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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Telos 169 (Winter 2014): A Return to Politics

Telos 169 (Winter 2014) is now available for purchase in our store.

In recent years, there has been much hand-wringing over widespread apathy, not only among young generations but throughout the public. Politics, so critics have been claiming, has become a matter exclusively of media manipulation, of a manufactured consensus foisted on a malleable citizenry. This dystopian vision allegedly held not only in the United States (although perhaps especially here) but across much of the globe. Democratization movements appeared to have been crushed, whether in Iran or China, as the leadership in the West—once the premier advocate of democratic transformation—opted instead for the realpolitik of deals with rulers, no matter how unsavory, over support for popular movements, no matter how just.

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Michael Millerman on Alexander Dugin, Russia’s Ideological Mastermind

On The Agenda with Steve Paikin, Michael Millerman discusses the philosophy of Alexander Dugin and its influence on Vladimir Putin and contemporary Russian geopolitics. It’s a wide-ranging interview that covers Dugin’s theory of Eurasianism, his critique of the West and liberal democracy, the defense of Russia as a unique, non-Western civilization in its own right, the compatibility of Dugin’s anti-communism with the view that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical catastrophe, the difference between Western multiculturalism and the kind of multicivilizational diversity that Dugin advocates, and much more. Watch the full interview below. In addition to co-translating Dugin’s The Fourth Political Theory (Arktos, 2012), Michael is also a former Telos intern. You can read more of his writing in the TELOSscope archives.

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Liberalism, Progressivism, and Crony Capitalism

Writing in the Washington Post, George Will discusses Joel Kotkin’s The New Class Conflict (recently published by Telos Press) and the reasons why today’s government serves the wealthy and powerful.

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Mario Tronti and the Autonomy of the Political

Mario Tronti’s postscript to the second edition of his publication Operai e Capitale, published in Telos in 1972 as “Workers and Capital,” provides the reader with a summation of his thought on the development of the “mass worker,” presented through an analysis of notable labor struggles across the Western world. Tronti’s methodology, which he briefly explicates at the beginning of the piece, delineates certain historical workers’ struggles in order to examine “macroscopic groups of facts yet untouched by the critical consciousness of labor thought” (25). His purpose is to yield “an historical model, a privileged period of research” (25) so as to better analyze the emergence of the autonomy of the working class engaged in a dialectical struggle with capital.

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Interstellar and the Environmental Crisis

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar paints the portrait of a brave new time in the future when we will finally cut the shackles attaching us to our dying home planet and embrace our nomadic nature. Having turned the earth into a gigantic dust bowl, where the soil is increasingly barren and the air unbreathable, we will move on to greener pastures, in the shape of as yet unpolluted planets in faraway galaxies. After all, why shouldn’t planets be more like paper tissues—one soiled and tossed, another one already on the way?

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