College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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aesthetics, feminism, feminist aesthetics, German idealism, feminist theory


This dissertation is composed of three imagined dialogues: one between Alexander Baumgarten and Sara Ahmed about aesthetics and happiness, one between María Lugones and Immanuel Kant about play and common sense, and one between Audre Lorde and Friedrich Schiller about feeling, thinking, and the erotic. These dialogues are connected by the following thesis: the German idealist aesthetic tradition begins with an attempt to understand the incomprehensibility of certain objects and works its way to respect for them and their freedom, while the feminist tradition cited here begins with the necessity of respect for otherness and then cultivates new modes of encountering and embracing difference and incomprehensibility between us.

My goal in creating these dialogues is to bring these two disparate traditions closer together, so as to see possible shapes of and potential for "feminist aesthetics." I do this by showing: how Baumgarten’s use of happiness signals harmony to his peers but subversiveness to Ahmed’s feminist killjoys; how the loving playfulness that Lugones posits as necessary for "world"-travelling requires an aesthetic understanding of play and how her critique of common sense unravels Kant’s universal claim to it; and how Schiller’s idea of the oscillation of reason and sense in his discussion of the play drive aligns with Lorde’s fusion of feeling/knowing and thinking/understanding in her conception of the erotic. In the end, I argue that I’ve performed a critical, feminist analysis of a founding moment in the history of aesthetics and allowed that analysis of aesthetics to reflect back into the feminist projects that I held up to this history as a mirror, attending to the real power and potential dangers of that work along the way.