"The literature and art of the French Enlightenment is everywhere marked by an intense awareness of the moment. The parallel projects of living in, representing, and learning from the moment run through the Enlightenment's endeavors as tokens of an ambition and a heritage imposing its only - and ultimately impossible - cohesion. In this illuminating study, Thomas M. Kavanagh argues that Enlightenment culture and its tensions, contradictions, and achievements flow from a subversive attention to the present as present, freed from the weight of past and future. Examining a wide sweep of literar and artistic culture, Kavanagh argues against the traditional view of the Age of Reason as one of coherent, recognizable ideology expressed in a structured narrative form. In literature he anallyzes the moment at work in the inebriating lightness of Marixau's repartee; the new-found freedom of Lahontan's and Rousseau's ideals of a consciousness limited to the present; Diderot's championing of Epicurean epistemology; Graffigny's portrayal of abrupt cultural displacements; and Casanova's penchant for chance's redefining moment. The moment in art theory and practice is explored in such forms as de Pile's defense of color; Du Bos's foregrounding of perception; Watteau's indulgence in a corporeal present; Chardin's dismantling of mimesis; and Boucher's and Fragonard's thematics of desire. With no single or unifying ideology, the French Enlightenment is revealed as a multifaceted celebration of the moment in which everything is possible yet nothing is inevitable - a period marked by a new and defining awareness of individual happiness, political freedom, and the potential of artistic expression. Esthetics of the Moment makes an important contribution to literary and cultural studies and the history of French art, as well as providing an accessible overview of the Enlightenment." -- from interior flap. Includes list of illustrations, notes, and index. Printed in black-and-white.