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Adorno - Committment

Adorno - Committment

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Published by: Mutability on Feb 26, 2012
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AESTHETICSANDPOLITICS
TheodorAdorno'WalterBe1!faminErnstBlochBertoltBrechtGeorgLukacs
with
an
afterword
try
FredricJameson
VERSO
LondonNewYork
 
176realism,and
to
banishfromtheirmindsanythingthatmightleadthemastray.Thehegemonyofadoctrinewhichfulfilssuchveryrealfunctionscannotbebrokenmerelv
by
demonstratingitsfalsity.LukacsquotesacynicalsentencebyHegelwhichsumsupthesocialmeaningofthisprocessasitwasseeninthetraditionalbourgeoisnovelofeducation
lBildungsroman
I:
'Fortheendofsuchapprenticeshipconsistsinthis:thesubjectsowshiswildoats,educateshimselfwithhiswishesandopinionsintoharmonywithsubsistingrelationshipsandtheirrationality,enterstheconcatenationoftheworldandworksoutforhimselfanappropriateattitudetoit.'14Lukacsaddsthiscomment:'InonesensemanyofthegreatbourgeoisnovelscontradictHegel'sassertion;butinanothersense,equallyspecific,theyconfirmhispointofview.Theyareinconflictwithitinsofarastheeducationtheyhavedepicteddoesnotnecessarilyculminateinanysuchrecognitionofbourgeoissociety.Thestruggletorealizethedreamsandconvictionsofyouthisendedbythepressuresofsociety,therebelsarebrokenordrivenintoisolation,butthereconciliationofwhichHegelspeaksisnotalwaysexactedfromthem.Nodoubt,sincethestruggleoftenendsinresignation,itdoesnotstraytoofarfromwhatHegelsuggests.Forontheonehand,theobjectivesocialrealitydoestriumphoverthepurelysubjectivestrivingsoftheindividual;andontheother,thereconciliationHegelproclaimsisbynomeansutterlydifferentfromafeelingofresignation'(op.cit.p.
112).
Thesupremecriterionofhisaesthetics,thepostulateofarealitywhichmustbedepictedasanunbrokencontinuumjoiningsubjectandobject,arealitywhich,toemploythetermLukacsstubbornlyadheresto,mustbe'reflected'--allthisrestsontheassumptionthattherecon-ciliationhasbeenaccomplished,thatalliswellwithsociety,thattheindividualhascomeintohisownandfeelsathomeinhisworld.Lukacsconcedestheneedforallthisinananti-asceticdigression.ButthiswouldremovetheresignationwhichLukacsdiscernsinHegelandwhosepresencehewouldcertainlyhavetoacknowledgeinhisprototypicalrealist,Goethe,whoactuallyadvocatedit.Butthecleavage,theanta-gonismpersists,anditisasheerlietoassertthatithasbeen'overcome',astheycallit,inthestatesoftheEasternbloc.ThemagicspellwhichholdsLukacsinthrallandwhichpreventshisreturntotheutopiaofhisyouththathelongsfor,isare-enactmentofthatreconciliationunderduresshehadhimselfdiscernedattheheartofabsoluteidealism.
Translated~yRodneyLnnngstone
"FromHegel's
Ae5IheIJ(5,
vol.I,p.593,Oxford1975,slightlyadaptedfromthetrans-lation
by
T.M.Knox.
TheodorAdornoCommitment
SinceSartre'sessay
WhatisLiterature?
therehasbeenlesstheoreticaldebateaboutcommittedandautonomousliterature.Nevertheless,thecontroversyovercommitmentremainsurgent,sofarasanythingthatmerelyconcernsthelifeofthemindcanbetoday,asopposedtosheerhumansurvival.Sartrewasmovedtoissuehismanifestobecausehesaw-andhewascertainlynotthefirsttodoso-worksofartdisplayedsidebysideinapantheonofoptionaledification,decayingintoculturalcommodities.Insuchcoexistence,theydesecrateeachother.Ifawork,withoutitsauthornecessarilyintendingit,aimsatasupremeeffect,
it
cannotreallytolerateaneighbourbesideit.Thissalutaryintoleranceholdsnotonlyforindividualworks,butalsoforaestheticgenresorattitudessuchasthoseoncesymbolizedinthenowhalf-forgottencontroversyovercommitment.Therearetwo'positionsonobjectivity'whichareconstantlyatwarwithoneanother,evenwhenintellectuallifefalselypresentsthemasatpeace.Aworkofartthatiscommittedstripsthemagicfromaworkofartthatiscontenttobeafetish,anidlepastimeforthosewhowouldliketosleepthroughthedelugethatthreatensthem,inanapoliticismthatisinfactdeeplypolitical.Forthecommitted,suchworksareadistractionfromthebattleofrealinterests,inwhichnooneisanylongerexemptfromtheconflictbetweenthetwogreatblocs.Thepossibilityofintellectuallifeitselfdependsonthisconflicttosuchanextentthatonlyblindillusioncaninsistonrightsthatmaybeshatteredtomorrow.Forautonomousworksofart,however,suchconsiderations,andthe'conceptionofarr-whichunderliesthem,arethemselvesthespiritualcatastropheofwhichthecommittedkeepwarning.Oncethelifeofthemindrenouncesthedutyandlibertyofitsownpureobjectification,ithasabdicated.Thereafter,worksofartmerelyassimilatethemselvestothebruteexistenceagainstwhichtheyprotest,informssoephemeral(the
177
 
