The Political Sublime

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 21 illustrations, incl. 3 in c Published: March 2018

Media Studies > Film, Politics > Political Theory, Theory and Philosophy

In The Political Sublime Michael J. Shapiro formulates an original politics of aesthetics through an analysis of the experience of the sublime. Turning away from Kant's analysis of the sublime experience as a validation of the existence of a universal common sense, Shapiro draws on Deleuze, Lyotard, and Rancière to show how incomprehensible events and dilemmas provide openings for new political formations. He approaches the sublime through a range of artistic and cultural texts that address social crises and natural disasters, from the writing of James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates to the films of Ingmar Bergman and Spike Lee; these works suggest ways to channel the disruptive effects of the sublime into resistance to authority and innovative political initiative. Whether stemming from the threat of nuclear annihilation or the aftermath of an earthquake, the violence of racism and terrorism or the devastation of industrialism, sublime experience, Shapiro contends, allows for a rethinking of events in ways that reveal, redistribute, and create conditions of possibility for alternative communities of sense.


"The book is lean and not overly theoretically dense. It will appeal to the critically inclined for its original appropriation of Kant and intelligent commentary on temporality and politics . . . What is most striking and enduring about the work is that Shapiro seems to have offered the first figuration of a novel way to theorize individual and collective trauma as political without relying on a primary psychoanalytic dimension or its correlate literatures." — Mat Keel, AAG Review of Books

"After reading Michael J. Shapiro’s book, I was hardpressed to imagine a more timely work in political theory. . . . The Political Sublime is not only timely but also the equal of the best examples of recent scholarship in the growing field of politics and aesthetics." — Morton Schoolman, Perspectives on Politics

"An excellent book about aesthetic modernism. . . . [T]his is an excellent monograph on how events create new political formations and how the disruptive effects of the aftermath of earthquakes create new political ruptures in taste." — Jason Wakefield, Avello Publishing Journal

“With a capacious and generative writing style carried out through his usual exciting mode of political theorizing, Michael J. Shapiro takes up a challenging and daring position: the physical actuality—or, the thingness—of the sublime. This articulation of the fact of the political sublime is a notable achievement which makes for an impressive book.” — Davide Panagia, author of Rancière’s Sentiments

“The notion of a rupture, a possibility at the heart of the aesthetic occurrence, has become central to aesthetic modernism. At the same time, the subsequent recuperation to recourse to a higher faculty has been held in suspicion. Michael J. Shapiro suggests something new: that the recuperation that follows rupture should be not rejected outright but relativized. In this impressive and important book, Shapiro bridges aesthetic concerns with political ones, showing how sublime experience can offer rallying points for the possibilities of social action. This is where we can move from the aesthetic to the political—from faltering experiences to a form of active response.” — Steven Shaviro, author of The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michael J. Shapiro is Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and the author of numerous books, most recently Politics and Time.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. The Insistence of the Sublime1
1. When the Earth Moves: Toward a Political Sublime  13
2. The Racial Sublime  41
3. The Nuclear Sublime  68
4. The Industrial Sublime  101
5. The 9/11 Terror Sublime  133
Afterword. It's All About Duration  169
Notes  173
Bibliography  193
Index  209
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7052-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7033-8
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