Arrest: the Politics and Transcendence of Aesthetic Arrest Qua Protest

AEQAI (2020)
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Recently, given the fomenting protests following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery (amongst countless others), much discussion has erupted amongst contemporary artist-activists about the proper place for art and the aestheticization of politics. This is, of course, by no means a novel conversation. Historically, the aestheticization of politics has been disparaged perhaps most vocally by those such as Adorno and Horkheimer, but this critique has its most well-known roots in Plato. Plato’s critique is levelled at the theatre and poetry, particularly the habituation effects of its consumption; specifically, Plato saw that the tragedy embodied by those performers inhabiting the stage and the enraptured audiences who engaged at the level of emotions. Plato censured the putatively groundless feelings demonstrated by actors and their transposition, artificiality’s ripple effect. Consider, for example, the actor performing the role of Achilles who extravagantly expresses grief without truly undergoing it. Audience members inhere towards an unmerited emotional hunger-cum-satisfaction for those putatively irrational feelings of loss by way of weeping and wailing. For Plato, such identification is devoid of proper evaluative grounding and, therefore, is corruptive. Plato’s critique can be considered an evaluation of the kind of rational emotional arrest that occurs through artificial emotional uptake. However, one could counter Plato’s position by noting how, regardless of whether these emotions are performed or the actors “truly” feel them, they may serve a political purpose and greater ends—bridging the audience together with performer/artist, allowing an “as if” simulative scenario.
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