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ABSTRACT The article examines Adorno and Heidegger’s contrasting conceptions of art and myth in relation to their reading of western history since the Greeks and to German thinking on the relation between nature and history since Kant. In Part I Adorno’s lecture ‘The Idea of Natural History’ (1932), which draws on Lukács’s Theory of the Novel and Benjamin’s The Origin of German Tragic Drama and is conceived as a response to Heidegger’s fundamental ontology in Being and Time, serves as focus for the interrelation between myth, origin and repetition in western history, construed as the forgetting of nature (Adorno) or the forgetting of Being (Heidegger). In Part II, the question of the remythologization or the demythologization of art in Benjamin, Heidegger and Adorno is examined in the context of aesthetic modernism. KEYWORDS ticism enlightenment • history • modernism • myth • nature • roman-
I. THE IDEA OF NATURAL HISTORY The entwinement of myth and enlightenment is the theme of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. Myth, viewed through the perspective of enlightenment, is transformed into allegory. Dialectic of Enlightenment accordingly presents the melancholy allegory of human history given in the interpretation of The Odyssey as the ‘original history of subjectivity’: the journey of the prototypical subject through the world of myth towards self-consciousness and identity. The Odyssey tells the mythical story of the exit from myth, and at its centre is Odysseus’ encounter with the Sirens, which Horkheimer and Adorno call the ‘anticipatory (ahnungsvoll) allegory of the dialectic of enlightenment’. Odysseus, the prototype of modern man has no uniﬁed, harmonious relationship to past, present and future. He is cut off from the past – the song of the Sirens – by the fear of regression. The sacriﬁce of the past to the future sets in train, however, a
Thesis Eleven, Number 58, August 1999: 19–34 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) Copyright © 1999 SAGE Publications and Thesis Eleven Pty Ltd [0725-5136(199908)58;19–34;009145]
The analysis of Dasein uncovers the transcendental horizon of temporality.20 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) progression which will reveal itself as blind progression without progress. of the people (Heidegger. as its true ground and origin. i. has already been divided into the object and repressed subject of history. as the future past. Heidegger’s Being and Time sets out to destroy – destructure and unground – the metaphysical. Benjamin’s Angel of History looks backwards. driven by the separation from nature – the forgetting of nature in the self – whose trace is preserved solely in art’s echo of the song of the Sirens. into authentic fate. to the presence of the here and now. This time strikes for Heidegger and for the German people in 1933. is divided: he hears and at the same time does not hear the Sirens.e. since he has had himself bound to the mast. that is.e. the Da of the authentic moment (Augenblick). Two points need to be stressed. the historicity of Dasein. only ‘future past’ Dasein can accede to presence. which in setting us outside of chronological time reveal the fundamental unity of past. 1977:  §74). present and future. comes to meet us as the coming back. however. Like nature. the empty. Second. Human being is future-oriented because it is being unto death. First. Individual fate (Schicksal) coexists with the general or collective fate (Geschick) of its ‘generation’. made up of the three temporal ecstasies. divided between past. present and future. This formal structure of decision in Being and Time is ﬁlled with historical content in 1933 by Heidegger’s decision for National Socialism and the German Revolution. The resoluteness of decision is conceived purely formally. Let us say. lived and living time. The future. driving us ever further from the origin. however. Odysseus. that Heidegger . which deﬁnes Dasein. our future possibility. Heidegger reverses the vulgar perspective of progress. Its disclosure of the original temporality and historicity of Dasein points the way. we could say. From this division springs time as temporal succession. But what we think of as progress is only the wind blowing from paradise. this moment of fate is the moment of repetition. prototypical subjectivity. the moment of present experience which will reconnect past. the resoluteness in the face of death which accepts and assumes the fallenness. however. present and future. is disclosed by decision. deﬁned by Heidegger in his ‘Rectoral Address’ as the challenge of the German repetition of the Greek origin of the history of the Occident. Origin is the goal. 1977: : §74). Art thus functions as the impotent promise. without reference to the formal structure elucidated in Being and Time. Resoluteness unto death transforms inauthentic existence. our past possibilities. This is the time of Historie (the history of historiography) to which he opposes. through which Dasein becomes present for ‘its time’ (Heidegger. which is that of the community. present and future. the thrownness of human being into ﬁnitude. which divide life-time into past. Odysseus’ present. We cannot understand Heidegger’s fateful leap. i. scientiﬁc and vulgar conception of time as a temporal succession of present instances. The essence of Dasein’s temporality is repetition. homogeneous time of progress. Mimesis is bound to self-preservation. the taking upon itself of our past. The unity of the three dimensions of temporality. somewhat facetiously. the anticipatory allegory of the fulﬁlled moment. to a deeper conception of history.
