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Under Representation: The Racial Regime of Aesthetics

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Under Representation shows how the founding texts of aesthetic philosophy ground the racial order of the modern world in our concepts of universality, freedom, and humanity. In taking on the relation of aesthetics to race, Lloyd challenges the absence of sustained thought about race in postcolonial studies, as well as the lack of sustained attention to aesthetics in critical race theory.

Late Enlightenment discourse on aesthetic experience proposes a decisive account of the conditions of possibility for universal human subjecthood. The aesthetic forges a powerful “racial regime of representation” whose genealogy runs from enlightenment thinkers like Kant and Schiller to late modernist critics like Adorno and Benjamin. For aesthetic philosophy, representation is not just about depiction of diverse humans or inclusion in political or cultural institutions. It is an activity that undergirds the various spheres of human practice and theory, from the most fundamental acts of perception and reflection to the relation of the subject to the political, the economic, and the social.

Representation regulates the distribution of racial identifications along a developmental trajectory: The racialized remain “under representation,” on the threshold of humanity and not yet capable of freedom and civility as aesthetic thought defines those attributes. To ignore the aesthetic is thus to overlook its continuing force in the formation of the racial and political structures down to the present. Across five chapters, Under Representation investigates the aesthetic foundations of modern political subjectivity; race and the sublime; the logic of assimilation and the stereotype; the subaltern critique of representation; and the place of magic and the primitive in modernist concepts of art, aura and representation.

Both a genealogy and an account of our present, Under Representation ultimately helps show how a political reading of aesthetics can help us build a racial politics adequate for the problems we face today, one that stakes claims more radical than multicultural demands for representation.

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