The Aestheticization of Production
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The Aestheticization of Production interweaves the interpretation of politics with the politics of interpretation, and philosophy with poetics, in order to define a pernicious continuity in the rhetorical utility of culture and the arts, from Trump to Aristotle. Homologies in the rhetoric of these obviously disparate figures are obscured by conventional definitions that objectify the West’s internally divided societies and internally split subjects as homogenous wholes, with predictable powers of unambiguous value. Using insights drawn from Benjamin, Lacan and Said, I trace a tropological continuity of demeaning objectification and demonization in rhetoric drawn from three disparate historical moments: the ongoing U.S. “Southern Strategy,” combining neoliberalism with neoconservatism; the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip, in its aestheticized combination of narcissistic identification and aggressivity; and the 5th Century Athenian combination of imperialism with Herrenvolk democracy. In each, culture functions as an aestheticization, a substantialized referent like race or sex: In Lacanian terms, this Real object of culture guarantees a narcissistic Symbolic identification, obfuscating the consequences of the Imaginary, dual relation of aggressivity in capital’s global war of all against all. In close readings of deconstructive alternatives to this diagnosis—specifically, those found in de Man’s critique of referential moralism in the 1980’s, and in Heidegger’s rejection of the Greek metaphysics of production in the 1930’s—I demonstrate their persistent reliance upon Aristotle’s metaphysics of substance and agency, which rationalizes slave production, racial supremacy and patriarchy. That metaphysics is rooted in Aristotle’s abjection of poiesis as production—defined as a slavish, effeminate life-activity in pursuit of hedon, unfit for philosophical attention—which gives rise to the aesthetic privilege of poiesis as fine art, functioning as a synecdoche of production in its entirety. In opposition to this tradition, I combine Said's critique of Eurocentrism and aesthetic autonomy with Lacan's models of identification and desire and Benjamin’s critical definitions of fascism and progress, to propose the pedagogical promise of a humanities committed to progressively realizing human equality. This democratic promise in Greek and Enlightenment rationality makes possible the ruthless critique of metaphysical rationalizations that disavow the West’s heritage of enslavement and exploitation.