Anti-Aesthetic Narratives: What are the Reasons for the Contemporary Rejection of the Aesthetic?
By Professor Winfried Fluck, Freie Universität Berlin
In the last decades, one of the most notable and influential developments in discussions of literature and other aesthetic objects has been a sweeping and wide-ranging rejection of the concept of the aesthetic. In literary studies, almost all of the approaches that have replaced formalism as part of a radically revisionist turn after the 1960s, ranging from Cultural Studies and Structuralist Marxism to Poststructuralism and the New Historicism, and also including Race and Gender Studies, have as their common ground a rejection of the concept of the aesthetic. Continuing to use the concept as a key term of analysis, they argue, perpetuates a separation between art and life, or, worse, between the aesthetic and the political, that is considered theoretically untenable and must lead to ideological obfuscation. Similarly, a major topic in aesthetic theory – starting with John Dewey and leading up to Arthur Danto and others – is what has been called the “de-aestheticization” of art. In contemporary artistic practice, a break-down of the boundaries between art and life has been one of the major projects in avant-garde art, starting with Dada and leading to contemporary artistic movements like Performance Art, Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Installation Art. My lecture will trace these anti-aesthetic narratives and focus on the reasons for their rise. If we do not know the reasons, we may not be able to counter the trend.