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ART
EVEN AFTER
ADORNO'S C R I T I C A L THEORY OF ART,

AUSCHWITZ:
RELIGION ANI'

IDEOLOGY

Cheryl Nafziger-Leis

A t h e s i s submitted in conformity with the requirements


for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Centre for the Study of Religion
University of Toronto

@ Copyright

by Cheryl Nafziger-Leis ( 1997)

191

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ABSTRACT

~midstthe devastation of World War II, Theodor Adorno, a


German philosopher of Jewish descent, pronounced that to write
poetry after ~uschwitzis barbaric.

He later revised this

statement, for it became apparent to him that art was the last
refuge of hope in a world where suffering had not corne to an end.
This study is, in general, an investigation of art as that voice
of suffering. More specifically, this is an examination of the
nature of the relationships between art, ideology, and religion,
in the context of the later twentieth century Western Christian
tradition. Key components of this enquiry are an ideology
critique of religion, as well as an ideology critique of the
manipulation of art by religious institutions for the purposes of
religion. The argument guiding this critique is that to
manipulate works of art in this way is to deny art its autonomy.
The critical theory of the Frankfurt School, especially as
developed by Adorno, provides the critical tools for this
investigation. The groundwork is laid by establishing what is
meant by both the terms ideology and religion, and what it means
to carry out such an investigation within the academic study of
religion. As well, examples rom the art of theatre re given in
order to concretize the investigation. In the end the question
becomes: if, as members of the Frankfurt School maintain,
religion has abdicated its prophetic role in its accommodation to
the world around it, what would it mean to argue that religious
art might still be possible?

~ e d i c a t e dto the memory of Vernon Leis


Father-in-law, Friend

iii

Acknowledgements

The best part about cornpleting a project like this is being


able to thank the people who have helped one get through it.
First of all, I would like to thank the three mernbers of my
thesis advisory committee with whom 1 had the privilege of
working for four years. Some students tell horror stories rom
the time they worked with their thesis committee; 1 have none of
those. Prof. Marsha Hewitt was my supervisor - rneine
Doktonnutter. 1 have appreciated the many discussions 1 have had
with Marsha, they have always been interesting, complex, and
intellectually stimulating. She challenged me and encouraged me
to think clearly, argue forceully, and be aware of the numerous
implications of what 1 Say. And despite what anyone else says,
she convinced me of the importance of the theories of the
Frankfurt Schocl. Prof. Amy Mullin has s h o w me the importance
of laser-sharp eye and close attention to the construction of
an argument- 1 have appreciated Amy's questioning, as well as
her advice. And although we knew rom the beginning that we
disagreed on both Adorno and feminist art, Amy demonstrated a
sense of professionalism in her evaluation of my work. Likewise,
Prof. Graeme Nicholson did not agree with my interpretation of
Adorno, and he too was professional in his judgement of my work.
On numerous occasions 1 appreciated Greame's sensitivity around
the issues of art in the context of the church. There were many
times when 1 kxew he understood imrnediately what 1 was talking
about. It has been a pleasure to have been able to work with al1
three of them. I thank them Tor the time they gave me and the
seriousness with which they approached my work. 1 have learned a
great deal rom each of them.
There have been other teachers along the way who have been
infuential in my decision to take on such a project. Before
entering a PhD program one requires certain skills - like
debating. Prof. Donald Wiebe was the one OR whom 1 sharpened rny
teeth. There have not been too many occasions when Donald and 1
have agreed on an intellectual matter, but 1 have always sensed
his respect and encouragement. 1 have appreciated his sharp
mind, and even sharper wit! One must also have a genuine love of
learning and a passion for what one is doing. Prof. Peter Erb
demonstrated this to me most clearly. From Peter 1 learned Latin
- and enjoyed it! 1 hope 1 will demonstrate the same enthusiasm
to my students that was so contagious in Peter's classes.
1 had never thought of graduate school until Prof. Lauren
Friesen suggested 1 consider it. Lauren has the ability to
discern where a student's interests lie and how best to tap into
those interests. 1 thank Lauren for opening up to me this whole
field of religion and art; he showed me it was indeed possible to
bring thern together. Prof. Judith Davis also told me 1 should
consider graduate school. 1 remember being surprised at how
encouraging she was and appreciated her advice on many different
matters. And Prof. Mary Bender believed in me when 1 found no

