Sean Cubitt on Political Aesthetics

Media Aesthetics and Seminar of Aesthetics has invited Sean Cubitt to present some of his recent work at a seminar November 19, 2015.

Sean Cubitt


This paper stems from observing a diminution of address to questions of politics in much of the work in media and perhaps most of all in cinema studies. In three books I have asked myself what cinema does, how visual media work, and what are they made of. The last of these, on environmental impacts of digital media, comes to the conclusion that economics, politics and society are conceptually and in practice inadequate to the task of repairing or reversing the contemporary catastrophes, from the intimate anecdotes of identity politics to global and non-human climate change. Instead I find that mediation, and more narrowly communication, is both the means and the goal of political life. Thus the task I set myself is to reconsider the political work of media aesthetics. This in turn requires, as a preliminary and perhaps as the major task, asking what we might mean by 'political' in the 21st century, and what we might understand by 'aesthetic'. In the early sketches I hope to present to the seminar, I suggest that the core terms for an enquiry into aesthetics might be Truth, Beauty and The Good. As to the political, the Aristotelean question still remains significant: what are the relations distinguishing ethics, friendship and politics? At what scales, from 'the personal is the political' to 'think global, act local', is politics undertaken?

Contemporary politics is anaesthetic, in the sense that it disavows the imagination that allows us to inhabit this world differently, or to inhabit different worlds imaginatively. Conversely, the media are themselves political in the sense that the governance of norms and standards frames, constrains and informs the imaginative potential of media cultures. Is it prudent or indeed politic, in a time when the conduct of politics is universally mediated, to reverse Walter Benjamin's maxim, and argue that it is time to aestheticise politics?



About Sean Cubitt

Sean Cubitt is Professor of Film and television and joint Head of Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Professorial Fellow of the University of Melbourne. He is the author of The Cinema Effect (2005, MIT Press), and The Practice of Light: A Genealogy of Visual Technology from Prints to Pixels (2014, MIT Press). Cubitt is the editor of the Leonardo book series, MIT Press, and is on the boards of a number of journals, including Screen, Visual Communication and Futures. Cubitt's research focuses on the history of visual technologies, media art history, and relationships between environmental and post-colonial criticism of film and media, three strands that converge around the political aesthetics.

Published Sep. 28, 2015 12:12 PM - Last modified Apr. 1, 2020 12:42 PM