Reign of appearances: the misery and splendor of the public sphere (2018)
The public sphere, be it the Greek agora or the New York Times op-ed page, is the realm of appearances - not citizenship. Its central event is spectacle - not dialogue. Public dialogue, the mantra of many intellectuals and political commentators, is but a contradiction in terms. Marked by an asymmetry between the few who act and the many who watch, the public sphere can undermine liberal democracy, law, and morality. Inauthenticity, superficiality, and objectification are the very essence of the public sphere. But the public sphere also liberates us from the bondages of private life and fosters an existentially vital aesthetic experience. Reign of Appearances uses a variety of cases to reveal the logic of the public sphere, including homosexuality in Victorian England, the 2008 crash, antisemitism in Europe, confidence in American presidents, communications in social media, special prosecutor investigations, the visibility of African-Americans, violence during the French Revolution, the Islamic veil, and contemporary sexual politics. This unconventional account of the public sphere is critical reading for anyone who wants to understand the effects of visibility in urban life, politics, and the media.