Imagination in Politics and Aesthetics: From German Idealism to Angela Davis

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On Nov. 6th, 2018, civil rights activist and scholar Angela Davis delivered a powerful address titled "Politics and Aesthetics" at New York University. In the talk, Dr. Davis states that “Art and the aesthetic realm are absolutely essential if we wish to extricate ourselves from this current [political] morass,” because “[a]rt cultivates the imagination.” Davis' statement that progressive, forward-thinking politics is possible only through imagination – i.e. the faculty that can, according to Kant, whom she names in the talk, produce an original representation of an object preceding experience – highlights the crucial role of the arts in the civil rights movements. My presentation aims to explicate Davis' complex engagement with German idealist philosophy (her background includes a dissertation on Kant and the French Revolution, graduate work in Frankfurt, Germany and work with the philosophers Adorno and Marcuse) with a focus on Immanuel Kant's work on imagination and Friedrich Schiller's aesthetic education. The imagination allows for Dr. King to have a dream of a better future in the first place as well as for us to imagine what transformative inclusion could look like in our community. Davis is our contemporary advocate for the artists' role as educator in cultivating imagination for everyone.

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