Ecological Impressionism: Envisioning a New Framework of Ecological Aesthetic Politics
Cate, David ten
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In times of climate crisis, the question of reimagining society ecologically is more urgent than ever. The response to the ecological crisis remains inadequate, and global climate change mitigation goals are increasingly considered unrealistic. To break through the limitations of contemporary politics to tackle the crisis, this thesis considers an ecological aesthetic politics – that is to say, an aesthetically conceived framework for reimagining politics ecologically. In order to do so, this thesis discusses what Jacques Rancière calls the sensible, that which can be perceived and thought in a particular configuration of reality. In contemporary western society, this sensibility falls short in perceiving and thinking a way out of ecological disequilibrium. Therefore, it must be reimagined, for which aesthetic politics provide fecund ground. In this thesis, as it is situated in media studies, such an aesthetic-political imaginary is first historically traced, and then adapted to contemporary medial forms. It is argued that an ecological sensibility can be negotiated when medial forms go through an aesthetic-political transformation. Historically, this transition is identified in the art movement of Impressionism. The Impressionists changed academic painting by leaving the studio for the outdoors, dismantling the stability of perception and blending it with natural inspiration. This transformation was taken a step further by the literary impressionists, who conceived of the nonhuman objects of human perception as having a subjectivity of their own. With this precedent, this thesis examines contemporary media of animation film and videogames to bolster contemporary understandings of an ecological aesthetic politics based on shared principles of instable perception and nonhuman subjectivity. Their interpretations exemplify how animation film is continuous with Impressionism’s strategies of pictorial redefinition, and also envision how such a framework would prospectively apply in the medium of videogames, by constructing an ecological aesthetic politics model from the ground up. Because of the origin of the principles of ecological aesthetic politics, this framework may be referred to as ecological impressionism.
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