basis for it. Mary loved teaching and loved what she was
teaching. For herpstudents, ~aq-breathedlife into philosophy,
literature, and foreign languages. 1 thank Mary for confirming
for me the importance of asking questions.
1 was also privileged to study with Prof. Horst Schwebel of
the University of Marburg, Germany. Ten years prior to writing
this thesis 1 became aware of an entirely different approach to
the study of art and religion at the Marburg Institute. 1
greatly appreciate that Prof. Schwebel granted permission for me
to carry out research at the Institute in 1 9 9 5 . It was
tremendous to be able to discuss with him my project and to gain
insights into Adorno rom someone who had studied with himMy research was funded through several sources, for al1 of
which 1 am extremely grateful: Ontario Graduate Scholarship
program, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
canada, University of Toronto Open Fellowship program, and the
University of Toronto Alumni Association Travel Grant program.
Although using a computer has in many ways made the process
of writing a thesis much easier, it has also been a source of
numerous headaches. One is fortunate when one can turn to
experts in one's moments of techno-trauma; 1 thank Cory Albrecht,
Barry Bishop, Tom MacKay, and Steve Pfisterer. As well, I thank
John Kendall for the incredibly generous offer to print this
document on his office laser printer.
And what is life without family and friends? For the many
great discussions, mutual pep talks, and secret revelations over
lunch at Innes College (and for the navy kneesocks!), 1 thank my
friend and fellow-Centre student, Michele Murray. For showing me
that one could actually finish a PhD in a reasonable amount of
time and for lending me a shoulder to cry on now and then, 1
thank my friend, Marlene Epp. 1 would also like to thank my
Mother-in-law, Arvilla Leis, for taking an interest in what 1
have been doing and for the many discussions on feminist
interpretations of the world. 1 have appreciated her wit and her
honesty. And 1 have appreciated the encouragement 1 have felt
rom my parents, Rae and Ruth Nafziger. My Mother was not
allowed to go to High School and my Father was not allcwed to go
to University; the education of their o m kids was a high
priority for them. 1 learned only recently that when 1 was quite
young my Mother said to a friend that if it's at al1 in her
power, her "children are going to high school, they're going to
go as far as they can go." Sub-consciously 1 understood this. I
thank them for their many expressions of support.
And most irnportantly, 1 thank my husband, David Leis. He
kept my spirits up, kept my confidence up, and kept me to my
schedule. David was a source of advice regarding acadernic cum
political sensitivities. He argued with me over semantics,
debated with me over philosophical issues, and challenged me on
my interpretation of texts and events. He stabilized my
flounderings and dispelled my disenchantments. I thank him for
his friendship. 1 thank him for his love.

"The only philosophy


which can be responsibly practised
in face of despair
is the attempt to contemplate al1 things
as they would present themselves
from the standpoint of redemption.
Knowledge has no light
but that shed on the world by redemption:
al1 e l s e is reconstruction,
mere technique. "
(Theodor W. Adorno,
Minima Moralia, 247.)

"Thinking men and artists have not infrequently


described a sense of being not quite there,
of not playing along,
a feeling as if they were n o t themselves a t all,
but a kind of spectator.
Others often find this repulsive;
it was the basis of Kierkegaard's polemic
against what he called the aesthetic sphere ,...
The inhuman part of it. t h e ability
to keep one's distance as a spectator
and to rise above things,
is in the final analysis the human part,
t h e very part resisted by its ideologists....
But the spectator's posture
simultaneously expresse
doubt that this could be all."'i

'

Theodor W . Adorno, Negative Dialectic, t r a n s .


(New Y o r k : Continuum, l973), 363.

E.B. A s h t o n

.................................................
1 . Outline of this study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

INTRODUCTION

Page
7
15

INVESTIGATION
1 . Working Definitions

..................................

i . Religion and the Study of Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


ii . The church .....................................
iii . Theology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
iv . Religion as an established institution . . . . . . . . .
v . Ideology ........................................
vi . Autonomous art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
vii . Prophetic voice of art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

22
22
33
34
48
52
55

56

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
I . Ideology ............................................
69
i . Religion as ideology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
II . Religion as Concept and Reality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. 87
i . Methodology for analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
ii . Religion as a social institution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
i i i . Methodological presuppositions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 1 4
iv . General implications for
religionand a r t . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
III . Adorno's Response to Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
i . Dialectic of Enlightenment:
Wyth to Enlightenment and back . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124
ii . Micrological survival:
Theology after the Enlightenment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
iii . "Reason and Revelation":
Adorno's response to a religious revival . . . . . . 132
iv . Negative knowledge:
yearning for the possibility of hope . . . . . . . . . . 141

CHAPTER 2 .THE IDEOLOGY OF RELIGION

CHAPTEIR 3 .UNRELENTING NEGATIVITY:


THE PROPHEIC VOICE OF ART . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151

........
art and religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1 . Adorno's "Theses Upon Art and Religion Todayn

i . The nature of the relationship between

II

III

153
159

Negative Dialectics:
"thinking the unconditionedn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172
i . The negative dialectic of art:
introductory remarks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179

" D i e Geschichtlichkeit der Kunstl':

Hegel's theory of art in historical context . . . . . . . . 184


i . Hegel's philosophy of art and history . . . . . . . . . . . 191
ii . Implications of the historicity of art
for Hegel's thesis of "The End of Artw . . . . . . . . 194

I V . V a s Nichtidentischen . Non- identity Thinking :

Adorno's reinstatement of heterogeneity . . . . . . . . . . . .


i . Art as non-identity t h i n k i n g . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ii . The spell of identity thinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
iii . The o n l y move of freedom:
the negative moment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
iv . Art and religion in their historical moments . . .

