‘Everything is designed to make an impression’: The moralisation of aesthetic judgement and the hedonistic ethic of authenticity

Abstract:

Viewing both ethics and aesthetics as reflections of the social, cultural sociologists fail to thoroughly account for the complex interrelations between these realms. This article explores this relationship through a study of ‘farterism’, a discursive category that emerged in Israel during the 1990s and is used to denounce vain pretence. Not only do aesthetic surfaces operate as emotionally-laden shortcuts to deeper layers of ethical meaning, the very act of aesthetic judgement is moralized, subjected to normative regulation. The article analyses the use of ‘farterism’ in the lay evaluation of architecture, restaurants and films, while reconstructing its implied ethic of aesthetic, ‘the hedonistic ethic of authenticity’. I discuss this ethic’s philosophical-cultural roots (including the performative contribution of critical social science) and the continuities between its application in cultural evaluation and in wider moral contexts. The pattern that emerges in the data relies on the Emperor’s New Clothes tale: uncovering the hidden influence of the social on the aesthetic is at the centre of the normative regulation of aesthetic judgement. This allows laypersons to challenge cultural hierarchies shaped by cultural fields, experts and markets, and denounce them as corrupted by the social.

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