Radical History and the Politics of Art

New York: Columbia University Press (2014)
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The primary objective of this book is to open space for rethinking the relationship between art and politics. It seeks to combat one of the fundamental assumptions that has plagued many of the previous debates on this issue: that art and politics are distinct entities definable in terms of common properties, and that they have privileged points of intersection, which can be determined once and for all in terms of an established formula. This common sense assumption is rooted in a transcendent illusion according to which there are more or less fixed characteristics that unify our terms, concepts, and practices in such a way as to guarantee their meaning. Against this substantialist approach, Radical History & the Politics of Art argues for a praxeological account that begins the other way around by analyzing specific cultural practices without presupposing a conceptual unity behind them. Such an orientation is radically historicist in the sense that it recognizes that all of our practices—be they linguistic, theoretical, aesthetic or political—are historically constituted and that they are necessarily part of a temporal dynamic. Hence the contingent nature of the labels used to classify various practices or even identify ‘practice’ as such. Radical history thereby proposes a significant departure from the extant debates on art and politics by maintaining that there is no ‘art’ or ‘politics’ in general, nor a singular relation between them. There are only historically constituted practices in various conjunctures, some of which have been labeled, through practical acts of denomination, as ‘artistic’ or ‘political.’ Instead of proposing one more response to the oft-repeated question ‘what is the relationship between Art and Politics?’ this book seeks to overcome the presuppositions that plague such a question. It thereby changes the very nature of the investigation by asking: ‘how do the diverse aspects of practices identified as ‘aesthetic’ and ‘political’ overlap, intertwine and sometimes merge in precise socio-historical force fields of action?

Author's Profile

Gabriel Rockhill
Villanova University


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