Essays

Against Politicized Aesthetics: A Review of “Baudelaire Contra Benjamin” by Beibei Guan and Wayne Cristaudo

Walter Benjamin was one of the most important literary and critical theorists of the 20th century, or so the narrative goes. Beibei Guan and Wayne Cristaudo, at a very informative moment in their work, mention how the “authorities” of the human condition are no longer the great writers and philosophers of the past—like Homer, Plato, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, or Austen—but the academic theorists whom they regard as cultural Marxists, “Benjamin, Adorno, Derrida, Foucault, Judith Butler, Homi Bhabha, and the latest batch of theorists.” While Guan and Cristaudo do not besmirch the insights that one can gain from reading Benjamin (or other “theorists”), their principal task in this book is to show the insufficiency, indeed, the idiocy, of Walter Benjamin’s politicized aesthetics and the damage it has wrought to art and literary studies and contrast the shortcomings of Benjamin with the depth and abundance of Charles Baudelaire. In doing so they expose how the “theorists” inevitably present a truncated master and act as intermediaries preventing the reader from fully engaging with and learning from the original writer or artist.

Here is the link to my review of Baudelaire Contra Benjamin by Beibei Guan and Wayne Cristaudo, a pricey but hefty academic treatise on the aesthetics of Charles Baudelaire and how the corruption of aesthetics began with the phenomenon of “cultural Marxism” exemplified by the writings of Walter Benjamin: Walter Benjamin’s Folly (6 May 2020).

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