English, Department of


Date of this Version



Chapter 1 in The Naked Communist: Cold War Modernism and the Politics of Popular Culture. In Part I: Anti-Communist Politics. Pages 9-35.


Copyright 2013, Fordham University Press. Used by permission.


Within the context of recent European history, examines the phrase "aesthetic ideology" and attendant conceptual considerations. Discusses Jacques Rancière’s work and his unequivocal rejection of what he calls “this great anti-aesthetic consensus,” and the central category of the “distribution of the sensible” (le partage du sensible). Rancière calls some level of political engagement “primary aesthetics” and opposes it to actual “aesthetic practices.”

Further, considers Alain Badiou’s critique of Rancière’s Disagreement. Badiou summarizes Rancière’s argument by calling it “a democratic anti-philosophy that identifies the axiom of equality, and is founded on a negative ontology of the collective that sublates the contingent historicity of nominations.”

Invokes Slavoj Žižek’s concept of the “sublime object” and Ernesto Laclau’s definition of the “empty signifier.” In spite of their differences, these two theories show that both the object and the signifier are products of a fundamental exclusion.

Concludes that the history of “aesthetic ideology” has revealed to us the necessity of a theoretical shift of perspectives: today, we must turn from popular discussions of the “political unconscious” to what we could call, without insisting on terminological orthodoxy, the “aesthetic unconscious.” This new category will allow us to question some of the most pervasive implications at the heart of the current uses of the “political unconscious”: namely, that the unconscious is politics (rather than potentially politicized); that politics is always unconscious (rather than partially determined by the unconscious); and that politics and aesthetics can be clearly separated on the level of the unconscious (rather than forming an “originary knot”).