The Aesthetic Subject and the Politics of Speculative Labor

Vishmidt, Marina. 2015. The Aesthetic Subject and the Politics of Speculative Labor. In: Randy Martin, ed. The Routledge Companion to Art and Politics. Routledge. ISBN 9780415645102 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

The rationale of this chapter is to outline the connection between the contradictions of the social development of artistic labour in capitalism and the formation of the aesthetic subject in modernity as the displacement of labour from the category of art, bringing it into closer affiliation with the speculative forms of capital valorisation. I will start with a brief survey of how artists have approached and appropriated the politics of labour, following the role of labour within artistic practices in a historiographical and analytic key. Then we will see how the speculative category of real subsumption can function in a discussion of artistic production, allowing us to trace the emergence of the aesthetic subject as a displacement of labour and a reification of an oppositional space – though not necessarily an antagonistic one – to the social relations of capital accumulation and the society of work. This is a space of autonomy that, however, has significant affinity to the 'autonomisation' of capital from labour. Whereas capital and art once confronted each other as heteronomy and autonomy, now they seem to share a certain utopian vision of an 'automatic subject' that can valorise itself indefinitely. This affinity of course has certain limitations – art can at best be a flattering self-image of capital, which is actuated by profit and is thus as far as can be from the core aesthetic principle of 'purposiveness without a purpose'.

Item Type:

Book Section


subjectivity, labour, art, aesthetics, capital, poliitcal economy, critical theory, finance, speculation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


1 November 2014Accepted
1 March 2015Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

14 Jun 2018 10:56

Last Modified:

28 Jul 2021 15:45


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