The Critical Aesthetics of Modern Urbanism: Experiencing Athens

Nigianni, Betty (2010) The Critical Aesthetics of Modern Urbanism: Experiencing Athens. Masters thesis.

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Abstract

This thesis discusses how the modern city can be understood as an experiential environment of critical subjective practice. Fictive textual representations of subjective spatial cultures and practices within the modern Athenian public realm are examined in reference to Walter Benjamin’s critical theory and aesthetics. Benjamin, inspired largely by early German Romantic art criticism that was based upon ideas about the self-reflective and self-transformative experience of form, developed a concept of ‘experience’: as critical process and practice. Exploring the relationship between modern urban experience and critical subjectivity, this thesis examines Benjamin’s concept of experience through his diverse writings on art, architecture and urbanism; the main references being drawn upon: the theses The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1928) and The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism (1920); the essays, ‘The Storyteller’ (1936), ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (1940), ‘Little History of Photography’ (1931) and ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1935); as well as the urban writings Benjamin produced between the late 1920s and early 1930s, such as One-Way Street (1928). Benjamin’s philosophy of experience is subsequently employed to develop an epistemological and methodological framework for the interpretation of the selected fictive narratives. The short stories ‘In Pieces’ (Kommatakia) (1979), and ‘An avenue that is like me’ (Nomizo pos he leoforos Syngrou mou moiazei) (1999), written by the Greek authors Vangelis Raptopoulos and Manos Kontoleon respectively, describe Athenian spatial practices and cultures, as experienced, from the critical viewpoint of the experiencing subject/author. Although modern Athens was initially developed and planned under Western European influences, diversionary spatial and cultural practices characterised by improvisation and subjective appropriation have emerged. Informed by Benjamin’s ‘literary montage’, a method of textual juxtaposition; and to a lesser degree, by his idea of the ‘thought-image’, offering a particular approach to ‘city portraiture’; the thesis adopts an experimental structure in order to provide a platform for open-ended, critical interpretation of the fictive texts. 6 This thesis aims to offer original contributions to key discourses in contemporary arts and design theory on spatial practices and representation, as well as to the broader scholarship in arts and design criticism and historiography. For this purpose, a discussion on modern urban aesthetics is constructed, articulating the idea that urban experience can inform critical spatial practice. Furthermore, the thesis proposes a specific interdisciplinary approach to textual representation and interpretation that fosters critical practice; thus, further demonstrating that contemporary critical writing within the arts and design disciplines can oscillate between different discourses and methods of writing (namely fictive narration, historiography and critical theory).

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Divisions: Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Theses (open access)
Depositing User: Mr Stephen Grace
Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2011 15:25
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2012 12:01
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10552/1197

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