top of page

The Political Uses of Literature

17 February 2024

The Political Uses of Literature
Article PDF

Notebook 1931-1932, Bertolt Brecht, Akademie der Künste, Berlin; Bertolt Brecht Archiv, BBA 325/36. Image credit: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Calls for literature to be politically active have always been energized by situational and conjunctural pressures. Undoubtedly, ‘capitalist realism’ is one such pressure, and despite a variety of interlinked crises—economic, climate, famine, migration, and wars—it still proves powerful enough to block any form of agency that might be capable of fundamentally challenging its globally imperious status quo. There are those who would argue that we should not bother looking to literature for solutions to this prevailing status quo. However, activist literature and art do not just constitute a dead or fossilized archive—instead they provide the tools required for preserving radical political impulses and articulating anew in new conjunctures. To this extent, they provide a reservoir of future-oriented modes of thinking, feeling, and being-in-the-world that we desperately need today.






“Only a new purpose can lead to a new art,” the German playwright Bertolt Brecht declared in a short essay of 1929 entitled “On Form and Subject Matter.” (1) Presented as a rationale for the development of his Lehrstücke (“pedagogical plays”) around 1930, Brecht’s comment offers a useful route into the conversations about the political uses of literature not only from the interwar years but also in our own contemporary times. While Brecht’s phrasing (“Only a new purpose…”) is intended to give the sentence an air of unshakable artistic dogma, the comment in fact hovers ambivalently between two seemingly contrary positions that concern the question of committed art’s primary obligations. On the one hand, Brecht’s sentence appears to insist on the absolute priority of political commitment over aesthetic concerns by suggesting that literature’s internal workings are by necessity subservient to some external (i.e., political or social) purpose; on the other hand, it contends that politics is of value to the artist only insofar as it enables a radical remaking of the patterns and forms of art itself. To put it another way: artistic innovation seems unthinkable without some prior commitment to (political, social) purposes that are imagined as existing outside of art; yet at the same time, as far as the work of the writer is concerned, the value of these ‘prior’ commitments must be measured in light of their ability to generate new aesthetic forms. Brecht presents the question of art’s commitments as an unresolvable dialectic: in his formulation, art and political purpose are not external to one another; their relationship is characterized not by conflict and mutual exclusion but rather by the promise of generative friction and mutual enrichment.

This is not how literary scholars have traditionally thought about literature’s relationship to the sphere of politics. Instead, those working within the discipline of literary studies have tended to see the attempt to make art do political work as a category mistake—as an alien imposition that does damage to art and politics. To offer only one particularly prominent example, the Marxist literary and cultural critic Fredric Jameson influentially proposed that the politics of literary works are located at the level of a textual ‘unconscious.’ Rejecting the attempt to think of politics in terms of a manifest or explicit purpose, Jameson argued that the politics of aesthetic objects are best described in terms of the relations that obtain between the text’s various formal and generic structures: the political unconscious is found “not by abandoning the formal level for something extrinsic to it—such as some inertly social ‘content’ [or political ‘purpose’]—but rather immanently, by construing purely formal patterns as a symbolic enactment of the social within the formal and the aesthetic.” (2) On this view, politics is intimately woven into the texture of the literary work itself: by sublimating politics into form, literature carries politics within itself as its immanent or intrinsic subtext.

In reclaiming buried literary-historical genealogies for the sake of offering up alternative routes for theoretical inquiry, we take our cue from recent attempts to think of the selected episodes of politicized writing not as literary-historical anomalies but as key moments in the configuration of the relationship between literature and politics—as influential epicenters of interventionist art from which debates about literary politics and practices of committed writing are able to radiate out into new and globally expansive contexts. (3) The experimental periodization we propose here connects three periods of intensely politicized and activist art and writing: the interwar years, the ‘long 1960s,’ and the present. (4) This reperiodization is meant to make visible “alternative traditions” which, according to Raymond Williams, have too often been left abandoned “in the wide margin of the century.” (5) It deliberately resists advancing a single or univocal history of politicized art. However, its linking of the interwar years with the long 1960s and our contemporary moment restores to view what the artist and art-theorist Gregory Sholette has recently called the “fragmented and boisterous reservoir of past interventions.” (6) Sholette emphasizes the unauthorized and non-formalized quality of this “reservoir of past interventions” —he also speaks of the non-canonized “phantom archive of activist art, overflowing with interventions, experiments, repetitions, compromises, minor victories and outright failures.” (7) Sholette suggests that the reasons for the ‘fragmentation’ of this buried archive—and also for a good deal of its ‘boisterousness’—derives from the highly particularized nature of activist art, i.e., from the fact that it addresses itself so intently to the specific situations and historical moments in which it seeks to intervene.

