Roger Rothman

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Roger Rothman is Professor of Art History at Bucknell University. He is the author of Tiny Surrealism: Salvador Dali and the Aesthetics of the Small (University of Nebraska Press, 2012) and coeditor, with Pamela Fraser, of Beyond Critique: Contemporary Art in Theory, Practice, and Instruction (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017). Among his recent publications is “Absolutely Small: Sketch of an Anarchist Aesthetic” in Aesthetics Equals Politics: New Discourses Across Art, Architecture, and Philosophy (MIT Press, 2019), edited by Mark Foster Gage.



Anarchism and the Hermeneutics of Faith

Even more than the attacks on it from the right, it has been the attacks on it from the left that have relegated anarchism to the margins of academic discourse. It appears however that anarchism’s fortunes are changing. Though the casual dismissal of it as simply “some vague embrace of chaos, anti-intellectualism, or disorganized violence” is still commonplace, a more complex reception of anarchism has been developing since the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.[1] In 2002, David Graeber was among the first to propose that academics need to come to grips with the fact that “most of the creative energy for radical politics is now coming from anarchism” and that “taking this movement seriously will necessarily also mean a respectful engagement with it.”[2] Eight years later, Todd May declared similarly, but with a focus on anarchism’s adherents, rather than detractors: “Anarchism is back on the scene. Theoretically as well as practically, anti-authoritarian thought is in a resurgence that has probably surprised many of those who have been involved in it in one way or another over the years.”[3] May, in fact, has proposed that we are witnessing a “third wave” of anarchist discourse (after the first wave in the late 1800s–early 1900s and the second in the 1960s) (May, introduction to New Perspectives on Anarchism, 1).

Beauty, Again

As postmodernism recedes into the distance let’s recall two brash signs of its cultural hegemony. First, in Richard Linklater’s 1991 film, Slacker, a shot of a table in an espresso bar reveals a lightly worn copy of The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Published in 1983 and edited by Hal Foster, The Anti-Aesthetic featured essays by figures who will come to stand as some of postmodernism’s most central, including Habermas, Krauss, Jameson, Baudrillard, and Said. Second, from 1999, in the Wachowskis’ The Matrix, in which we spy Neo with a book that’s been hollowed out to hide hard cash and electronic files. 

Aesthetic Turns

“Aesthetic Turns” makes connections between modernist visual art (including film, dance, theater, etc.) and contemporary theoretical and political concerns.