Feminist Aesthetics and the Politics of Modernism

Feminist Aesthetics and the Politics of Modernism

by Ewa Plonowska Ziarek


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Ewa Ziarek fully articulates a feminist aesthetics, focusing on the struggle for freedom in women's literary and political modernism and the devastating impact of racist violence and sexism. She examines the contradiction between women's transformative literary and political practices and the oppressive realities of racist violence and sexism, and she situates these tensions within the entrenched opposition between revolt and melancholia in studies of modernity and within the friction between material injuries and experimental aesthetic forms. Ziarek's political and aesthetic investigations concern the exclusion and destruction of women in politics and literary production and the transformation of this oppression into the inaugural possibilities of writing and action. Her study is one of the first to combine an in-depth engagement with philosophical aesthetics, especially the work of Theodor W. Adorno, with women's literary modernism, particularly the writing of Virginia Woolf and Nella Larsen, along with feminist theories on the politics of race and gender. By bringing seemingly apolitical, gender-neutral debates about modernism's experimental forms together with an analysis of violence and destroyed materialities, Ziarek challenges both the anti-aesthetic subordination of modern literature to its political uses and the appreciation of art's emancipatory potential at the expense of feminist and anti-racist political struggles.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231161497
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 10/23/2012
Series: Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ewa Ziarek is Julian Park Professor of Comparative Literature at the State University of New York, Buffalo. She is the author of An Ethics of Dissensus: Feminism, Postmodernity, and the Politics of Radical Democracy and coeditor of Revolt, Affect, Collectivity: The Unstable Boundaries of Kristeva's Polis and Intermedialities: Philosophy, Art, Politics.

Table of Contents

Introduction: On Loss
1 Revolutionary Praxis and Its Melancholic Impasses
1. On Suffrage Militancy and Modernism: Femininity and Revolt
2. Melancholia
3. Woolf's Aesthetics of Potentiality
2 Female Bodies
Introduction: Rethinking the Form/Matter Divide in Feminist Politics and Aesthetics
4. Abstract Commodity Form and Bare Life
5. Damaged Materialities in Political Struggles and Aesthetic Innovations
3 Toward a Feminine Aesthetics of Renaissance
6. The Enigma of Nella Larsen: Letters

What People are Saying About This

Tina Chanter

An impressive display of erudition and incisive analysis. An absolutely original and brilliantly conceived book.

David Marriott

Feminist Aesthetics and the Politics of Modernism is a brilliant, unique, and original work. Ewa Ziarek's sensitive and critical analysis of the 'multiple possibilities of what literature and femininity might mean and might become' asks us to rethink the ways in which the relations between aesthetics and politics, race and critical theory, feminism and modernism have been commonly understood. This vital and valuable book demonstrates how from literature written by white and black women new forms of knowledge, transformation, and aesthetic possibility can emerge, and new kinds of political and psychic sensibility.

Penelope Deutscher

Feminist Aesthetics and the Politics of Modernism reminds us that modernism provided the context for an unprecedented engagement by black and women writers. But Ewa Ziarek's elegant readings of Nella Larson and Virginia Woolf form just a part of her complex and groundbreaking case for a new means of integrating aesthetic and political theory. From Adorno to Arendt and Agamben, she reconfigures the theorists available to analyze the right to revolt and its relation to aesthetic production. Through her innovative approach, Adorno and Agamben undergo not commentary nor critique but a compelling and surprising transformation—as when they become resources for revisiting the hunger strikers of radical British suffrage feminism. Reconfigured, they are resources allowing us to think revolt and resistance with bare life; race and gender with the social conditions of the heteronomy of art. Ziarek is a virtuoso voice amongst the continental theorists contributing to the new directions in aesthetics.

Professor Tina Chanter

In an impressive display of erudition and incisive analysis Feminist Aesthetics and the Politics of Modernism makes a theoretically innovative intervention into the field of gender, race, aesthetics, and politics. An absolutely original and brilliantly conceived book.

Professor Tina Chanter, Philosophy, DePaul University

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