis of Self Fashioning (University of Virginia Press, 2020), co-editor of The Limits of Cosmopolitanism: Globalization and Its Discontents in Contemporary Literature (Routledge, 2020), the editor of The Politics of Tragedy (Belgrade, 2014), and the translator of a several works into Serbo-Croatian, including, most recently, Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood.

Zoom Details

Zoom link: https://hku.zoom.us/j/91682581132?pwd=MzQ4V0ovTGNCR3F4eFRIYW1GWkdudz09

Meeting ID: 916 8258 1132
Password: 308496

Live broadcast will be available in Room CRT-7.45, 7/F, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU.