Beautiful Democracy: Aesthetics and Anarchy in a Global Era by Russ Castronovo

By Russ Castronovo

The photographer and reformer Jacob Riis as soon as wrote, “I have obvious an armful of daisies preserve the peace of a block greater than a policeman and his club.” Riis used to be no longer on my own in his trust that attractiveness might tame city chaos, yet are aesthetic studies constantly a social strong? might aesthetics additionally motivate violent crime, working-class unrest, and racial homicide? to respond to those questions, Russ Castronovo turns to those that debated claims that artwork may well democratize culture—civic reformers, anarchists, novelists, civil rights activists, and faculty professors—to demonstrate that good looks presents unforeseen events for radical, even innovative, political thinking.

Beautiful Democracy explores the intersection of good looks and violence via interpreting college lectures and direction fabrics on aesthetics from a century in the past in addition to riots, acts of family terrorism, magic lantern exhibitions, and different public spectacles. Philosophical aesthetics, realist novels, city images, and black periodicals, Castronovo argues, encouraged and instigated every kind of collective social endeavors, from the innovative nature of tenement reform to the horrors of lynching. Discussing Jane Addams, W.E.B. Du Bois, Charlie Chaplin, William Dean Howells, and Riis as aesthetic theorists within the corporation of Kant and Schiller, Beautiful Democracy finally means that the space keeping apart educational pondering and well known knowledge approximately social transformation is narrower than we more often than not suppose.

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But for now I want to mark how this appeal to human reactions and responses suggests the potential force of commonality as a universal feeling that collides with and energizes political positions. ” By representing the struggle for American independence as “the cause of all mankind,” Paine’s 1776 pamphlet anticipates in extremist fashion the universal accord outlined by Kant’s third Critique of 1790. Common Sense, we might say, radicalizes the aesthetic sensibility of sensus communis before the fact by converting it into a political sentiment.

This experiment was undertaken in the public squares of New York’s lower East Side, the com- Aesthetics and the Anarchy of Global Culture . 19 mon rooms of Chicago’s settlement houses, and the pages of NAACP’s The Crisis, as reformers sought to introduce the experience of beauty to wider populations. Could the “science of beauty” that was being theorized in college classrooms be activated in the streets? S. was always interdisciplinary and cross-institutional. Only recently has it been narrowed to connoisseurship and techniques associated with high art.

To cite a disconcerting example, cultural critics at times posited that lynching constituted an aesthetic experience for the perpetrators of racist violence. 35 The connections between aesthetics and lynching are the subject of chapter 3. For the moment, though, it is worthwhile to remark that white violence forces James to reconsider criteria of universal taste. Against this perversion of the imagination, there remained an abiding faith that aesthetics came hardwired with ethical lessons. Tenement novels, documentary photographs, and reports from charities such as the New York City Flower Mission do more than detail squalor: they also speak to the belief that beauty could turn the urban herd into disciplined citizens.

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