ESR 4 Blog May/June 2023: Jenny Fadranski

Greetings from Berlin!

Hello fellow readers, I hope you are all enjoying a beautiful summer. As I write this, I am back in Berlin. Coming back here this time after months in Iceland has been a sensory delight. The big trees, the lush greenery everywhere, and the buzzing city are rejuvenating my spirits. After the relentless reading and writing the first half of this year I experience a strong pull toward emptiness, to stop the movement of thought, and to engage in physical movement: swimming, walking, dancing, biking, rolling on the floor, listening to the wind.

The question of embodiment and its significance in thinking and writing has been a recurring theme in these blog posts. Taking breaks, digesting experiences and content, and allowing ourselves to rest is at the heart of this practice, which often contradicts the fast pace of our modern lives. It has also led me to the central concept of “sensibilities” that now forms the basis of my theoretical argument and research on aesthetic practices and democratic agency. I rely on Kandice Chuh’s definition, where sensibilities are understood to have a dual connotation – they describe what makes sense on an individual and societal level and also encompass what is available to the senses. There is an intrinsic connection between these two meanings, given that what is available or not available to our senses shapes what makes sense to us.

As we navigate through these times in which the concepts of capitalist growth societies and nation-states require deep transformation, we witness an increasing struggle to find new answers to what makes sense politically and culturally in the present. Populist and nationalist movements attempt to provide answers by instrumentalizing and stirring up undemocratic emotions, such as fear, disgust, resentment, and love, as highlighted by Eva Illouz in her recent book The Emotional Life of Populism.

I am grappling with the question of whether these problematic emotions or sensibilities actually emerge from liberal societies that prioritize individual freedom and power over a sense of care for something beyond private property and the nuclear heteronormative family. In the context of aesthetic practices, I contemplate sensibilities of relationality that address the complexities of our current juncture and foster awareness of our existential entanglement with the larger community of life. Listening, both as a social and aesthetic practice, emerges as fundamental for nurturing sensibilities of relationality and seems to be crucial for intervening in the flawed and polarized public discourse. I intend to explore the theme of listening further in another blog post, but for now, I am heading into the woods to listen to the birds.

Chuh, K. (2019). The Difference Aesthetics Makes: On the Humanities ‘After Man’. Durham, Duke University Press.

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