that is to say. called by Horkheimer and Adorno the forgetting of nature in the subject and by Heidegger the forgetting of Being. fall. This time comprises on the one hand the eschatological time of decision. the destiny we assume in repetition. repressed. the ‘birth to presence’ (Nancy) which manifests the mystery of creation. The negative counterpart to their mythology of reason is the dialectic of enlightenment. and that the knowledge of original history (Ur-Geschichte) is the province not of science but of mythology (Heidegger. The original myth – paradise. unfolded in Horkheimer . Thus for all their differences they are repeating the same romantic story. of the ﬁrst and the last things. and on the other hand. which brings back the past as our future possibility. present and future are reunited. redemption – returns as the originary myth of romanticism through an exchange of terms: the fall from nature into history points to the redeeming reunion of nature and history. Heidegger’s origin inaugurates by contrast the space-time of history. The founding text of German romanticism. repetition and fate. By this I mean that the decision which has found its historical hour. which is equally that of the origin of myth and the myth of origin. Adorno and Horkheimer’s origin of history is inaccessible. On the contrary. by liberating ourselves through reﬂexion from the forgetting of nature in the subject. envisages the coming synthesis of nature and history in the form of a mythology of reason.Roberts: Art and Myth 21 has heard the song of the Sirens. end and beginning. signiﬁes Heidegger’s entry into the essential time of history. The Greek beginning remains incomparable because it constitutes the original opening of Being. the fragment called ‘The Oldest System Programme of German Idealism’ (1797) written by Hegel but the coproduct of Hegel. The more original repetition. reopens mythical time. Heidegger therefore insists that the authentic greatness of historical knowledge lies in the understanding of the mystery of the beginning. the mystery of the origin. Above I suggested that allegory reﬂects myth through the perspective of enlightenment and that the allegory of allegory is summed up in the mythical story of the exit from myth. The eschatological Second Coming (of the third and ﬁnal kingdom) must take the form of the repetition of the ﬁrst beginning. Origin is the goal. the mythical time of repetition. origin is the future past which comes to meet us as fate. We can escape the compulsion to repetition – the eternal return of the repressed – only by remembering the origin. Origin thus corresponds with origin. inscribed in the repressive blindness and violence of enlightenment. the new religion which will be the last and greatest deed of mankind. Human history is to be understood as the history of this original repression. Hölderlin and Schelling. the decision through which past. which unconsciously perpetuates the mythical power of nature. nature and history. History does not develop from inconspicuous beginnings. but whose essence can be deﬁned as the allegory of the relation between myth and enlightenment. which of course has many variants. inaccessible origin operates behind our backs to turn enlightenment into ever-repeated mythical fate. This gives us two opposed versions of origin. all greatness belongs to the beginning and all that follows is decline. 1983: 164–5). This exit is the original sin. In the one. In the other.
The resurrection of nature and the redemption of history – Naturgeschichte in its full meaning – constitute the mythical other to the allegory of the dialectic of enlightenment. The idea of natural history developed there is expressly conceived as a response to Heidegger’s idea of historicity in Sein und Zeit. whose other side is the new mythology. The light of the origin casts a fading glow over the ever-receding horizon of the end of fallen history. Adorno rests his case with Beckett’s endgame. but it conveys none of the resonances and complexities of the original. the will to power and nihilism. The parallels are even closer after 1945. if antagonistic. parallels. In the symmetry of its coequivalence Naturgeschichte can be read in three ways: nature as history.e. is the reduction of history to the structure of Heidegger’s ontology. The price. If Heidegger declares that only a god can save us. the devastation of the earth. which Adorno develops from Lukács’ Theory of the Novel and . What is required is a further step: the ontological reorientation of philosophy of history. which vitiates Heidegger’s solution to the reconciliation of nature and history and makes it merely an apparent solution. ‘Natural history’ certainly translates as ‘Naturgeschichte’. however. Accordingly. otherwise known as the philosophical discourse of modernity (Habermas). fallen and redeemed history.22 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) and Adorno’s history of the west and in Heidegger’s history of Being – two mythical histories. as object of the natural sciences and the raw material and standing reserve of technology). repressed nature/the withdrawal of Being) and the overt object of history (i. The germ of Dialectic of Enlightenment and the deﬁning theme of Critical Theory are formulated in Adorno’s 1932 lecture. 1973a ). in and by virtue of their division. it is a matter of indifference whether we speak with Horkheimer and Adorno of the destruction of history by nature or with Heidegger of the destruction of nature by history. which recount the catastrophic consequences of the forgetting of the origin in terms that are well known: the domination of nature. He welcomes Heidegger’s ontological turn in Sein und Zeit: the bringing together of ontology and historicity in a fundamental ontology of Dasein which reveals the basic ontological structure of history.e. In ‘The Idea of Natural History’ Adorno deﬁnes the task of philosophy as the overcoming of subjective idealism’s division of the world into nature and history (spirit). mirrored in original. In each case the vanishing point of judgment is provided by what Adorno in his Lecture of 1932 calls ‘The Idea of Natural History’ (Adorno. Here we observe close. is open to a triadic reading: original. the dialectic of enlightenment is the one allegorical side of the German mythical history of the west. Waiting for Godot. which expresses in the most concentrated form the question of history – the relation between nature and history – central to German thought since Herder and Kant. just as each of its terms. In both accounts nature/Being appears in divided and double form as the hidden subject (i. suspended endlessly between origin and goal. fallen and resurrected nature. Ontology alone is insufﬁcient. Or to put it another way. history as nature and as the synthesis of both. The romantic critique of the enlightenment culminates in Horkheimer and Adorno but also of course in Heidegger. which contains its own dialectic – the dialectic of romanticism. Adorno’s and Heidegger’s histories of the west end in the quietism of negative theology.