It is precisely in this latter sense that Brecht’s comment affords a valuable insight into the broader problematic that concerns us here. For, while Brecht’s observation seems to dispense a general truth about the relationship between literature and politics, it is arguably best understood as an immediate response to the darkening political atmosphere of the later Weimar Republic—to the rise of fascism, to the Communist Party’s (CP) ‘class-against-class’ policy, to the banning of the CP’s paramilitary organization (the Roter Frontkämpferbund) by the governing Social Democrats, and to the subsequent denunciation of Social Democrats as ‘social fascists’ by the CP. In the eyes of Brecht and his collaborators, these developments necessitated a new type of interventionist, activist art capable of educating the masses—a pedagogico-artistic weapon suited to the new stage in the political struggle, which the Lehrstücke were meant to provide.

The case of Brecht shows that certain literary-political constellations cannot be understood without taking into account their immediate (historical, geographical, social, political, but also aesthetic) contexts. Taking our cue from this insight that art is unintelligible without its constitutive orientation towards a particular site or historical situation in which it seeks to intervene, we claim that renewed scholarly debate about the political uses of literature cannot but echo the logic of site-specificity that characterizes art which aims to be politically ‘useful’ in the broadest sense. This requires from scholarly work to intensely focus on specific local situations and investigate works that intervene in broader historical conjunctures. To illustrate, whereas the canonical Sartrean term littérature engagé implies a decisionist emphasis—i.e., humans’ ability to commit themselves freely to this or that cause rather than another (8)—Antonin Artaud’s concept of culture orientée (developed in his Messages révolutionnaires) conveys the sense of an ineradicably anthropological orientation towards the world, a quasi-physical ‘positioning’ that is also foundational to all types of literary-political commitment. It is in this latter sense that the local fathoming of the political uses of literature can build towards a larger sense of literature’s interventionist potential, not as a historical dead end or aberrance, but as a foundational modality of artistic production as such. 

New Commitments: Literary Studies and the Uses of Literature

Scholarship in literary studies has long been interested in the politics of writing, although comparatively less attention has been paid to works that explicitly seek to intervene in their historical contexts of production or reception—as though these works maintained too narrow a focus on a particular extraneous ‘purpose’ to matter artistically. Among the scholars who have defended literature’s political usefulness, many have taken recourse to well-rehearsed twentieth-century arguments about the ways in which the political commitments of literary texts become encoded in their formal features; by contrast, others have defaulted to the assumption that literature’s engagement with politics is best understood as a form of metapolitics, i.e., that literary works are political insofar as they work to defamiliarize the hegemonic social protocols that create forms of political visibility or enforce political invisibility. (9) While it’s true that some scholars have recently begun to think more specifically about the ‘uses’ that literature has served in a wide range of different contexts, this scholarship has generally subscribed to a pragmatist interpretation of the concept of ‘use’: literature is useful, critics such as Rita Felski inform us, to the extent that it meets some individual (affective or intellectual) need. This line of inquiry has produced much important critical work, but it has tended to sideline the question of literature’s explicitly political uses: in rejecting the binary between “the Scylla of political functionalism and the Charybdis of art for art’s sake,” (10) recent scholars have inadvertently neglected the diverse purposes that literary texts have served in the contexts of the countless social and political movements evolving ‘out there.’

Literary theorists have developed rich critical vocabularies to displace the question of direct agency or instrumental use from the academic study of literature. “It is crucial,” observes Gabriel Rockhill in a notable recent study, “to rethink the operative logic of political efficacy outside of the instrumentalist framework”: instead, we are told, we need to understand literature’s attempts at agency in the context of a complex “conjuncture of determinants with multiple tiers, types, and sites of agency.” (11) We are very much in agreement with the second half of this statement: political agency is always complex and the sense of what it means for a text to ‘intervene’ and become politically active will depend on the particular historical moment and situation in question. (12) However, we also wish to further complicate the first half of this statement: literary critics, we submit, have precisely failed to think hard enough about the attractiveness which the “instrumentalist framework” has held for writers seeking to endow their works with a sense of “political efficacy” and purpose. These, then, are some of the questions that contemporary literary scholarship needs to address: How do literary works respond to the powerful and attractive fantasy of direct instrumental agency? How do certain works seek to align themselves with this fantasy while others endeavor to resist its allure?

