The aesthetic exception

Essays on art, theatre and politics

Tony Fisher
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The question of whether art produces politically transformative effects has been intensely debated within critical discourses concerned with art, literature, and performance practices. The Aesthetic Exception reopens the fundamental questions that underpin these debates and examines the entrenchments they produce within critical circles. It does so for the purposes of developing a new approach that circumvents longstanding theoretical impasses, while emphatically embracing the idea that art can make meaningful interventions in the social world that enriches our political life, without collapsing into well-known contradictions. Offering wide-ranging perspectives that encompass the historical avant-garde, political activist street theatre in India, contemporary critical art practices, and postdramatic performance, among others – the book tracks three structural impasses that continue to benight debates on art’s relation to the political: the problem of aesthetic autonomy which separates art from the social world; how art can communicate political effects while remaining ‘art’; and the problem of how art relates to the terrain of real political struggle. Drawing on the classical debates of Adorno, Lukács, and Sartre, the more recent interventions of Habermas and Rancière, and the political theory of Gramsci, Althusser, and Stuart Hall – the book proposes a ‘conjunctural’ way of understanding the aesthetic possibilities that underpin political art practices. It invites readers to consider the stakes for political art today in an age plagued by widening inequalities, and the saturation of the world by the expropriative logics of globalisation. The book concludes with a call to rethink political art around the figure of the planetary conjuncture.

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