a search which runs from Schiller and Schelling to Hegel and Marx. 1973a: 365 [1984: 124]).Roberts: Art and Myth 23 Benjamin’s Origin of German Tragic Drama. Natural or original history overcomes the idealist division of the world. Adorno’s starting point is the deﬁnition of nature as mythical. the historically new belongs inescapably to the mythical. and is renewed in Ernst Bloch’s . ﬁrst nature’ (Adorno. 1973a: 363 [1984: 123]). Adorno’s ‘Idea of Natural History’ thus represents the vanishing point of philosophy of history. And since the nature of art is semblance. In the archaic-mythical and the historically new we recognize the two key terms of Dialectic of Enlightenment: myth and enlightenment. and whose characteristic tendency – the historization of nature and the naturalization of history – appears most clearly in Schelling. First nature comprises both the historicity and facticity of transience and the promise of reconciliation. Natural history signiﬁes the interweaving of natural and historical being in the second nature of the social. which Adorno elucidates through the strife of the old and the new gods in (Greek) tragedy: ‘tragic myths contain at one and the same time subjectation to guilt and nature and the element of reconciliation that transcends the realm of nature’ (Adorno. The allegorical resurrection of the petriﬁed world declares that ‘second nature. Philosophy’s task can now be understood as allegorical: the awakening and resurrection of the petriﬁed world through allegorical interpretation. is the language of allegory. Read dialectically. but this ﬁrst nature is in fact already a double nature. Philosophy’s task is thus dialectical. which awaits resurrection. the constellations which revolve without resolution around the idea of history and the idea of nature. the archaic-mythical reveals its inherent dynamic. which lays bare the identity of ﬁrst and second nature. and of history as the qualitatively new. 1990: 25). is in truth. in which nature and history converge. rooted in original history. Adorno’s ontological transformation of philosophy of history into the idea of dialectical nature substitutes for idealism’s division of the world a materialism which appeals to concrete history against the tautologies of Heidegger’s ontology. just as history is constructed in the light of this double image. in which nature is understood as self-alienated spirit (Hegel). It must demonstrate that concrete history partakes of nature and that nature is historical by deconstructing the antithesis between nature and history. whose ‘death’s head’ is the emblem of allegory. the fateful predetermined being underlying history. Conversely. The sign language of transience. since the second nature of the social as illusion or semblance (Schein) conveys the ideological illusion of a meaning beyond the allegorical. by means of a materialist concept of spirit as self-alienated nature (Noerr. Adorno’s dialectical nature suspends the dialectic of history in the constellations of the ‘dialectical image’ (Benjamin). Benjamin conversely grasps nature as history: ‘ “History” is writ across the countenance of nature in the sign language of transience’. is echoed in the young Marx’s programme of humanizing nature and naturalizing man. Lukács grasps history as nature: the reiﬁed world of social convention is a frozen second nature. the work of art in its double form of historical semblance and mythical reconciliation can be thought of as both the allegory and the myth of natural history. the last stage of the search for a dialectical synthesis of nature and history in response to the ratiﬁcation of their division by Kant.
The outcome of Kant’s dual legacy is a fourfold conception of nature: (1) nature as the object of possible experience. When Horkheimer and Adorno state: nature is ‘neither good. In the Preface to Capital Marx deﬁnes his standpoint as that which views the evolution of the economic formation of society as a process of natural history. history appears in the light of nature – a nature that is divided. from Schiller’s Naive and Sentimental Poetry and the Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man through to Marcuse’s Essay on Liberation and Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory nature must function in this double guise. like reason. the object of science. only as recognized does it become the impulse of existence to peace’ (Adorno and Horkheimer. nor noble. From the beginning to the end of the tradition of a dialectical philosophy of history in German thought. developed in the Critique of Judgment. It is here that we can locate the origin of the ‘performative contradiction’ (Habermas) of Dialectic of Enlightenment. it signiﬁes anti-spirit. As model and goal. as the new romanticism believes. On the other hand. Marx’s distinction brings out clearly the doubled dialectical concept of Naturgeschichte. the natural beauty of living form. underpinned by Marx’s distinction between the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom. meet in the idea of beauty to give what Otto Marquard calls ‘romantic nature’. of prehistory and history. the scientiﬁc-materialist insistence on the economic laws of motion of modern society. Now the key point of Marquard’s argument is that both control nature and romantic nature have the primary function of defending us from the threat of drive nature. his division between pure and practical reason. On the one hand. Each . his third Critique. The philosophy of nature and the philosophy of art.e. If the idea of natural history is central to the German idea of history. destructive nature. in such a fashion that nature is called upon to rescue us from nature. 1984: 292 [1973: 254]). in seeking to bridge the gap between nature and freedom. especially after 1848. it is not least because of Kant’s dual legacy. preﬁgured in the English Revolution and fully manifested in the French Revolution (Marquard. i. the natural history uncovered by the death of god in the modern period. On the one hand. nature and freedom. as the old. becomes the bridge between the enlightenment and romanticism. which will redeem history from the mythical cycle of the compulsion to repetition. we have the romantic utopian project of the young Marx. 1987: 54–7). drive nature stands for the Hobbesian civil war of all against all. to which we must add nature in its two aesthetic manifestations. on the other. (3) beautiful nature.24 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) philosophy and eschatology of nature. lie and bestiality. and (4) sublime. that is to say. replaces the Kantian division by a ‘dialectical’ doubling of nature and history. (2) teleological nature. romantic nature is the aesthetic nature of romanticism’s project of undoing the enlightenment’s denaturalization of man and disenchantment of nature. sums up enlightenment thought and deﬁnes the problem and the challenge to post-Kantian philosophy. The ‘resurrection of nature’. the organism which exceeds the capacity of the understanding. Marquard proposes an illuminating distinction between three conceptions of nature central to modernity: control nature is nature as understood by the new science.
