Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Erogeneity

Renata Schlesier’s “On the Alleged Demise of Vaginal Sexuality: A Mournful Account of the Relationship between Psychoanalysis and Feminism,” from Telos 59 (Spring 1984), explores the common repressions that underscore the interconnected intellectual traditions of psychoanalysis and feminism. Schlesier delineates the limitations of both Freudian theories of sexuality and their feminist responses by emphasizing the problematic sociopolitical entanglement of female morphology and sexual possibility. Focusing specifically on debates regarding on the locus of the female orgasm, Schlesier argues that the Freudian “myth” of the vaginal orgasm and the dialectically opposed clitoral orgasm of feminist theory reflect a common ideological self-mutilation of female sexuality. Through close readings and critiques of Freud and feminist inquiry, Schlesier advocates a redefinition of female erogeneity, aiming to mobilize a reorganization of gender relations and their embodied conditions of pleasure and politics.

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Toward a Sociological Aesthetics of the Contemporary Art System

“The function of art can be traced to problems of meaningful communication,” writes sociologist Niklas Luhmann in Art as a Social System.[1] The entanglement of art, functionality, and society that Luhmann calls into question forms the fundamental thesis of art historian Matthew Rampley’s “Art as a Social System: The Sociological Aesthetics of Niklas Luhmann,” from Telos 148 (Fall 2009). Rampley suggests that Luhmann’s corpus of social theory, which models modern society as a structure of systems, merits a critical revisiting. Noting the current marginal status and limited applications of Luhmann’s sociological systems theory, Rampley maintains that a return to Luhmann offers an innovative alternative to orthodox methodologies of social theory and history, particularly relevant to the realm of art. By positing art as a social system, Luhmann formulates the hermeneutic potential for a sociologically rooted aesthetics, for which Rampley argues a direct relevance to the interpretation of contemporary art and culture.

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Art and Industrial Production

In “Art and Industrial Production,” from Telos 57 (Fall 1983), philosopher Albrecht Wellmer provides an ethical-aesthetic account of art and industrial production by analyzing the nature of their intersection in twentieth-century architecture. Wellmer charts parallel trajectories of philosophical thought and architectural endeavors, from the progressive aims of the German Arts and Craft Society through a critical response in postmodern principles of design. Through explicating the recurrent failure of realizing ethical praxes in both modern and postmodern architecture, Wellmer reorients the discordance of industrialized art production and the goals of living subjects from an overestimation of “production-aesthetics” to an insufficient account of “use-aesthetics.” Wellmer’s exegesis conveys an urgency of revising and clarifying the sociopolitical affordances of design and production in order to advocate for an ethical communication of industrial culture.

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Feminist Performance Art and Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Carlos Kong looks at Julia Rothenberg’s “Form, Utopia, and Feminist Performance Art: Toward a Rehabilitation of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory” from Telos 137 (Winter 2006).

In “Form, Utopia, and Feminist Performance Art: Toward a Rehabilitation of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory,” Julia Rothenberg attempts a recovery of Adorno’s aesthetic theory through an unconventional application of its utopian hermeneutic gestures to feminist performance art of the 1970s. Reading beyond popularized characterizations of Adorno’s pessimism, his apoliticism, his privileging of high modernism, and his negativistic theorizations of culture under late capitalism, Rothenberg suggests that overlooked, utopian elements of Adorno’s critiques of Enlightenment and commodified exchange practices both prefigure and are revived by feminist performance art. Rothenberg’s focus on Adorno’s disavowal of instrumental reason and his turn to art as counter-dialectic to the dominating potential of knowledge accrues a new politicized relevance when reread in relation to feminist performance practices. Thus, a rehabilitation of Adorno’s critical utopianism, as Rothenberg ultimately maintains, further invokes the possibility of political praxis and social transformation when expressively performed in the body of the subjected.

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