Brutal Beauty: Aesthetics and Aspiration in Urban India follows a postcolonial city as it transforms into a bustling global metropolis after the liberalization of the Indian economy. Taking the once idyllic “garden city” of Bangalore in southern India as its point of departure, the book explores how artists across India and beyond foreground neoliberalism as a “structure of feeling” permeating aesthetics, selfhood, and everyday life.
Jisha Menon conveys the affective life of the city through multiple aesthetic projects that express a range of urban feelings, including aspiration, panic, and obsolescence. As developers and policymakers remodel the city through tumultuous construction projects, urban beautification, privatization, and other templated features of “world‑class cities,” urban citizens are also changing—transformed by nostalgia, narcissism, shame, and the spaces where they dwell and work. Sketching out scenes of urban aspiration and its dark underbelly, Menon delineates the creative and destructive potential of India’s lurch into contemporary capitalism, uncovering the interconnectedness of local and global power structures as well as art’s capacity to absorb and critique liberalization’s discontents. She argues that neoliberalism isn’t just an economic, social, and political phenomenon; neoliberalism is also a profoundly aesthetic project.
Acknowledgments Introduction: Brutal Beauty: Aesthetics and Aspiration in the Neoliberal City 2. Urban Striving: Panic, Precarity, and Property 3. Cosmopolitan Aspirations and the Call Center Worker 4. Aspiring to Queer Globality: From Shame to Self Assertion 5. Libidinal Urbanism: Narcissism in the Noir City 6. Wasted: Consumer Desire and Its Detritus Epilogue: Receptivity and Responsibility in the Neoliberal City Notes Bibliography Index
JISHA MENON is an associate professor of theater and performance studies at Stanford University, where she holds a courtesy appointment in comparative literature. She is the author of The Performance of Nationalism: India, Pakistan, and the Memory of Partition.
“Jisha Menon’s Brutal Beauty: Aesthetics and Aspiration in Urban India reminds us that above all neoliberalism is an aesthetic project. While sparing no details about new forms of economic and social precarity, Menon’s luxurious considerations and astute analyses of contemporary artworks and creative modes of living in postliberalized Indian urban centers remind us of how creative reimagining can transform even the most difficult economic and social realities into sites of possibility for dwelling differently. Menon’s concentration on the artworks, and particularly their materiality, is a welcome reprieve from overly determined readings of art under advanced capitalism, whose authors often ignore the complexity of neoliberalism and art made under its conditions.” —Patricia Ybarra, author of Latinx Theater in the Times of Neoliberalism (Northwestern University Press, 2018)
“A beautifully written and evocative book, Brutal Beauty: Aesthetics and Aspiration in Urban India is attentive to material irruptions of aesthetic practices that bring history, memory, aspiration, nostalgia, and even reworked narcissism to bear on the overwhelming tide of contemporary capitalism. Across a variety of mediums, Menon deftly tracks the unruly and paradoxical intermingling of neoliberalism’s aesthetic enterprise with the sometimes resistant and possibly sacral powers of the supposedly obsolete.” —Rebecca Schneider, author of Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment
"Jisha Menon's book on the Indian city of Bangalore is remarkable for what it demonstrates: that neoliberal projects of urban transformation in developing nations end up creating new sites of intense and conflicting affect where everyday brutalities give birth to new and unexpected aesthetic possibilities and despair opens the door to new forms of the political. Meticulously researched and convincingly argued, this brilliant book will take its place among the very best in contemporary cultural studies of the Global South." —Dipesh Chakrabarty, author of The Climate of History in a Planetary Age
“An ode to the aesthetics of India’s neoliberal cities, Brutal Beauty is a lyrical, incisive study of experimental performances ranging from call center theater to installations of e-waste. Menon, like the artists at the center of this book, offers a tactile, visual, olfactory encounter with globalization’s bodily echoes and erasures, and grounds these encounters in the politics of specific sites. This is one of the most important and expansive works on neoliberal India written in the past decade; it is required reading for anyone interested in performance, experimental art, and urban South Asia.” —Anna Schultz, author of Singing a Hindu Nation: Marathi Devotional Performance and Nationalism
“ Brutal Beauty is a deeply interdisciplinary and rigorous account of how neoliberalism unfolds new urban subjectivities and relations... The book is a valuable addition to the emergent body of knowledge that explores the sensorium in Global South cities.” Karin Shankar, Performance Research, 2022
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