Revolutionary Intoxications: Theory of the Avant-garde in the Aesthetics of Nietzsche and Benjamin

Harris, Mark. 2006. Revolutionary Intoxications: Theory of the Avant-garde in the Aesthetics of Nietzsche and Benjamin. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis considers the relation between concepts of intoxication and of the avant-garde in some nineteenth and twentieth-century aesthetics. It argues that intoxication serves as a formulation of revolt alternative to those strategies of the avant-garde which result in increasingly rigidified cycles of antagonism and recuperation and the failure to effect social or institutional change. The ultimate interdependency of avant-garde and establishment makes it necessary to formulate alternative assessments of the way in which cultural agency may operate.

The argument takes the origin of the artistic avant-garde in the 1830s as intensifying opposition to bourgeois political conservatism insofar as it considers social progress as determined by scientific rationalism and manifested by the proliferation of commodities. Coinciding with the first socialist appeals to an artistic avant-garde, the claim of art's diminishing significance made by G.W.E Hegel in his Aesthetics is here held to be the symptom of a crisis in a sense of purpose that leads artists and writers towards new formulations of relevance along political lines. The extremes of aesthetic detachment and militant ecstasy in Charles Baudelaire's poetry and the acclamation of differing concepts of intoxication in Friedrich Nietzsche's aesthetics redefine this purpose as subversive thought intended to conclusively uproot delusory humanist prejudices which are stalling radical change in the nineteenth century.

Walter Benjamin's writing on Baudelaire, hashish, Surrealism, and the conditions for culture in the Soviet Union are pivotal in this thesis for discussing intoxication as it functions in cultural revolt, historically considered indispensable for the success of organised revolution. It is argued here that an alternative approach to assessing revolt lies in the subversiveness of ecstatic language and thought whose delicacy and indeterminacy persistently open up possibilities that conventional formulations of progress or revolution occlude.

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Thesis (Doctoral)

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intoxication; artistic avant-garde; aesthetics; surrealism; cultural revolt

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Date Deposited:

06 Jul 2020 13:29

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:34


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