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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/ph35-ag14

technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Facing what Remains: Holding Portraits of (Absent) Histories in Post-Genocide Guatemala.


political subjectivity



In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno warn against aesthetic forms that produce passive political subjects malleable to authoritarian projects (1987). They locate the origins of this deceptive aesthetics to the Enlightenment. The papers on this panel find distinct genealogies in the production of different state aesthetic projects, focusing on how these distinct political projects mobilize aesthetics in different ways, offering distinct conceptions of political subjectivity and governance. Within an emergent anthropology of political aesthetics, the prominence of ideological performativity has been specifically noted in relation to the constitution of political subjects (Aptel 2005, Askew 2002, Kaur 2005, Roy 2007, Werbner et. al 2014). In diverse geographical contexts, we look at how political movements and regimes relate their political projects to specific aesthetic formations. Cults of personality are constructed around sexualized figures of personalist desire; infrastructure and architecture not only represent, but are part of the active transformation of the citizen into the revolutionary subject; the spectacles of gatherings, demonstrations, and marches are presented as performative interventions into the workings of global capitalism. In these diverse contexts, form and content are interwoven•the medium is the message. This relationship between form and content is perhaps most visible in the spirit of high modernism that pervaded Soviet architecture. The built environment was meant to reflect the authoritarian domination of nature by science and social and economic progress (Scott 1998). The high modernist project was aimed at social engineering through a physical environment that emphasized a processual movement toward the creation of the New Man. Aesthetics were part of a utopian project with the power to transform its inhabitants into a new political subject. Built space became an ideological conduit of the state. The pedagogical spirit of high modernism has much to reach out outside of the USSR and the sphere of architectural imaginaries. Populist and mass politics often rally around figures that are deified and reified as incomparable•the only true representatives of the people. The physical appearance and style of these figures come to be an intensified focal point for a political gaze hyper-attuned to the discourse, rhetoric, and dispositions employed by this beloved object of their attention. Together, we interrogate the interstices between aesthetics and ideology in distinct political and regional contexts: Through investigating the spectacular and mass actions of the AKP supporters (demonstrations, rallies, campaigns), we analyze how populist subjects see their political acts as productive of economic values and threatening messages for political enemies; reflecting on the architecture of East Germany, we contemplate how built environment imbues citizens with notions of community and collective political identity; in Guatemala, we see how naming and ideology are intertwined; in Argentina, we elucidate how cults of personality conflate political prowess with sexual desirability and feminine vulnerability. Raymond Williams expressed interest in the aesthetic manifestations of political, social, and economic processes (1977). Following in his footsteps, our turn towards examining aesthetics in the sphere of political projects furthers transdisciplinary inquiries into the relationship between emotion, affect, performance, superstructure, and ideology.


Transcript English (automatic)

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