Roberts: Art and Myth 25 deﬁnes.e. in which philosophy and poetry will be reunited . which clears the way for the new beginning. The ‘romantic nature’ of romantic Idealism is conceived as this identity of origin and goal. The romantic synthesis embodies not only the synthesis of nature and history. precisely by virtue of their defensive function. The new mythology thus symbolizes the completion of the allegorical odyssey through which philosophy returns to the ‘ocean of poetry’. it represents the positive short-circuit of nature and history in the Absolute. against threatening nature. in opposite ways. the mythology of reason which will be the last and greatest deed of mankind. for Germany’s ‘Greek–German mission’. It is clear that control nature and romantic nature. and history its philosophical fulﬁlment in the union of Greek nature and Christian history. to be sealed by the new mythology. Christian and modern scientiﬁc translations. The task of Heidegger’s history of philosophy is to undo dialectics’ philosophy of history. which leaves romantic nature – the song of the Sirens preserved in art – the impotent witness of the always already completed negative short-circuit of nature and history. i.e. but it is attained in the dialectical version through the unfolding of human history. Looking back in the light of the sun setting over the Abendland. i. the relation between nature and history in the paradoxical terms of nature against nature: control nature. Heidegger constructs his allegory of the west as the story of the forgetting of Being. contain a dialectic. The new mythology stands as the symbol – not the allegory – of the dialectical completion of history. Heidegger’s more original repetition of the origin also envisages the completion of history – but now as the ‘decline of the west’. the evening which conceals the coming dawn. but equally of philosophy and history. the land of evening. The driving force of this history springs from the imperative to repeat the beginning. Modernity can be neither completed nor rescued. Romantic nature is entrusted with the mythical image of the identity of origin and goal. and romantic nature. objectiﬁed. Philosophy ﬁnds its historical fulﬁlment. the inescapable theme of the 1920s. Origin is the goal. Heidegger’s repetition reverses the telos of dialectical history. to bring back an original revelation of Being. civilized nature. Heidegger’s own philosophy of history is thus accomplished by the ungrounding of metaphysics in order to lay bare its abyssal ground in original history. it must be overcome and this demands the liberating of the greatness and power of the origin – the Greek conception of physis – from its denaturalization in the ‘second nature’ of its Roman. against destructive nature. tamed. Art advances with Schelling to the organon of philosophy because it is living form. What is Schiller’s answer to the terrifying nature of man revealed by the French Revolution? Beautiful nature. creative nature. in which poetry. philosophy and myth are once again one (Schelling). In Horkheimer and Adorno’s naturalhistorical deduction: the control nature of self-preservation and instrumental reason is only the other face of drive nature. in which a self-alienated modernity comes to fulﬁlment and redemption. The new mythology of Friedrich Schlegel or of Schelling is carried by the idea of the reconciliation of modernity. sensuous manifestation of the inﬁnite in the ﬁnite and aesthetic pledge of the synthesis of nature and history.
Occidental history can be summed up under the three titles: Being and Word. Empedokles). the poetic thinker. which is transformed by Plato and Aristotle into logos. is to be found in Heidegger’s lectures on Parmenides. ‘Both are the same and include in themselves the third: that the earth stands in the storm of the divine and is torn open in its foundations and abysses [Gründe und Abgründe].’ ‘The great times of turning of peoples come from the abyss. the people of the poets and thinkers has already conquered because it is invincible (Heidegger. given in the winter semester 1942–3. whose prophets are Heidegger. Hölderlin’s . The god of this eschatology is the god of time: Kronos. The originary leap (Ursprung) of the work of art holds fast this strife of the earth and the world. moving the pieces here and there. Heidegger is speaking in the shadow of Stalingrad. The most concise presentation of the history of Being.26 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) in a new mythology. Being and time. Hegel and Nietzsche. destined for the Occident. its earth and possesses home’ (Heidegger. The most familiar expression of this essential opposition is that symbolized by Apollo and Dionysus. The genealogy of Germany’s more original repetition. It runs from Heraclitus via Meister Eckhart to Hölderlin. time announces the more original beginning. In the beginning the divine lightning strikes and opens the earth to history. of the old and the new gods. As the primordial ground of the world. the philosophical poet. 1980: 105–6). that is to say. is that of the eschatology of Being. history into nature and nature into history. Reframed in Nietzschean terms. the advent in which the earth becomes home and opens itself to the power of the gods. the event and advent (Ereignis) which can occur only in an occidental-historical people of poets and thinkers. in which logos becomes ratio. [such] a child is master [over Being]’. which holds concealed a world fate. Heidegger comments: original history is the great game that the gods play with peoples and with a people. And just as Adorno’s allegory of fallen nature and fallen history is framed by mythical remembrance. ‘the hidden essential history of the Occident’. and it is the thinking of this original strife which Hölderlin has bequeathed to the Germans as the essential opposition within and between Greek and German Dasein. and to the degree that a people reaches down into it. as in Adorno’s ‘Idea of Natural History’. thereby inaugurating the history of metaphysics. Being and Ratio. The German people thus incorporate the site of the destiny of the Occident. Being and Time. that is. he declares. his version of Naturgeschichte. is traced by Heidegger in his Hölderlin lectures of 1934–5. of nature and history. The great times of World Time are the great times of world-historical turning. Heraclitus’ World Time and Hölderlin’s Lord of Time (Herr der Zeit. the transience which transmutes. and Hölderlin. 1982: 113–14). Heidegger’s conception of history. the origin of the Greek origin. In the Greek beginning Being reveals itself through the mythopoietic word. The break with this history is announced in Being and Time: time points to the more original origin. nature and history meet in the Ereignis. In the beginning is Heraclitus’ World Time (Fragment 52): ‘World Time – it is a child. Even if ‘victory’ is denied us. a playing child. of its new/old mythology. Time reveals Being as the temporality. so Heidegger’s allegory of Seinsvergessenheit is framed by the myth of origin.