..................
1 . Art: Subversive or Submissive . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
i . Art of the "culture industryn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ii . Irony of capitalism:
fine line of art's autonomy and exchange . . . . . .
iii . Politically committed art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
iv . Spotlighting alternatives:
negation neutralized . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
v . The theatre of Brecht . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

CEiAPTER 4

II

.ART

UNDER TKE SPELL OF IDEOLOGY

Adornian Response to
Contemporary Feminist Theatre . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
i . Feminist theatre:
subverting the male tradition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ii . Trends in feminist theatre . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
iii . Adorno's Aesthetic Theory and
feminist theatre . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

201
213
227
231
233
235

238
242

255
259
276
283

-An

296
298
304
313

CHAPTER
I

5 .ART

AND RELIGION ...m


AUSCHWITZ

..............

Adorno and the Theatre of Samuel Beckett:


"the paradigm of modern artn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
i . The autonomous art of Samuel Beckett . . . . . . . . . . . .
i i . Beckett's art in Adorno's eyes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ii . Art:
the medium of truth in an age of t e r r o r . . . . . . .

I I . Religion's Patronage of Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


i . Twentieth century Christian theatre . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ii . The example of YWAM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
iii . Christian theatre today:
"stage charm and a scenery cord" . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

325

329
333
341
367

370
379
386
391

I I I . Contemporary Research in Art and the Church:


the liarburg Institute . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 398
IV . Autonomous Art:
resisting standardization in a merciless w o r l d

CONCLUSION
I

.....

407

...................................................

420

Art:
"

II

. . .the last

bastion that has not yet capitulated.". 424

" . . . e s s i n d noch L i e d e r zu singen . . . " :

Artafter Auschwitz

................................

437

" [ A l r t may be the o n l y remaining


medium of t r u t h in an age
incomprehensibl e terror and suf f e r i n g . "

Yf

Theodor W . Adorno, Aesthet i c Theory, t r a n s


C . Lenhardt ,
eds. , Gretel Adorno and Rol f T i edemann (London: Routledge and Kegan
P a u l , 1 9 8 4 ) , 27.

Art's

"true affinity with religionm3is in its relationship

to truth; but art, created and manipulated to be the mouthpiece of

religion in its institutional form becomes a means to the end of

The basis for this

maintaining and supporting the institution.

study is the di fference be tween autonomous art which expresses the


p r o p h e t i c impulse

- which

will argue has been for the most part

abandoned by religion - and art as a tool of a heteronomous4 rule.

The focus of this investigation will be on the nature of the


relationship between art and religion - especially religion in its
established institutional

forms -

and

their relationship

to

ideology5 , in terms of the creation and the usage of art.


The "concept of God was for a long time the place where the

Theodor W.

Adorno,

'Theses Upon A r t

and Re1 i g i o n Today,"

Kenyon R e v i e w 7 . 4 (Auturnn 1 9 4 5 ) , 679.


"he
t t e r m~hetternoomy/heteronomous~
w i 11 appear f r e q u e n t l y i n
t h i s i n v e s t i g a t i o n and w i 1 1 r e f e r t o t h e presence o f , o r s u b j e c t i o n
t o a 1aw e x t e r n a l t o t h e t h i n g i t s e l f .
Something which i s
heteronomous, o p e r a t e s , t h e r e f o r e , frorn t h e opposi t e p r i n c i p l e o f
something which i s autonomous.
For example, I w i 11 use t h e t e r m
"heteronomyw i n m y d i s c u s s i o n o f t h e church, e s p e c i a l l y i n i t s
a d o p t i o n and a f f i r m a t i o n o f an i d e n t i t y w i t h e x t e r n a l e l e m e n t s from
t h e w o r l d around i t . By a d o p t i n g a b u r e a u c r a t i c f o r m a t f r o m t h a t
w o r l d , 1 w i l 1 argue, t h e C h r i s t i a n church has adopted p r a c t i c e s
which have squelched i t s own p r o p h e t i c v o i c e , it s own i n t e r n a 1 law.
I d e o l o g y i s a c o n t e n t i o u s t e r m which w i l l be d e f i n e d i n
Chapter 1 .
1 o f f e r b u t a b r i e f d e f i n i t i o n f o r t h e moment: "to
study i d e o l o g y is p r i m a r i l y t o i n v e s t i g a t e
. t h e ways in which
meaning ( s i g n i f i c a t i o n ) s e r v e s t o s u s t a i n r e l a t i o n s o f d o m i n a t i o n . "
[John B . Thompson, Studies i n t h e Theory o f Ideo7ogy (Cambridge:
P o l i t y Press, 1984), 35.1

..

idea was kept alive that there are other norms" besides those of
c

present social reality." However , whereas religion was at one t ime


the abode of prophets who called people to something other than the

social reality of the world, religion as an institution complete


with

structures of

power

and

authority

has

at many

points

throughout its history abandoned its prophetic role. conforming


instead to an identity with social institutions of the reality
around it.

In contrast, art which maintains its autonorny insists

on non-identity with its context.

