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DepositThe Aesthetics of Politics

Illuminating the pervasiveness and importance of the aesthetic presence was the task I undertook in my recent book, Sensibility and Sense: The Aesthetic Transformation of the Human World, and this essay develops the final chapter in that book. What I want to do here is carry that process still further, most particularly into the regions of political theory. For the energies of the artistic process invariably engage the social world, and the implications of artistic practice and aesthetic experience are necessarily political. Let me try to show how this is so.

DepositPerceptual Politics

Moved by the pervasiveness and insistence of political forces in social life, many scholars have been drawn increasingly to recognize the strands of the aesthetic that are woven into its texture. They have gone beyond dealing with the ways that the arts are used in political propaganda and for arousing patriotic feeling. The aesthetic has come to be recognized as a perceptual domain of considerable power and influence, and some analysts have assigned it a crucial place in political theory. Making the aesthetic central in political theory may be surprising, for two such dissimilar domains of thought and experience might seem, at first, difficult to reconcile. Yet the association of aesthetics with politics has been made, and it will be illuminating to look at some applications that assign the aesthetic dimension a critical place in social and political thought. Let me then trace some of the appeals to the aesthetic in founding political theory, first considering Friedrich Schiller before moving into contemporary proposals.

DepositThe Aesthetic Politics of Environment

This essay develops the final chapter in my recent book, Sensibility and Sense: The Aesthetic Transformation of the Human World (Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2010). I acknowledge with appreciation the similitude of my title and subject to Jacques Rancière’s Le partage du sensible; esthétique et politique, although the inquiry here is independent of his. I also want to acknowledge with gratitude the valuable assistance of Yuriko Saito and Riva Berleant in refining this essay.

DepositFrom Green Principles to Politics

Arguing that a principled standpoint is a condition for any person or movement seeking to effect real social change, this book foregrounds social and environmental justice as against economic imperatives based on accumulation, profit and endless growth. This book argues that the reality of environmental crisis and the prospect of future social transformation challenges our science and our values. The book examines the key questions within the many-sided predicament concerning the factors influencing environmental change and how to respond to that change: How is nature conceived and how should nature be conceived? What should human beings do and how should human beings act? What are the objects and what principles should action be guided by? In putting these questions the paper is concerned to relate Green politics not only to the scientific analysis of the environmental crisis but above all to moral, cultural and psychological states and attitudes. The goal of an inclusive environmentalism involves a re-thinking of ethics, one capable of integrating a diversity of social movements in a common moral cause. These observations are shown to point to the need to embed a cognitive praxis within the institutional framework of government and politics so that actions and outcomes are more closely connected, greater cooperation and coordination is achieved between actors, greater clarity is expressed with regard to decision making results, and insight into long term ends comes to inform short term choices. This makes the affirmation of ecological and social capacity building as at least a much a part of Green politics as campaigns for votes and office. This argument is developed in terms of concepts and values, mentalities and modalities, which allow for a plurality of meanings, institutions and practices which are adaptable in face of new developments and unforeseen events — and which also facilitate positive and coherent responses to change.

DepositChris Abani and the Politics of Ambivalence

In his 2004 novel GraceLand, Chris Abani unsettles notions of youth “empowerment,” or “resistance,” creating a restless oscillation between cynicism and idealism. On the one hand, pervasive violence and restricting norms seem to debilitate the novel’s characters, leaving little room to negoti- ate the constraints of their bleak lives in the slums of Lagos. On the other, there is a certain euphoric optimism that pervades the novel—particularly among youth—which is undergirded primarily by idealized non-African spaces. The persistent fluctuation between suffocating violence and utopian thoughts of the “outside” renders the politics of GraceLand fundamen- tally ambiguous. In lieu of a rigidly determinate portrayal, Abani deploys ambivalence as a discursive vehicle with which to expand the contours of how we come to think and imagine African youth resistance—pressing us to consider the inherent contradictions, complicities and contingencies that perhaps accompany any ascription of agency.