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Aesthetics and Politics

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,955 ratings  ·  45 reviews
No other country and no other period has produced a tradition of major aesthetic debate to compare with that which unfolded in German culture from the 1930s to the 1950s. In Aesthetics and Politics the key texts of the great Marxist controversies over literature and art during these years are assembled in a single volume. They do not form a disparate collection but a conti ...more
Paperback, 220 pages
Published January 17th 2007 by Verso (first published 1977)
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Andrew I think if you read something by Walter Benjamin it would become clearer, but these men were not trying to make there readings easy. The best way to a…moreI think if you read something by Walter Benjamin it would become clearer, but these men were not trying to make there readings easy. The best way to approach them, is to read it once by skimming. Read it again with a pencil, and read it a third time to join all of your thoughts together. At least thats how it works for me.(less)

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Jun 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Like many of the reviewers on here, I have always found this book extremely useful in how it establishes the terms of debates around Marxist aesthetics for key European critics. This reading, however, I did something different from how I've approached the book in the past. Eschewing the lovely Germans and their feistiness, I opted instead to read Jameson's introductory notes as one continuous essay. This helped to foreground a few very important distinctions that often get missed, particularly b ...more
Wendy Liu
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book combines two recently-discovered favourites of mine: literary theory, and Marxist theory. Of course, the two have obvious overlap, but I'd never seen them united and so beautifully woven together until I read this book. The chapters here are mostly essays or letters by the people mentioned on the title page, and you'll get more value out of this book if you've read their longer texts first, but it's not necessary; you can always read them afterwards if you want to better understand the ...more
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theory
lukacs has some points but he is very easy to misunderstand. lots of bs from adorno. the interludes were awesome. brecht was painfully clear-headed and sharp. benjamin knows how to ignore adorno. jameson's summary was awesome.
Tse Guang
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
If you think Marxism and art have nothing in common save propaganda posters, you're probably not going to want to read this book anyway. It's dense, and pitched as a battle amongst those modern Marxist aesthetes who shaped the debates on art as a political medium. Don't expect to find anything like consensus here - although Adorno seems to be the last word, it really is Benjamin whose thoughts seem most beautiful, lucid and free of intellectualism - in other words, most like an artist himself.
Jee Koh
Mar 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Compact introduction to the Frankfurt School on the relation of art to politics. If one must take a side, always choose the side of the artist creator over that of the critic interpreter.
May 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: theory
here's a compilation of each "battle":

round one: ernst bloch vs georg lukács

winner: lukács by sheer sassiness

round two: bertolt brecht vs walter benjamin

brecht worries about trashing lúkacs while benjamin talks about how much brecht likes to talk about himself--so we'll call this a tie

round three: theodor adorno vs walter benjamin

both very polite while mentioning things they don't agree with. the round would have gone to adorno for suggesting calling benjamin's essay "the work of art in th
Dec 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2011
Still surprisingly apt, even with so much time that has passed. This is a well-constructed collection of letter and papers on the role of art and its interaction with political thought/action. If you think art matters, but sometimes have a hard time articulating how or why, this book provides some nice theoretical exploration of just those issues.

Special appreciation must be given to the written introductions to each exchange, establishing the stakes and particular points of disagreement. Fredri

This is my third time actually going through this text. I borrowed it on curiosity from a friend of mine and tried to give it a good going-over. I think i understood what I was reading well enough but the aracana and the historical jargon was a little distancing. I find a lot of marxist theory can be like that, frustratingly so.

