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The Beauty of a Social ProblemPhotography, Autonomy, Economy$
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Walter Benn Michaels

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226210261

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226210438.001.0001

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Formal Feelings

Formal Feelings

(p.1) 1 Formal Feelings
The Beauty of a Social Problem

Walter Benn Michaels

University of Chicago Press

What is the relation between a photograph of something beautiful and a photograph that is itself beautiful? The photograph’s distinctive link to its referent (its indexicality) has made it a crucial site for efforts to answer this question. Through readings of texts by Roland Barthes (Camera Lucida) and Maggie Nelson (Jane: A Murder) and of photographs by Jeff Wall and Viktoria Binschtok, this chapter argues for the emergence of what it describes as an aesthetic of indifference, one in which the work of art insists that its appeal is not only different from but also opposed to the appeal of persons. It further shows how that aesthetics of indifference models a politics of indifference, one that understands economic inequality as a structural rather than an affective problem, a function of class exploitation rather than racial or sexual discrimination.

Keywords:   autonomy, discrimination, exploitation, indexicality, Jeff Wall, Maggie Nelson, Roland Barthes, Viktoria Binschtok

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