AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICS IN “SORRY TO BOTHER YOU”

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The following post appears as part of a partnership with the APA Blog. The original appears here.

Steven Manicastri is a political theorist and labor organizer.  Having recently viewed Sorry to Bother You and seeing its clear relevance to his own research he posed the following questions to Lewis Gordon because of his theoretical work on race, class, and politics in film. Continue reading


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JAAC x AFB: WHY DO WE RESIST ROUGH HEROINES?

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What follows is a post in our ongoing collaborative series with the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. This is based on a new article by Adriana Clavel-Vazquez, “Sugar and spice, and everything nice: What rough heroines tell us about imaginative resistance.

After five seasons of House of Cards, it was finally Claire Underwood’s turn to be a proper rough heroine. In seasons one to four we find an interesting contrast between the moral transgressions that make Claire and Frank Underwood rough heroes: she is a ruthless, selfish, and drunk-with-power woman who is uninterested in motherhood; he is a ruthless, selfish, drunk-with-power man who has murdered several people. But in season five, Claire (finally!) murders Tom Yates, her journalist lover who had been given full access to the Underwood’s in previous seasons, and who was ready to publish an incriminating tell-all book. After poisoning him, Claire gives herself a couple of minutes to spare a few tears before calmingly leaving dead Tom behind. 2017 was the year of the rough heroine in pop culture: in addition to Claire Underwood, appreciators were given Grace Marks in Netflix’s adaptation of Alias Grace, and Katherine Lester in Lady Macbeth. But why did it take so long? Rough heroes, like Walter White, Patrick Bateman, and A Clockwork Orange’s Alex, have been around since, like, forever. Continue reading


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JAAC x AFB: IS MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL A DOCUMENTARY?

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What follows is a post in our ongoing collaborative series with the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. This is based on a new article by Henry Pratt, “Are You Ready for Some Football? A Monday Night Documentary?

When I lived in Wisconsin, I had a large, hairy housemate named Brian who watched a lot of hockey and football on TV. Sometimes he’d even do so shirtless to avoid stains from marinara sauce. It turns out that, unbeknownst to me at the time, he’d seen thousands of documentaries and was something of an expert on them.

Wait—what? Quoth Gregory Currie, in his prominent article on the category: “game shows turn out to be documentaries about their participants, chat shows documentaries about the interviewer and interviewees, and sports programs documentaries about the activities of the athletes” (294). Continue reading


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NETFLIX AND WILL

Aesthetic weakness of will is usually thought of as an incongruity between one’s judgment about the quality of an artwork and one’s liking for it. If I think the Twilight movies are really bad but I can’t help but like them, that’s supposed to be aesthetic weakness of will. But is liking really a matter of the will? I might be able to take actions meant to diminish my liking for Twilight: carry around a picture of Bella and Edward and look at it every time I feel nauseous, tell everyone I meet that I like Twilight to give them the opportunity to shame me, or deliberately watch the movies more often than I want to so that I become sick of them. If I judge that I should take these actions but then fail to follow through on them, that sounds like weakness of the will. But the liking itself? I don’t think so. In any case, what if my all-things-considered judgment is that I should just go ahead and like whatever artworks I find myself liking, quality be damned? Surely subsequent incongruity between my judgments about a work’s quality and my liking for it would not constitute weakness of the will.

I want to suggest an alternative way of thinking about aesthetic weakness of the will: it’s basically the current business model of Netflix. Continue reading


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BOTTOM RAIL ON TOP THIS TIME: BLACK PANTHER, BY CHARLES PETERSON

Bottom Rail On Top This Time:
Politics, Myth, Culture, and Afro-Fantacism
in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther

I.

As Walter Mosley observes in his essay “Black to the Future,” the genre(s) of science fiction/fantasy neé Afro-futurism speak clearly to the dissatisfied through their power to imagine the first step in changing the world:

Black people have been cut off from their African ancestry by the scythe of slavery and from an American heritage by being excluded from history. For us, science fiction offers an alternative where that which deviates from the norm is the norm.

As such, African-descended people have long understood and utilized the power of narrative to generate the images and ideas that will spark the liberatory imaginings of the sufferers. Particularly in the realms of the fantastic have characters, scenarios, and worlds been constructed to expose the truths of the world as it is and reveal the possibilities of worlds that could be. The figures of Anansi, Brer Rabbit, Nanny of the Maroons (who, though a historical figure, has risen to mythic proportions), John Henry, Shine, and many other figures casting spells thru the genres of proverbs, folklore, folk tales, song, short story, novel, graphic literature and movies have served as prompts to address the spoken and unspoken realities of their respective times and communities.  The Ryan Coogler-directed addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther steps momentously into this tradition. Continue reading


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SPECTATORS AND GIANTS IN ROUSSEAU AND VÍCTOR ERICE

The following is a guest post by Byron Davies (Harvard). This column is on the 18th century Swiss Francophone philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the contemporary Spanish director Víctor Erice, especially the latter’s films The Spirit of the Beehive and El Sur.

It is tempting to think that cinema somehow has a prehistory in philosophy. That is, among those philosophers who pre-date the invention of cinema, there are some whose very spirits seem to inform the medium itself, making their connections to particular films, even if only implicit, seem especially fated or necessary. Strikingly, these are often philosophers somehow opposed to theater and “theatricality,” and known for harshly depicting the effects of sitting isolated in the dark. (The well-worn comparisons between cinema and Plato’s Myth of the Cave come to mind.)

Among such philosophers is surely Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an eighteenth-century philosopher who asked what it is to be spectator of, as well as a spectacle for, other persons. For Rousseau, among the characteristic features of our social lives is our caring to be noticed, which in turn involves our acknowledging others as capable of noticing us: as creatures that, unlike mere things, can subject us to their evaluative gaze. That is, for Rousseau, we cannot make spectacles of ourselves without acknowledging or, in a sense, also making spectacles of others. Continue reading


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THE TWISTED FEMMES FATALES OF CHRISTOPHER NOLAN

What follows is a guest post by Andrew Kania.

Looking at the plots of Christopher Nolan’s films, you might worry about his attitude towards women. At the end of his first feature-length film, Following (1998), the only female character (“The [unnamed] Blonde”) is murdered with a hammer by her gangster boyfriend. In Nolan’s first mainstream movie, the revenge thriller Memento (2001), Leonard is on a quest to avenge his wife’s rape and murder, though it may be that Leonard himself has inadvertently killed her with an insulin overdose, the fate of another female character in the film (unless these women are one and the same – it’s complicated). The rivalry of the magicians in The Prestige (2006) begins when one kills the other’s wife by (again, inadvertently) tying a trick knot incorrectly. The wife of the first at least gets to exercise her agency in her own death – she hangs herself to escape a (semi-)loveless marriage. Suicide returns in Inception (2010): The protagonist’s wife, Mal, has killed herself in an attempt to wake herself up from what she takes to be a dream.

Continue reading


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HISTORIAN-ARTIST INTERVIEW: MATT KADANE

Historian and Musician Matt Kadane interviewed by Christy Mag Uidhir for AFB

Matt Kadane is a founding member of the bands Bedhead, The New Year, Overseas, and Consonant and played for five years with Silkworm. He is currently chair of the history department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and the author, most recently, of The Watchful Clothier (Yale UP, 2013). Continue reading