Aesthetics and Politics in Critical Theory

Reading Group organized by Ben Moore, Marc Farrant, and Steyn Bergs.

This reading group will explore a selection of seminal, and some lesser-known, works within twentieth and twenty-first century critical and cultural theory, with an emphasis on the intersection between the aesthetic and the political. Walter Benjamin argued in the conclusion of his ‘Work of Art’ essay of 1936 that one of the dangers of fascism is its ‘aestheticizing of politics’, and that communism must respond by ‘politicizing art’. As our contemporary political moment comes to increasingly resemble the conjuncture at which Benjamin was writing in the 1930s, we will ask how the relationship between politics and aesthetics has been theorised by thinkers since, and how we might use their work to analyse and rethink that relationship today.

We plan to meet once a month on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons for around two hours. Our first two meetings will serve as a theoretical orientation, looking at work from Jacques Rancière, Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson. After that, we plan to take particular artistic forms, genres, or themes to guide our reading through the year, including comedy (Zupančič, Berlant, Ngai), cinema (Rancière, Deleuze, Eisenstein), music (Adorno) and performativity (Sedgwick). The direction of our reading is flexible however, and depends partly on the interests of the participants. The format will be open and informal. All staff and graduate students, from inside or outside the UvA, are welcome to take part. Research Masters students who take part in the group will be eligible for 2ECs via NICA.

The first meeting will take place at 16.00-18.00 on Thursday 19 September. We will discuss the Terry Eagleton’s essay ‘The Ideology of the Aesthetic’ in parallel with work by Jacques Rancière on the distribution of the sensible.

Please contact Ben Moore (, Marc Farrant ( and Steyn Bergs ( if you would like to attend, and to receive a pdf copy of the readings.