The current rolling crises of liberal democracy has renewed the significance of formal critique as a critique of forms. This critique careens forward in spasms; sputtering into vision as the governing geometry of market-nation-state lurches and warps, seeking to mend breeches and to accommodate shifts in prevailing conditions.
This critique can be thought of as formalism at, or on, the frontier. It is like twentieth-century formalism insofar as it seeks concreteness and the underlying matter of things. It is crucially unalike, however, as formalism at, or on, the frontier cannot but confront the ethical as integral to mattering in and of itself.
Sven Lütticken has recently discussed such a renewed formal critique—by recalling the presentation of the aesthetic in German Idealism as an obscure and magical substance that somehow flows across - and recconnects -the divorced realms of reason and sense, subject and object, the ethical and the material. Responding to Natasha Ginwala’s recent Contour Biennale, entitled “Justice as a Medium,” Lütticken locates the law as art’s “uncanny doppelganger”—noting a proliferation of artists’ projects that address, mimic, and intervene in the matters of the law.
Speaking in classical terms, the arts as the proper field of the aesthetic resolve this division of things with events of transcendence that supersede the work of reason. Meanwhile, the law is the domain of an unending reasonable effort to suture together a fallen and divided world; to put things right and to make things just.
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