Art and Politics in the Time of Radical History

A conversation with Gabriel Rockhill and others about the social dimension of aesthetic practices


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Philosophy / Theory
  • Politics / Economics

Organizing Institutions



Jean-Michel Rabaté

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought is pleased to present "Art and Politics in the Time of Radical History," a conversation exploring counter-histories and theories of aesthetic and political practices, on Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 from 6:30-8:30pm. The event will feature Gabriel Rockhill, Kevin Platt, Annika Thiem and Jean-Michel Rabaté in dialogue about the relationship between art and politics and the philosophy of aesthetics, and marks the release of Radical History & The Politics of Art, Gabriel Rockhill's new publication with Columbia University Press.

A series of questions will guide the conversation, including: To what extent is it important to revisit the history of aesthetic and political practices in order to reconsider how they function in the present? What methodological tools can be developed for elaborating a counter-history of aesthetic and political practices? How can we rethink the canonical moments of encounter between art and politics, which have often been framed under the category of "the avant-garde"? In what ways do alternative models for understanding aesthetic and political practices shed light on the work of artists such as Hugo, Brecht and Picasso, and more recently, Bilal, Sierra and Motti? What are the strengths and limitations of some of the dominant theoretical paradigms--from Lukács and Marcuse to Sartre and Rancière--for framing the relationship between aesthetics and politics?

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"If what we call 'art' and 'politics' are recognized as variable sociohistorical practices that have no essential nature or singular relation, then we need to entirely rework our understanding of these practices, beginning with the very questions that are raised. The classic, common sense trinity — what is art? what is politics? what is their relation? — becomes obsolete as soon as it is acknowledged that there is not a single, ontological answer to any of these questions. Radical history thereby opens a fundamentally different field of inquiry and opens a unique gamut of questions by maintaing that there is not, in fact, a firm starting point with clearly delimited entities whose unique relation can be definitively described. It begins, in other words, by recognizing that there is no absolute point of departure: we always start in the middle, so to speak, in a complex nexus of immanent, historically constituted notions and practices. [...]

One of the core problems in contemporary debates on art and politics is the social epoché, meaning the tendency to bracket the intricate social relations at work in aesthetic and political practices. When the social sphere is taken into account, it is often reduced to a binary and determinist social logic in which it is assumed that there is a singular determinate matrix that works of art react to (by either confirming or rejecting it). It is rare that theorists take into full consideration the social force field constituted out of the multiple sites and types of agencies involved in the production, distribution, and reception of aesthetic practices (and, for that matter, of political activities). [...] In order to definitively part ways with the politics of the isolated aesthetic artifact, it is important to explore the intertwined relationship between these three heuristically distinct social dimensions of aesthetic practices — creation, circulation, interpretation — in order to chart out their social politicity, meaning the political dimensions that play themselves out in the historical struggles between various forms of social agency."

-- Gabriel Rockhill, Radical History & The Politics of Art (Columbia, 2014)

Gabriel Rockhill is associate professor of philosophy at Villanova University, directeur de programme at the Collège International de Philosophie, and founder and director of the Critical Theory Workshop in Paris.

Kevin M. F. Platt is the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Graduate Chair of the Comparative Literature Program.

Annika Thiem is associate professor of philosophy and Director of Graduate Studies at Villanova University, and Academic Associate in the Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies at the University of South Africa.

Jean-Michel Rabaté is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, and Senior Curator for Discursive Programs at Slought.