will attain its identity when its occidental Apollonian endowment of order and organization is infused with Dionysian power. which because it lacks a national culture is neither classical nor modern but romantic. Thus at each stage of Franco-German history between 1789 and 1933 the coming birth of Germany is announced. Heidegger’s return to Hölderlin resumes the whole tradition of the new mythology. and in which Germany’s birth. which Ernst Bloch at this same historical moment deﬁned as Germany’s non-contemporaneity (Bloch. We can read Bloch’s famous formula of non-synchronicity as the formula of the non-identity of a Germany. Romantic Germany in search of . of Nietzsche to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–1 (Birth of Tragedy). 1989): the coming god of the new mythology is also the god of the aesthetic state. predicated on his conception of an original history and an original temporality. will be one with Germany’s nativity. As the title of Jünger’s most famous book. 1980: 290–92). in the tradition of the new mythology.Roberts: Art and Myth 27 thinking of the essential opposition within and between Greece and Germany can be formulated in the following way: Greece achieved its identity through the Apollonian mastering of the Dionysian. the Great War is experienced as the sublime Dionysian return of history to nature from which the new man. Heidegger thus situates himself in the hour of Germany’s destiny. which reaches from the French Revolution to the German Revolution. it is seized by Being (Heidegger. Germany will give birth to the coming god. Heidegger’s repetition of Germany’s ‘future past’. the German mission is to transform history – the exhausted history of the ﬁrst beginning – back into nature in order to inaugurate the new beginning. conﬁrming its genetic continuity: Hölderlin remains Germany’s most future poet because Germany has still not been born. Jünger’s The Worker projects the coming military state as a total work of art. At the same time. Germany. of Heine to the July 1830 revolution in Paris. To put this opposition in the sharpest form: if the Greek mission was to transform nature into history. in the abyss of the native earth. and dedicated to the cult of power and death – a vision which ﬁnds its appropriate cultic representation in Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. Schelling and Friedrich Schlegel to the French Revolution. indicates. And this mythical refoundation of history in nature. the west. the mythical ﬁgure of the Worker. 1962). the total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk) which will redeem modernity through the union of nature and history. the great time of the world-historical turning of the Occident. the seizure by Being. is born. identity and mission are conceptualized in terms of a twofold struggle with antiquity and modernity. imbued with the spirit of Nietzsche’s ‘great style’. He returns to Hölderlin and Germany’s Greek–German mission and presents his version of the aesthetic state in The Origin of the Work of Art. Hölderlin. when as Heidegger puts it. This is the response of Schiller. Out of this twofold struggle between Greek nature and art and modern history springs the quest for the aesthetic state (Chytry. of Wagner to 1848–9 (Art and Revolution). underwrites the fateful dialectic of this tradition. will give birth to Germany. and the coming god. of Jünger to the First World War. After 1934 Heidegger draws back from his fascination with Nietzsche and Jünger and his own proclamation of the triumph of the will in his Rectoral Address. Storms of Steel. Dionysus.
to which Heidegger opposes the eschatological time of decision. the negation of the dialectic of enlightenment. In this sense we can speak in relation to Heidegger and Adorno of a second romanticism. The fateful break occurs after the failure of the 1848 revolution to emancipate and to unify Germany. the completion of the west’s trajectory from myth to logos to myth. The idea of the dialectical completion of modernity gives way to the will to overcome modernity. nature. collapses and brings to the fore the dialectic of romanticism contained in latent form in the new mythology. and thus his conception of history. THE ORIGIN OF THE WORK OF ART Heidegger’s Origin of the Work of Art is a last emphatic assertion of the idea of a new mythology. Heidegger’s origin responds to Nietzsche’s birth of tragedy. myth and reason. is negated. From Nietzsche on. transience and the thrownness of Dasein: the comprehension of the present as the world of . historicity. which responds like the ﬁrst to the perceived crisis of modernity but is separated from it by Nietzsche and his diagnosis of nihilism and the death of god. the transformation of the romantic mythology of reason into the founding onto-poetic powers of myth against a nihilistic enlightenment. Heidegger’s whole conception of the temporal structure of repetition. which embraces Lukács. is summed up in Nietzsche’s radical opposition in The Birth of Tragedy of myth and enlightenment. as we have seen. Heidegger’s repetition of Hölderlin is also the repetition of Nietzsche. Nietzsche can thus be seen as the prophetic turning point.28 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) its identity must deﬁne itself against the enlightenment and against the French Revolution. that is to say. The ‘mythology of reason’ of ‘The Oldest System Programme’ reverses into the will to myth. directed to making Germany the contemporary of the west. myth and enlightenment are divided ‘dialectically’: they bear witness in their fallen state to the lost origin and goal. history. Rather. Benjamin. The idea of a new mythology. mediated through Nietzsche. disclosed by decision. Equally. Integral to this second romanticism. This entwinement of myth and enlightenment forbids the temptation of any simple postmythical opposition of myth and enlightenment. of a mythology of reason. is expressly linked in Being and Time to the second of Nietzsche’s ‘untimely meditations’ on the uses and abuses of history. and with it modernity. the great time of history. Each announces the return of myth. II. Dialectical synthesis ends in the intractable entwinement of a nature which is historical and a human history entrapped in nature. the new mythology becomes the ‘untimely’ refusal of the vulgar time of modernity’s progress. and up to 1848 we can say – to simplify – that it does this dialectically. The dialectical response. Adorno and Heidegger. we can grasp Adorno’s ‘Idea of Natural History’ as a negative completion of the romantic vision of a synthesis of nature and history. answers the crisis of the French Revolution with the vision of the aesthetic reconciliation of modernity. is the whole complex of natural history. in which the very possibility of the sublation of the dialectic of enlightenment. Its anti-dialectical formula. however.
