The Neo-Enlightenment Aesthetics of Jürgen Habermas



Otília Beatriz Fiori Arantes
Paulo Eduardo Arantes


This essay was prepared especially for the issue 49 of Cultural Critique (2001) as an extract of the argument presented in Otília and Paulo Arantes’ book Um Ponto Cego no Projeto Moderno de Jürgen Habermas (A blind spot in Jürgen Habermas’ Modern Project, 1992) (which remain untranslated into English). While Habermas has seldom addressed the question of aesthetic directly, here the authors reconstruct why architecture becomes the aesthetic site of predilection for him. What the authors call a “neo-Enlightenment aesthetics” in Habermas involves a reconfiguration of the judgement of taste, as conceived in the Enlightenment, but now projected through the lens of communicative action where the rules of engagement have left the spectacle behind. A Kantian aesthetic with airs of Benjamin and Brecht, they contend, became the ingredients which Habermas tried to get beyond the impasse that Peter Bürger had already pointed out with regard to idealist aesthetics, namely how the process of the autonomization of art is simultaneously a process both of its consolidation and its eventual demise. How then to talk about aesthetics after Avant-Garde? For Habermas, architecture becomes a place of encounter for his own ideas about the public sphere, rational engagement, and aesthetic judgement.

The Arantes, however, contest Habermas’ abstract defense of Modern Architecture by showing how, in the word and specially in Brazil, each phase of its development is intimately tied to specific moments in capitalism development. They follow in Adorno’s footsteps in arguing that the site of Modern Architecture in Brazil is a cipher of glass and concrete that evinces the silence of the spellbound rather than the emergence of a public genre with enlightenment functions.

(Excerpt from the Introduction by Silvia López, Guest editor of Cultural Critique n. 49)


Keywords: Habermas, Modernity, Modern Design, Modern Movement, Postmodernism, Ideology, History, Benjamin, Utopia, Communicative Action, Linguistic Turn, Enlightenment, Reason, Critical Theory, Welfare, Brazil.


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