Political Aesthetics

Political Aesthetics

Crispin Sartwell
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 272
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    Political Aesthetics
    Book Description:

    "I suggest that although at any given place and moment the aesthetic expressions of a political system just are that political system, the concepts are separable. Typically, aesthetic aspects of political systems shift in their meaning over time, or even are inverted or redeployed with an entirely transformed effect. You cannot understand politics without understanding the aesthetics of politics, but you cannot understand aesthetics as politics. The point is precisely to show the concrete nodes at which two distinct discourses coincide or connive, come apart or coalesce."-from Political Aesthetics

    Juxtaposing and connecting the art of states and the art of art historians with vernacular or popular arts such as reggae and hip-hop, Crispin Sartwell examines the reach and claims of political aesthetics. Most analysts focus on politics as discursive systems, privileging text and reducing other forms of expression to the merely illustrative. He suggests that we need to take much more seriously the aesthetic environment of political thought and action.

    Sartwell argues that graphic style, music, and architecture are more than the propaganda arm of political systems; they are its constituents. A noted cultural critic, Sartwell brings together the disciplines of political science and political philosophy, philosophy of art and art history, in a new way, clarifying basic notions of aesthetics-beauty, sublimity, and representation-and applying them in a political context. A general argument about the fundamental importance of political aesthetics is interspersed with a group of stimulating case studies as disparate as Leni Riefenstahl's films and Black Nationalist aesthetics, the Dead Kennedys and Jeffersonian architecture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5924-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: The Idea of Political Aesthetics
    (pp. 1-14)

    There are, of course, many connections between art and politics. Regimes of all sorts—democratic, monarchical, communist, and all the rest—use and repress the arts in various ways for propagandistic purposes, to control or deflect public opinion. And much of what we take as fine art has explicitly political themes; this is truer now than ever, or was truer twenty years ago than ever, as artists expressed feminist, antiracist, animal rights, or AIDS activist ideology in their work, for example. These are important areas for investigation. But what I am calling the program or inquiry of political aesthetics begins...

  5. Chapter 1 Leni Riefenstahl Meets Charlie Chaplin: Aesthetics of the Third Reich
    (pp. 15-47)

    In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin writes, “All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war” (Benjamin, p. 241). And in 1922 Mussolini said, “The task of fascism is to make [the masses] an organic whole with the Nation, much as an artist needs raw material to forge his masterpieces” (quoted in Falasca-Zamponi, p. 21). In political aesthetics, the case of fascism in general and the Nazis in particular must be considered central, for two reasons. First, few regimes have ever developed an aesthetic more explicitly and self-consciously, or made it...

  6. Chapter 2 Artphilosophical Themes
    (pp. 48-98)

    We are now, I think, armed with a set of examples and issues, developed from concrete situations. We have seen political ideas formulated essentially as aesthetic ideas, a political movement embodied in aesthetic objects. It is worthwhile, however, to try to get some kind of grasp on the theoretical relationships involved in a general way: to move from artpolitical history to artpolitical philosophy.

    The idea of political aesthetics would be indefensible if, on the one hand, the aesthetic sphere of value were not intrinsically tied to or if, on the other hand, it were identical to the political, the ethical,...

  7. Chapter 3 Dead Kennedys and Black Flags: Artpolitics of Punk
    (pp. 99-127)

    Perhaps the most direct way to detach the idea of political aesthetics from totalitarianism is, again, to demonstrate that it can profitably approach anti-totalitarian political systems. Here I want to show that anti-politics is as aesthetic as politics, that political aesthetics is as applicable to anarchism as to fascism. If the state is always an aesthetic object, so is its destruction or rejection. If the Prince is an artist, so is liberation that repudiates all princes. Indeed, perhaps no political tendency other than fascism has been as aestheticized as anarchism, and the relation of anarchism to the avant-garde arts of...

  8. Chapter 4 Prehistory of Political Aesthetics
    (pp. 128-149)

    It’s fair to say that the centralization of aesthetics to the account of politics is not a recent innovation. Confucianism, for example, is largely based on this idea. In the West the aesthetic and the political had to be teased apart and distinguished. And in many versions of classical republicanism and of totalitarianism, the values are represented as connected or identical. We might attribute the conscious merging of distinct dimensions of value, however, to the modern idealist and romantic traditions, and we see versions in Shaftesbury, Schiller, Herder, Hegel, Wagner, and Nietzsche.

    Insofar as the sources of various traditions in...

  9. Chapter 5 Red, Gold, Black, and Green: Black Nationalist Aesthetics
    (pp. 150-186)

    Various of the themes we have approached thus far appear again and differently with regard to the Black Nationalism of the twentieth century, which I associate above all with the Marcus Garvey movement. It may be that if Garvey, who appointed himself Provisional President of Africa, had succeeded in creating his black nation, he would have ruled it by authoritarian means. But as it stood, he used a version of romantic nationalism as a strategy for resistance. The meaning and the effect of romantic nationalism, like that of every artpolitical ideology, depends on the context in which it is deployed....

  10. Chapter 6 Arthistorical Themes
    (pp. 187-211)

    To some extent the idea of art history as a distinct discipline has inhibited the understanding of history, and even as the discipline is always working to put high art into a cultural context, it is always pulling it out of history into a practice of connoisseurship or expertise as well, by definition isolating art as a distinct sphere. Indeed we might think of art history as a correlate of political science; the definition of the discipline is implicitly a set of isolations or limitations on methodology. These limitations will have to be broken in layers, and of course the...

  11. Chapter 7 Political Power and Transcendental Geometry: Republican Classicism in Early America
    (pp. 212-234)

    It is rather a remarkable fact that of the first three American presidents, two were distinguished architects, and Jefferson the most influential architect in our history, at any rate until the twentieth century. And if the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are our founding documents, they are built by analogy to our founding buildings and vice versa: the structures of American republicanism. The messages embodied in the documents and in the buildings are, however, intensely equivocal as between state power and individual freedom; American exceptionalism and provincial anxiety; starting anew and reinstating tradition; pride and humility; slavery and democracy.


  12. Conclusion: Political Styles and Aesthetic Ideologies
    (pp. 235-244)

    What I want to bring out of the case studies—besides what I hope is their intrinsic interest—is something of an inductive demonstration of the legitimacy and usefulness of political aesthetics as an area of inquiry. With regard to political phenomena, the specialization of disciplines has resulted in huge ranges of data omitted or marred by confusions and arbitrary limitations. First, the distinctions between political and aesthetic realms, and thus between political science, art history, philosophy of art, and political philosophy, are unsustainable on the ground. Or at least the subject matters are profoundly enriched by being brought into...

  13. Appendix: Riffing on Political Aesthetics: Suggestions for Case Studies and Research
    (pp. 245-248)
  14. References
    (pp. 249-254)
  15. Index
    (pp. 255-270)