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Shusterman on Europe, Entertainment, and Equality

Nordic Society of Aesthetics
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  • Design
  • Education
  • Linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


The Nordic Journal of Aesthetics No. 36–37 (2008/2009, pp. 129–146 Shusterman on Europe, Entertainment, and Equality1 Stefán Snævarr Richard Shusterman is one of the world’s most interesting aestheticians. He has been an advocate of pragmatist aesthetics; an aesthetics which emphasises the practical side of art and the aesthetic, while at the same time opposing any rigid separation between art and life or between high and low culture. Shusterman actually belongs to that rare breed of aes- theticians, which takes popular culture seriously. He defends this kind of culture, maintaining that it speaks on behalf of ordinary folks. It is not by chance that the US, the country of the common Man, has been a strong- hold of popular culture. In the first place, even though far from classless, America’s social structure is arguable more flexible and more decentred than the structures of traditional European societies. Secondly, Americans have tended to be sceptical of European high culture because they had to fight for their independence from Europe.2 Thirdly, being a country of immigrants there has been no unique national tradition of high art. The fact that the American educational system is not centralized has weak- ened whatever possibilities there were for enforcing cultural uniformity.3 Fourthly, highbrow elitism has a much stronger position in Europe with its feudalistic traditions, than in democratic and egalitarian America. The notion of high art was invented by aristocrats to ensure their social privi- lege. Fifthly, there are national churches in (all?) European countries. The ecclesial tradition provided a strong and institutionally entrenched ideal of spiritualized experience and a tendency of pious attitudes towards works of art. Moreover, this tradition provided an intellectual priestly class that directed and regulated the propriety of this transcendental experience and its discourse. With secularization, the religio

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