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Introduction: Aesthetics and the Anarchy of Global Culture

Introduction: Aesthetics and the Anarchy of Global Culture

(p.1) Introduction: Aesthetics and the Anarchy of Global Culture
Beautiful Democracy
Russ Castronovo
University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines the uneven spatial-temporal coordinates of aesthetics by focusing on the rise of a broad commentary on sensation, beauty, and mass culture across novels, university research, urban photography, and motion pictures in the United States from 1877 to 1936. During these years of widening class division (the clashes between strikers and Pinkertons) and unabated racial terror (the everyday fact of lynching), crowds, popular spectacles, and other collective emanations made aesthetics a critical, if indeterminate, coordinate in national discourse. Could art and beauty unify the tastes of the nation's citizens if aesthetic feeling, as many suggested, also fed the reactions of anarchists and lynch mobs? This uncertainty was only the tip of the iceberg: the universal accord associated with aesthetics makes the nation-state appear as a puny entity dwarfed by the oceanic currents found in international socialism, Pan-Africanism, and trans-Pacific trade at the turn of the century.

Keywords:   aesthetics, sensation, beauty, mass culture, class division, racial terror, Pan-Africanism, trans-Pacific trade, lynching, art

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