ce399 | research archive: (anti)fascism

Fascist Modernism: The Displacement of the Ethical by the Aesthetic

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 28/07/2010


It would now be timely to move away from the figure of Man toward that more central figure in Marinetti’s work, the machine. I wish to examine here the functioning of the Futurist machine in its specifically political implications, in order to understand whether, and how,  a metaphysics of presence asserts itself in Marinetti’s work at the political level

Of course, given the model of aestheticization of political life framing the work so far, it is impossible to isolate the political as a realm somehow sealed off from the aesthetic. However, before limiting our examinations to the perspectives opened up in Benjamin’s analysis, it is important that we situate aestheticization as a socially and culturally potent ideology. At face value, aestheticization might be taken to mean a displacement of social, political and ethical concerns as the guidelines for political action and a replacement of these values by aesthetic criteria: for example, a political action is judged in terms of its beauty rather than its goodness or even efficacy. This displacement of the ethical by the aesthetic – if that is all that aestheticization might be taken to mean – begs the question of the constitution of  ‘the beautiful’ itself, as a category replacing ‘the good.’ If aestheticization is to be understood on a purely semantic level – that is, as a replacement of one set of values by another – then it is incumbent upon theorists of aestheticization  to provide some content to the notion of the aesthetic itself.

Influenced, perhaps, by the fascist predilection for spectacle and its tendency toward cultural philistinism, those who work with this model – including Benjamin, as previously I argued – generally assume that ‘the beautiful’ means what it had always meant in the nineteenth century; that it dictated a reliance upon falsified principles of harmony, organic totality, and unity. On the one hand there would be decadence – the dark side of progress, as it were – and on the other simple philistinism. The fascist predilection for regimented spectacle, the adherence to nineteenth century aesthetic standards that, in light of the avant-garde, can surface only as kitch – all of these things tend to confirm the critical desire to equate fascism (as aestheticization) with cultural philistinism. This conflation of  political and aesthetic tendencies might stress the importance of outmoded notions of aesthetic harmony and balance to fascist notions of the organicist State. Aesthetic resolutions would serve to paper over cracks and fissures of an increasingly fragmented and noncohesive social totality. Thus, from  a broadly leftist perspective ‘the aestheticization of political life’ comes to mean the masking of class struggle under a facade of aestheticized social unity.

Fascist Modernism: Aesthetics, Politics and the Avant-Garde
by Andrew Hewitt.
Pgs. 134-135
ISBN# 0-8047-2117-3



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