Theorizing beyond Imperial Aesthetics in East Asia
This introductory essay foregrounds "aesthetics" as a fundamental mode of inquiry that enables scholars to question and overcome many "imperial" assumptions that still govern East Asia studies to this day. Through this renewed focus on art and aesthetics in the age of neoliberalism, the chapter seeks to extend the earlier efforts to critique the area studies paradigm and its methodological nationalism by Naoki Sakai, Rey Chow, Harry Harootunian, and Masao Miyoshi. By underscoring the ways in which global protocols of capitalist accumulation, biopolitics, and warfare require their local legitimation through the fundamentally aesthetic figures of nation, race, and culture, this essay theorizes toward a critically liberating mode of aesthetics that seeks to undo the imperial categories of thinking and politics in East Asia. Notably, this chapter critiques how imperial aesthetics often works in the guise of local culturalism, making the task of aesthetic critique more urgent in East Asian and North American intellectual space.
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