Just as Hölderlin preﬁgures for . Lukács’ account of the ideology of modernism. Adorno alone resisted the political leap of faith and remained faithful to what Lukács was later to call the ideology of modernism (Lukács. as with Friedrich Schlegel. expressible only in artistic creation.Roberts: Art and Myth 29 fallen nature provided the fertile ground for the reactivation of romanticism’s new mythology. 1963: 36). The world delineated by the sign language of transience is that of allegory. Lukács’ key witnesses for the ideology of modernism are Heidegger and Benjamin. or Benjamin’s marriage of messianism and historical materialism in the 1930s. If ‘religious atheism shows that the desire for salvation lives on with undiminished force in a world without God’. so the novel in the truth of its form remains faithful in its normative incompletion to the epic longing for totality. This theological structure. perceived and grasped. in this renunciation and impotence of knowledge. is interesting in two respects. because his own early writing stands silently accused. the naturalism of atheistic materialism. and it is this same divided theology and eschatology of history which informs The Theory of the Novel. The new mythology of the romantics already presupposed the disenchantment of the world: the alienation and atomism of competitive society. The Theory of the Novel already articulates the mood of ‘religious atheism’ which he identiﬁes as central to modernism. preserved in Lukács’ critique. 1963). the only transcendence left is that cast on history reduced to nature: ‘The only purpose of transcendence – the intangible nichtendes Nichts – is to reveal the facies hippocritica of the world’ (Lukács. 1963: 44–5). of having really attained. since it reveals his own position of realism. Precisely as a new mythology. 1971a: 71). the clockwork universe of mechanics. irony is elevated to the negative mysticism of a godforsaken age. And. the true substance. the ultimately real. Second. But just as irony and allegory bear negative witness to the mystical dialectic of past and coming gods. National Socialism with Heidegger. since it expresses ‘the profound certainty. The death of god divides the romantic critique of modernity into negative and positive epiphanies: the god of religious atheism. the atheos absconditus of allegory. for all its own ideology of realism. Thus when Lukács anticipates the birth of a new epic he repeats Schelling’s expectation at the end of his Philosophy of Art of a new Homer as the completion of the modern age and foreshadows Heidegger’s invocation of a more original beginning. The death of god points to the coming god. which destroys history and aesthetics (Lukács. It is only appropriate that Lukács deﬁnes modernism in terms of the negative congruence between art and history. First. the God present and inexistent’ (Lukács. whether it be communism with Lukács. it is of necessity a religion of the death of God and the coming god. as the positive reversal of the negative congruence of the novel form and the ‘age of complete sinfulness’ depicted in The Theory of the Novel. makes The Theory of the Novel an essential link between German romanticism and the second romanticism of Weimar modernism. with its assumption of an objective teleology of history. Lukács’ early masterpiece shares with Fichte and Wagner the view of modernity as the age of absolute sinfulness and egoism. stands opposed to the real presence manifested in symbolic realism.
that is to say. as we have seen. 1971: 62). in the laying bare of its absence’ (Lukács. which points not only beyond modernism to the return of the epic but also to the completion of the via negativa of modernism. Between origin and goal. it is Adorno alone who remains faithful to the ideology of modernism. the semblance. in Adorno’s ‘Idea of Natural History’. articulated in very different ways by Lukács. the content released by the self-conﬂagration of the work through which its form attains the full intensity of illumination. While Heidegger . however. It denied the very genealogy of modernism in its illusory proclamation of the restitution of the organic work of art. not its very antithesis in Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art. remained blind to the dialectic of enlightenment. Benjamin and Heidegger and yet all springing from the same eschatological ferment of European crisis. the harbinger of authentic community beyond alienation. the modern antimodern dream of community and myth joined in creation. in which Dasein is deﬁned and traversed by death in the same fashion as Benjamin’s allegorical landscape of natural history. Mechanical reproduction heralded neither the emancipation of art from mythical servitude nor its necessary sacriﬁce to emancipatory ends but rather the means to its ﬁnal instrumentalization – the reproduction of the eternally same – in the culture industry. The ‘politicization of aesthetics’. indeed in this sense go beyond aesthetics. welcomed by Benjamin in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. When Lukács writes that the immanence of meaning demanded by form is to be achieved ‘precisely by going to the end ruthlessly. reformulated. he is formulating the programme of Benjamin’s baroque allegory. the Schein of the organic work. so Dostoevsky for Lukács announces the lux ex oriente. Heidegger’s ‘aestheticization of politics’ is blind to the dialectic of romanticism. as it is expounded in Benjamin’s ‘Erkenntniskritische Vorrede’ to The Origin of German Tragic Drama. to the demands of art’s formal immanence and of philosophy’s task as the presentation of ideas. espoused by Benjamin. at the same time it also meant that Adorno set himself against the overcoming of aesthetic modernism. of Adorno’s philosophy of new music and Goldmann’s analysis of Racinian tragedy. But of our modernists.30 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) Heidegger the return of the gods. The genealogy of modernism reaches from Pascal’s deus absconditus and baroque allegory via romantic irony and Kierkegaard to Heidegger’s fundamental ontology. But neither could Adorno accept the destruction of the work of art and its aura. where truth appears as the content of beauty. whose essence for Lukács is captured in Benjamin’s The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1926) and Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927). Equally. the absence. the fatal embrace of the circulus vitiosus deus. Neither Benjamin’s faith in the power of enlightenment beyond aesthetics nor Heidegger’s faith in the power of myth prior to aesthetics confronted their own dialectic. If this via negativa signiﬁes for Adorno that modernism in the quest for illumination must renounce the aesthetic ideal. The redemptive other of the fallen world is present in its absence. Lukács’ return to Weimar classicism in the 1930s as the answer to the second romanticism of Weimar modernism held of course no attractions for Adorno. The Theory of the Novel anticipates in its eschatological structure the ideology of Weimar modernism.
