Critical Theory: Current State and Future Prospects

By Peter Uwe Hohendahl; Jaimey Fisher | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
AESTHETIC POLITICS TODAY
Walter Benjamin and Post-Fordist Culture1

Lutz Koepnick

There should be little doubt that one of the most enduring legacies of Critical Theory is its inquiry into the aesthetic dimensions of power. In particular Walter Benjamin's notion of aesthetic politics— formulated as a critique of the spectacular fusion of modern technologies and antimodern ideologies in European fascism—has come to occupy a privileged place within the postwar pantheon of cultural criticism. Thanks to Benjamin, it has become a truism to say that one cannot speak of fascism without speaking about the role of the aesthetic, about the beautification of political infrastructures, and about the translation of decadent idioms of nineteenth-century art into a mesmerizing language of power. In fact, isolated quotes from Benjamin's artwork essay have been canonized not only to verify global claims about the nature of fascism, but also to indicate the way in which postfascist societies either replay fascism as myth and movie, or displace the disenchanted routines of procedural politics with captivating spectacles. According to this understanding, fascism is unthinkable without a formal language of seduction. As a Wagnerian drama of total synthesis, fascism explores aesthetic resources so as to promote a tyranny of decadent art over modern politics.

Unlike Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, whose Dialectic of Enlightenment primarily stresses the manipulation of the

Notes for this chapter begin on page 114.

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