These questions run counter to some of the guiding ideas that have characterized literary criticism in the twentieth century in general and world literature studies in particular. The idea of world literature—from the concept’s initial articulation by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to its diverse afterlives, e.g., in the still highly influential work of Pascale Casanova, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, or David Damrosch—has too often served to sideline or eclipse literature’s complex local entanglement in the grassroots struggles that characterize practical politics. In a related vein, some of this scholarship has prioritized the possibility of an “aesthetic education in the era of globalization”—i.e., the expansion of (western) readers’ ethical imagination—at the expense of a more detailed consideration of the ways radical politics play out in a wide range of historical situations and geographical locales. (13) 

This purging of the activist, more explicitly political agency of literature has, furthermore, also occurred in self-declared left-wing theoretical circles, most notably in the stalemated confrontation between Formalism and Marxism—or between the avant-garde and realism—as represented by theoretical greats such as Theodor W. Adorno and Georg Lukács. With the canonization of this confrontation, the poles ossified, and it was subsequently forgotten how problematic and historically contingent these binaries were to begin with. As Joe Cleary has noted, from the 1930s onwards, modernism and realism were produced “at once as reified categories and as the obvious termini of modern ‘world literature’”: while the Soviet Union “took ‘ownership’ of realism, … modernism was taken into custodianship by New York (with generous backing from Washington).” (14) Extending Cleary’s world system perspective, we can now see that the view that pits a formally innovative but largely inward-looking modernism against an artistically retrograde but socially active realism is also implicitly affirmed in key left-wing contributions to the debate about literature and politics, such as Aesthetics and Politics, the landmark anthology of 1977 that brought together key contributions (by Ernst Bloch, Adorno, Lukács, and others) to the realism-modernism debate of the 1930s. Aesthetics and Politics has been the go-to book on the topic for several generations of literary scholars, but it has dramatically narrowed our understanding of the literary-historical map we seek to recover here. It is an unintended effect of the sedimentation and canonization of such theoretical constructs that they tend to dehistoricize certain oppositions, presenting them as natural or ontologically given rather than socially produced. As a result, the stark dichotomization of artistic debates that marked the Cold War years has led many critics to embrace misleading or reductive views of literature’s political uses. While we do not wish and cannot engage here in a systematic or sustained revision of the two key concepts (‘realism’ and ‘modernism’) around which these debates were structured, we propose to move towards an alternative configuration of the relationship between these concepts: on the one hand, literary realism does not appear as a “single form” but is rather defined “by what it is able to accomplish in the world” (15); on the other, formal experimentations of the kind often associated with modernism were themselves frequently deployed in the service of the ‘realist’ project of mapping and interrogating the social totality. 

Against this backdrop, we propose to reopen discussion of literature’s political and activist potential by considering individual literary works as well as by reclaiming broader theoretical debates about literature’s ability to intervene in social reality. Our proposal finds support in a growing body of scholarly work that has homed in on the long cultural (after)lives and global entanglements of literary production in the transnational world of the ‘Cominternians’ as well as in the colonial peripheries, past and present. (16) For example, we are deeply sympathetic to recent efforts—for instance by the contributors to Amelia Glaser and Steven Lee’s edited collection Comintern Aesthetics—to “unearth a lost genealogy for present-day activism, demonstrating ways of connecting the local and the global, the personal-as-political and world revolution.” (17) Similarly, we take inspiration from the work of scholars of anti-colonial literature, including J. Daniel Elam, who seeks to reclaim a spirit of “egalitarian readerly internationalism,” (18) and Sonali Perera, who, in her exploration of a “literary internationalism of working-class literature,” (19) mentions that “[w]orking-class writings from different parts of the globe share more points of connection than are acknowledged by most literary histories.” (20) Indeed, what remains to be considered today, is a kind of non-formalized International of engaged writers whose works contribute to a shared project of political construction and renewal. Literature, in the hands of these writers, does not appear primarily as a commodity that competes with other commodities for the limited attention of potential consumers—as it does in Casanova’s model of the world literary system, for example—but as a medium of world-making that opens out towards larger political projects of collaborative world-making. 

