Feminism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, Marxism, and other critical approaches have undermined traditional notions of aesthetics in recent decades. But questions of aesthetic judgment and pleasure persist, and many critics now seek a "return to aesthetics" or a "return to beauty." Janet Wolff advances a "post-critical" aesthetics grounded in shared values that are negotiated in the context of community, relating this to contemporary debates about a committed politics similarly founded on abandonment of certainty. Neither universalist nor relativist, the "aesthetics of uncertainty" provides a discourse on beauty that contemporary critics can engage with and offers a basis for judgment that is committed to assigning value to works of art.
Wolf explores her position through a range of topics: the question of beauty in relation to feminist critique; the problematic status of twentieth-century English art; visual representations of the Holocaust; Jewish identity as portrayed by the artist R. B. Kitaj; refugee artists and modernism in 1940s Britain; and the nature and appeal of imagistic thinking in sociology. She addresses the desire for certainty and the timeliness of doubt in the twenty-first century and concludes with a meditation on the intersection of aesthetics and ethics, arguing that ethical issues are very much implicated in aesthetic discourse.