The Flower and the Breaking Wheel: Burkean Beauty and Political Kitsch

By C. E. Emmer.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

What is kitsch? The varieties of phenomena which can fall under the name are bewildering. Here, I focus on what has been called “traditional kitsch,” and argue that it often turns on the emotional effect specifically captured by Edmund Burke’s concept of “beauty” from his 1757 'A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful.' Burkean beauty also serves to distinguish “traditional kitsch” from other phenomena also often called “kitsch”—namely, entertainment. Although I argue that Burkean beauty in domestic decoration allows for us to see “traditional kitsch” as resting on natural and even healthy impulses, I also argue that an all-too-common political function of traditional kitsch directs it to dangerous ends.

Keywords: Beauty, Burke, Camp, Cute, Comfort, Danger, Decoration, Domestic, Home, Ideology, Irony, Kitsch, Political, Power, Propaganda, Safety, Security, Sublime, Traditional Kitsch

The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.153-164. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 593.472KB).

Dr. C. E. Emmer

Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Department of Social Sciences, Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas, USA

My doctoral work explored the significance of formalism and the senses in Kant's mature aesthetics. Currently, my work focuses on 18th-century German aesthetics (particularly Kant and Herder) and additionally the question of "kitsch," though I am also interested in Latin American and especially Brazilian contributions to these topics. I am presently completing numerous translations from the German and writing about weaknesses in Kant's theory of poetic beauty.

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