(Drawing on a few pointers from a lecture I heard earlier this year.)
Using either of these terms- the “aestheticization of politics” or the “politicization of aesthetics” appears to impose a hierarchy upon the two, where the favoured latter phrase assumes that art is subordinate to politics. How can this be, when aesthetics has never been bereft of politics from its inception? Aesthetic innovation is not a product of a sudden revelation or radical genius but that which is born out of observed and lived social scenarios. It took until 1976 for Elen Moers to recognize Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as more than mere science fiction, and then a few more years for Gilbert and Gubar to read it as a feminist treatise on the anxieties of being a female writer.
Aesthetics cannot stand disjoint from politics. Kant, whose views on aesthetics has defined much of its reception in western epistemology, asserts that pleasure is occasioned by a sensuous perception of a thing’s representation. The judgement of taste demands universality, and I think that this adds an important activist dimension to art when it demands universality in the aesthetic representations it makes of the political everyday, without resorting to a reductive statement such as “my art, my politics”. Democracy emerges by transforming the image into a medium for a public sphere. Kant’s ideas of beauty are much influenced by the idea of democracy and that of land belonging to its citizens that arose after the French revolution. Nasir asserts his right to be one such Free Man in his nation state.
One is glad we live in times when universities with a keenness for indulging in political discourse are emerging, but Nasir does not live in that sphere. He is a man who likes to write poetry, see his nephew’s colouring, listen to a ghazal and smoke a beedi in the afternoon, because as a man of this world, he has the right to these pleasures that offer comfort, stability and respite. Nasir asserts these rights until they are forcefully taken away from him by erasing his existence, and that is the political reality that Nasir represents. One must remember that even dreariness or monotony as aesthetic qualities in daily life have been subjects of Marxist discourse around workers’ lives. The violence of extremist hate speech that jars with the sounds of the everyday is an example of the negative aesthetics of Nasir’s everyday life, and gives us important access to the political tone of the film.
Nasir reinstates the scope of aesthetics by integrating within itself (a work of art) the politics of the everyday. The aesthetics of Nasir asks of us to stand under it and listen to it, acknowledging the discourse, listening to its conscious or unconscious presences and absences and finally, integrating this understanding in our worldviews. Nasir lets us reflect upon our political opinion – this is true of any art that does not double as propaganda – and if it does this through the language of aesthetics, then we will remember what Keats has said: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”.