revealed in the light of the idea of origin as the natural history which has come to completion and rest (Benjamin. the contradiction embodied in Heidegger’s call for a more original repetition of the Greek origin of western history. ﬁnds its parallel in Benjamin’s understanding of the historicity of original phenomena. This laying bare of the absence of meaning – the path of disenchantment and demythologization – represents for Adorno the via negativa which alone keeps faith with the mythical promise of art. that is to say. the Gestalt of the original . a dialectic beyond the dialectic of enlightenment. To keep faith with the absent origin. 1991: 227 [1977: 47–8]). the exile of religious atheism. just as for Heidegger origin springs from Hölderlin’s ‘Werden im Vergehen’ to give form and shape to the ﬂux of natural history. with the remembrance of the lost origin and the goal of reconciled nature. Thus. Origin presents itself as the restoration of that which remains unaccomplished. Adorno’s modernism appears as that of an art created for a non-existent community. origin – the encounter between the ideas and phenomena (Benjamin). language and history: the world of fallen nature as against the opening of the space-time of original history.Roberts: Art and Myth 31 proposes the remythologization of art. 1991: 226 [1977: 46]). condemned in Lukács’ words to laying bare through its form the absence of meaning. which contain within themselves their pre-history and post-history. Origin for Heidegger and Benjamin is a historical not a logical category. Between the mass art of mass society and the mythical art of the community. The Origin of German Tragic Drama and The Origin of the Work of Art present in the sharpest form the two opposed sides of art’s relation to myth. which joins through repetition past and future. between Being and history (Heidegger) – signiﬁes the totality given form: the Gestalt of the work of art which inaugurates a world with Heidegger. Benjamin sees the destruction of aura as the key to the demythologization of art. Both. means keeping faith with the Benjamin of The Origin of German Tragic Drama and not the Benjamin of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. comprehend art in relation to the people: the national community united by language in Heidegger’s case. in each case origin is the goal. the proletarian masses. as art in exile. Benjamin’s origin springs from and at the same time transmutes the stream of becoming and passing away of natural history. responding to political pressure of the 1930s. the sign language of allegory as the ﬁgure of fall and redemption as against the founding mythical word which makes language the house of Being and the dwelling place of the gods. Heidegger’s ‘original temporality’. between historical goal and historical origin. in Benjamin’s case. which testiﬁes to the entwinement of myth and enlightenment in natural history while yet exceeding it. to be brought to the consciousness of their class unity. which is at the same time the origin of the modern work of art without community. But whether exile from paradise in the disenchanted world of natural history or poetic dwelling in the reborn Greek cosmos. however. It means the demythologization demanded by the process of enlightenment but also the counter-movement of mythic remembrance. since repetition is the bringing back (Wieder-holung) of an unrealized future past. As such it unites uniqueness and repetition (Benjamin.
the authentic work of art for Adorno is open to two readings: on the one hand it is the fragment. with Heidegger it is because the work of art constitutes the origin of history. which derive from a common horizon of eschatological thinking. what Adorno calls the natural beauty (das Naturschöne) which can appear only in art. As the quotation from The Origin of German Tragic Drama at the beginning of the Introduction to Philosophy of the New Music indicates. If for both the work of art represents the archetype of truth. the more original repetition of the Greek beginning. remains within the horizon of Hegel’s verdict. Adorno. it is the sole bearer of the promise of reconciliation. Each historical individuation of the ideas gives a monadic image of the world. 1974). both conﬁrms and answers Hegel’s verdict on the fate of art in modernity. but in the double meaning of the word ‘end’. 1964). The monadic work of art partakes of origin in two respects: historically. which forbids the surrender to the song of the Sirens or Heidegger’s embrace of mythical origin. follows the path indicated. in no way diminish the opposed conceptions of origin. This very terminal process. of the tragedy of modern art (Lukács. Origin. since the new music of Schönberg and his school enacts and exempliﬁes the terminal logic of the dialectic of enlightenment. By contrast. these correspondences. Adorno’s enquiry . the path of demythologization. by Lukács in The Theory of the Novel. Adorno’s demythologization of art. Like Benjamin’s original phenomenon. 1988). Adorno accuses Heidegger in Negative Dialektik of succumbing to regression (Adorno. 1966: 111–12) and insists in his counterinterpretation of Hölderlin that Hölderlin’s sacred words are not founding and grounding symbols but ciphers of the other (Adorno. This double concept of origin – eschatological and historical – is taken over by Adorno and plays a central role in his Aesthetic Theory. In his Epilogue to The Origin of the Work of Art Heidegger poses the question of the possibility of great art against the closure of Hegel’s Aesthetics. as against Heidegger’s remythologization. of the historical Dasein of a people. which seals the fate of the whole tradition of western music. as we have seen. with reference to Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus and Adorno’s Philosophy of the New Music. The new music poses in fact the question of the end of art. Here it is important to remember that Philosophy of the New Music is identiﬁed as an excursus to Dialectic of Enlightenment. eschatologically. And what unites these two perspectives is paradoxically the dialectic of enlightenment: in other words. also points beyond the dialectic to what lies on the other side of the western tradition and the sphere of aesthetics. driven by the taboo on regression. it evokes the immemorial remembrance of that which is not but which comes to appearance as utopian promise. Nevertheless. the ruin of a lost meaning and of catastrophic history. on the other. with Benjamin it is because the work of art contains the history of origin. Lukács rightly speaks of the tragedy of modern art. the modernist par excellence.32 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) phenomenon through which the idea attains historical expression with Benjamin. But it is also Lukács who points to the conclusion of this path when he speaks. it captures the movement of the epoch in a crystallized image – the ‘dialectic at a standstill’ (Benjamin). a fragment of revelation. which carries with it its own temporal (eschatological) structure of immemorial past and utopian anticipation (Moses.