Art does nevertheless have a

connection with the world in which it is created, for it is created


out of and in response to that world.

But autonomous art is a l s o

a critique of that world.

My thesis is that art as critique may assume the prophetic


LI

task which religion has so often abandoned;l like a prophet, art


in its various forms articulates the suffering and struggles of its
context.

This voice of suffering insists that the reality of the

human condition at present ought to be otherwise and expresses the


hope that i t could be otherwise.
Tt is not the aim of this study to propose an apologetic for

Max H o r k h e i m e r , " T h o u g h t s
trans. Matthew
Continuum, 1 9 8 9 ) , 1 2 9 .

Se7ected Essays,

on

Re1 ig i o n ,

"

C r i t ica 7 Theory:
(New Y o r k :

J . O'Connel 1 e t a l

1 say t h a t a r t "may assume1' t h i s p a r t i c u l a r r o l e , becduse


w h i l e t h e r e a r e many examples o f a r t which have t a k e n on t h i s r o l e
and a r t which a t p r e s e n t i s t a k i n g on this r o l e , t h e r e a r e a h o
many examples o f a r t which has n o t and does n o t t a k e on t h i s role,
as w i 11 become c i e a r i n t h e e n s u i n g d i s c u s s i o n .

"religious artn or the religious themes of art.8


thesis

that art

resolves with

facile hope

Nor is it m y

the struggles

and

suffering in reality. or that art resolves the contradictions of

Re1 i g i o u s a r t and t h e r e l i g i o u s themes o f a r t , a s w e l l a s


t h e s t u d y o f a r t i n f a c u l t i e s o f r e 1 i g i o n and t h e o l o g y have been
and c o n t i n u e t o be amply defended b y s e v e r a l N o r t h American
s c h o l a r s , who p a r t i c i p a t e i n t h e s t u d y o f a r t and r e l i g i o n o r
theology.
A s w i 17 become c l e a r , t h i s p r e s e n t s t u d y does n o t
a t t e m p t t o add y e t a n o t h e r v o i c e t o t h a t d i s c u s s i o n s i n c e t h e
a s s u m p t i o n s and f o c i d i f f e r from my p r o j e c t . Study o f t h e i n t e r f a c e
o f a r t and r e 1 i g i o n , and a r t and t h e o l o g y began as e a r l y a s t h e
1920s i n t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s and, r e c e n t l y , t h e r e has been much
growth i n t h e s c h o l a r l y treatment o f t h e subject.
This i s
e v i d e n c e d by t h e 1988 e s t a b l i s h m e n t o f t h e j o u r n a l ARTS
The A r t s
i n ReIigious and Theoiogica7 S t u d i e s , w h i c h has c l o s e t i e s t o t h e
" A r t s , L i t e t a t u r e and Re1 i g i o n S e c t i o n t f o f t h e American Academy o f
Re1 ig i on. A s wel 1 , many new c o u r s e s i n a r t and r e l ig i o n or a r t and
t h e o l o g y have begun t o appear i n c o u r s e c a t a l o g u e s a t p o s t s e c o n d a r y i n s t i t u t i o n s , w i t h more semi n a r i es and c o l 1eges even
e s t a b l i s h i n g programs i n a r t and r e l i g i o n .
A recent study by
W i l s o n Yates documents such c o u r s e s and programs: The A r t s i n
Theo7ogica7 E d u c a t i o n : New P e r s p e c t i v e s f o r I n t e g r a t i o n ( A t l a n t a :
S c h o l a r s Press, 1 9 8 7 ) . A s Yates S t a t e s i n h i s book, i n o r d e r f o r
t h e a r t s t o be i n t e g r a t e d i n r e l i g i o u s o r t h e o l o g i c a l s t u d i e s ,
" t h e y must be p e r c e i v e d as needed."
[Ibid.,
S.]
Because t h e
p a r t i c i p a n t s in t h i s d i s c u s s i o n , such as Yates, John D i Ile n b e r g e r ,
Doug Adams and o t h e r s , have a s t r o n g d e s i r e t o g e t a r t i n t h e d o o r
o f f a c u l t i e s o f r e l i g i o n and/or t h e o l o g y , t h e y do n o t r e f l e c t on
t h e need t o examine o r
indeed q u e s t i o n t h e n a t u r e o f
the
r e l a t i o n s h i p o f a r t and r e l i g i o n o r t h e o l o g y which t h e y have
e s t a b l i s h e d and t h e methodology t h e y have assumed. O n l y v e r y l a t e
i n h i s book does Yates address i s s u e s o f methodology, b u t h i s
p r e o c c u p a t i o n w i t h t h e growth o f t h e f i e l d p r e v e n t s h i m f r o m
p u s h i ng t h e q u e s t i o n f u r t h e r .
The s t r o n g cornmitment t o an
e x p l o r a t i o n o f where r e l ig i o n and a r t i n t e r s e c t i s t o o o f t e n based
on an assumption t h a t a r t can " s e r v e t h e o l o g y " [ I b i d . , 10. ] and i t s
o b j e c t i v e s . The tendency o f t h e d i s c u s s i o n i s t o b r i e f l y s t u d y t h e
w o r k o f a r t , t h e n l e a v e a r t b e h i n d and move i m m e d i a t e l y i n t o
t h e 0 1 o g i c a l i m p l ic a t i o n s o f t h a t work o f a r t . The in s t r u r n e n t a l is t
a t t i t u d e which c o n t i n u e s t o dominate t h e d i s c u s s i o n i s e x p r e s s e d i n
statements
where
art
i s
spoken
of,
for
exampie,
as
" .pedagogi c a l 1y u s e f u l
" [ D a v i d Kel sey,
"The
Arts
and
(Fa1 1 1989), 81.
The
T h e o l o g i c a l C o n v e r s a t i o n , " ARTS 2 . 1
s u b o r d i n a t i o n and in s t r u m e n t a l is t a t t i t u d e , in my o p i n i on, a r e
p r e c i s e l y t h e h e a r t o f t h e problem w i t h t h i s d i s c u s s i o n . S i n c e o u r
p u r p o s e s so g r e a t l y d i f f e r , t h e i n v e s t i g a t i o n upon w h i c h 1 a m
embarking, wi11 not make r e f e r e n c e t o t h e work o f Y a t e s e t a l . .

