Crucial to the emergence of modern liberal polities in the late eighteenth century is the project of aesthetics. From its inception, aesthetics is concerned with teaching citizens how to inhabit a liberal, commercial nation-state, training them in the values of politeness, conversation and tolerance necessary for such citizenship (Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’). Perhaps the most important of these values is that of autonomous, disinterested judgment, for which aesthetic judging is supposed to provide the model. However, in my paper, I will show through a close reading of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment – the text through which aesthetics is constituted as an autonomous discipline – that a certain liberal conception of freedom finds itself at odds with the practice of judgment. Freedom, on this account, can only be fully realized as play, and playfulness demands the suspension of judgment. Kant’s theory thus exposes a significant problem at the heart of liberalism, namely the problem of how freedom might be actualized through a practice of judgment rather than an evasion of judgment, without thereby compromising itself as freedom. Further, how might games rather than play offer us a model for a freedom that is not allergic to judgment?
Vivasvan Soni is Associate Professor of English at Northwestern University. His book Mourning Happiness: Narrative and the Politics of Modernity (2010) won the Modern Language Association Prize for a First Book. He is working on a project that probes the long history of our discomfort with judgment, tracing its genesis in eighteenth-century discourses of empiricism and aesthetics.
This event is the final seminar in a series debating the merits and consequences of a return to ‘critique’ in aesthetic criticism.