HLVK03884U Comparative Literature: Culture as mediation of indifference, or the modern crisis of representation

Volume 2020/2021

Comparative Litterature and Modern Culture

History of Art and Visual Culture




“Only when their need has been satisfied can we tell who in a multitude of people has taste and who does not.”


– Immanuel Kant, Third Critique §5


In Immanuel Kant’s Third Critique (1790), the disinterested interest that the aesthetic judgment of the beautiful requires, is exemplified as a matter of needs. In fact, Kant speaks about hunger. Or rather, the ability to not be hungry. Despite the metaphoric emphasis, the sentence implies – as Rebecca Comay argues – a “social critique on taste” which Kant doesn’t follow up on. (Comay 2011) In other words, the distribution of needs and the satisfaction of these aren´t discussed by Kant, despite the fact that unsatisfied needs disable the aesthetic judgment and consequentially the ‘sensus communis’. For David Lloyd, the imperative of certain material conditions – immanent to the Kantian subjectivity – “mediates the cultural formation of subjects who accede to universality only through the cultivation of taste.” Or, to paraphrase Comay; the cultivation of non-hunger. Such a capacity beyond needs such as hunger becomes for Lloyd an “index of human development and a means of discriminating” those who have an immediate (non-mediated) pleasure; a need. (Lloyd 2019) Those who are hungry.


This course will depart from the relation between the concept of culture and the formation of the state – phenomena that, according to Lloyd and Paul Thomas, are central to the exclusivity of the ‘non-hunger’. Put differently, the state and the concept of culture may be understood as a kind of theatre that by staged distance annuls material conditions and differences. Consequentially; the self-reflective subjectivity that the aesthetic judgment implies has a ‘civilising’ function that mediates the state apparatus by means of ‘indifference’. (Lloyd and Thomas 1998). What is important to note here is that mediation/civilisation also produces the superfluous, the subaltern. The aim with this course is to understand this ‘production’ as a central problem and concern for aesthetic theory.


Throughout this course we will investigate the material implications of the “reflective mediations that characterize civilization,” (Lloyd 2019) and how these relations are immanent to the formation of the state, the concept of politics and the concept of culture. We will do so by investigating the historically specific material means for self-reflection and further, how these impacts both the encounter with the art form as much as the subordination to the value form, as it manifests for all social subjects in their everyday life. Furthermore, will we critically analyse our own daily lives, while simultaneously reflecting on what the conditions for such reflections are.


Focusing on the last seventy years yet acknowledging that this period shares a characteristic for modernity at large, we will investigate how the cultural mediation of the state and the social mediation of the labourer interdepend under a shared, epistemological crisis. We will tentatively call this crisis ‘a crisis of representation’. Throughout the course, we will discuss and test what this particular crisis implies, and how it manifests in the disintegration of the aesthetic form and the value form, and of the concept of identity. We will also discuss the significant role of concepts such as deculturation (Lonzi) and de-aestheticisation/entkunstung (Adorno), in this context.

Reading Rousseau, Schiller, Kant, Hegel and Marx while acknowledging the alteration of the concept of art, of labour and of aesthetic theory that has manifested the last seventy years. From Theodor Adorno, György Lukács and Carla Lonzi, via and Sianne Ngai, John Roberts, Kevin Floyd and Fred Moten, to Rebecca Comay, David Lloyd and others; we will discuss phenomena such as universalisation, assimilation and semblance, and the conditions of possibility for what is other.

The course will include close readings accompanied with field trips, workshops and guest lecturers, to vary the form of study. Throughout the seminars, students will be encouraged to engage with examples both within and outside of the context of art; an engagement which that will materialise in writing tasks, group discussions, peer-feedback and individual mentoring. The tasks will include art critical writing (reviews and analyses), essays, oral presentations and finally: editorial work that concludes the course with a collectively produced collection of texts written or translated by the students.
Dette kursus udbydes i samarbejde med Litteratur/MK og Kunst/VK.
På Litteratur/MK kan det bruges til Litteratur- og kulturanalytisk emne, Kulturanalyse, Frit emne.
På Kunst/VK kan det bruges til Kunst og kulturforskning.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 280
  • Exam
  • 84
  • Total
  • 420
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)