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Address and the politics of aesthetics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M069-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Major accounts of the aesthetic field and its relation to politics employ the notion of address in an implicit or explicit manner. This essay explores the central functions that philosophers and theorists in other humanities disciplines ascribe to the notion. Thus the essay brings into view a variety of approaches to the politics of aesthetics and, more specifically, to the politics of art and culture.

Section 1 considers two groundbreaking views of address that supply influential models for contemporary views of the aesthetic field and cultural criticism. These are David Hume’s account of the modes of address occurring between artist, artwork, and public, and Walter Benjamin’s investigation of the cultural implications of shifts of address.

Taking off within the field of inquiry circumscribed by Hume and Benjamin, several significant contributions to the theory of address become apparent. Scholars highlight the functioning of address in the service of constructions of subjectivity. They underscore its connections with power and desire. They situate addressors’ specialized or day-to-day modes of address (such as social commentary, epic narration, or institutional commands) in dialogical relations with the forms of address adopted by other interlocutors. Section 2 stresses different views to these effects by Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Roland Barthes.

Further amplification of the workings of address arises within perspectives populating the fields of phenomenology, psychoanalysis, contemporary continental philosophy, analytical philosophy, feminist philosophy, postcolonial theory, and critical race theory. Section 3 highlights approaches in these partially overlapping yet distinct areas, many of which fuel current perspectives on the relation between art and politics.

We continue by focusing on the role of the notion of address in contemporary cultural theory and criticism. At issue in Section 4 are critical forms of address that audiences direct at cultural productions. Of particular importance, here, are the ties between modes of address and structures of social differentiation, including racial and gender constellations. Our sources include writings by Stuart Hall, Gloria Anzaldúa, Sara Ahmed, Saidiya Hartman, and Denise Ferreira da Silva. Section 5 wraps up our discussion by homing in on contemporary perspectives on address that foreground the politics of artistic, aesthetic, and cultural form. Work by Ellen Rooney, Barbara Johnson, and Fred Moten, among others, will guide our thinking in this concluding section.

Citing this article:
Roelofs, Monique. Address and the politics of aesthetics, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M069-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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