Institute for Social Justice

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Aesthetics/Politics/Utopia

How can artworks and our aesthetic experiences of the world illuminate our ethical and political dilemmas?

How can they outline possibilities that academic theorizing about ethics and politics cannot?

How do we imagine a better world?

The poet, Charles Baudelaire, said that the experience of beauty contains “the promise of happiness.” We could generalize that to mean that our encounters with art opens up the future in new more promising ways, and prefigure utopian forms of life and ways of living that are freer, richer, more just. In recent years, academic political theorists and philosophers have begun more carefully and systematically to explore the problems of ethical and political life from a variety of aesthetic perspectives and in connection to a diverse body of art, literature, music, film, theatre, and dance. But these aesthetic perspectives are not just “aesthetic” in the narrow sense; they are more generally concerned with the politics of what can appear (seen and heard) to us and what cannot appear (seen and heard), which translates into a struggle over what counts as intelligible or unintelligible future possibilities (utopias).

Romand Coles examines aesthetic dimensions of self-formation, perception, and world-disclosure in continental political philosophy.  Lia Haro’s research looks at how collective dreams of radically better futures shape and are shaped in everyday lives, social relationships, present actions and cultural formations both from above (state and international institutions) and from below (grassroots social movements and communities). Coles and Haro are also working in collaboration to plumb the creative depths of aesthetic forms such as poetry, music and utopian fiction as themselves offering promising forms and modes to reshape radical politics today in ways that amplify resonance, receptivity and utopian aspirations. Kiran Grewal, engaging with local communities and community activists in post-war Sri Lanka, explores the possibility for popular and subaltern art forms to constitute alternate sites for political articulation and action. Drawing upon his conceptions of receptivity and world-disclosure, Nikolas Kompridis theorizes the normative and conceptual interconnections between aesthetics, ethics, and politics, and between romanticism and diverse forms of utopian thinking and utopian practices. Magdalena Zolkos has drawn on contemporary European novels, poetry and film to open up questions of political and ethical subjectivity and collective memory in situations that call for response to past violence and past trauma.