Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Penn State University Press
Series: The Stone Art Theory Institutes
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
Table of Contents
In the usual course of things, art theory happens invisibly, without attracting attention. Concepts like picture, visual art, and realism circulate in newspapers, galleries, and museums as if they were as obvious and natural as words like dog, cat, and goldfish. Art theory is the air the art world breathes, and it is breathed carelessly, without thought. It is the formless stuff out of which so many justifications...
Introduction (James Elkins)
The subject of this book is both concise and enormous.
As a small subject, the anti-aesthetic is associated with Manhattan in the early 1980s, where it was crystallized by Hal Foster’s edited volume The Anti- Aesthetic. Practices later identified as anti-aesthetic had emerged in the 1970s, and were developed in the 1980s in various centers of the art world, including New York, Los Angeles, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Stockholm...
1. Introductory Seminar
The opening seminar was an informal attempt to sketch positions in relation to the aesthetic and anti-aesthetic. The five faculty, Hal Foster, Jay Bernstein, Eve Meltzer, James Elkins, and Diarmuid Costello, introduce some of their interests in the theme. Diarmuid Costello and James Elkins were co-organizers of the week’s events...
2. The Anti-Aesthetic in the 1980s: Craig Owens’s “The Allegorical Impulse”
This seminar was led by Hal Foster. It centers on Craig Owens’s essay “The Allegorical Impulse” from The Anti-Aesthetic. The seminar took Owens’s essay as an exemplary moment in the original anti-aesthetic, and asked how it had been read in the 1980s and how it might be read today...
3. The Anti-Aesthetic in the 1990s: The Body
This seminar was led by Hal Foster. The participants read Foster’s preface to The Anti-Aesthetic; an essay by Yve-Alain Bois on the informe, published before the book Formless: A User’s Guide (1996); and Foster’s essay “Obscene, Abject, Traumatic,” which was an early study for his book The Return of the Real (1996).1 The subject of the seminar is the development of the anti-aesthetic from its initial form in...
4. Theory and Criticism
Here the subject was what counts, in this problematic, as theory and criticism. The discussion was led by Diarmuid Costello; he aimed to bring out certain features of the philosophic claims of anti-aesthetic texts, with the objective of determining what kind of conceptual relation they had to the Modernism against which they reacted. This seminar and the next one are discussions of the relation of theory to contemporary...
5. Theoretical Positions: Critical Theory
In this seminar, Jay Bernstein developed his own account of Adornian Modernism, and was challenged by several other participants, who felt that the perspective he presented didn’t speak to contemporary concerns. The seminar developed into a discussion of the relevance or irrelevance of critical theory for current practice...
6. Theoretical Positions: Rancière, Deleuze, Relational Aesthetics
Although affect theory emerged as the principal possibility for describing art outside the aesthetic and anti-aesthetic, the Seminars ranged over a number of other pos-sible texts, concepts, and disciplines. Here the participants discussed the unexpected absence of Rancière from the week’s discussions; the reasons that most participants did not want to discuss relational aesthetics; and the possibility of expanding Deleuze’s ...
7. Theoretical Positions: Affect Theory in Art History
Theories of affect have emerged in several fields, and have been taken up by a wide range of practitioners. Here they are introduced first in relation to Mary Kelly’s Post- Partum Document and works by Candice Breitz. The seminar was led by Eve Meltzer, and the participants had read, and heard, drafts of chapters of her book Systems...
8. Theoretical Positions: Affect Theory at Large
Later in the week, the seminar returned to affect theory, considering it from a more general standpoint. The participants considered a wide range of possible sources for theorizing affect in the arts, from general cultural theories to theories specific to the arts. A general model, in which affect is at once a product of systems and language, and also something that underlies them, is woven throughout the conversation...
9. Things Missing from this Book
Here the subject was all the things that had been excluded from the week’s conversations, either by chance or because the Faculty or Fellows weren’t interested. The idea of the seminar was to think about reasons why certain topics had been omitted, and to distinguish political and philosophic reasons from contingent ones...
