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The Open University, Milton Keynes
29 – 31 March 2012

Association of Art Historians (AAH) Conference: Aesthetics and Politics (Again?)

Session Convenors:

Alexander García Düttmann, Goldsmiths College,

James Hellings, Teeside University

34 years ago New Left Books published Aesthetics and Politics, collecting together ‘the key texts of the classic debate within German Marxism’ by Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht and Lukács. The collections editors (Rodney Livingstone, Perry Anderson and Francis Mulhern), assembled texts with coherent (if almost entirely antagonistic) inter-relationships – in what they refer to as an incomparable ‘tradition of major aesthetic debate’, held between the 1930s and 1950s in ‘Germany (…); the classical land of aesthetic thought inEurope’. The editors subtitles are fantastically revealing of perceived conflict; ‘Bloch against Lukács / Lukács against Bloch’, ‘Brecht against Lukács’, subtle condemnation; ‘Adorno on Lukács’, ‘Adorno on Brecht’ conviviality; ‘Benjamin with Brecht’, and conciliation; ‘Adorno to Benjamin / Benjamin to Adorno’.

Ideological differences over art (and its histories: Realism, Expressionism, Modernism) were the order of the day. But what’s happened to political aesthetics, Marxist or otherwise, since this golden age? Can we still speak of an ‘aesthetic field’ conditioned by ‘the two recurrent poles of all culture still subject to capital’, being either ‘autistically advanced or collusively popular’.

In recent years, Rancière has done most to ‘widen participation’ by opening up Left aesthetics to encompass the people and places who disrupt this either/ or – but (speaking with Eagleton) ‘how are we to receive and appropriate these polemics today?’ Potential contributors are asked to address the tenor of contemporary inter-relationships of aesthetics and politics by re-interpreting the ideas and authors of this past. The panel-session seeks to stage a dialectic of (dis-)agreement.


Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

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