An Art of Handling
This introductory chapter outlines some basic claims about tact, the subjects it touches upon, and the way this book is framed. In broadest terms: tact privileges encounters over knowledge, and an aesthetic of handling over more abstract conceptualization or observation—whether of people or objects. Tact can be described as a close and haptic attention to the moment, preferring a present ambivalence to a future perfection. Tact lends itself to political uses just where—in its refusal of assertion—it seems most impertinent to practical ends. It is a literary art that draws upon the particular resources of the essay as form; and it provides the grounds for a claim about the relationship between art and human freedom—an “aesthetic liberalism”—not encompassed by traditional political philosophy. Tact has its origins in a particular time and place, the British nineteenth century, but it is also a more generalizable and available style.
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