..

.. .

reality by offering an alternative.

While not predicting the

constructed shape of what should be. the prophetic voice of art


focuses on the cracks and f i s s u r e s of reality as it is. Art calls
out. unveiling the difficult truth of reality "that everyone knows
but no one will admit."'

While I maintain that the prophetic voice of art has in many


ways taken over the task abandoned by institutional religion in its
accommodation to and perpetuation of the s t a t u s quo of the world
around

it, f

also maintain

that

within

established

church

institutions nith their own hierarchies of power and authority


structures there are cracks through which it may still be possible
for a prophetic voice to speak. With the contention that there is
no such thing as a pure socially unbiased system of thought, 1 will
argue that based on a recognition and articulation of aspects of
the system - in this case, the system of religion as an established

authority structure - which do not quite fit that system. it is


possible to break the "spell," to use Adorno's term, which has
people convinced that the system as it is, is seamless

and

monolithic. Hope that the spell can be broken lies with the hope
that it is still possible for human beings to maintain the capacity
to think critically, thereby establishing a foothold in the cracks

Theodor W . Adorno, "Comrni t r n e n t ,


i n The E s s e n t i a 7 F r a n k f u r t
Schoo7 Reader, e d s . , Andrew A r a t o and E i ke Gebhardt (New Y o r k :
Continuum, 1982; r e p r i n t 1992), 3 7 4 .
T h i s essay is a l s o found i n Theodor W . Adorno, Notes t o
L i t e r a t u r e , V o l . II, t r a n s . , S h i e r r y Weber N i ch01 sen (New Y o r k :
Columbia U n i v e r s i t y p r e s s , I g g S ) , 7 6 - 9 4 .
A l l r e f e r e n c e s t o this
e s s a y i n t h e p r e s e n t d i s c u s s i o n w i 11 be f r o m The Essentia7
F r a n k f u r t Schoo 7 Reader.

which reveal hidden motivations and agendas.

It is from the place

of the cracks that one is then able to critique the s t a t u s

quo.

Hope for this possibility may no longer lie in the voice of


established church structures, whose teaching authority can also be
a coercive power to conform. Rather. hope for this possibility now
lies in the voice of the critically thinking individuals and
artists who t a k e on prophetic roles, crying out against what is and
kindling in those who hear them the knowledge that what is "should
be otherwise. ,,10
Briefly, involved in this study will be an ideology critique
of the of ficial established church's frequent abandonment of its
prophetic role throughout its history, the creation and use of art
by the various officia1 structures of the church for its own

ideological ends, and art's insistence on its non-identity with a


heteronomous rule - religious or otherwise.

The scope will be

limited to the nature of the relationship of art - specifically,


the art of theatre

religion and ideology within the latter half

of the twentieth century Western context and Christian tradition.11


The writings of Theodor W . Adorno (1903-1969)will inform this
investigation and will be used as a critical means to examine the
relationship of art to religion and ideology.

As

a member of the

twentieth century German Frankfurt School , Adorno's work was

I b i d . , 317.
" Whi le t h e s t a t e m e n t s made may p r o v e t r u e f o r t h e C h r i s t i a n
c h u r c h a r o u n d t h e w o r l d and i n o t h e r p e r i o d s o f h i s t o r y , a s well as
f o r o t h e r re1i g i o u s t r a d i t i o n s , these t o p i c s w i I l n o t fa1 l w i t h i n
t h e scope o f t h i s s t u d y .

significantly influenced by his phiiosophical roots in German


Idealism and by the thought of other Frankfurt School adherents,
such as !fax Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse.

