Thinking Aesthetics and Politics in the Age of Pervasive Apocalypse
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This project seeks to examine and critique the process in which a certain trend acquired a dominance in our cultural and political life for the last 40 years. This trend is named “apocalyptic” in this dissertation as the trend utilizes and exploits the sense of an ending. While many popular genres that dominate our cultural landscape such as novels, movies, and pop culture generally utilize this imminent and immanent ending, the sense itself is oddly dictated by playfulness and complacency. In this way, apocalypse in our age is an apocalypse without apocalyptic urgency, a formalized apocalypse without content, an infinitely postponed apocalypse. While the cultural and social life of this particular apocalypse seems still dominant in our age, counter-movements also clearly identifiable—movements that try to re-politicize our cultural and social life by problematizing the reified apocalypse and thus by reconfiguring the very concept of the political. Political art comes into being through its profound endeavor to represent the historical meaning of suffering in a particular community. As opposed to merely economic or merely aesthetic/experimental art whose immediate response to the ongoing globalization and its transformation is, from a historical perspective, to be grasped as privatized complacency and/or survivalist economics in many cases, there has been constant search for new politico-aesthetic possibilities against the background of the figure of imagined aesthetic apocalypse. This project is particularly invested in the notion of the author and tries to investigate various authors’ political response to the globalization and/or to the cultural norm of apocalypse. Though the waning of the notion of the author has been accepted as a norm for a while especially because the death of the author has been rendered as equivalent to the empowerment of the reader, this seemingly democratic cliché is a sophisticated but ideological expression of contemporary apocalypse. I argue that a renewed and historicized conceptualization of the author is essential for the representation of our historical present and that the aesthetic form is the political vehicle for the author to engage with the reader and her material conditions. The examples that Zoe Wicomb, Lee ChangDong, and many other authors show will demonstrate the essentiality of the notion of the author in our political life.
South African Literature