This preface attempts to bring order to a veritable minefield of disagreement over fundamental questions about art’s relationship with life. While threads of consensus—more often formed around shared complaints than agreements— link many of the authors’ texts, their areas of concern are, as a rule, profoundly diverse and often isolated from each other by differences as insurmountable as...
The October Revolution
I think Hal Foster can be forgiven a little false modesty when he wonders whether the “ancient history”1 of The Anti-Aesthetic has any relevance today. He must have felt a bit like Mick Jones being harangued by aging Clash fans to play “Rock the Casbah” one last time as the seminar participants pored over every paragraph of an essay he wrote when he was in his late twenties. However, I would argue that...
In the final seminar, a chance for participants to address what was left out during the week of discussions, Jay Bernstein said, “I think the anti-aesthetic is in the cards because there is a general crisis in the humanities. . . . What is our form of address? . . . I feel that the question of how any of this can matter, under these...
The Chinese Reception
First, I would like to say something about the dissemination of The Anti-Aesthetic. It is very interesting to learn that the book was simply entitled La Posmodernidad when it was translated into Spanish in 1985, because, as Joaquín Barriendos said, the debate over the Western philosophy of art in Spanish in the 1980s...
A Gaping Hole
A new, more inclusive kind of art theory is indeed long overdue, and the Stone Theory Institute should be commended for working to make that objective a reality. The seminar discussions compiled in these volumes reveal a wide diversity of opinions, points of view, and methodologies. As James Elkins acknowledges, this diversity will surely lead to more discord and contradiction than consensus and...
Not Aesthetics or Anti-Aesthetics But Poetics
Let me choose as a starting point for my reaction the way in which Jay Bernstein situates Kant’s third critique in relation to the first and second critiques.1 I agree with his analysis when he speaks about a role that aesthetics as a specific disposition of the subject toward the world plays in the general economy of Kant’s discourse. But continuing to speak about the aesthetic attitude, Bernstein suddenly...
Ellipses and Détente
By the time Hal Foster’s Anti-Aesthetic was published in 1983, the still-unnamed AIDS epidemic had prematurely taken the lives of many in New York’s art and intellectual circles. The crisis swiftly provoked forms of direct cultural militancy even amongst artists and critics previously indifferent to overt activism. One of the...
What If We Really Have Bever Been Modern?
Looking from abroad at this debate on Modernist aesthetics and its adverse reactions, a salient feature to notice is that in art discourse nowadays the terms “modern” and “modernism” apparently evoke meanings quite different in continental Europe than in North America. In Europe, Clement Greenberg’s concept of Modernism and the master narrative of heroic abstract art is not generally what...
Beyond Aesthetic and Anti-Aesthetic: Three Miniatures
He that loves that which is visible, and believes that what he has seen is only an image of that which he has not yet seen, feels a desire growing within him, a desire born out of his love for the visible, to enjoy what he hasn’t seen: the origin of the image—he who loves seeing longs for it. In this admirable manner Gregory of Nyssa...
Get Over It!
In recent months I have heard two highly respected philosophers (acknowledging that philosophers attract little respect) use the phrase “get over it” in debates with their “opponents”: “it” being (in these instances) “Badiou’s mysticism” and “dog-tired Kantianism.” I must say I find such borrowings from the hip argot of...
When the term “anti-aesthetic” emerged thirty years ago, it was presumed to stand in stark opposition to the “aesthetic.” Today the situation is less clear. While the Seminars aim to move beyond this dichotomy, many of the participants doubt whether the anti-aesthetic still holds as an absolute distinction from the aesthetic. Over the course of the conversations, other oppositions arise...
Re: Re: Post
Perhaps the first attempt at a “beyond” in Beyond the Anti-Aesthetic appears early in seminar 1, when Jay Bernstein refutes James Elkins’s position that (as Bernstein paraphrases) “Modernism is about aesthetic claims, and anti-aesthetics is about politics.” Aligning himself with Adorno, Bernstein sees the aesthetic and...
