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"To throw out our eyes for brave Othello": Shakespeare and Aesthetic Ideology


This article argues that Othello reflects the appearance of the aesthetic as an autonomous domain. That transformation must be understood in historical terms, in relation to the emergence of the citizen-subject and the novel signifying economy implied by that "universal" being, to the appearance of the state as at once abstract and constitutive, and to a constituting opposition between the categories of the literary and law. At the same time, structured around its own illimitability as representational form—its own conjured horizon or vanishing point—the play suggests the problematic nature of the relation between historical and aesthetic determination. In particular, Othello’s engagement with race should be conceived in terms of that unstable limit of the play's status as an historical and aesthetic form. The debate the drama mobilizes about whether race does or does not "exist" in the play reflects the way race ultimately functions, neither as an empirical nor as a discursive category but in relation to more fundamental problems of reference and to the phantasmatic grounds of the modern social-symbolic field tout court.

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