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Art and Politics: The Aesthetic Revolutions of Modernity

Lecturers: James Muldoon, Sam Cuff Snow, Conall Cash, David Blencowe and Gene Flenady

Originally Taught: Evening School Semester 2, 2013

This course will explore the relationship between art and politics in the modern period through the writings of several prominent aesthetic theorists and historical examples of works of art. In the first half of the course, students will be familiarised with the ideas of the classical thinkers of aesthetics such as Kant, Schiller and Hegel by way of an introduction to their writings on art. In particular, we will examine the emancipatory potential of art and its relation to such concepts as truth and freedom. Theoretical discussions will be placed into relation where possible with the artistic and political context of the period.

In the second half of the course we will witness the dissolution and reconfiguration of the promise of art in several of the leading thinkers of the twentieth century. Adorno, Althusser, Barthes, Bloch and Jameson will be contrasted as offering five different conceptualisations of the nature of art following the rise of industrialised, capitalist society. The course will conclude with an exploration of the aesthetic theories of Jacques Rancière, who offers a fresh perspective from which to view the aesthetic revolutions of modernity.

What is the purpose of art today? Can art still play an emancipatory role in society? What modes of being or forms of reflection are opened up in art that are unavailable in other spheres of life? This course will be useful for those seeking to explore new ways of thinking about art and its function in modern society. It will also serve as an introduction to the important tradition of modern philosophical aesthetics.

Lecture Outline:

  • Week 1: Introduction – Kant
  • Week 2: Schiller
  • Week 3: Hegel
  • Week 4: Marxist Aesthetics and Althusser
  • Week 5: 20th Century Aesthetics 1: Bloch and Adorno
  • Week 6: 20th Century Aesthetics 2: Barthes and Jameson
  • Week 7: Rancière

Extended Reading List

Recommended readings will be made available online as pdfs prior to the start of the course. Each week contains a set of recommended readings that students are encouraged to do before each lecture and optional readings for further research. Lectures will not presuppose knowledge of the readings though they will be helpful for greater comprehension.

Week 1: Introduction – Kant

Lecturer: James Muldoon

Recommended readings

Secondary sources:

  • J. M. Bernstein, The Fate of Art (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992) 1-16
  • Christian Helmut Wenzel, An Introduction to Kant’s Aesthetics (Blackwell Publishing: Oxford 2005) 1-19

Primary sources:

  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) 89-124 (Analytic of the Beautiful)

Supplementary readings

Secondary sources:

  • Christian Helmut Wenzel, An Introduction to Kant’s Aesthetics (Blackwell Publishing: Oxford 2005)
  • Henry Allison, Kant’s Theory of Taste (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2001)
  • Paul Guyer, Kant and the Claims of Taste (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Primary sources:

  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)

Week 2: Schiller

Lecturer: Sam Cuff Snow

Recommended Readings

Secondary sources:

  • Frederick Beiser, “Argument and Context of the Ästhetische Briefe,” in Schiller as Philosopher: A Re-Examination (Oxford University Press, 2005)

Primary sources:

  • Friedrich Schiller,On the Aesthetic Education of Man: In a Series of Letters, translated by Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L.A. Willoughby (Clarendon Press, 1968):
  • 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 9th, 12th, 26th Letters in full;
  • Selected paragraphs of the following Letters: 4th (P1–3), 15th (P1–4 & 8–9), 16th (P1), 24th (P1), 25th (P6), 27th (P9 & 12)

Supplementary Readings

Secondary sources:

  • Frederick Beiser, Schiller as Philosopher: A Re-Examination (Oxford University Press, 2005)
  • Chapters 5 and especially 6 of Daniel O. Dahlstrom, Philosophical Legacies: Essays on the Thought of Kant, Hegel, and Their Contemporaries (The Catholic University of America Press, 2008), 67–92 and 93–119
  • Anthony Savile's three chapters on the work in his Aesthetic Reconstructions: The Seminal Writings of Lessing, Kant and Schiller, Aristotelian Society Series' vol. 8 (Oxford: Blackwell 1987), 193–254

Primary sources:

  • Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man: In a Series of Letters [Über die äesthetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen], translated by Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L.A. Willoughby (Clarendon Press, 1968)
  • Schiller, “On Grace and Dignity” [Über Anmut und Würde], in Schiller's “On Grace and Dignity” in Its Cultural Context: Essays and a New Translation, edited and translated by Jane Curran and Christophe Fricker (Camden House, 2005)
  • Schiller, “On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry” [Über naïve und sentimentalische Dichtung], in Essays, translated by Daniel O. Dahlstrom and edited by Walter Hinderer and Daniel O. Dahlstrom (Continuum, 1993)

Week 3: Hegel

Lecturer: James Muldoon

Recommended readings

Secondary sources:

  • Frederick Beiser, "Aesthetics" in Hegel (Routledge, 2005) 282 - 306

Primary sources:

  • G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel's Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art (Oxford University Press, 1975) 1 - 14

Supplementary readings

Secondary sources:

  • Dieter Henrich, ‘The Contemporary Relevance of Hegel's Aesthetics,’ in Hegel, M. Inwood (ed.) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) 199–207
  • Stephen Houlgate (ed.), Hegel and the Arts (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2007)
  • William Maker (ed.), Hegel and Aesthetics (New York: SUNY Press, 2000)
  • William Desmond, Art and the Absolute: A Study of Hegel's Aesthetics (Albany: SUNY Press, 1986)

Primary sources:

  • G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel's Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art(Oxford University Press, 1975)
  • G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel's Philosophy of Mind. Being Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971) [pars. 556–63 on art]

Week 4: Marxist Aesthetics and Althusser

Lecturer: Conall Cash

Recommended readings

  • Karl Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach," in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (Norton, 1978), 143-145.
  • Karl Marx, "Preface” to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, in The Marx-Engels Reader, 3-6
  • Friedrich Engels, "On Realism," in Marxist Literary Theory: A Reader, ed. Terry Eagleton and Drew Milne (Blackwell, 1996), 39-41.
  • Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses," inLenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (New Left Books, 1971), trans. Ben Brewster, 158-186.
  • Louis Althusser, "Cremonini, Painter of the Abstract," in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, 229-242.

Supplementary readings

Primary sources:

  • Louis Althusser, "A Letter on Art in Reply to André Daspré," in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, 221-228.
  • Louis Althusser, "The 'Piccolo Teatro': Bertolazzi and Brecht. Notes on a Materialist Theatre," in For Marx (Allen Lane, 1969), trans. Ben Brewster, 129-152.
  • Louis Althusser, "Marxism and Humanism," in For Marx, 219-248.
  • Georg Lukacs, "Narrate or Describe?" inWriter and Critic and Other Essays, trans. Arthur Kahn (Merlin Press, 1978), 110-148.
  • Pierre Macherey, "Lenin, Critic of Tolstoy," in A Theory of Literary Production, trans. Geoffrey Wall (Routledge, 2006), 117-151.

Secondary sources:

  • Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism (New Left Books, 1976).
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "'Western' Marxism," inAdventures of the Dialectic, trans. Joseph Bien (Northwestern University Press, 1973), 30-58.
  • Fredric Jameson, "The Case for Georg Lukács," inMarxism and Form (Princeton University Press, 1971), 160-205.
  • Fredric Jameson, "Ideological Analysis: A Handbook," in Valences of the Dialectic (Verso, 2009), 315-363.
  • Georg Lukács, "Marx and Engels on Aesthetics," inWriter and Critic and Other Essays, 61-88.
  • Mladen Dolar, "Beyond Interpellation." Qui Parle, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Spring/Summer 1993), 75-96.

Week 5: 20th Century Aesthetics 1: Bloch and Adorno

Lecturer: David Blencowe

Recommended readings

Secondary sources:

  • Lambert Zuidervaaart, Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory: The Redemption of Illusion, chapters 4-8 (MIT Press, 1991)

Primary sources:

  • Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, in Dialectic of Enlightenment, tr. John Cumming (Allan Lane, 1973), 120-167.
  • Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno, “Something’s Missing: A Discussion between Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno on the Contradictions of Utopian Longing (1964)”, in Utopian Function of Art and Literature, tr. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg (MIT Press, 1988), 1-17.
  • Ernst Bloch, “The Artistic Illusion as the Visible Anticipatory Illumination”, in Utopian Function of Art and Literature, tr. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg (MIT Press, 1988), 141-155.

