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Randolph Bourne's Malcontents: Cultural Politics, Democratic Practice, and the Domestication of War, 1917-1918

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Abstract:

Randolph Bourne was the leading intellectual critic of American participation in the First World War. Against the background of government repression, John Dewey and the pro-war intellectuals of the New Republic dismissed anti-war activists as unrealistic and blind to the progressive possibilities of the war. Bourne struggled to open a speaking position and theorise a viable political practice for anti-war radicals amidst the collapse of the public sphere. Surviving the domestic embrace of total war required radicals to engage in ironic redescriptions of the social, to take up the position of 'the malcontented' and turn to the sphere of aesthetics to open and preserve democratic spaces of plasticity. For Bourne, it is not any single aesthetic that opens up political space. Instead, Bourne argued that criticism and aesthetic debate opened up spaces for becoming that exceeded the ability of the state to consume society and fully discipline subjects. Radical communities of aesthetic judgment provided a singular resource for resistance to the collapse of public space, the demands of instrumental rationality, and war itself.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14735780802696369

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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