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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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Tensions of Law

Tensions of Law

Tragedy and the Visibility of Lives

(p.105) 4 Tensions of Law
Doing Aesthetics with Arendt

Cecilia Sjöholm

Columbia University Press

Drawing largely on Arendt’s political theory, Sjöholm advances a theory of tragic aesthetics and its relation to the modern subject. Tragedy operates as a model for sovereignty in Arendt’s account, positing the repercussions, contingency and violence of the state through its narrative. Arendt’s conception of freedom is post-political, it is not necessarily guaranteed to all citizens, but is manifest in action. Sjöholm interprets these actions in the realm of aesthetics and philosophy – isolating tragedy as the coming to terms with an ancient discourse of both aesthetics and sovereignty. For Sjöholm, tragedy makes visible kinds of life, in particular the refugee. The refugee is the interlocular of the avant-garde - similarly borderless, uncanny and excluded from the state. The refugee represents the avant-garde of aesthetics and is opposed to the violence of sovereignty present in tragedy. Following the Ancient Greek republic, the legitimacy of the modern state is established through its exclusionary mechanisms. As depicted in the Sophocles trilogy, tragedy makes memory political by bringing a silenced opinion to the public sphere. The relation of Greek tragedy and sovereignty is thoroughly explored in this chapter, coinciding with political theory and mythology.

Keywords:   Tragedy, Law, Sovereignty, human rights, refugee, appearances

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