Explain in relation to the definition of aesthetics and to the readings we’ve done so far, how you understand black aesthetics. Admittedly, “black aesthetics” was not known as such before the 1960s, and we’ve not quite read up that far in history yet. But the field was arguably emerging/evolving for decades, if not centuries, before the 1960s and it thus has a long genealogy.

If black aesthetics is distinguished by “blackness,” how should we understand blackness philosophically? Can black aesthetics have any political impact in the interest of social justice, racial equality in particular?

How does paul taylor have the better answers to these issues/questions? ( attached document )

– 5 pages

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Philosophy Compass 5/1 (2010): 1–15, 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00263.x Black Aesthetics Paul Taylor* Temple University Abstract This article introduces the preoccupations and themes that define the study and practice of black aesthetics. It presents a provisional sketch of a field that has long been recognized in other humanities disciplines, but that is only now gaining wide notice in academic philosophy. This sketch emphasizes the aspects of the field that invite specifically philosophic scrutiny, while touching lightly on specific artworks, critical literatures and historical developments. Among the topics that receive attention are the following: race, aesthetic politics, creolization, nationalism, modernity, white supremacy and the blues. 1. Introduction ‘Black aesthetics’ is a relatively new name for an old form of intellectual and cultural work. The work began the first time someone wondered just how aesthetic practices might help or hinder those seeking to create, maintain, navigate and understand the lifeworlds and experiences of black peoples. The new name emerged in the middle of the twentieth century, after a wide array of artists, critics, activists and intellectuals began to theorize about the work in newly systematic, self-consciously racialized and insistently oppositional ways. Now, with the benefit of historical perspective, we can apply the name a trifle anachronistically to the broader tradition in which the mid-twentieth figures are embedded. This usage of ‘black aesthetics’ is anachronistic because the expression rose to prominence, for most people, with a much narrower meaning. In one of the foundational twentieth-century texts, literary critic and essayist Addison Gayle (44) writes, ‘the proponents of a Black Aesthetic … call for a set of rules by which Black literature and art [are] to be judged and evaluated’. Here, Gayle commits himself to the common idea that black aesthetics is a regulative enterprise, properly subsumed under, or placed alongside, the broader or parallel enterprise of artistic production (and performance, and so on) known as the Black Arts Movement.1 I mention Gayle’s approach here, at the outset, to distinguish it from the approach I mean to take. The word ‘aesthetic’ is ambiguous, in ways we will soon explore further. We do often use it in the way Gayle suggests, to indicate an interest in the norms that govern artistic production and evaluation. But we also use it to indicate a willingness to pursue broader, philosophical questions about art, beauty and expression. I am interested in the broader questions, not least because they help to locate, motivate and clarify the questions about norms and rules. In this broader sense, one can do the work of black aesthetics not just by searching for Gayle’s rules, but also – among other things – by making art in accordance with the rules, by exploring the metaphysical, phenomenological or ethical implications of the search, or by stepping outside the artworld altogether, to consider, for example, the way that judgements of bodily beauty have shaped and been shaped by racialized practices of colonial domination. ª 2010 The Author Journal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2 Black Aesthetics As I will use the expression, to do black aesthetics is to use art, analysis or criticism to explore the role that expressive objects and practices play in creating and maintaining black life-worlds. Critics do this when they sift through the history of black expressive culture to tease out the norms that they want to recommend to artists and other critics. Theorists do this when they construct and defend their accounts of the roles that art and expression should play in black life-worlds. And artists do this when they draw on the resources of black expressive culture in their work, or when they examine the challenges and pleasures of blackness using their work. (Two points are worth making in passing. First, if it seems odd to talk about art-making as a form of exploration, I take it that one way to explore the way something plays a role is by trying to make it play that role. And second, the same individual can of course pass back and forth across the artificial barriers that I’ve erected, for the sake of analysis, between artist, critic and theorist.) If ‘black aesthetics’ names a way of exploring the expressive – or, henceforth, aesthetic – dimensions of black life, then at least three fairly straightforward questions follow. The first question obviously sets the agenda for this entry: What does it mean to examine black aesthetics philosophically? The two remaining questions emerge with a moment’s consideration of the name of the enterprise: What is the ‘black’ in ‘black aesthetics,’ and what is the ‘aesthetic’? It would be impossible to do justice to either of these questions while also doing justice to the designated subject matter of this entry. So after some brief gestures at the controversies bound up in invoking blackness and the complexities that attend the idea of the aesthetic, I will explore the history, preoccupations and philosophic import of the black aesthetic tradition. 2. Black Aesthetics? The ‘black’ in ‘black aesthetics’ is obviously a racial category, and only slightly less obviously a category that picks out, as W. E. B. Du Bois once said, the people who would have had to ride Jim Crow in 1940s Georgia (Du Bois, Dusk 153). This may seem to put the matter rather too simply, in light of all the ethical and conceptual difficulties that attend the practices of racial ascription and identification. But there are many different ways to commit oneself to understanding and using racial categories – a commitment that I will indicate with the term ‘racialism’. And some of these ways have been crafted precisely to avoid or respond to these difficulties. The classical race theory made famous by white supremacists, anti-Semites and neo-Nazis is what worries most of the people who fear and avoid race-talk. But anti-racists, social theorists and social justice advocates have developed forms of critical race theory that use race-talk to understand and grapple with the social, ethical and psychocultural conditions that classical racialism helped bring into being.2 The distinction between critical and classical race theory does not exhaust the varieties of racialism, each with its distinctive ontological and ethical commitments. Deciding which of these commitments is or ought to be in play has historically been one of the tasks that frames the enterprise of black aesthetics. So it is sufficient for now to note that some version of racialism is in play for the student of black aesthetics, and that this racialism can be critical rather than a form of racism or invidious essentialism. To say that ‘black’ is a racial category is to explain what kind of notion we are dealing with, and what kind of analysis that notion invites. It does not yet tell us what things in the world the notion picks out. This taxonomic question may seem an especially knotty one after the collapse of classical racialism. That old regime of race-thinking in its most ª 2010 The Author Journal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Philosophy Compass 5/1 (2010): 1–15, 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00263.x Black Aesthetics 3 ambitious and damaging forms promised firm links between appearance and behaviour (and moral worth, and intelligence, and so on), and firm boundaries between distinct races. We now know that this project is a non-starter. Distinct human populations, such as they are, shade into each other. ‘Black’ people can come in all colours, and can participate in any form of life or regime of cultural practice. This leaves us with the question that led Du Bois to his remark about the ‘Jim Crow car’: what is this group, and how can you call it black when you admit that it is not (literally, naturally) black? The short answer, though not as short as the one Du Bois gave, is that black is not a colour but a condition. It is the condition of being positioned in certain specific ways – of being racialized – by social and cultural forces. Racialization in this sense is not a function of racial essences, biological or otherwise, but of contingent dynamics that have linked human appearance and ancestry to distinctive social, semiotic and psychocultural locations. These dynamics are contingent but not arbitrary, which is to say that they are sociohistorically specific, and that they have done their work in definite and patterned ways. In this spirit, we might say with Charles Mills (76) that race is ‘a politically constructed categorization … the marker of locations of privilege and disadvantage in a set of power relationships’. Approaching race

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