I'd like to learn it more, be more conversant in it, my sympathies are definitely on that side of the spectrum- at least, in the realm of politics and history. I'm not s
Jul 01, 2018 rated it liked it
It is really interesting reading such opposing views about the role of communism in the arts. However some of them are such extreme views that seem to be very limited and not open to other interpretations of art or communism. It is also quite a hard book to understand if one does not have any background in art and artistic movements. Mainly focused on the debate between the legitimacy of realism vs abstract art in connection to the communist ideal. Depending on the views of the reader, certain c ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting if not somewhat dated set of essays, letters, and articles about the political implications of aesthetic forms. Bloch and Lukacs argue about the nature of Expressionism, where Lukacs thinks that Expressionism's logical end is a fascist turn. Lukacs advocates very strongly for realism as a necessary progressive force, sometimes convincingly. When he delves into Marx and Hegel in his arguments he's interesting, but otherwise I find his ideas on art entirely too rigid. I've found Bre ...more
This volume could easily be subtitled "dispatches from a lost world." The writings here are generally far less interesting in their subject matter than what they have to say about the context they were written in, the authors' relationship to each other, and the shattered/shattering Mitteleuropa culture of the day. Bloch the optimist, Brecht the wit, Lukacs the failure, Benjamin and Adorno the transcendent geniuses. I could do without the conclusion by noted bloviator Fredric Jameson, though.
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
In Aesthetics and Politics, Fredric Jameson presents a series of exchanges over the meaning of art among the German left in the early 20th Century. What emerges is a sort of pile on against Lukacs by Bloch, Brecht, Benjamin (sort of) and Adorno, in which each in turn defends modernism against Lukacs’ appeal to realism in art.

Lukacs is a formidable, though compromised, thinker whose History and Class Consciousness and Theory of the Novel define the terms of aesthetics and critical Marxism for the
Bryce Galloway
Jan 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Some incredibly dense and some more readable debates over the leftist political value of Expressionism vs Realism, and later, Modernism vs Realism between Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht and Lukács. Lukács is in one camp, arguing that Expressionism/Modernism is dislocated from historical veracity and discernible exposure of class mechanisms. The rest are all defenders of Expressionism or Modernism but aren’t shy of giving each other a hell of a critique, either through published essays or privat ...more
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Adorno's parts were entirely insufferable, especially because you had to be familiar with a dozen or so references on any given page, but the rest was oddly comforting. It's helped me understand why aesthetics remain important, or even gain in importance, when the whole world is going to shit. That being said, Benjamin's story was pretty heartbreaking, especially when he's frank with Adorno about his anxiety and loneliness and desperation. Also in the span of two years I've gone from thinking "B ...more
William Patterson
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading. It unfolds powerfully like a drama of titans. The benevolent Bloch ransacked by the bullish Ares-Lukács, himself darted at by troubadours, Brecht and Benjamin, and finally, in their company, the mighty Adorno definitely topples him. I'm sorry to sound so inflated, but this discourse is buzzing with epoch-defining grandeur. Truly. As a long-time reader of Adorno and Benjamin, I was especially happy to have access to Lukács, who was an early model for these two younger writers, ...more
Daniel Bickle-Lazarow
This book was just too deep in art theory for me. A lot of the subject matter around how can an unrealistic depiction of something give more value than a simply realist depiction of something interests me, the complexity and specificality of 20s and 30s writing essentially went over my head. I understood general premises of most of the essays but unless you're well versed in literature of prominent expressionist and realist writers of the early 20th century I'd suggest not going for this book. M ...more
Ainjel Stephens
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great book on theories of aesthetics, art, and the role of politics in the literary and the visual. The reader is easy enough to read, with great translations and background information provided in the introductions to the sections. I loved how the text was presented as a "dialogue," as the selections chosen were those of authors responding to each other's works critically and insightfully. A great read for anyone interested in the Frankfurt School of theory.
May 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: school-books
I, again, had to read this for my critical theory class, but this was much less accessible than the other Adorno text we read. Since this is full of other authors, they have very different writing styles that are difficult to understand. They are also basing their arguments on writings that I am not familiar with.
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
An interesting collection of essays although highly specific. They required a lot of previous knowledge so they were quite hard to understand in various occasions. Nevertheless, I learnt a lot by reading it.
Gunner Taylor
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Aesthetics and Politics is a useful summary of a bygone era of Marxist cultural criticism. The text is bolstered by Jameson's introductory essays, but occasionally bogged down by superfluous primary document choices.
Jul 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: philosophy
Only of interest if you accept the assumptions, goals, and methodologies of Marxism, or if you are very curious about the history of ideas.
Nov 30, 2019 marked it as to-read
Reading this slowly over the course of a few centuries so please excuse my thick head.
mimosa maoist
The Brecht/Lukacs quarrel is legendary. Adorno's and Benjamin's letters to each other are adorable!
Marcel Ozymantra
Dec 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
To be honest, I don't have an academic background and this is the first time I've read a book like this. Considering lots of the difficult words that are being used. Words of which the meaning, even for me with considerable knowledge of my second language, can be only inferred unlees I storm everytime to the dictionary. I will also admit that I would probably have comparable difficulty in Dutch. Suffice to say it would benefit from a second reading. And more of the same kind. There's also a cert ...more
Oct 21, 2010 rated it liked it
I keep going back to what you said about how, "Lukac's argument that there may never have been such a thing as an Expressionist writer but only Expressionist theory" and I feel that he does acknowledge that literary history recognizes this notion of an expressionist writer and says, "since our dispute is concerned with the evaluation of individual writers, it is not of paramount importance that for us to resolve this problem (29)." He continues by not necessarily challenging their existence, but ...more
Jude Nonesuch
Mar 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was super good -- and super interesting. I'd never known anything about Lukacs but he comes across as a bit of a dick. Also never knew there were so many connections between Brecht and people like Benjamin. Also interesting to read the criticism at the start of each chapter -- by Jameson? -- tho it makes me feel a bit ambivalent; like, I'd kind of like it if I just thought Adorno was the perfect thing and could not be made better in any way, but there are some very valid criticisms of him h ...more
Unies Ananda Raja
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I know I didn't get much of it. Mostly I don't know what the hell they are talking about. However, the whole idea of this book is the debate between realism and modernism in Marxist aesthetics. Ernst Bloch is in the side of Expressionism and against Georg Lukacs. On the other hand, Lukacs is hardcore realist. Bertolt Brecht agreed with Lukacs, but want to formulate different kind of realism. Basically, Lukacs wanted work of art to be timeless. But, Brecht wanted work of art to adapt with each ge ...more
Aug 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: writers
if i ran a creative writing grad school, i'd make every first-year read this book. i felt better about america for a second when i found not one but two copies at the barnes and noble in the leafy, sun-dappled arboretum.