The Elusive “Beyond” of Aesthetic and Anti-Aesthetic
In his introduction to this volume, James Elkins acknowledges an earlier, rather modest effort by James Meyer and myself to create a forum where the polarized categories of aesthetic and anti-aesthetic might be refigured.1 While I’m pleased that some of the issues we raised are substantially deepened and expanded in the transcribed seminars, I’m less delighted by Elkins’s account of our framing...
On Politics, Art, and Mobbing Rancière
While the problem of the former East was the problem of the right to free speech, the problem of the West has been the right to be properly heard. Much of the artistic production in the West devoted to politics, since at least the late 1960s, has been problematic because it has not contended with the underlying conditions by which political activity—especially that emanating from the field...
In this Assessment I would like to engage in three debates that run throughout the Seminars: the terms of the debate—the aesthetic and the anti-aesthetic; their implications for thinking about the periodization of the arts; and their implications for contemplating the spatiality of art, in particular with regard to the quotidian, that most “dire” of experiences, as Jay Bernstein so emphatically puts...
How Do You Pronounce the Politics of Aesthetics?
Like Gregory Sholette, I was interested in the statement by Stéphanie Benzaquen in seminar 9. This last seminar was about addressing any lack or exclusion of subjects that the participants noticed. She claimed that the group had “not touched on the social and economic conditions of theories of art.” Instead, she...
Remarkable Oversights, or Could We Actually Make Politics Easier to Talk About?
“Art” is the zombie here.1 Not because it keeps moving along as a vestigial automatism long past its relevance, but because it eats the brains of some very smart people. I’m joking, of course. But it seems like this conversation, perhaps by its very nature, ends up less than the sum of its formidable parts. What interests me...
Adorno and Affect
“Affect” is taken up at various points in the Seminars, but rarely, and only negatively, in relation to Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School. In contrast, the name most frequently associated with affect theory is that of Gilles Deleuze; in fact, Deleuzian affect theory is presented during the Seminars as the major contemporary alternative to Frankfurt School theory and its dour narrative according...
Let’s Not and Say We Did
As everyone knows, politics is theater, and theater requires the active suspension of disbelief. That permission is granted in light of need and promise, the need being to make sense of perplexing realities, the promise being that of the author or company that their product will fill our need. Did I say product? Indeed I did, because our topic is the initial staging and present revival of...
Why Is Adorno So Repulsive?
Something very striking happens during Jay Bernstein’s presentation in seminar 5 of the 2010 Stone Summer Theory Institute. Several participants react to Bernstein’s invocation of Theodor Adorno much as Harry Potter might respond to a dementor—that revolting, wraithlike creature who sucks all the happiness and...
When I was twenty-seven (Hal Foster’s age when he wrote his book), I also was very interested in theory. It was 1964, and structuralism had hit Latin America during the previous years and somehow wakened us with an intellectual shock. I tried to keep up for some time, but my activities in art, and my efforts to understand why and for whom I was working, added to the...
Moving Beyond: Aesthetics and Politics
As the title of the this seminar series suggests, one of its central concerns was the possibility of moving “beyond the anti-aesthetic.” A premise of the discussions was that “there is still no viable alternative to the dichotomy between aesthetics and anti- or nonaesthetic art.”1 At the same time, Hal Foster made it quite clear in his retrospective assessment of the anti-aesthetic moment that it was...
The Aesthetic, the Anti-Aesthetic, and Then What?: Why Answering this Question Involves Thinking About Art as Labor
I received and read with great interest the proceedings of the Seminars “Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic.” The title of my response, paraphrasing the title of Dan Karlholm’s recent article “Post-war, Postmodern, and then What?,” delivers in summary what, I think, is at stake here:1 an implicit need to address...
Afterword: The Bathwater and the Baby
Let us imagine ourselves Freudian for a moment; let us pretend that this privileging of the bathwater over the baby was not a simple slip of the tongue but the articulation of a true preference for what is left to think with (and about) once the baby has been tossed out the back door and has landed with an ignominious thunk among the weeds of the kitchen garden. The bathwater, cooled...
Notes on the Contributors