Such projects, which are as much literary and scholarly as they are political, are able to build on an important new body of studies that draw attention to the interventionist arts emerging from the interstices between Western literatures and the literatures of anti-colonial resistance around the world. We recognize that literature in the Global South has often sought (and still seeks) direct alliances with political movements—and that such alliances must be central to any account of politicized writing in the context of twentieth- and twenty-first-century processes of globalization. (21) As we have already noted, this horizontal extension across different geographical spaces and locales should always be complemented by a highlighting of affinities that manifest diachronically, that is, across several distinctive historical moments (of these, the aforementioned revolutionary writing of the interwar era and the committed literature of the long 1960s are only the most prominent instantiations). However, rather than suggesting that these local affinities and diachronic correspondences ever solidify into uninterrupted historical continuities or unified teleologies, we propose to imagine them in the spirit of a constellation or montage: glancing back at the use which left-wing filmmakers such as Chris Marker (e.g., Le Fond de l’air est rouge, 1977) have made of montage in their attempts to convey the (dis)continuity of revolutionary traditions, the individual literary studies should explore the local instantiations of activist art that are capable of speaking to each other across time. (22) The literary-activist constellations which such a scholarly procedure is expected to bring to light should resist a hardening into fixed genealogies. In this way, they remain open and malleable, offering new footholds for future political uses. 

Eingreifendes Denken: Literature and Politics beyond Left-Wing Melancholy

These new critical interventions, we claim, can be organized along three interrelated axes: First, a renewed attention to especially intense moments of radical literary production might create openings for new and future-oriented genealogies of activist literature. These plural histories, as we envision them, resist the tendency to associate the reclaiming of revolutionary pasts with the nostalgically retrospective (and politically impotent) mode of “left-wing melancholy.” (23) When taking the discussion of such radical instants up to the present, one should trace how the vital literary and theoretical interventions that were formulated between the two global wars were rearticulated in the light of new and emerging political demands (including feminist and anti-colonial struggles) in the long 1960s as well as in our own historical moment. It is certainly true that literature’s political efficacy continues to be an open question today—a fact that is partly to do with politicized literature’s enduringly uncertain position between its large-scale, revolutionary horizons and its commitment to constituting a marginalized or subterranean “counter-public sphere.” (24) The critical analysis of the now can be invigorated by placing contemporary interventions in dialogue with earlier historical moments in which literature and politics vitally informed each other. In this context, theoretical production itself comes to perform a radical role, playing the part of what Brecht once called “interventionist thought” (Brecht’s German phrase, penciled in radiant red in a 1931–1932 notebook, is “eingreifendes Denken”). (25) 

Second, we wish to emphasize that explorations of the political uses of literature must take into account the global portability of these practices and debates as they evolved across a wide range of geographical contexts and historical situations. To illustrate, the configurations of the relationship between literature and politics in interwar Europe remained attuned to the particular articulations of this relationship in other far-flung (‘peripheral’) geographical contexts, and vice versa: As the literary scholar Snehal Shingavi has observed, “aesthetic and political notions put forward through various organs of the Communist Party were translated, reinterpreted, reimagined, and refigured” (26) in colonial contexts. This critical attunement to processes of cultural translation and refiguration indicates that we are better served by attending to particular formations of the political rather than applying the term political as a blanket label. In the words of Sholette, all activist art, “whether contemplating a prison break, or a revolution, or merely the reconceptualization of existing institutions,” is “haunted by the elusive dream of historical agency and its unceasing hunger for total emancipation.” (27) 

