Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory

Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory is now available for purchase in our store.

In this issue, Telos turns to a diverse set of philosophers, contemporary and classical, and questions, concerning ethics and politics on the one hand, and literature and aesthetics on the other. More often than not, those distinctions turn out to be difficult to maintain. A case in point is the opening essay, which examines how statements by Levinas have been subjected to political readings in order to impute to him positions that he did not hold. What are the ethics of intentional misreadings? In their meticulously argued analysis, Oona Eisenstadt and Claire Elise Katz demonstrate how the philosopher’s comments in a 1982 radio interview, in the immediate aftermath of the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, have been subjected to increasing degrees of misrepresentation, culminating in false accusations that he justified the killings. These insinuations involved fabricating quotations to put words in his mouth. Eisenstadt and Katz expose the poor philology and tendentious politics implicit in such distortion.

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Schmitt, Hamlet, and Aesthetic Idlers

In his essay “Political Aesthetics: Carl Schmitt on Hamlet,” David Pan puts forward an interpretation of the relationship between aesthetics and politics in Schmitt’s discussion of Hamlet. Today the question about the relationship of aesthetics and politics in the thought of German jurist is a widely discussed topic. According to one interpretation, which is best represented by a sentence of Jürgen Habermas, “Carl Schmitt’s polemical discussion of political Romanticism conceals the aestheticizing oscillations of his own political thought.” But according to Schmitt’s self-understanding, this interpretation could not be further from the truth.

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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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Filming Capital, Filming Ourselves: Uncovering the Revolutionary Horizon of Cinematic Thought and Practice

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, Matt Applegate looks at Yvette Biro’s “The Intellectual Film: Eisenstein’s Plan to Film Marx’s Capital from Telos 39 (Spring 1979).

It is difficult to think of what cinema is in the present, and indeed, what cinema might be in the future, outside of large studio systems, box office opening numbers, and global profit intake. Even so-called “independent” films often circulate in a virtual minor league of the Hollywood studio system, vying for wide release. To be sure, cinema’s thorough commodification both limits its potential for aesthetic experimentation and makes it easier to equate it with other forms of media. When cinema becomes secondary to the metrics of profit, its distinct aesthetic qualities are subordinate to its function as a product comprised of moving images and sound. Moreover, as film moves away from celluloid and toward digital formats, one is compelled to ask what makes cinema distinct as visual technology is homogenized. This is not to say that cinematic experience and practice are bankrupt aesthetic qualities or that film is doomed to devolve into an indistinct mesh of CGI and user-generated websites like YouTube and Vine. Rather, as Yvette Biro suggests in her “The Intellectual Film: Eisenstein’s Plan to Film Marx’s Capital,” the horizon of cinematic thought and practice is perhaps best imagined by examining the relation between ideology and cinematic aesthetics.

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