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Using Adorno’s ideas, how can we talk about the Warner/Shaw production of ‘Happy Days’ in relation to its social function?

Using Adorno’s ideas, how can we talk about the Warner/Shaw production of ‘Happy Days’ in relation to its social function?

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We examine the social implications in Samuel Beckett's 'Happy Days'. It question's Beckett's reduction of language. In showing how language is ultimately a political action, Adorno believes Beckett is a 'commited' artist. His art cannot be reproduced culturally. Ther is nothing tangible to reproduce. If language is political, does this mean re-signification is a negative action? I don't think so
We examine the social implications in Samuel Beckett's 'Happy Days'. It question's Beckett's reduction of language. In showing how language is ultimately a political action, Adorno believes Beckett is a 'commited' artist. His art cannot be reproduced culturally. Ther is nothing tangible to reproduce. If language is political, does this mean re-signification is a negative action? I don't think so

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
Using Adorno’s ideas, how can we talk about the Warner/Shaw production of ‘Happy Days’in relation to its social function?
Theodore Adorno insisted that authentic works of art should be un-political; he says “True artrevolts in advance against positivist signification of meaning”
1
. In Beckett’s works, the rejection of meaningful signification is evident. In particular, in his play
 Happy Days,
Beckett parodies thearbitrary justification of meaningful language. However, the plot refuses to clarify the intention of Beckett’s send-up and the objective of the performance is left entirely for the audience to decide.According to Adorno, genuine art “jolts signification” and “disturbs” those who come into its presence. Works of art which envision alternative social configurations are said to be “violent”.Adorno was highly suspicious of aesthetic methods which offered new social ideals in the place of already existing ones; he claimed they are “blindly irrational forces return[ing] to work onceagain”.
 Happy Days
remains silent as to why it deconstructs the authority of language. Thecharacter, Winnie, creates her own meaning, and yet simultaneously, she is estranged by it. Adornomaintains that Beckett’s indistinct intentionality highlights the “truthabout society”
2
.Theirresolute aims of the play, however, ironically bring about politicisation; which Adorno says,should not be evident in a work of art. As was already mentioned, Beckett did not make it clear in
 Happy Days
what his stance was ideologically. Adorno commended this aspect of his works. Onthe other hand, Adorno unquestionably was ideological in his stance. His tangentially anti-socialapproach to art fails to grasp the positive opportunities Beckett’s ‘Winnie’ offers us because of their politically determined nature. We are empowered by the knowledge that man can “adapt” andreconstruct his world. Adorno categorised socially engaged art as “tyrannical
3
. In the social
1
Theodore Adorno, ‘Commitment’, https://moodle.nuim.ie/mod/resource/view.php?id=68965 viewed 19
th
December,2008.
2
Ibid.
3
Ibid.
1
 
context, a work of art which attempts to enlighten people advocates a “political falsehood”.Standardized forms of music experience a similar sacking by Adorno
4
. However, Beckett’s art proposes the idea that meaning is unfixed; it releases the possibility of change by showing that“natural[ness]”, in the social sphere, is determined subjectively. It reveals that what is constructedcan be reconstructed. This short treatise will highlight the deficiencies in Adorno’s aesthetic ideas, by emphasising the social opportunities in
 Happy Days
which his stance fails to notice.Adorno praised art which denied the possibility of formal repetition.
 Happy Days
is a work of art which can be viewed in this mode. Beckett’s goals, in drawing attention to the subjectivenature of knowledge acquisition, remain undetermined. The character’s stage directions imply thatthere is an apparent purpose in the plot. Assess Willie’s reactions to Winnie’s idle chit-chat whenshe says; “fully guaranteed [Willie stops fanning] … genuine pure … [pause, Willie resumesfanning]”. Something occurred at this instance. The words ‘fully guaranteed’ are familiar to him, but we can not identify why this is the case. Later in the play Winnie declares that his gestureshave “no particular significance”
5
. The elusive comprehensibility of such an example, according toAdorno, keeps us “in the dark”
6
. However, the play’s objective is divergent from Adorno’sdismissal of signification in art. Its subtext remains on the fence and leaves it to the spectator todecide what line it is following. Winnie empathises with the “strange feeling” the audience has inconceiving what they are “looking at”. She is experiencing the same “strange feeling”; namely, thearbitrary way she is designating and determining her surroundings. The aspirations of 
 Happy Days
remain
 
undisclosed. Nevertheless, its possible choices remain visible, and this allows us to reviewand re-evaluate the socio/political implications they have.
4
T. Adorno, ‘On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening’, in
The Culture Industry,
(Oxford:Routledge, 2001) p. 32.
5
Samuel Beckett,
 Happy Days
, (London: Faber & Faber, 2006).
6
T. Adorno, ‘Commitment’, Ibid.
2
 
Winnie is aware that she is the source of her own truths. Adorno claimed that worksof art which convey this idea “stir up indignation”
7
. He correctly identified the unease this sort of awareness brings to most people. However, his disconsolate characterization of art failed to giveattention to the possibilities Winnie offers. She tells us that she “must learn to talk to [her]self”,although, “she could never bear to do such wilderness”, and yet, she wonders at man’s ability to“adapt”. Beckett makes it known that man can revise his situation. Winnie spells this out for uswith the line “something says, stop talking now, Winnie, for a minute”
8
.Our focus is made toappreciate the historically determined space that is the theatre. This appreciation brings with it theinsight that man is ultimately self-governed. The questions Beckett ask “disturb the [prevailing]order”
9
,but not in the way Adorno would hope.Social commentaries on artistic works are perceived as counterfeit by Adorno. Non-communication and sustained bewilderment to one’s understandings have more sincerity. Theabstraction of “noble values” is simply a “moral veneer” which disguises untold political desires. Nevertheless, Adorno’s distrustful critique of art actually impedes those whom he sought toenlighten. It is only by subjectively determining what the play’s social benefits are that one is ableto positively utilise them. The performance directs us to the place of this deciding. Winnie reflects back to the audience the
modus operandi
they themselves must call upon to find meaning withintheir given habitat. She cries “reason says, put it down, Winnie. It is not helping you, put the thingdown and get on with something else”. Brooks argues meaning is accomplished by Beckettthrough the “act of narration itself”
. Adorno is inclined to pour scorn on the social prospects of flexible signification instead of nurturing its potential. He describes political determinates as bullish forces “which permanently put a pistol to men’s heads”. In pronouncing that Beckett’s art
7
Ibid.
8
S. Beckett, Ibid.
9
T. Adorno, Ibid.
10
See Peter Brooks,
Chronicles of disorder: Samuel Beckett and the Cultural Politics of the Modern Novel,
(NewYork: State University of New York Press, 2000) p. 118.
3

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