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Aesthetic Afterlives

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Organizer: Robert Lehman

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Beginning perhaps with the 1994 publication of George Levine’s edited collection Aesthetics and Ideology, the last few decades have seen literary critics returning to matters of pleasure, of the autonomy of the artwork, and even of beauty—those matters traditionally associated with the subfield of philosophical aesthetics. For some, this return should be welcomed as a sign that we are finally getting back to the fundamental concerns of our discipline after years of wandering in the (historicist or post-structuralist) wilderness. For others, it is something to be regretted, is—in the words of Fredric Jameson—the restoration of a “disreputable ideology” from which the discipline of literary studies ought to be saved.
Should aesthetics be relegated, once and for all, to history’s dustbin? Is the reappearance of the aesthetic as a contemporary concern a mark of retrogression (or worse)? Or are the uses to which the aesthetic has, in recent years, been put—those versions of new formalism that take their inspiration from the work of Kant or Adorno; the aesthetic-political projects of Rancière, Menke, de Duve, and others; or the attempts to extend the meaning of the aesthetic by imagining new aesthetic categories more relevant to contemporary life—evidence of continued vitality? Taking these very general questions as a starting point, this seminar invites historically and philosophically informed reflections on the place of aesthetics (broadly construed) in our contemporary critical practice.
Possible topics might include:

The role played by aesthetics in recent critical movements, e.g., new formalism, surface reading, affect theory, postcritique
The (im)possibility of developing a materialist aesthetics
The status of aesthetics after modernism, that is, after “art after the beautiful”
The question of aesthetic autonomy and the possibility of an aesthetics of everyday life
The contemporary legacy of aesthetics’ foundational figures, e.g., Baumgarten, Kant, Schiller, Hegel, Nietzsche, Dewey, Croce, Heidegger, Richards, Adorno, Goodman, etc.

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