Supplementary Readings

Secondary sources:

  • Lambert Zuidervaaart, Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory: The Redemption of Illusion (MIT Press, 1991).
  • Wayne Hudson, The Marxist Philosophy of Ernst Bloch (The Macmillan Press, 1982).

Primary sources:

  • Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, tr. Robert Hullot-Kentor (University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
  • Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, tr. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice and Paul Knight (MIT Press, 1995).
  • Ernst Bloch, Utopian Function of Art and Literature, tr. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg (MIT Press, 1988).

Week 6: 20th Century Aesthetics 2: Barthes and Jameson

Lecturer: Conall Cash

Recommended readings

  • Ferdinand de Saussure,Course in General Linguistics, trans. Roy Harris (Duckworth, 1983), 11-17.
  • Roland Barthes, "Wine and Milk," "The Great Family of Man," and "Myth Today," inMythologies, trans. Annette Lavers and Richard Howard (Hill and Wang, 2012), 79-82; 196-199; 217-238.
  • Roland Barthes, "The Third Meaning," in Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heath (Hill and Wang, 1977), 52-68.
  • Fredric Jameson, "Preface” and “On Interpretation,” inThe Political Unconscious (Routledge, 2002), ix-xiv; 1-13.
  • Fredric Jameson, "Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture," in Signatures of the Visible (Routledge, 1992), 11-46.

Supplementary readings

Primary sources:

  • Roland Barthes, “Introduction” and “Writing and the Novel,” in Writing Degree Zero, trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith (Hill and Wang, 1977), 1-6; 29-40.
  • Roland Barthes, "The Photographic Message," in Image, Music, Text, 15-31.
  • Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect,” in The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (University of California Press, 1989), 141-148.
  • Fredric Jameson, "Historicism inThe Shining," in Signatures of the Visible, 112-134.
  • Fredric Jameson, "Ulyssesin History," in The Modernist Papers (Verso, 2007), 137-151.

Secondary sources:

  • Maurice Blanchot, "The Great Deception," in Critical Essays on Roland Barthes, ed. Diana Knight (G.K Hall, 2000), 40-49.
  • Paul de Man, “Roland Barthes and the Limits of Structuralism,” in Critical Essays on Roland Barthes, 157-167.
  • Cornel West, "Fredric Jameson's Marxist Hermeneutics,"boundary 2, Vol. 11, No. 1/2 (1982/1983), 177-200

Week 7: Rancière

Lecturer: Gene Flenady

Recommended readings

Secondary sources:

  • Hallward, Peter. “Jacques Rancière and the Subversion of Mastery.” Paragraph 28.1 (2005): 26-45.
  • Ross, Alison. “Equality in the Romantic Art Form: The Hegelian Background to Jacques Rancière’s ‘Aesthetic Revolution.’” Jacques Rancière and the Contemporary Scene. Eds. Jean-Phillipe Deranty and Alison Ross. London: Continuum, 2012. Ch. 5.

Primary sources:

  • Rancière, Jacques, “The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes.” New Left Review 14 (2002): 133-51.
  • Rancière, Jacques. “The Sublime from Lyotard to Schiller: Two Readings of Kant and Their Political Significance.” Radical Philosophy 126 (2004): 8-15.
  • Rancière, Jacques. “Why Emma Bovary Had to Be Killed.” Critical Inquiry 34 Winter (2008): 233-48.

Supplementary Readings

Secondary sources:

  • Deranty, Jean-Phillipe, ed. Jacques Rancière: Key Concepts. Durham: Acumen, 2010.
  • Rockhill, Gabriel and Phillip Watts, eds. Jacques Rancière: History, Politics, Aesthetics. Durham: Duke UP, 2011.
  • Ross, Kristin. May '68 and Its Afterlives. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002.

Primary sources:

  • Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics. Trans. Gabriel Rockhill. London: Continuum, 2004.
  • Rancière, Jacques.Dis-Agreement: Politics and Philosophy. Trans. Julie Rose. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999
  • Rancière, Jacques. Aesthetics and Its Discontents. Trans. Steven Corcoran. Cambridge: Polity, 2009.
  • Rancière, Jacques. Mute Speech. New York: Columbia UP, 2011

Level of Difficulty: Introductory, no prior knowledge of philosophy or art is required.