Cultural Studies | Special Topics in Cultural Studies Democracy, Media, Technology
C701 | 13381 | Simons

This seminar assesses the critique that contemporary democratic
politics are impoverished or distorted because they are
aestheticized. Antipathy to the aestheticization of politics was
first formulated in Walter Benjamin’s famous ‘sound bite’ about the
fascist aestheticization of politics in his artwork essay. In
contemporary terms, anti-aestheticism translates into a disdain for
images, myths and symbols, and in condemnations of
contemporary ‘designer’ and ‘mediatized’ politics.

Opening with an overview of the terms ‘aesthetic’
and ‘aestheticization’, the seminar associates the problematization
of ‘aestheticized politics’ with mediated politics and the
technologization of the arts through mass media. Beginning with
Benjamin’s treatment of the question, the seminar traces the
contemporary rehearsal of the problematization through to Habermas
and relates it to radical critiques of contemporary democracy, with
particular attention to the place of ‘mediatized politics’ in those
critiques. Relating those critiques back to the question
of ‘aestheticization’, we ask whether there are ways in which
democracy can be aestheticized and mediatised while also fulfilling
its own ideals. This possibility is explored conceptually by
connecting up two strands of scholarship: (a) a material rather than
idealist notion of aesthetics, in which the technological character
of art (of the self or mediated art) is considered (Benjamin, Sam
Weber, Foucault, Oullette and Hay); (b) theories of cultural
mediation that focus on material effects rather than signification
or representation (e.g. Benjamin, Massumi, Debray). The practical
ramifications of these conceptual moves will be discussed in
seminars and developed in student projects.