»Nationalism is today outdated and at the same time of current interest«, Theodor W. Adorno wrote in 1959. This ambivalent diagnosis is based on the thesis that although the nation state has become obsolete as a model of identification, a mythical force has nevertheless still to be attributed to it. The conference addresses the issue of this ambivalence of the national idea in the present day. It will comprehensively analyse the »Aesthetic figurations of the political« both systematically and also historically, i.e. including all media and all artistic forms.

The starting point for our conference is the assumption that political life did not originally arise out of state institutions, but primarily from imaginations und aesthetic productions of a totality of the collective. From the perspective of the cultural studies it is reasoned that the possibility of national organisations was given through diverse modes of aesthetic representation or »imagined communities« (Benedict Anderson). Although the state has institutional political embodiments (e.g. through police bodies), a common unity and wholeness is only provided by a second, imaginary instance: a »second body«. Whether and to what extent Kantorowicz’s theory of »the king’s two bodies« is accordingly also valid for the political body as a whole (and historically also remains valid beyond the epoch of Absolutism), will be discussed within the scope of our conference.

In modern times, the figurations of the political are more complex in at least three ways than the model of the embodiment of the state in the figure of the king, described by Kantorowicz.

First, the principle of the sovereignty of the people reduces the importance of the person of the ruler for the aesthetic representation of the political: if the sovereign is no longer an absolutist prince, the unity of the political must no longer be represented through the body of a monarch.

Second, the mass media situation has changed since the start of the 19th century: the ancien regime of the absolutist princes controlled a relatively small range of medial representations (primarily paintings, statues or theatrical productions), but numerous »new« media have been contributing to the formation of figurations of the political since the 19th century.

Third, the nation state is no longer the sole political actor on the stage since the process of European unification and »globalisation«.

We want to investigate the outlined questions in three thematic panels:

  1. Fictions/imaginations. Aesthetic figurations of the political from the perspective of aesthetic analyses: What link is there between aesthetic objects (texts or pictures) and the political imaginations? What connection between »Aesthetics« and »Politics« is recognisable in aesthetic figurations of the political?
  2. Communities/nations. Aesthetic figurations of the political from the perspective of political philosophy: Which aesthetic figurations of the political are visible today in view of the much discussed problem of the nation state in the 20th century (during the course of globalisation«)? How do political philosophies of »community« behave vis-à-vis the principle of the nation state? Is there something such as aesthetic figurations of Europe?
  3. Visibilities/media. Aesthetic figurations of the political from the perspective of media theory: How do technological-media conditions – from photographic media to film, other media representations to ›social networks‹ in the Internet – structure the aesthetic figurations of the political? Which individual media-aesthetic aspects can be linked with this? Which concrete media practices contribute to this?