The Beauty of Choice

On Women, Art and Freedom

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Pub Date 09 Jul 2024 | Archive Date 16 Oct 2024

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Description

In The Beauty of Choice, the renowned cultural critic Wendy Steiner offers a dazzling new account of aesthetics grounded in female agency. Through a series of linked meditations on canonical and contemporary literature and art, she casts women’s taste as the engine of liberal values.

Steiner reframes long-standing questions surrounding desire, art, sexual assault, and beauty in light of #MeToo. Beginning with an opera she wrote based on Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” she presents women’s sexual choices as fundamentally aesthetic in nature—expressions of their taste—and artworks as stagings of choice in courtship, coquetry, consent, marriage, and liberation. A merger of art criticism, evolutionary theory, political history, and aesthetics, this book paints the struggle between female autonomy and patriarchal violence and extremism as the essence of art.

The Beauty of Choice pursues its claims through a striking diversity of examples: Sei Shōnagon’s defense of pleasure in the Pillow Book; Picasso’s and Balthus’s sexualization of their models; the redefinition of “waste” in postmodern fiction; and interactivity and empathy in the works of contemporary artists such as Marlene Dumas, Barbara MacCallum, Kristin Beeler, and Hannah Gadsby. It offers the first critical study of Heroines, a memorial to the twenty thousand women raped in Kosovo during the Serbian genocide. This deeply original book gives taste, beauty, and pleasure central roles in a passionate defense of women’s freedom.


Wendy Steiner is Richard L. Fisher Professor of English Emerita at the University of Pennsylvania as well as an opera librettist and multimedia artist. Her many acclaimed books include The Scandal of Pleasure: Art in an Age of Fundamentalism (1995) and Venus in Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in Twentieth-Century Art (2001).

In The Beauty of Choice, the renowned cultural critic Wendy Steiner offers a dazzling new account of aesthetics grounded in female agency. Through a series of linked meditations on canonical and...


Advance Praise

"This ambitious, clear-eyed, and beautifully written book redefines and reinvigorates feminist aesthetic thought. The Beauty of Choice is an exquisite hybrid of art and criticism: it is art as criticism, and criticism as art. It is something that only Wendy Steiner could have written—a crowning achievement."

--James E. Young, author of The Stages of Memory: Reflections on Memorial Art, Loss, and the Spaces Between

"This ambitious, clear-eyed, and beautifully written book redefines and reinvigorates feminist aesthetic thought. The Beauty of Choice is an exquisite hybrid of art and criticism: it is art as...


Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9780231215268
PRICE $35.00 (USD)
PAGES 272

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