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Aesthetics and Politics in Critical Theory

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

First session on Tuesday 28 September, and we will begin with Hegel’s Aesthetics.

This reading group will explore a selection of seminal, and some lesser-known, works within the tradition of critical and cultural theory from around 1800 to the present day, 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 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 afternoon for two hours (aiming for Tuesdays 16.00-18.00). 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 this year with excerpts from Hegel’s Aesthetics. Subsequently, we aim to organize sessions on the contemporary legacies of Hegel, and around particular themes such as universality and freedom. The direction of our reading is open and flexible, however, and depends partly on the interests of the participants. Last year we read texts by Kant, Foucault, Rita Felski, Deleuze and Guattari, Bruno Latour, Sianne Ngai, Eve Sedgwick and others. We will keep discussions open and informal. 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 2021-22 academic year will take place at 16.00-18.00 on 28 September. We will make a decision in early September on whether the first meeting will take place via Zoom or in person, and will confirm the date and time at this point. We hope to be able to meet physically at the UvA as soon as possible.

Planning:

  1. 16.00-18.00, Tuesday 28 September.
  2. 16.00-18.00, Tuesday 19 October.
  3. 16.00-18.00, Tuesday 16 November.
  4. 16.00-18.00, Tuesday 14 December.

To participate, please email 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 mailing list.