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Doing Aesthetics with ArendtHow to See Things$
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Cecilia Sjöholm

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780231173087

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231173087.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM COLUMBIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.columbia.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Minnesota Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CUPSO for personal use.date: 18 June 2021

The Work of Art

The Work of Art

The Things that Fall Apart

(p.31) 2 The Work of Art
Doing Aesthetics with Arendt

Cecilia Sjöholm

Columbia University Press

For Arendt, works of art long survive their creator. Arendt conceives of works of art in relation to their public space, something resilient and permanent. But permanence is not merely material - it is tied to the realm of thought, and its delineations. Art is of symbolic importance to Arendt, not merely of representation, but emulating, what Sjöholm notices as the ‘thought-thing’ of art. This aesthetic component relates to Arendt’s ontology of plurality; as in, nothing is in isolation, there is causality among being. Art does not designate an inner truth, but is in itself representatives of truth(s). Critiquing meta-systemic thinking (like psychoanalysis and Marxism), Arendt is thinking along temporal lines; the fragments of the past aesthetic and cultural objects always haunt the current ontology of life. Observing the atrocities of the beginning 20th century, Arendt finds the renunciation of culture and heritage under commercialism and commodification the result of totalitarian thought. Thus, for Sjöholm, Arendt's aesthetic project is one of remembering, perhaps in nostalgia, previous orientations towards art. For Arendt, narrative is the symbolic structure of ontology - the mediating component of who we are. Sjöholm relies heavily on Arendt's analysis of Kafka in exposing narrative as a thought-event, the possibility for political agency. Narratives frame our perception of realness. Kafka is a precursor of these situations in how he weaves absurdity and irrationality as essential components of modern life. Arendt finds that his characters belong in a non-space, a dead zone of the present, “in-between past and present.” Narrative is a position of thought that conditions the relation of past to future, external to the fiction/non-fiction dichotomy, narrative is the web of interpersonal relations, plots, characters that make life possible.

Keywords:   objects of art, permanence, commodification, colonization, thought-thing, narrative

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