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Under Representation shows how the founding texts of aesthetic philosophy ground the racial order of the modern world in our concepts of universality, freedom, and humanity. Late Enlightenment discourse on aesthetic experience proposes a decisive account of the conditions of possibility for universal human subjecthood. The aesthetic forges a powerful “racial regime of representation” whose genealogy runs from Enlightenment thinkers like Kant and Schiller to late Modernist critics like Adorno and Benjamin. For aesthetic philosophy, representation is not just about depiction of diverse humans or inclusion in political or cultural institutions. It is an activity that undergirds the various spheres of human practice and theory, from the most fundamental acts of perception and reflection to the relation of the subject to the political, the economic, and the social.
Representation regulates the distribution of racial identifications along a developmental trajectory: The racialized remain “under representation,” on the threshold of humanity and not yet capable of freedom and civility as aesthetic thought defines those attributes. To ignore the aesthetic is thus to overlook its continuing force in the formation of the racial and political structures down to the present.
Both a genealogy and an account of our present, Under Representation ultimately helps show how a political reading of aesthetics can help us build a racial politics adequate for the problems we face today, one that stakes claims more radical than multicultural demands for representation.
David Lloyd is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author, most recently, of Beckett’s Thing: Painting and Theatre.