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 retain the peace of a block greater than a policeman and his club.” Riis used to be now not on my own in his trust that good looks may tame city chaos, yet are aesthetic reviews continually a social strong? may aesthetics additionally motivate violent crime, working-class unrest, and racial homicide? to reply to those questions, Russ Castronovo turns to people who debated claims that paintings may democratize culture—civic reformers, anarchists, novelists, civil rights activists, and faculty professors—to exhibit that attractiveness presents unforeseen events for radical, even progressive, political thinking.

Beautiful Democracy explores the intersection of good looks and violence through studying college lectures and direction fabrics on aesthetics from a century in the past in addition to riots, acts of household terrorism, magic lantern exhibitions, and different public spectacles. Philosophical aesthetics, realist novels, city images, and black periodicals, Castronovo argues, encouraged and instigated all kinds of collective social endeavors, from the revolutionary 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 eventually means that the gap keeping apart educational considering and well known knowledge approximately social transformation is narrower than we usually suppose.

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28 While Howells chooses a less programmatic approach than Riis, both writers act as social ecologists who look to flowers, green space, and nature as pleasing alternatives to the rule of law. Riis’s call for a park practically implements aesthetic principles set out in a series of lectures given uptown from the capmaker’s home. Speaking at Columbia University during the fall term of 1894, Henry Rutgers Marshall theorized aesthetics as the grist that holds society together. ), back at the turn of the century Marshall’s voice did not waver when it came to assessing the desirability of aesthetics.

Outcomes that had seemingly put to rest lingering debates about what could have happened, in favor of what really did happen, might no longer appear so certain or final. Thus the aesthetic theory that in chapter 1 creates proper civic subjects is haunted by specters of international revolution seen in chapter 2. With its chronology out of joint, this book implicitly contends that what we take as the outcomes of history are at best provisional. 40 Aesthetics, I have been arguing, wreak havoc on such predictability, whether in terms of how citizens are certain to act, what culture must mean, or the paths democracy is destined to take.

At the same time, ideas about “physiological aesthetics” and the “psychology of beauty” pointed to instinctual responses and creative principles through which groups of people might shape political interaction. This fundamental incongruity expressed itself across a wider set of cultural materials than academic papers and courses, leading to the other half of my archive. th e po pu l ar r age This other archive cannot be neatly summed up as though it were a college course or unified philosophical endeavor.

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