The

critical theory of the Frankfurt School was not a unity. but rather
involved fundamental differences in the approaches of the various
thinkers; nevertheless, it is impossible not to make reference to
others in the Frankfurt School when dealing with the thought of
Adorno.
Although the Frankfurt School responded to art in the early to
mid

twentieth century, 1 believe their

theories are equally

relevant to later twentieth century art and set a framework within


which to address the role of art and its relationship to religion
and ideology. However, since Adorno in particular, deals more with
examples of art as the tool of politics than with art as the tool
of religion, i t will be an essential task of my project to make the
connections to examples of art and religion.

When Adorno does

speak of the relationship between religion and art, he does so in


disparaging ways - especially evident in his "Theses Upon Art and
Religion Today," which I will examine at length.

Nevertheless. 1

will argue that in his own aesthetic theory, Adorno builds a case

in favour of art as a pcophetic voice of suffering, the voice which


established structures of religion have often silenced within their
own realm.12 1 believe that when discussing the thought of Adorno.

one cannot quickly dismiss religion with a facile pejorative


--

'*

The " p r o p h e t i c v o i c e " o f a r t is an i m p o r t a n t t e r m f o r my


i n v e s t i g a t i o n and w i 1 1 be e x p l a i n e d a t 1 e n g t h i n C h a p t e r 1

definition: although Adorno's disillusionment with religion in its


positive forms is evident, the impulse of religion as that voice of
prophetic

critique which

longs

for a

more humane world

is

ignificant t o his thought as a whole.13 I n spite of the fact t h a t


Adorno, as well as the other Frankfurt School theorists, did not
adhere to any religious b e l i e f s - "at least in any conventional

sensew14- t h e inistence on the possibility of sustaining hope in


the face of profound despair. which pervades their critical theory,
"constitutes one of its most important potential intersections with
religion."15

Indeed. Adorno states that art's " true a f f inity with

religionwi6 is

in

its

relationhip

to

truth.li

If,

as

he

l 3 Once a g a i n ,
t h e term " r e l i g i o n "
i s a key term t o m y
i n v e s t i g a t i o n . I n l i g h t o f t h e p l e t h o r a of understandings o f t h i s
terrn, i n C h a p t e r 1 I wi11 o f f e r a w o r k i n g d e f i n i t i o n and an
e x t e n s i v e d i s c u s s i o n o f t h e c u r r e n t d e b a t e s u r r o u n d i n g t h i s term,
as w e l l as t h e s t u d y o f r e l i g i o n , i t s e l f .
j 4 Marsha H e w i t t ,
Criiica7 Theory of R e I i g i o n :
A n a 7 y s i s ( M i nneapol is : F o r t r e s s P r e s s , 1995), 33.
j5

Ibid.

j6

Adorno,

Feminist

"Theses Upon A r t a n d Re1 i g i o n Today, " 6 7 9 .

j 7 H o r k h e i m e r addresses t h e i s s u e of
"what i s t r u t h , " as w e l l
as t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p o f t r u t h t~ r e l i g i o n i n h i s essay, "On t h e
Problem o f T r u t h . "
I n contrast t o t h e notion o f a " f i n a l truth,I1
as p r o p o s e d b y i d e a l i s m , H o r k h e i m e r speaks o f t r u t h f r o m t h e
p e r s p e c t i v e o f m a t e r i a l i sm, whi c h recogni zes t r u t h as h i s t o r i c a l l y
medi a t e d . He s t a t e s : " o n l y t h a t t h e o r y i s t r u e w h i c h can g r a s p t h e
h i s t o r i c a l p r o c e s s s o d e e p l y t h a t it is p o s s i b l e t o d e v e l o p f r o m it
t h e c l o s e s t a p p r o x i m a t i o n t o t h e s t r u c t u r e and t e n d e n c y o f s o c i a l
l i f e i n t h e v a r i o u s spheres o f c u l t u r e . " [Max Horkheimer, "On t h e
P r o b l em o f T r u t h , " in The Essentia 7 F r a n k f u r t Schoo 7 R e a d e r , eds. ,
A r a t o and G e b h a r d t , 423.1
W i t h r e g a r d s t o t r u t h and r e l i g i o n ,
Horkheimer speaks o f how t h e b a s i c c o n c e p t s o f C h r i s t i a n i t y have
been " c o n t r a d i c t e d in r e a l it y w whi 7 e a t t h e same t i me becomi ng more
and more i n t e r n a l ized by t h e " b o u r g e o i s mental it y . "
"But,
he
s t a t e s , " t h e g r o s s c o n t r a d i c t i o n t h a t e x i s t e d was r e a l 1 y u n d e r s t o o d
w i t h i n t h e b o u r g e o i s i e o n l y by t h e r e l i g i o u s o u t s i d e r s such as

believes. " a r t may be the only remaining medium of truth in an age


of incornprehensible terror and suffering,"18 then inherent in that
medium of truth is also the impulse of the prophetic voice.

And

because terror and suffering continue, as Adorno h i r n s e l f notes, "it


may have been wrong to Say that after Auschwitz you c o u l d no longer

write poems. tr 19

1. Outline of this study


1 will

investigate the link between art objects and the

creation and use of art by religion as an established organization


with its own structures of authority.

