Author: Walter Benn Michaels

Art and the Left: Michaels’ Reply

This is latest entry in an ongoing dialogue which began with Sean McCann’s critique of Walter Benn Michaels’ book The Beauty of a Social Problem in Politics/Letters Live. Here, Michaels responds to McCann’s most recent contribution on Politics/Letters Live. McCann’s reply — the last word — will appear on 26 July. Thanks to the editors of Politics/Letters for letting us go one more round in this discussion. The disagreements between us may be too fundamental to be resolved but it’s helpful to become clearer about what they are. So I’m just going to mark what seem to me the main ones and then last word goes to Sean McCann. First, and most puzzling to me, is the Kant thing. It’s partly puzzling because, as I noted, I mention him only three times, not really enough straw to build that straw man. And it’s puzzling also because my observations about his blurriness on the question of intention and the aesthetic are basically conventional; in Kant and the Claims of Taste, for example, Paul Guyer devotes a number of interesting pages to trying to work through the difficulties produced by the fact that in some places Kant says things that “could be taken to mean that art not only allows but also requires a judgment of beauty made without any consideration of concepts of purpose or intention” and in other places he says things...

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Form and Class: a response to Sean McCann

In the May 2018 Issue of the Politics/Letters quarterly, Sean McCann offered an insightful critique of Walter Benn Michaels’ book The Beauty of a Social Problem. This is the author’s response. At the heart of Sean McCann’s critique of The Beauty of a Social Problem are two good questions: “Is there really anything distinctive about an artist who wants her work to be more than just a commodity?” and “do I really need a formally sophisticated work of photography to understand the structural reality of economic inequality?” His answer to both is no; in fact, however, “The Soul of Man...

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