This article engages with the theoretical challenges posed by what it polemically calls the philistine tendencies of current decolonization struggles in South Africa, spearheaded by students at tertiary institutions of learning since autumn 2015. This refers to the employment of extreme, confrontational, crude, and violent cultural strategies of contestation, such as vandalism, destruction, and removal of cultural artifacts from the colonialist or apartheid era. The article aims to reappropriate predominantly stigmatizing and derogatory depictions and theorizations of such radical cultural politics in terms of philistinism. For this purpose, it articulates a more positive, critical, and dialectical notion of philistinism and the destruction and hatred of art. It does so by looking into essential work done by Fredric Jameson in the early 1990s regarding the crucial presence of the others or enemies of art in Theodor Adorno’s work on aesthetics, as well as Jameson’s redemptive reading of Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s analysis of the anti-Semite qua philistine. It uses the latter to argue that philistine acts committed by contemporary decolonial cultural activists are not entirely incomprehensible, illegitimate, or self-defeating but manifest a certain truth—albeit a partial one—regarding the structural guilt, complicity, and inconsequentiality of art and culture in a racially divided society such as South Africa.
In Defense of Decolonial Philistinism: Jameson, Adorno, and the Redemption of the Hatred of Art
Matthias Pauwels is a cultural and political philosopher living and working in South Africa. His key publications include the coedited volumes Cultural Activism Today: The Art of Over-identification (2007) and Urban Politics Now: Re-imagining Democracy in the Neoliberal City (2007).
Matthias Pauwels; In Defense of Decolonial Philistinism: Jameson, Adorno, and the Redemption of the Hatred of Art. Cultural Politics 1 November 2017; 13 (3): 326–347. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-4211338
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