The critical theory of the

Frankfurt School, especially in the writings of Adorno, offer a


mode1 for rethinking the nature of this relationship.

The

reception and use of the created works of art, in particular by


established church structures, must be exarnined in a discussion of

K i e r k e g a a r d and T o l s t o i ." [ I b i d . , 439. ]


I w i l l address t h e issue
o f t h i s c o n t r a d i c t i o n as i t has become a p p a r e n t i n t h e h i s t o r y o f
t h e C h r i s t i a n church. A s we7 1 , H o r k h e i m e r ' s i n s i s t e n c e t h a t t r u t h
is n o t a f i n a l concept b u t one w h i c h is h i s t o r i c a l ly m e d i a t e d , w i 11
g u i de my d i s c u s s i on.
la Adorno,

Aethetic Theory, 27.

l9 Adorno, N e g a t i v e D i a 7ectics. 3 6 2 .
I n an e a r l i e r work, P r i s m s , Adorno w r o t e : "To w r i t e p o e t r y
a f t e r A u s c h w i t z i s barbarie. "
[ A d o r n o , P r i s m s , t r a n s . Samuel and
S h i e r r y Weber (Cambridge, Mass. : M I T P r e s s , 1981, s i x t h p r i n t i ng,
l99Z), 34. j
However, he 1a t e r came t o t h e c o n c l u s i o n t h a t s i nce
s u f f e r i n g has c o n t i n u e d , so has t h e need t o g i v e i t v o i c e i n a r t .
The d i s c u s s i o n among Y a t e s e t al. ( n o t e d i n f o o t n o t e #6
above) has been f a i r l y c o n s i s t e n t l y 7 i m i t e d t o t h e w r i t i ngs o f P a u l
T i 11 ich, N i ch01as W o l t e r s t o r f f , Hans U r s von B a l t h a s a r , and Jacques
M a r i t a i n.

the relationship between art and r e l i g i o n . ' '


of art

is viewed

as

tool available

When a created work

to be

used

by

church

institutions, the reception of that artwork also reflects society's


attitude of manipulation and domination, for religion

in this study - is a cultural phenornenon.

- as defined

As well, one must take

into consideration the creation, or as Adorno refers to i t , the


"production of a r t , "

Adorno maintains that the relation between

art and society is not predominantly to be sought in the sphere of

reception, but in the preceding sphere: that of production. 22

The

" Such an exami n a t i o n is especi a l 1y i m p o r t a n t i n 1 ig h t o f t h e


domi nance o f t h e i n s t r u m e n t a l is t a t t i t u d e toward a r t p r e v a l e n t
among r e 1 i g i o n and t h e o l o g y s c h o l a r s , a s n o t e d i n f o o t n o t e #8.
22 The on1 y Engl ish t r a n s l a t i o n o f Adorno ' s A S t h e t i s c h e T h e o r i e
i s l e s s t h a n i d e a l o n many o c c a s i o n s , t h e f o l l o w i n g b e i n g b u t one
example.
T h i s p a r t i c u l a r s t a t e m e n t o f Adorno's r e g a r d i n g t h e
r e c e p t i o n and p r o d u c t i o n of a r t i s m i s l e a d i ng i n Engl i s h .
The
E n g l i s h S t a t e s : "if
w e want t o d e t e r m i n e t h e n a t u r e o f t h e r e l a t i o n
between a r t and s o c i e t y , we must l o o k n o t a t t h e sphere o f
r e c e p t i on, but a t t h e more b a s i c s p h e r e o f p r o d u c t i o n . " [Adorno,
A e s t h e t i c Theory, 3 2 4 . ]
I n c o n t r a s t , as 1 have t r a n s l a t e d , t h e
German o r i g i n a l does n o t a l l o w f o r t h e r e c e p t i o n of a r t t o be
c o m p l e t e l y e x c l u d e d f rom t h e d i s c u s s i o n , a l though it c e r t a i n 1 y
g i ves predomi nance t o p r o d u c t i o n . A s a r e s u l t , rny d i scussi on w i 1 l
f a v o u r i n c l u s i o n of a n e x a m i n a t i o n o f t h e r e c e p t i o n o f a r t . I n t h e
sentences w h i c h f o l l o w t h e above c i t e d t e x t , Adorno e x p l a i n s t h a t
predomi nance must be g i v e n t o p r o d u c t i o n because t h e determi n a t i o n
and c l a s s i f i c a t i o n o f the e f f e c t s o f a r t , i n many cases o u t o f
s o c i e t a l reasons, d i v e r g e compl e t e l y f rom t h e a r t w o r k s and t h e i r
objective content.
S i n c e t i m e immemorial , he m a i n t a i ns, human
r e a c t i o n s t o and r e c e p t i o n s of a r t w o r k s have been e x t r e m e l y ( o r
e x t e r n a l l y ) medi a t e d and n o t immedi a t e l y ( o r d i r e c t l y in an
unmedi a t e d manner) r e l a t e d ta t h e w o r k it s e l f . Adorno emphasi ses
t h a t t o d a y t h e s e r e a c t i o n s t o o r r e c e p t i o n s o f a r t a r e mediated b y
s o c i e t y as
a whol e .
[Adorno,
Asthet ische Theorie,
338-9. ]
Statements such as t h i s p r e c i s e l y s u p p o r t t h e n e c e s s i t y o f
exarnining t h e m e d i a t i o n o f t h e r e c e p t i o n o f a r t . Indeed, i t i s t h e
s p e l l o f t h e s o c i o - h i s t o r i c a l moment u n d e r which one l i v e s t h r o u g h
which t h e w o r l d around one i s mediated. A p a r t i c u l a r t h e o r y o f a r t
but it
does n o t change t h e o b j e c t of a r t w h i c h one sees,
s i g n i f i c a n t l y a l t e r s o n e ' s response t o t h a t a r t , as w e l l as o n e ' s
p r o d u c t ion o f a r t .

