This essay develops further the main implications of a feminist theory of aesthetics and modernism first articulated in Feminist Aesthetics and the Politics of Modernism. By engaging critically with Theodor Adorno and Giorgio Agamben in the context of feminist theories of gender and race, the author examines complex relations between political and aesthetic transformations, stressing their relation to gender and race differences as well as the role of materiality in political contestation and aesthetic invention. The theory of feminist aesthetics discussed here traces what has been violently erased from history and asks how this erasure is inscribed in new possibilities for writing, sexuality, and being in the world. In particular, the essay stresses two central characteristics of feminist aesthetic practice in modernity. First, it reinterprets the endlessly replicated contradiction between feminist emancipatory struggles and gender/race melancholia—evident, for example, in current discussions of vulnerability and resilience, or negative and recuperative readings—as two inseparable dimensions of the transformative potential inherent in feminist aesthetic practices. Second, the essay stresses the relational character of women’s literature and artworks because the possibility of women’s aesthetic practice emerges from political intersubjective alliances; from the oscillation between loss and transformation; from gendered and racialized relations to the human and the nonhuman world; and from the contestation of gendered and racist violence of abstract formalism. Consequently, feminist aesthetics has to approach any artistic practice in nonindividualist, and even not entirely anthropocentric, terms. Only such a relational feminist approach to the impossibility and possibility of transformative artistic practices can offer resistance to art’s appropriation by the politics of modernity and contemporary neoliberalism.

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