Dr. Elif Kalaycioglu “Aesthetic Elisions: The Ruins of Palmyra and the ‘Good Life’ of Liberal Multiculturalism,” Journal Article

Aesthetic Elisions: The Ruins of Palmyra and the ‘Good Life’ of Liberal Multiculturalism

Dr. Elif Kalaycioglu (The University of Alabama)

Journal Article in International Political Sociology, February 27, 2020


Palmyra’s capture and destruction by ISIS resonated widely with an international audience. Drawing on Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space and affect theory’s key insights on object attachment, this article argues that the attachment to Palmyra manifests desire for a particular “good life” of an idealized liberal multiculturalism: a virtuous cycle of trade and tolerance represented by aesthetic flourishing. This widely circulated representation is grounded on excisions of power and inequality. I analyze the political stakes of such excision through the invisibility of Tadmor, positioned as a neighboring town rather than an afterlife of Palmyra in this representation. Through Tadmor, we see Palmyra as entangled in economic inequality and consolidation of power and complicit in their elision through its aesthetic representation as a multicultural haven. At stake is the question of what it means to attach the desire for coexistence to this representation of Palmyra at the detriment of places like Tadmor. While this paper makes its key intervention into the affective terrain and limits of a current global political moment, my argument also contributes to discussions of the global production and circulation of affect, bringing into view its attachment to sites and spaces.