Third, contemporary investigations of political activism through literature build toward new conceptualizations of literature’s ‘uses’ for literary history and literary theory. In fact, attending to the question of literature’s overtly political uses is both a necessary task and an urgent one. Focusing on politics as conscious commitment and principled action, these investigations must push beyond the fashionable (and politically weak) assertion of form’s literary “affordances” by exploring how literary works come to be deployed as moments of activist intervention. (28) This does not mean one should take a naïve view of literary agency as unmediated—on the contrary, one should defend the recognition that even “the flat[test and most] ephemeral pamphlet” (to adapt W. H. Auden’s famous phrase from 1937) is a highly mediated form of political engagement. (29) Responding to this insight, one should always consider a diverse range of literary genres, textual forms, and artistic representations. Simultaneously, one should venture a crucial shift in emphasis: away from the belief that the question of ‘use’ depends primarily on the affordances of the object (literary forms, aesthetic structures, and so on), and towards the view that artists actively ‘make use’ of particular forms in order to achieve particular ends. The art theorist Stephen Wright has recently noted that ‘making use’ of artistic forms (rather than merely ‘using’ them) involves an activist ‘retooling’ and ‘repurposing’ of these forms themselves. (30) This ‘crafting’ of new forms in response to new ‘purposes’ entails a distinctive set of difficulties: the attempt to turn literature into an instrument of social and political change does not mean that we should simply dispense with questions of (aesthetic) mediation altogether; rather, and as Brecht knew, this activist remaking of forms unsettles our understanding that the work of mediation is all we should be paying attention to, especially when it comes in the modernist guise of artistic ‘complexity’ or ‘difficulty.’

As we have noted, calls for literature to be politically active have always been energized by situational and conjunctural pressures. Undoubtedly, “capitalist realism” (Mark Fisher’s term for the contemporary closing-down of revolutionary horizons) is one such pressure, and despite a variety of interlinked crises—economic, climate, famine, migration, and wars—it still proves powerful enough to block any form of agency that might be capable of fundamentally challenging its globally imperious status quo. (31) As the members of the Endnotes Collective have recently observed, our current historical situation produces “revolutionaries without revolution, as millions descend onto the streets and are transformed by their collective outpouring of rage and disgust, but without (yet) any coherent notion of transcending capitalism.” (32) There are those who would argue that we should not bother looking to literature for solutions to these deeply political problems. However, activist literature and art do not just constitute a dead or fossilized archive—instead they provide the tools required for preserving radical political impulses and articulating anew in new conjunctures. To this extent, they provide a reservoir of future-oriented modes of thinking, feeling, and being-in-the-world that we desperately need today.



1. Bertolt Brecht, “On Form and Subject-Matter,” in Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. John Willett (London: Methuen, 1982), 29–30, here 30. Brecht’s German reads: “Erst der neue Zweck macht die neue Kunst.” See: Bertolt Brecht, “Über Stoffe und Formen,” in Werke, vol. 21: Schriften I (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1992), 302–4, here 303–4.

2. Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981, 63.

3. For theorizations of a ‘long 1930s’ and its legacy of politicized art, see Leo Mellor and Glyn Salton-Cox, “Introduction: The Long 1930s,” Critical Quarterly 57, no. 3 (2015): 1–9; and Benjamin Kohlmann and Matthew Taunton, “Introduction,” in A History of 1930s British Literature, eds. Benjamin Kohlmann and Matthew Taunton, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019, 1–13.

4. Analogously to the concept of the long 1930s, Jameson has suggested that we treat the 1960s as an elongated decade, making it the focal point for new analyses of capitalism’s crises and cultural transformations in the twentieth century. As such, the 1960s signifies not “an omnipresent and uniform shared style” or way of thinking and writing, but “the sharing of a common objective situation to which a whole range of varied responses and creative innovations is then possible.” See Fredric Jameson, “Periodizing the 60s,” Social Text, 9–10 (1984): 178–209, here 178.

5. Raymond Williams, “When Was Modernism?,” in The Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists, London: Verso, 2006, 131–35, here 135.

6. Gregory Sholette, The Art of Activism and the Activism of Art, London: Lund Humphries, 2022, 18.

7. Ibid., 18.

8. See Jean-Paul Sartre, “What is Literature?,” in What Is Literature? And Other Essays, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1988, 21–245.

9. For an influential version of this account, see Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, London: Bloomsbury, 2011.