into a second blind nature. a demythologization whose mythical name beyond myth is reconciliation. instead of comprehending history. The rational organization and integration of the material can promise freedom. a music which ﬁnds the way to a demythologization beyond the dialectic of enlightenment. which communicates with the origin. who has abandoned the prison of aesthetic autonomy by transforming the fragmentary work from appearance (Schein) into knowledge. The end of music thus reveals the two faces of natural history. meaning and subjectivity. But by the same notion. The reconciliation of nature and history of which the romantics dreamed ends in the total ambivalence of natural history or the history of Being. that is to say. which reaches its conclusion in Schönberg’s 12-tone system. of a modernity deﬁned by the will to power and by the forgetting of nature/Being. 1987: 35–7). the progressive rationalization and subjectiﬁcation of the musical material. as Marquard observes. whose goal is the subjection of nature to human purposes and the emancipation of music as spirit from all organic residues. their denunciations of modernity as nihilism register the end of history. the end of what Adorno calls the compulsions of the dialectic. music which no longer strives to imitate fate. But once this resistance is mastered – and this is the case with the 12-tone system – then total enlightenment reverses into the iron cage of total construction. that is. however. only as long as it is confronted with the resistance of the musical material. that is to say.Roberts: Art and Myth 33 stands under the sign of Benjamin’s ‘science of origin’ (Wissenschaft des Ursprungs) through which the epochal conﬁguration of the idea is to be revealed in its totality through the opposed extremes of Schönberg and Stravinsky. Their ‘discontent with civilization’ drives them to a critique of civilization which in its totalizing impulse is itself suspiciously totalitarian. Schönberg opens music to the negative dialectic beyond the dialectic of enlightenment. The fate of enlightened music is one with the fate of modernity enslaved by the compulsion to domination: musical history reverts to the stasis of the mythical bondage to nature. that is. the end of history signiﬁes the end of progress. In assuming the ‘darkness and guilt of the world’. Of the romantic dream there remains only its echo in the . Historical origin communicates at the same time with eschatology. and Adorno philosophy of history’s failure to comprehend history (Marquard. The progress of music. Heidegger unmasks metaphysics’ failure. with the ﬁrst and last things. In this sense they mark terminal points in the German metadiscourse of modernity. It is this breaking free from the logic of aesthetic necessity and ‘progress’ which Adorno sees as the innermost tendency of the late Schönberg. By renouncing aesthetic necessity. are attempts to escape the vulgar time of progress. is to be understood as the progress of the domination of nature. Or. meaning and subjectivity. In the closing pages of ‘Schönberg or Progress’ Adorno writes that the origin and end of music reach beyond the realm of intentions. the imprisonment of history in the realm of intentions. Desperate responses to desperate times. whose other would be the nature we no longer seek to master. Both Heidegger’s origin of the work of art and Adorno’s end of music. nature returns untransﬁgured as suffering and music as lament keeps faith with utopia.
Theodor (1974) ‘Parataxis. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. for whom theory became aesthetic. Heidegger. Lukács. the poetic thinker. Monash University. Walter (1991) Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels. Theodor and Horkheimer. London: Merlin. who ‘opened the way’. He is currently working on concepts of nature. Theodor (1973a) ‘Die Idee der Naturgeschichte’. and Heidegger. Zur späten Lyrik Hölderlins’. Adornos und Marcuses. Theodor (1966) Negative Dialektik. Le tournant esthétique. Zur Dialektik von Vernunft und Natur in der kritischen Theorie Horkheimers. Heidegger. London: Allen Lane. Marquard. Max (1973b) Dialectic of Enlightenment. Gesamtausgabe 40. Georg (1963) ‘The Ideology of Modernism’. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann. London: Merlin. Berkeley: University of California Press. Albany. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. London: NLB. Australia. Address: Department of German Studies. Benjamin. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Moses.34 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) convergence of philosophy and art sought by Heidegger and Adorno in their thinking of origin and end. Georg (1971b) Theory of the Novel. Hölderlin. Lukács. Martin (1980) Hölderlins Hymnen ‘Germanien’ und ‘Der Rhein’. Georg (1964) ‘Die Tragödie der modernen Kunst’. [email: david. Ernst (1962) Erbschaft dieser Zeit. David Roberts is an editor of Thesis Eleven. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann. Gesamtausgabe 2. in Deutsche Literatur in zwei Jahrhunderten. Gunzelin Schmid (1990) Das Eingedenken der Natur im Subjekt. in Philosophische Frühschriften. Max (1984) Dialektik der Aufklärung. Gesammelte Schriften 3. in Noten zur Literatur. Benjamin. Adorno. Theodor and Horkheimer. Walter (1977) The Origin of German Tragic Drama. and the dialectical thinker Adorno. A Quest in Modern German Thought. Adorno. the philosophical poet. Stéphane (1988) ‘Le paradigme esthétique de l’histoire chez Walter Benjamin’. . Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann. Heidegger. Georg (1971a) Die Theorie des Romans. Gesammelte Schriften I/1. Romantische Naturphilosophie. in The Meaning of Contemporary Realism. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Adorno. Chytry. Paris: Anthropos. Neuwied: Luchterhand. who transformed music into knowledge. Heidegger. Neuwied: Luchterhand. Gesammelte Schriften I. Cologne: Dinter. origin and myth in romanticism. Odo (1987) Transzendentaler Idealismus. in Gérard Raulet and Josef Fürnkäs (eds) Weimar. Martin (1982) Parmenides. Bloch. Adorno.com] References Adorno. Joseph (1989) The Aesthetic State. Lukács. Noerr. Victoria 3168.roberts@bigpond. ﬁnd their counterpart in the dialectic composer Schönberg. Heidegger. Gesamtausgabe 54. NY: State University of New York. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. Psychoanalyse. Martin (1996) Being and Time. Gesamtausgabe 39. Lukács. Gesammelte Schriften 11. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Clayton. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann. Martin (1983) Einführung in die Metaphysik. Martin (1977) Sein und Zeit. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.