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Aesthetics and Politics in Critical Theory

ASCA Reading Group organized by Ben Moore, Marc Farrant, and Steyn Bergs.

This reading group will explore a selection of seminal, and some lesser-known, works within twentieth and twenty-first century critical and cultural theory, with an emphasis on the intersection between the aesthetic and the political. Walter Benjamin famously argued in the conclusion of his ‘Work of Art’ essay of 1936 that one of the dangers of fascism is its ‘aestheticizing of politics’, and that communism must respond by ‘politicizing art’. As our contemporary political moment comes to increasingly resemble the conjuncture at which Benjamin was writing in the 1930s, we will ask how the relationship between politics and aesthetics has been theorised by thinkers since, and how we might use their work to analyse and rethink that relationship today.

We plan to meet once a month in the afternoons for two hours (provisionally on Mondays but subject to change). Our first few sessions will be dedicated to reading and discussing foundational texts in modern Western thought on the interrelations between the political and the aesthetic, starting with excerpts from Kant’s Critique of Judgement. Subsequently, we aim to organize sessions this year around particular themes such as: critique, feeling/affect, and resistance. The direction of our reading is open and flexible, however, and depends partly on the interests of the participants. We aspire to keep discussions open and informal, and all staff and graduate students, from inside or outside the UvA, are welcome to take part. Research Master students who take part in the group will be eligible for 2EC via NICA.

The first meeting of the 2020-2021 academic year will take place on Monday, September 14th, from 16:00 through 18:00. Due to COVID-19, this first meeting is scheduled to take place via Zoom, though we hope to resume meeting physically at the UvA as soon as possible. Furthermore, in early 2021, we are planning to organize a small workshop/symposium  which will be closely related to the topic of the reading group, and in which participants may take part.

To participate, please send an e-mail to Ben Moore (B.P.Moore@uva.nl), Marc Farrant (m.w.farrant@uva.nl) and Steyn Bergs (s.bergs@vu.nl). You will be sent a pdf copy of the readings and added to the reading group’s mailing list.