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Beauty Along the Color Line: Lynching, Form, and Aesthetics

Beauty Along the Color Line: Lynching, Form, and Aesthetics

Chapter:
(p.106) 3 Beauty Along the Color Line: Lynching, Form, and Aesthetics
Source:
Beautiful Democracy
Author(s):
Russ Castronovo
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226096308.003.0004

W. E. B. Du Bois's interest in aesthetics speaks volumes about how specific content—particularly African Americans—often fails to meet putatively universal criteria that underwrite justice. By attending to form in an era of lynching, Du Bois rearticulated the initial delimitations of “the beautiful” whose abstract parameters disallowed black lives from having merit both in the national sphere and in international settings of colonialism. Although Du Bois's “militant journalism,” according to David Levering Lewis, clearly follows in the tradition of Frederick Douglass's North Star, the intellectual inheritance linking African Americans to the tradition of Western aesthetics seemed tenuous if not antagonistic. Aesthetic philosophy stipulates that general precepts about beauty always met their limit in blackness, the Negro, or Africa. By starting with The Crisis, the black writers' engagement of art and propaganda, including Du Bois's own novelistic examples, this chapter brings an alternative aesthetics into focus.

Keywords:   Du Bois, aesthetics, justice, beautiful, colonialism, militant journalism, Frederick Douglass, North Star, aesthetic philosophy, Crisis

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