this book collects definitive essays by german-speaking literary critics of the mid-twentieth century. they all lived through the nazi disaster, and had try to understand it culturally while not betraying their love for the art and literature of their country. furthermore, many o
Patrick Callier
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Some of the exchanges made fairly opaque allusions to outside work. This occasionally got in the way of a full understanding but generally some strategic reading did the trick.

Useful not just as a record of leftist politics in dire times, or a primer on modernism, but also a guide to how and why left wing thinking began to move away from "exaltation" of a single class. Also more than a little drama, with Jameson trying to salvage Lukacs from a reputation as a Stalinist sellout, at the same time
Tom L
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
To quote Jameson's Conclusion to this volume: "It is not only political history which those who ignore are condemned to repeat. ... Nowhere has this 'return of the repressed' been more dramatic than in the aesthetic conflict between 'Realism' and 'Modernism,' whose navigation and renegotiation is still unavoidable for us today, even though we may feel that each position is in some sense right and yet that neither is any longer wholly acceptable."
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Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno was one of the most important philosophers and social critics in Germany after World War II. Although less well known among anglophone philosophers than his contemporary Hans-Georg Gadamer, Adorno had even greater influence on scholars and intellectuals in postwar Germany. In the 1960s he was the most prominent challenger to both Sir Karl Popper's philosophy of science a ...more

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