Autonomy: The Social Ontology of Art under Capitalism

Duke University Press
Free sample

In Autonomy Nicholas Brown theorizes the historical and theoretical argument for art's autonomy from its acknowledged character as a commodity. Refusing the position that the distinction between art and the commodity has collapsed, Brown demonstrates how art can, in confronting its material determinations, suspend the logic of capital by demanding interpretive attention. He applies his readings of Marx, Hegel, Adorno, and Jameson to a range of literature, photography, music, television, and sculpture, from Cindy Sherman's photography and the novels of Ben Lerner and Jennifer Egan to The Wire and the music of the White Stripes. He demonstrates that through their attention and commitment to form, such artists turn aside the determination posed by the demand of the market, thereby defeating the foreclosure of meaning entailed in commodification. In so doing, he offers a new theory of art that prompts a rethinking of the relationship between art, critical theory, and capitalism.
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About the author

Nicholas Brown is Associate Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, author of Utopian Generations: The Political Horizon of Twentieth-Century Literature, and coeditor of Contemporary Marxist Theory: A Reader.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Feb 28, 2019
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Pages
232
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ISBN
9781478002673
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / Criticism & Theory
Literary Criticism / Semiotics & Theory
Philosophy / Aesthetics
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, and Marcel Duchamp form an unlikely quartet, but they each played a singular role in shaping a new avant-garde for the 1960s and beyond. Each of them staged brash, even shocking, events and produced works that challenged the way the mainstream art world operated and thought about itself. Distinguished philosopher Thierry de Duve binds these artists through another connection: the mapping of the aesthetic field onto political economy. Karl Marx provides the red thread tying together these four beautifully written essays in which de Duve treats each artist as a distinct, characteristic figure in that mapping. He sees in Beuys, who imagined a new economic system where creativity, not money, was the true capital, the incarnation of the last of the proletarians; he carries forward Warhol’s desire to be a machine of mass production and draws the consequences for aesthetic theory; he calls Klein, who staked a claim on pictorial space as if it were a commodity, “The dead dealer”; and he reads Duchamp as the witty financier who holds the secret of artistic exchange value. Throughout, de Duve expresses his view that the mapping of the aesthetic field onto political economy is a phenomenon that should be seen as central to modernity in art. Even more, de Duve shows that Marx—though perhaps no longer the “Marxist” Marx of yore—can still help us resist the current disenchantment with modernity’s many unmet promises. An intriguing look at these four influential artists, Sewn in the Sweatshops of Marx is an absorbing investigation into the many intertwined relationships between the economic and artistic realms.
Utopian Generations develops a powerful interpretive matrix for understanding world literature--one that renders modernism and postcolonial African literature comprehensible in a single framework, within which neither will ever look the same. African literature has commonly been seen as representationally naïve vis-à-vis modernism, and canonical modernism as reactionary vis-à-vis postcolonial literature. What brings these two bodies of work together, argues Nicholas Brown, is their disposition toward Utopia or "the horizon of a radical reconfiguration of social relations.?

Grounded in a profound rethinking of the Hegelian Marxist tradition, this fluently written book takes as its point of departure the partial displacement during the twentieth century of capitalism's "internal limit" (classically conceived as the conflict between labor and capital) onto a geographic division of labor and wealth. Dispensing with whole genres of commonplace contemporary pieties, Brown examines works from both sides of this division to create a dialectical mapping of different modes of Utopian aesthetic practice. The theory of world literature developed in the introduction grounds the subtle and powerful readings at the heart of the book--focusing on works by James Joyce, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Ford Madox Ford, Chinua Achebe, Wyndham Lewis, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and Pepetela. A final chapter, arguing that this literary dialectic has reached a point of exhaustion, suggests that a radically reconceived notion of musical practice may be required to discern the Utopian desire immanent in the products of contemporary culture.

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