The central concern of contemporary Critical Theory is the question of the other. The debates that this question generates make up the core of the aesthetico-political turn in theory. From Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialektik der Aufklärung to Rancière’s Dissensus, the definition of the aesthetic has migrated towards the political and the ethical. Thomas Docherty holds that the cultural event—art—is that moment when we see the possibility and potential for freedom. This is because art opens subjects to alterity. It presents the subject with a glimpse of transformation when it calls on that subject to differ from itself as it faces the other in art. This moment of being-with-otherness can be called democracy. One of the deepest roots of Critical Theory’s methodological concern with the other is Marx’s method itself. Marx’s writings about the class struggle, surplus value, commodity fetishism and alienation all influenced Critical Theory’s focus on the other. Marx sustained a constant being-with-otherness throughout his writings from his early articles on the plight of wood gatherers in Rhineland to his mature critique of political economy. Yet Marx did not, as he would say, make his own history. He did not develop this method just as he pleased, under circumstances chosen by himself, but under circumstances encountered, given and transmitted from the past. Who influenced Karl Marx’s being-with-otherness – his aesthetic? My research has found that, at many of the significant places in his writings where Marx grappled with the other, there is a quote from Shakespeare. Marx quoted from or alluded to Shakespeare’s plays one hundred and sixty-nine times in his writings; many of those occur at significant locations in the development of his theory. This paper will explore the influence of Shakespeare’s aesthetic on Marx’s writings and how that influence became one of the roots of the aesthetico-political turn in Critical Theory.
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