The Feeling for Gray

Aesthetics, Politics, and Shifting German Regimes

in Social Analysis
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Building on 25 months of fieldwork in eastern Germany from 1991 to 2003, this article explores the interpenetration of aesthetics and politics, and questions them as theoretical categories. A multilayered description depicts aesthetic perception and action, guided by an imagery of façade, as constituted and reproduced by state policies, positioned experiences, and subversive responses. Moving beyond the Cold War legacy, aesthetics' potency and politicization is dated back to early nation building and Protestant and Romantic influences. Being essential to and controlled by shifting, largely authoritarian regimes, aesthetics simultaneously provided a 'shadow life' and a 'lingua franca', cross-cutting verbal and non-verbal mediums and everyday and high culture, as people juggled with, distrusted, and decoded surfaces, expressing and in search of deeper, hidden truths. I argue that historically generated aesthetic perceptions and praxis not only mark east German political culture but also emerge in Habermas's public sphere theory and, moreover, offer arguments to revise it.