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Understanding The Work of Aesthetics in Modern Life


  • Cameron McCarthy

    () (University of Illinois)


NeoMarxists scholars of education writing on urban life have tended to place aesthetics on the boundaries of critical practices, treating aesthetics as a surplus set of practices that could only be made fully usefully relevant when added on to a more concentrated attention to economy and politics. The main claim I want to make in this presentation is that aesthetic practices now underwrite the fibre of everyday modern life. As Arjun Appadurai usefully argues in Modernity at Large and History as Cultural Fact aesthetics are no longer to be simply understood as the practices of the artist, a maverick citizen creating images about the past, present and the future of human existence. But aesthetics are linked to the work of imagination of ordinary people and connected even more earnestly to the work of capitalism and its reorganization on a global scale. Contrary to the neoMarxist tradition, aesthetic practices are at the epicenter of lived experience and the commodified and institutional practices of modern societies. These practices, as CLR James allerted us to in American Civilization, constitute a great window on contemporary life revealing central contradictions, tensions and discontinuities. This, after all, was the burden of the Latin American and Caribbean Writers Forum of Intellectual and Cultural workers (George Lamming, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and others) who had publicly opposed the Reagan government invasion of Grenada in 1983. They insisted, as did Arnaldo Roche-Rabel, that aesthetics were imbricated in economy and politics?that artistic militancy is critical to production of democracy. The work of aesthetics is crucial to any formula for democratic transformation. In this presentation, I would like to call attention to the following issues. First, the entanglement of the diffusion of modernization to the third world in aesthetics. Second, I want to point as well to the deepening role of aesthetics in the organization capitalism in the new millenium in which we live. Third, I will discuss briefly the crisis of language that the aestheticization of everyday life has imposed/precipitated in neoMarxist efforts to grasp the central dynamics of comtemporary society. The latter has led to a depreciation of the value and insightfulness of neoMarxist analysis in our time?old metaphors associated with the class, economy, state (?production,? ?reproduction,? ?resistance,? ?the labor/capital? contradiction) are all worn down by the transformations of the past decades in which the saturation of economic and political practices in aesthetic mediations has proceeded full scale.

Suggested Citation

  • Cameron McCarthy, 2017. "Understanding The Work of Aesthetics in Modern Life," Proceedings of International Academic Conferences 5007344, International Institute of Social and Economic Sciences.
  • Handle: RePEc:sek:iacpro:5007344

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    Cultural Work; Aesthetics; Late-Modern Life; NeoMarxist Theories;

    JEL classification:

    • Z11 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economics of the Arts and Literature

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