Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power

By L. T. Koepnick | Go to book overview

2
CARNIVAL INDUSTRIAL CULTURE
AND THE POLITICS OF AUTHENTICITY

A good ten years after his first encounter with the question of aesthetic politics, Benjamin in his critique of fascism will realign his critical apparatus both politically and methodologically. The Trauerpiel study defined the baroque spectacle as a cunning manipulation of the aesthetic for the sake of political legitimation. Baroque leaders, according to Benjamin's reading, domesticated the aesthetic in order to secure their own position. They relied on public spectacles so as to master in a self-contradictory fashion the arrival of new concepts of secularized power and political autonomy. The rise of European fascism during the 1920s and 1930s urges Benjamin to rethink this conceptual armature, though many elements of his earlier thought - as we shall see - continuously inform his critical approach. In its most extreme formulation, Benjamin's work now understands the very grounding of political action in concepts of autonomous power and resolute leadership as an ideological instance of aesthetic politics. Rather than merely blurring the lines between the spheres of the political and the aesthetic, fascist aestheticization moves beyond any systematic encoding of action in a shared repertoire of values or norms, moral principles or aesthetic beliefs. It marshals the tools of postautonomous art and image making in the hope of removing former standards of valorization and legitimation and of glorifying expressions of power as auratic presences. In analogy to turn-of-the-century art-for-art's-sake, which reveled in radical formulations of aesthetic autonomy, fascism conceives of the political as a self-enclosed system of existential relevance. Fascist aestheticization defies normative discourses and critical evaluation; it presents the preconceptual articulation of vitalistic power and masculine resolution as the exclusive media of political action and integration.

It is tempting when approaching the spectacular dimension of fascism first to review the competing ways in which eighteenth- and nineteenth-

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Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction: Fascism, Mass Culture, and the Avant-Garde 1
  • One - Benjamin and the Fascist Spectacle 27
  • Introduction to Part I 29
  • I - Baroque Drama and the Quest for Autonomous Politics 35
  • 2: Carnival Industrial Culture and the Politics of Authenticity 53
  • 3: Aesthetic Dictatorship 83
  • 4: Medusian Politics 109
  • 5: Modern Visual (Culture and the Politics of Phantasmagoria 141
  • 6: Perseus's Paradox 164
  • Two - Rethinking the Spectacle 175
  • Introduction to Part 2 177
  • 7: Fascist Aesthetics Revisited 187
  • 8: Benjamin's Actuality 213
  • Notes 239
  • Index 269
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