178
verychargemadeagainstautonomousworksbycommittedwriters)thatfromtheirfirstdaytheybelongtotheseminarsinwhichtheyinevitablyend.Themenacingthrustoftheantithesisisareminderofhowpre-cariousthepositionofartistoday.Eachofthetwoalternativesnegatesitselfwiththeother.Committedart,necessarilydetachedasartfromreality,cancelsthedistancebetweenthetwo.'Artforart'ssake'deniesbyitsabsoluteclaimsthatineradicableconnectionwithrealitywhichisthepolemical
apriori
oftheattempt
to
makeartautonomousfromthereal.Betweenthesetwopolesthetensioninwhicharthaslivedineveryagetillnowisdissolved.Contemporaryliteratureitselfsuggestsdoubtsastotheomnipotenceofthesealternatives.Foritisnotyetsocompletelysubjugatedtothecourseoftheworldastoconstituterivalfronts.TheSartreangoatsandtheValeryansheepwillnotbeseparated.Evenifpoliticallymotivated,commitment
in
itselfremainspoliticallypolyvalentsolongasitisnotreducedtopropaganda,whosepliancymocksanycommitmentbythesubject.Ontheotherhand,itsopposite,knowninRussiancatechismsasformalism,isnotdecriedonlybySovietofficialsorlibertarianexis-tentialists;even'vanguard'criticsthemselvesfrequentlyaccuse
50-
calledabstracttextsofalackofprovocationandsocialaggrcssivity.Conversely,SartrecannotpraisePicasso's
Guernica
toohighly;yethecouldhardlybeconvictedofformalistsympathiesinmusicorpainting.Herestrictshisnotionofcommitmenttoliteraturebecauseofitscon-ceptualcharacter:'Thewriterdeals
with
meanings'.
l
Ofcourse,butnot/onlywiththem.Ifnowordwhichentersaliteraryworkeverwhollyfreesitselffromitsmeaninginordinaryspeech,sonoliterarywork,noteventhetraditionalnovel,leavesthesemeaningsunaltered,astheywereoutsideit.Evenanordinary'was',inareportofsomethingthatwasnot,acquiresanewformalqualityfromthefactthatitwasnotso.Thesameprocessoccursinthehigherlevelsofmeaningofawork,allthewayuptowhatonceused
to
becalledits'Idea'.ThespecialpositionthatSartreaccordstoliteraturemustalsobesuspecttoanyonewhodoesnotunconditionallysubsumediverseaestheticgenresunderasuperioruniversalconcept.Therudimentsofexternalmeaningsaretheirre-duciblynon-artisticelementsinart.Itsformalprincipleliesnotinthem,butinthedialecticofbothmoments-whichaccomplishesthetrans-formationofmeaningswithinit.Thedistinctionbetweenartistand
I
Jean-PaulSartre,
What
JS
Lueraturer,
London1967,
p.
4.
AdornoonBrecht179
litterateur
isshallow:butitistruethattheobjectofanyaestheticphilo-sophy,evenasunderstoodbySartre,isnotthepublicisticaspectofart.Stilllessisitthe'message'ofawork.Thelatteroscillatesunhappilybetweenthesubjectiveintentionsoftheartistandthedemandsofanobjectivelyexplicitmetaphysicalmeaning.Inourcontext,thismeaninggenerallyturnsouttobeanuncommonlypracticableBeing.Thesocialfunctionoftalkaboutcommitmenthasmeanwhilebecomesomewhatconfused.Culturalconservativeswhodemandthataworkofartshouldsaysomething,joinforceswiththeirpoliticalopponentsagainstatelic,hermeticworksofart.Eulogistsof'relevance'aremorelikelytofindSartre's
HuisClos
profound,thantolistenpatientlytoatextwhoselanguagechallengessignificationandbyitsverydistancefrommeaningrevoltsinadvanceagainstpositivistsubordinationofmeaning.FortheatheistSartre,ontheotherhand,theconceptualimportofartisthepremissofcommitment.YetworksbannedintheEastaresometimesdemagogicallydenouncedbylocalguardiansoftheauthenticmessagebecausetheyapparentlysaywhattheyinfactdonotsay.TheNaziswerealreadyusingtheterm'culturalbolshevism'undertheWeimarRepublic,andhatredofwhatitreferstohassurvivedtheepochofHitler,whenitwasinstitutionalized.Todayithasflaredupagain,justasitdidfortyyearsagoatworksofthesamekind,includingsomewhoseoriginsgoalongwaybackandareunmistakeablypartofanestablishedtradition.NewspapersandmagazinesoftheradicalRightconstantlystirupindignationagainstwhatisunnatural,over-intellectual,morbidanddecadent:theyknowtheirreaders.Theinsightsofsocialpsychologyintotheauthoritarianpersonalityconfirmthem.Thebasicfeaturesofthistypeincludeconformism,respectforapetrifiedfacadeofopinionandsociety,andresistancetoimpulsesthatdisturbitsorderorevokeinnerelementsoftheunconsciousthatcannotbeadmitted.Thishostilitytoanythingalienoralienatingcanaccommodateitselfmuchmoreeasilytoliteraryrealismofanyprovenance,evenifitproclaimsitselfcriticalorsocialist,thantoworkswhichswearallegiancetonopoliticalslogans,butwhosemereguiseisenoughtodisruptthewholesystemofrigidcoordinateSTIlatgovernsauthoritarianpersonalities-towhichthelatterclingallthemorefiercely,thelesscapabletheyareofspontaneousappreciationofanythingnotofficiallyapproved.CampaignstopreventthestagingofBrecht'splaysinWesternGermanybelongtoarelativelysuperficiallayerofpoliticalconsciousness.Theywerenotevenparti-cularlyvigorous,ortheywouldhavetakenmuchcrasserformsafter
\
,
..

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