Richard Menke responds to Lindsay Wilhelm
Lindsay Wilhelm and I both note the potential equivocalness of affect and propose an alternative or supplementary keyword. Lindsay is more helpful than I am, pointing out how foregrounding her term aesthetics might help resituate a late nineteenth-century movement critical of mass culture within that very culture, especially when it comes to Zieger’s culminating chapter on The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Following up on these cues, I’d suggest that we might also look reciprocally to affect and media as a means of thinking about aesthetics itself. In Kant’s epochal account, aesthetic judgment entails the sense of a submission to lawfulness which we experience as pleasure and freedom, and of a subjectivity that we also experience as intersubjective, a sense cued not by the content of the apprehended object but by its form or design. Kant exemplifies pure aesthetic judgment not with classical sculpture or old masters painting but in the curlicues of foliage on wallpaper, a quotidian printed medium that repeats perfunctory, slightly variable visual content in order to fill up the spaces of daily life.
The origin of modern aesthetics connects it more closely to iterative, structured, everyday media than to high art as such. But Kant’s mundane medium assumes a fatal importance in some famous last words that we should also recognize as a dying Wilde’s startlingly faithful recasting of the aesthetic, affective encounter in Dorian Gray not around high art but around shabby everyday media: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”