The Flower and the Breaking Wheel: Burkean Beauty and Political Kitsch

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What is kitsch? The varieties of phenomena which can fall under the name are bewildering. Here, I focus on what has been called “traditional kitsch,” and argue that it often turns on the emotional effect specifically captured by Edmund Burke’s concept of “beauty” from his 1757 'A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful.' Burkean beauty also serves to distinguish “traditional kitsch” from other phenomena also often called “kitsch”—namely, entertainment. Although I argue that Burkean beauty in domestic decoration allows for us to see “traditional kitsch” as resting on natural and even healthy impulses, I also argue that an all-too-common political function of traditional kitsch directs it to dangerous ends.
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Archival date: 2019-09-07
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