This essay traces the concept of “aesthetic historicism” in literary studies, from its first appearance in the writing of Erich Auerbach to its influence on an array of contemporary currents loosely associated with “new formalism,” such as historical formalism, historical poetics, and historical stylistics. It argues that while Auerbachian aesthetic historicism played a key role in relativizing standards of aesthetic judgment—and thus arguing against aesthetic universals—a newly invigorated version would conceive the history of criticism as a chronicle of different formalisms, each contributing to the construction of “the aesthetic” across time and space.

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