Feminist Aesthetics and the Politics of Modernism (Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts)
Ewa Plonowska Ziarek
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Ewa Ziarek fully articulates a feminist aesthetics, focusing on the struggle for freedom in women's literary and political modernism and the devastating impact of racist violence and sexism. She examines the contradiction between women's transformative literary and political practices and the oppressive realities of racist violence and sexism, and she situates these tensions within the entrenched opposition between revolt and melancholia in studies of modernity and within the friction between material injuries and experimental aesthetic forms. Ziarek's political and aesthetic investigations concern the exclusion and destruction of women in politics and literary production and the transformation of this oppression into the inaugural possibilities of writing and action. Her study is one of the first to combine an in-depth engagement with philosophical aesthetics, especially the work of Theodor W. Adorno, with women's literary modernism, particularly the writing of Virginia Woolf and Nella Larsen, along with feminist theories on the politics of race and gender. By bringing seemingly apolitical, gender-neutral debates about modernism's experimental forms together with an analysis of violence and destroyed materialities, Ziarek challenges both the anti-aesthetic subordination of modern literature to its political uses and the appreciation of art's emancipatory potential at the expense of feminist and anti-racist political struggles.
words. Such a relative priority of action suggests that the identiﬁcation with the inherited structures of the democratic discourse of equality is an insuﬃcient basis for female political subjectivity and transformative political practice. In the case of excluded groups, political action only negates their exclusion but also inaugurates new forms of political power and language. Consequently, to inscribe themselves within the institutional structures of parliamentary democracy as political
language of art, literary texts do not produce uniﬁcation between affect and form, but, like the ﬁnal line in the middle of Lily’s painting, reveal the irreducible tension between sensibility and formal construction in the composition of modern artwork. To put it in a diﬀerent way, the relation between female sensibility and form neither uniﬁes nor sepa- mel ancholia, death of art, and women’s writing 83 rates them but rather produces disjunction and conjunction between form and feeling in the
rhetoric is not only irony but also a contestation of historical chronology and causality. Because of its incompletion and interruption of historical sequence, messianic time has been frequently evoked by poststructuralist critics to critique historical necessity and to underscore the possibility of a retrospective revision of history. As Agamben, for instance, explains, messianic time signiﬁes a disruption of the linear by “the paradoxical tension between an already and a not yet. . . . The
social death, which continues to endure in the form of nonbeing, also destroys the principle of natality, understood broadly to include not only biological birth but also the claims of genealogy, the principle of a new beginning. Indeed, for Patterson, even the concept of social death is not suﬃcient to express the most drastic destruction of being—hence its supplementation by “natal alienation.” By signifying the erasure of both biological and social origins, “the term ‘natal alienation’ . . .
act of violence, still diﬃcult to prove as a crime, rather than as a remnant of sovereign biopower. At the beginning of the twentieth century women were not only excluded from the rights and aporias of citizenship but were subjected to a diﬀerent form of damaged materialities 163 sovereign violence—to the seemingly “apolitical” violence of rape masquerading as “medical” treatment. Second, as the “reactive” attempt to reestablish the normal frame of reference of the law disturbed by the