Aesthetics: Toward a Radical History

img-ranciere-aesthesis - Edited

Aesthetics: Toward a Radical History

Offered in collaboration with the Critical Theory Workshop

 This seminar will explore some of the most vexing questions in the history of aesthetics: What is art? How does it relate to the ‘real’ world of politics and society? How has it developed and changed over time? It will examine some of the responses given to these questions by major thinkers like Georg Lukács, Herbert Marcuse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Susan Sontag and Jacques Rancière. This will lead to a broader interrogation into the very presuppositions that structure these types of questions, as well as their answers, thereby opening space for a tectonic shift in our understanding of aesthetics, its social roles, and its history.

In its broadest sense, this shift will lead from an understanding of aesthetics as having a more or less fixed nature to one in which it is radically historicized by being recognized as a dynamic social product of certain cultures. Examining the networks of production, circulation and reception operative in what is called art in the modern ‘Western’ world, with an eye to its variations across time, space and social strata, this course inspects how the European world has developed—and then attempted to universalize—a very unique concept and practice of aesthetics, which is bound up in various ways with colonial expansion and the capitalist exhibition of symbolic goods.

GabrielRockhill (1)Facilitator: Gabriel Rockhill is a philosopher, cultural critic and activist. He is the Founder and Director of the Critical Theory Workshop, as well as Associate Professor of Philosophy at Villanova University. He is the author or editor of nine books, including Counter-History of the PresentRadical History & the Politics of Art and Interventions in Contemporary Thought: History, Politics, Aesthetics. In addition to his scholarly work, he has been actively engaged in extra-academic activities in the art and activist worlds, as well as a regular contributor to public cultural and political debate.


Reading: Gabriel Rockhill, Radical History & the Politics of Art. Sample: IntroductionChapter Three.

RadicalHistory.jpgRecommended Film:  Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, Statues also Die. In French. English closed captions (CC) available at bottom right of the Youtube screen.

Date: Saturday, March 23, 10am-2pm

Cost: Pay-what-you-can, up to $90

We are committed to making our offerings of knowledge, dialogue, and community available to anyone who feels they can benefit from them, regardless of ability to pay. We trust you to pay what you can currently afford. If you can not afford to pay anything, but feel you can benefit from our seminars, we wholeheartedly encourage you to register for free. For others, please bear in mind that a seminar costs nearly $1000 in labor and expenses to run.


Be sure to “buy” the proper amount. For example, if you are paying $80, enter “8” in the box, if $40, “4,” etc. If you take the no-cost option, it is still necessary to register. Please do so by emailing




(“Art and Politics in the Time of Radical History. A conversation with Gabriel Rockhill and others about the social dimension of aesthetic practices.” Slought, Philadelphia.)


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