10. Rita Felski, The Uses of Literature, Oxford: Blackwell, 2008, 9.

11. Gabriel Rockhill, Radical History and the Politics of Art, New York: Columbia University Press, 2014, 53–4.

12. The Scottish playwright and theater theorist John McGrath, one of the great anglophone inheritors of the theatrical agitprop tradition of the later interwar years, cautioned that “perhaps the most important, and neglected, fact is that the relationship [between art and politics] is determined by many concrete historical phenomena, occurring on all kinds of level, so that the relationship changes. There is no point in elaborating a timeless, idealized structure somewhere outside history for this relationship.” See McGrath, Popular Theatre: Audience, Class, and Form, London: Nick Hern, 1996, 82.

13. See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

14. Joe Cleary, “Realism after Modernism and the Literary World System,” Modern Language Quarterly 73, no. 3 (2012): 255–68, here 262–3.

15. Steven S. Lee, “Introduction: Comintern Aesthetics–Space, Form, History,” in Comintern Aesthetics, ed. Amelia M. Glaser and Steven Lee, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2020, 3–29, here 17.

16. On the lost world of the Comintern, see, e.g., Michael Denning, Culture in the Age of Three Worlds, London: Verso, 2004; Katerina Clark, Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931–1941, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011; and Comintern Aesthetics, ed. Amelia M. Glaser and Steven Lee, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2020. On the complex positionality of anti-colonial struggles within internationalist political projects, see, e.g., Sonali Perera, No Country: Working-Class Writing in the Age of Globalization, New York: Columbia University Press, 2014; Rossen Djagalov, From Internationalism to Postcolonialism: Literature and Cinema between the Second and the Third World, Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2020; and J. Daniel Elam, World Literature for the Wretched of the Earth: Anticolonial Aesthetics, Postcolonial Politics, New York: Fordham University Press, 2020.

17. Lee, “Introduction,” 14.

18. Elam, World Literature, xiii.

19. Perera, No Country, 5.

20. Ibid.

21. For usefully synthetic recent accounts, see, e.g., on the Latin-American context: Sophie Esch, Modernity at Gunpoint: Firearms, Politics, and Culture in Mexico and Central America, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018; on artistic activism in the Middle East: Ryan Watson, Radical Documentary and Global Crises Militant Evidence in the Digital Age, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2021; and on the African context: African Literatures as World Literature, ed. Alexander Fyfe and Madhu Krishnan, London: Bloomsbury, 2022.

22. Marker’s powerful Le Fond de l’air est rouge (1977) links up articulations of the revolutionary impulse across the twentieth century by connecting scenes from different radical moments, such as the 1917 Revolution and the anti-colonial protests of the 1960s and 1970s.

23. For Walter Benjamin’s influential discussion of this idea, see: “Left-Wing Melancholy (On Erich Kästner’s new book of poems)” (1931), Screen 15, no. 2 (1974): 28–32. For a related recent account, see Enzo Traverso, Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory, New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

24. Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, Public Sphere and Experience: Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

25. Bertolt Brecht, “Eingreifendes Denken,” in Werke, vol. 21: Schriften I (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1992), 524–5. By contrast, more recent accounts of the rise of literary theory and the institutionalization of ideology critique have emphasized that critique developed as an intellectual ersatz for ‘real’ revolutionary activity: on this reading, theory constituted a compensatory response to the failure of left-wing political revolutions in the West in the 1920s and 1930s. See, e.g., Joseph North, Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017).

26. Snehal Shingavi, “India-England-Russia: The Comintern Translated,” in Comintern Aesthetics, ed. Amelia M. Glaser and Steven S. Lee, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2020, 109–32, here 109.

27. Sholette, The Art of Activism, 151.

28. On the concept of affordances, which has roots in design theory, see Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.

29. For Auden’s phrase “To-day the expending of powers / On the flat ephemeral pamphlet,” see his civil war poem “Spain 1937,” in The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writing, 1927–1939, ed. Edward Mendelson, London: Faber and Faber, 1986, 210–12, here 212.

30. The phrase ‘making use,’ Wright observes, “suggests that using is not something given” but rather “that using itself needs to be crafted.” See Stephen Wright, Toward a Lexicon of Usership, Arte Útil,

31. On capitalist realism, see Mark Fisher’s eponymous Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? London: Zero Books, 2009.

32. Endnotes Collective, “Onward Barbarians,” Endnotes, Emphasis in original.

Related Articles

tertium datur


Art Front

Magdalena Bernhard | Christoph Blocher | Stella Chupik | Claudia Geringer | Nora Licka | Ivana Perica | Alessandra Sciurello

bottom of page