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Capitalist Aesthetics

Capitalist Aesthetics

Americans Look at the London and Liverpool Docks

(p.169) 7 Capitalist Aesthetics
Capitalism Takes Command
Tamara Plakins Thornton
University of Chicago Press

A series of similar docks were constructed in London and Liverpool, a remarkable engineering feat that differed from the usual wooden wharves found in other ports on both sides of the Atlantic. The docks’ stone walls enclosed various warehouses and tens to hundreds of acres of water at a permanent high tide reminiscent of a canal lock. What used to be an expression of awe and terror in response to the wonders of the natural world was now applied to an entirely artificial landscape. Such aesthetics balanced the two essential, albeit incompatible, elements of commercial progress: risk and control. “Capitalist sublime” introduced order and security into a reality often associated with anxiety and adventure. Transition to a world dominated by profit did not seem impossible, together with a new self-identity for the propertied classes that would be dependent on economic and technological innovation and not on ground rents and gentlemanly leisure.

Keywords:   docks, London, Liverpool, aesthetics, commercial progress, risk, control, capitalist sublime, technological innovation, profit

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