to Adorno (by WVan Reijen)
Both the early romantics and Adorno react to the fact that money
and 'valid' rules derive from a single social logic - the trans-subjective
logic of the exchange of equivalents. In the words of Novalis, "Money
is the general, self-constituted value of all things." "Money,
the essence of his work and his being, is alien to man, and this
alien creature controls him and he worships it."
Criticism however, cannot develop outside of capital, in a
social vacuum. It needs a medium that does not simply dispose of existing
reason. With the help of 'aesthetic subversion' it should call attention
to its deficient mode and thus finally bring it to its actual existence.
This medium constitutes art, both for the early romantics and for
Adorno, and it is the central concept that can undermine reason
in Schelling's "intellectual view." With this view, the
'categorical imperative of theory,' it is perhaps easiest to understand
important aspects of Adorno's aesthetic theory.
The term "Aesthetic Theory" is as ambiguous as the term
"intellectual view." "Theory" implies that
the subjects to be studied are determined by reason. On the other
hand, aesthetics themselves cannot be determined by reason. "Fortunately,
works of art need not endure..." their immanent telos, according
to Adorno, is to withstand the pressure of the categorical purposes
Aesthetic Theory and its subject - art - must remain intellectual
yet cannot simply deny reason but must absorb it in its substance.
In numerous places Adorno speaks of the "spirit of the works
of art" which points beyond subjects that are purely determined
by reason through the way that they concentrate on the clear, concrete
and predetermined. It is between spontaneous immediateness and
the highest intellectuality, works of art find their place. (paraphrased
from Adorno: An
by Willem van Reijen, p77.)
(selections) Art is the social antithesis of society. (p 11)
What ordinary language and conformist aesthetics have
termed the enjoyment of art, on analogy with real enjoyment, has
probably never existed and will probably never exist. To fetishize
the enjoyment of art is to be a crude and insensitive person, who tends
to give himself away by describing something as a Ňfeast for the eye.‘
The masses want the shameful difference separating art
from their lives eliminated, because if art were to have any real effect
on them it would be that of instilling a sense of loathing, which is the
last thing they want. These are some of the subjective predispositions
that make it possible to line up art on the side of consumer goods. Objective
vested interests do the rest. (p 24)
The idea of freedom, which is closely related to
that of aesthetic autonomy, owes its existence to domination; indeed, freedom
is a kind of generalized domination....Thus they (works of art) reflected
and internalized the domination of society.(p 26)
(from) 4 Art as the Language of Suffering (p 27-8)
The only possible ingress into art is the idea that
something on the other side of realityŽs veil - a veil woven by the interaction
of institutions and false needs - objectively demands art. It demands a
kind of art that can speak for what is hidden by the veil....
What the enemies of modern art, endowed with greater
sensitivity than its timid apologists, call the negativity of modern art
is the epitome of all that has been repressed by the established culture.
By cathecting the repressed, art internalizes the
repressing principle, i.e. the unredeemed condition of the world, instead
of merely airing futile protests against it. Art identifies and expresses
that condition, thus anticipating its overcoming.
(from) 5 Philosophy of History and the New (p 28-32)
Immersing oneself in the historical dimension is quite
a useful thing to do, provided one does it with a view to uncovering what
has remained an unresolved problem in the past. History of ideas as it
is practiced today has, however, come to see its task in interpreting away
innovation as such.
In the new of art, individual and society are being
tied into a knot.
There is no question that every interpretation
of intellectual phenomena inevitably entails some translation of the new
into the old. But there is also something treasonous about this approach
that must be corrected through second reflection.
Fantastic art in romanticism, mannerism and baroque
depicts something non-existent as though it had being. These invented entities
are modifications of empirical reality, the effect being the presentation
of the unreal as real. This effect is facilitated by the fact that the
work of art originated in reality. Now, modern art takes the
burden of reality so seriously that fiction and fantasy have fallen by
the wayside completely. Nor does modern art merely want to duplicate the
facade of reality, On the contrary, true modern art makes an uncompromising
reprint of reality while at the same time avoiding being contaminated by
it. KafkaŽs power as a writer, for example, is due to his negative
sense of reality.
Previously, styles and artistic practices were negated
by new styles and practices. Today, however, modernism negates tradition
itself....modernism in its earliest theoretical articulations, with Baudelaire,
takes on a fatalistic ring. The new is intimately related to death.
In this sense, BaudelaireŽs satanism is an identification with the negativity
of social conditions, although he himself thought of it as a critical motif.
World weariness runs into the enemy: to the world....In art,
direct protest is reactionary. Even critical art has to surrender
itself to that which it opposes. That is why in Baudelaire
the image of nature is strictly prohibited.
Theory by Theodor Adorno
Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) was a leading and
influential member of the Frankfurt school of critical theory, an
important community of radical scholars which included Max Horkheimer,
Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse and Jurgen Habermas. Adorno's books
include Dialectic of Enlightenment (w/ MH), Negative Dialectics,
and the Jargon of Authenticity.
Translated from German by C. Lenhardt, Routledge
and Kegan Paul, New York, 1984. pub. 1970.