Thiti Owlarn, Yale University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences


Since de Man, aesthetic humanism is often thought of as an ideology that valorizes the arts and their capacity to improve humanity. This study argues that something more important is at stake in Schiller’s aesthetics. Following Rancière, I argue that aesthetic experience is inherently meaning-disruptive and therefore not utilizable as means to an end. The fact that the aesthetic has this means-without-end structure allows us to reconceive of humanity, like Agamben, not as a rational animal or an end-setting subject, but as a figure of surplus potential, a life that gives itself form without being reducible to a specific way of living. Aesthetic education seen in this light is not an education of the senses but the development of our capacity to suspend the sense/reason opposition to live as a form-of-life. However, since the only way humanity can achieve this is by instituting a non-administrative state, aesthetic humanism demands social change through action, not art or the contemplation of human potential. Schiller thus shows us the limits of Rancière’s and Agamben’s politics.