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does aesthetic pleasure derived from artistic encounters relate to
erotic and sexual pleasure? 18th-century philosophical aesthetics made a
clear distinction between aesthetic pleasure – representing refined
spiritual experiences and forming the basis of critical value judgments –
and sexual pleasure – a manifestation of physical attraction and
primal, carnal instincts.

Immanuel Kant’s notion of “disinterested pleasure” in beauty is notably devoid of erotic interests. According to Kant, sexuality was inherently suspect, as it could lead people to use others as a means to satisfy their own sexual “appetite.” In his Aesthetic Theory, Theodor W. Adorno criticized Kant’s transcendental aesthetics, which detached itself from personal desires, as a form of “castrated hedonism, desire without desire.”

Meanwhile, Pierre Bourdieu contended that philosophers’ rejection of physical pleasures serves as a strategy to claim moral superiority and distance themselves from the chaos of human physicality. In this tradition, (predominantly male) art historians later argued that erotic art should be distinguished from the pornographic or obscene. They celebrated the female nude as the embodiment of timeless perfection. In contrast, feminists in the 1970s declared the differentiation between sexual and aesthetic pleasure to be a product of ideological and hegemonic frameworks, leading to a variety of consequences for the evaluation of sexually stimulating art.

The symposium Lust seeks to inspire individuals to consider sexual and aesthetic pleasure not only in conjunction but as a continuum of embodied appreciation, carrying intrinsic critical potential. What political impact can be wielded by cultivating a desire for art that embraces carnality and seeks fulfillment in the transient intensification of bodily sensations? What kind of criticality is embedded in the desire of queer, racialized, or disabled bodies when viewed as a minoritarian form of knowledge production that transcends the constraints of sovereignty and subjectivity within white, heteronormative, ableist structures of domination? Simultaneously, the prospect of heightened pleasure runs the risk of being co-opted by the same neoliberal power structures that dictate norms of enjoyment and commodify them for consumerist goals. Could a libidinous desire for the aesthetic be seen as a rejection of mechanisms of exploitation, which art does not automatically resist but has the ongoing potential to evade? To what extent do artistic debates provide a means to subvert neoliberal paradigms of efficiency and self-optimization as well as the notion of an apolitical, self-sufficient hedonism?

What role does the question of collectivity play when popular narratives describe the experience of pleasure as an intimate, internalized experience, overlooking the fact that it also invariably entails a relationship – with other bodies, objects, or fantasies? This concept of pleasure as a relational act does not arise from the pursuit of individual experiences but from the amplification of bodily sensations to foster an engaging, motivating bond with the world.

A project by Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) and TEXTE ZUR KUNST.

Wtih Emre Busse, Julian K. Glover, Jule Govrin, Reba Maybury, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Amber Jamilla Musser, and others

Concept: Kathrin Busch, Susanne Huber, Christian Liclair

Coordination: Silvia Koch, Susanne Mierzwiak, Michaela Richter

Free admission

In English

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