Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Aesthetics and Politics

The aestheticisation of culture and society is now a familiar theme in social and cultural philosophy. It refers to cultural transformations - associated with the idea of post-modernism - brought about the encroachment of market dynamics onto the terrain of everyday life. However, much of the literature in this area has eschewed any direct questioning of the nature of politics: preferring to interrogate the nature of identity in the media age, the ethics of consumerism and the metaphysics of technological change.

In contrast, the study of aesthetics and politics - or the aesthetics of politics - addresses questions of the nature of the political more directly. The idea here, is that there is an aesthetic dimension to all forms of politics. While the case of fascism is conspicuous and addressed in an extensive literature, basic aesthetic principles can be seen to hold across many forms of power. This is because politics is necessarily ‘artful’ - and manipulative - presupposing regularities in aesthetic techniques and repertoires. If we consider that power is the capacity to organise collective action, aesthetics can be seen as one decisive way in which that capacity in brought into play.

This may require an inquiry into the subliminal and unconscious dimensions of politics; into the power of images. `Images are vectors of communion’ (Maffesoli 1993); and it is through the aesthetic dimensions that politics becomes affective. Thus understanding politics aesthetically can be taken as an inquiry into the power of representation (except that this concerns not just visual but also tactile and auditory expressions). It concerns the libidinal dimension of politics including the sensory and sensual, imaginary and symbolic dimensions. This dimension is rarely discussed in political science and sociology because of the predilection for emphasising the rational self-interested element in political behaviour (as in rational choice theory). Furthermore, the conventional analytics of persuasion are also inadequate. They attempt to understand politics at the level of the cognitive and the conscious (as in brainwashing, propaganda, common sense, discourse or the construction of social reality through language and as text). This misses or underrates the kind of persuasion that is directly aimed at the emotions, the heart, the subconscious.

By framing questions of the political aesthetically allows the role of both art and artfulness to be explored in relation to contemporary political phenomena. Key questions here are: ‘ which aesthetic techniques are used for popular mobilisation?’: ‘How does politics operate through the organisation of space, both geographic and symbolic and imaginary space, through architecture, as and ritual and theatre?’: What forms and designs of popular culture motivate, influence and enthuse people?’

Is politics today an 'art form'?

Monday, 29 March 2010

The Dissolution of the Modern Monasteries?

In the 12th century the university replaced the monastery as the primary centre of learning and as a bastion of the ascetic ideal. Scholars replaced monks as guardians of sacred texts; often working alone for long hours in small cells!

In the late 20th century, universities became refuges for those on the left seeking an institutional base from which to launch a critique of contemporary capitalism. We might say that universities today are 'monasteries of the left'.

When viewed in this way, the post-modern attempt to turn universities into knowledge factories amounts to a second wave of monastery dissolution, and this is likely to continue unabated in the medium term.

Do universities have a future? If so, do they need to move away from the monastic model?

Neil Turnbull

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Francois Laruelle Day Conference: University of Nottingham, March 5th, 2010

Francois Laruelle is a leading French ‘non-philosopher’. He is often referred to as non-philosopher because he views philosophy as itself the object that is to be understood.
Non-philosophy is apparently not an anti-philosophy and his ideas in no way amount to a rejection of philosophy. For Laruelle, all philosophies attempt to think being from the point of view of transcendence whereas non-philosophy attempts to think being from the point of view of an immanence where there is no distinction between immanence and transcendence. Non-philosophy thus represents a mutation in the very practice of philosophy. It is philosophy’s adversary that defines philosophy and a mode of thought that attempts to depersonalise philosophy by turning philosophy against itself (Blanchot’s ‘neutralisation’).

According to the conference organisers, Laruelle’s philosophy consists of four stages.

In his early work, Laruelle thinks that philosophy is based on the idea of what he terms ‘the principle of sufficient philosophy’ - or the idea that everything is philosophical and philosophy can make sense of everything. Philosophy in this guise views everything in terms of a dualism of transcendental conditions and the empirically/experientially conditioned.

Laruelle wants to break with this conception of philosophy and develop what might be termed a science of philosophy so that we can ‘think philosophy’. For Laruelle, it is the experience of science that provides a model of a privileged thinking of the ‘one that is before being’.

In the last stage however, Laurelle no longer talks about philosophy but about ‘regional discourses’ and is now attempting a find a unified theory of philosophy and Christianity (Laruelle is a Gnostic non-philosopher).

The main issue with Laurelle’s philosophy is two fold: why does he view himself as a non-philosopher? Isn't this simply scientific realism in French fancy dress? And why does he think that it is science and not philosophy that is best equipped to think the real? Surely this idea is rather regressive in todays' intellectual, social and political context?

Laruelle seems to think that science gets things done whereas philosophy doesn’t and also that science has a more precise understanding of what immanence actually means. But this is highly contestable and perhaps a misunderstanding of how philosophy is itself remains the basis of science.

Neil Turnbull