Reading: Raymond William's _Culture and Society: 1750-1950_, the classic study of how romanticism and art as a critique of society evolved from the Enlightenment premium on individual experience. Key figures: Burke and Cobbett, Shelley and Keats, Coleridge and Mill.
Skeptics as we are now about the Enlightenment, the whole account reeks of Whiggish glue, holding together dissimilar parts into a hastily unified arc of human realization -- or better yet, individuals realizing themselves as members of a class. Williams cannot wait, the revolution is nigh!
So what's an alternative explanation? Different social networks are always forming and unforming. Sometimes "art" with a critique of something understood from a whole as "society." For Williams, this was an apex of civilization, nothing beyond it could be imagined. Hurry up, please, it's time. ARtists have formed themselves into groups who recognize each other. We've known about society for two hundred years now. Society was the amorphous other, the way of understanding the man in the crowd, the way of making sense of oneself as a statistic. It was the only way to make sense of the advent of mass communication and Enlightenment selves as they evolved at the same time.
Now we face something different, something beyond "society", and it will take a different kind of "art" understanding and reworking the means of communication as they exist. We're beyond nineteenth-century utopias, onward to complicated shared projects and experiments in space and the self.