Schiller and Critical Theory

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To inquire after the relationship of Schiller’s theoretical writings to contemporary critical theory is to inquire about no less than the future of the relation between aesthetic and social thought. Long classified as an “idealist” endeavor to defend a now “anachronistic” view of the “autonomy” of art defined by a traditional historical conception of the German Enlightenment, Schiller’s aesthetic theory was first brought into prominent contemporary relation with Marxist social thought by Frederic Jameson, who, reframing its purported idealism as a mode of potentially revolutionary utopianism, clearly identified the echoes of Schiller’s distinctively social view of aesthetic activity in the potentially liberatory workings of Eros upon the political imagination described by Marcuse. This essay contrasts this prevailing, in itself highly idealist, view of utopianism with Schiller’s own searingly materialist expose of the necessarily mechanical operations of all putatively harmonious utopian states, including their replacement of “aesthetic work” (“Kunstarbiet”) by the pure functionalist model of the “cogwork” with which Plato first identified the ideal state. Disputing the familiar equation of Schiller’s “idealist aesthetics” with politically naive “enlightenment” utopianism, it draws a direct line between Schiller’s critical understanding of “Lohnkunst” (“art” as defined by market relations) and Adorno’s critique of “the culture industry, " whose own defining exclusions of freedom and the real essentially mirror the same imaginary “utopian” modality serving to obviate the question of “justice” in Plato’s Republic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook on the Philosophy of Friedrich Schiller
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9783031167980
ISBN (Print)9783031167973
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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