restricted access 7 The Aesthetics of Crime
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seven The Aesthetics of Crime michelle brown As a form of intellectual inquiry, any exploration of the subject of aesthetics engages fundamental aspects of human experience with an extensiveness that spans such questions as what it means to be human and express sensibilities, subjectivities, and interpretations. Consequently, in the study of art and aesthetics, we find the kinds of philosophical questions which drive human thought, a few of which include: What is being? What is meaning? What is happiness , beauty, evil, and transcendence? And certainly, not least of all, what is justice? However, the conceptualization of crime in connection to aesthetics is a relatively unarticulated and undertheorized relationship . For this reason, of course, the application of aesthetic theory to crime is a particularly fascinating one. In developing a chapter that might address this relationship , I have found it most useful to ask what an aesthetics of crime might teach us about criminology, including a discussion of criminology’s limits and its possibilities. 224 / michelle brown Crime, per se, is difficult to situate within traditional frameworks of philosophy with regard to aesthetics and its location fleeting across perspectives , accounts, and applications. It is, in fact, the kind of question that most generally would not have interested, for instance, the German Idealists. However, if we consider the meanings, relations, and definitions of crime more broadly, we find that such considerations are carefully articulated in philosophies of art and representation with regard to the production of subjectivity through notions like that of the transgressive and the transcendent. This chapter marks a somewhat narrow and preliminary treatment of the topic, designed to achieve a particular sense of depth with regard to criminology in spite of an absence of breadth more generally . The order of such a treatment emerges as follows: In part 1, through a brief genealogy of Kant’s notion of the sublime, I lay out a point from which to consider the development of modern aesthetics and the emergence of a poststructuralist perspective, a turn that I assume to be among the essential markers of an aesthetics of crime and criminology. In part 2, I attempt to lay out one conception of an aesthetics of crime (among an unlimited number of possibilities) based upon Foucault’s implications, a model that I believe is politically cogent as well as stimulating in its potential to promote the criminologically vigilant toward that perpetual rethinking necessary to the vibrancy of the field.1 I then take this model and point toward what I consider to be the predominant understandings of aesthetics in criminology and their relationship to the aesthetics of crime Foucault implies. Finally, I will provide a case study of these theoretical points in action. Throughout the piece, I use crime and criminality as categories of experience, events that are always and inevitably real, mediated, and ideological. I assume as well that, in social expression and engagement, criminality as a category serves as “a good place to hide things” where “it can effectively signify and create disconnections in communication across the groups, networks, states, and other relationships through which people symbolize themselves and others” but can also simultaneously “inspire new political discourses” through this very disconnectedness, by drawing attention to the obscuring of cultural communication and structural process (Parnell, 2003, p. 21). An Introduction to Aesthetics by Way of the Sublime Aesthetics is traditionally conceptualized with regard to art but can be understood more broadly as the world of human experience mediated by The Aesthetics of Crime / 225 way of perceptions and representations. The aesthetic itself is an idea crucially concerned with the relationship between what is inside juxtaposed with what is outside human thought, while serving as the precise setting for articulating the contradictions found within this division. Kant, whose work marks the modernist unfolding of the aesthetic, famously surmised in The Critique of Pure Reason that “all the interests of my reason, speculative as well as practical, combine in the following three questions: (i) What can I know? (ii) What ought I to do? (iii) What may I hope?” (1781/1991, p. 104). For Kant, the aesthetic emerges in reference to the third question and the relationship of reason to hope as the locus for the beautiful, the sublime, and ultimately, the religious, with the role of art that of the revelation of the human condition and the implication of transcendence. The engine for such a transformation is found in Kant’s notion of the sublime. For Kant, beyond the form...