motivation for and the process of the production of art are


important factors in the nature of the relationship between art and
society, and in fact reflect society's productive forces, processes
and relations; for, an artistic product is a social product. Thus,

an art work created under the domination of an established


institution such as the Christian church for the purposes of the
church, is created not as art, but as a tool and will be viewed as
such for a specific purpose. This attitude reflects the pattern of
domination prevalent in the Larger society: objects (and people)
are not valued as ends in themselves, but are made the means to
some other purpose.
1 will begin by offering extensive working definitions of the

following terms, which figure prominently in my investigation:


religion and the study of religion, the church, theology , ideology.
religion as an established institution, autonomous art, and the
prophetic voice of art. Defining these terms will not only orient
their usage in my study, but will also serve to clearly establish
the place of my investigation within the contemporary field of the
study of religion. Because of debates currently raging within this
field - as 1 will explain in Chapter 1 - it is incumbent upon
scholars to explain not only how they use the term "religion," but
also which of the disputed approaches to the study of religion
informs their research.
Following the definitions, 1 will examine and analyze Adorno * s
As a n o t e , Robert Hu1 lot-Kentor, who a l so t r a n s l a t e d Adorno's
s t u d y on K i erkegaard, i s c u r r e n t l y w o r k i n g o n a new translation o f

t h e A e s t h e t i c Theory.

discussions of

religion as both concept and

reality.

This

discussion will open with an ideology critique of religion - a task

. . .for

with which, according to Kurt Rudolph, "[ilt is time


hitory of religions to concern itself seriouly.

the

An ideology

critique of religion, states Rudolph, lends to an investigation of


"the various religious ideologies of dominance that have left
religion open to manipulation."24

1 begin with

the premise that

"power and ideology are not mere sidetracks for the distraction of
sociologists, but rather phenomena which lie at the heart of
[philosophical] concerns.w25

Thus, 1 maintain that a study of the

manipulation of religion by religious authorities in whom power is


vested, is critical for an investigation of the manipulation of art
in religious contexts to produce and sustain forms of domination.
1 will then turn to Adorno's analysis of the relationship of art to

religion especially as found in his "Theses Upon Art and Religion


Today." Also critical to this present investigation, is the fact
that an ideology critique of religion "explores the inner dialectic

of

repressive

religion. u26

and

ernancipatory

impulses

which

structures

The critical thinker is one who is able to grasp the

contradictions of this dialectic.

Artists may be among such

23 K u r t R u d o l p h , H i s t o r i c a 7 Fundamentals and t h e Study of


Re7 i g i o n , Haskel 1 L e c t u r e s , U n i v e r s i t y o f C h i c a g o (New Y o r k :
M a c m i l l a n , 1985), 61.
24

I b i d . , 75.

25 Thompson,

S t u d i e i n the T h e o r y o f I d e o l o g y , 7 4 .

26 Marsha H e w i tt, " I d e o l o g y C r i t i q u e , Ferninisrn and the S t u d y


o f R e l i g i o n , " M e t h o d and Theory
i n t h e Study o f R e 7 i g i o n
( f o r t h c o r n i ng) .

critical thinkers; as I

will argue. the last refuge for the

ernancipatory impulse which structures religion is art. Significant


for this argument will be a discussion of Adorno's theory of the
negative dialectic. for it is key to his theory of art.

1 will

discuss how through mimesis and negation of its context. art


becomes "authentic and autonomous," in the words of Adorno. and
thus, able to critique its context.
In order to concretize my investigation. this project will
also involve examination and analysis of dramatic art.
my

conclusions regarding the specific art

applicable to art in general.27

1 believe

of drama will

be

Reference will be made to examples

of twentieth century Western drama which become a means to an end

in their identity with a heteronomous ideology.

will examine

Bertolt Brecht's approach to the art of theatre specifically. as


well as examples of feminists in theatre and "Christian" theatre
troupes.
nature of

These exarnples will be examined in order to discern the


the relationship between art and ideology/art

and

religion as mani fest in the creation (production) and recept ion or


usage of them. In contrast. 1 will cite the dramatic art of Samuel
Beckett. which in Adorno's estimation, maintains non-identity with
the context out of which it is created and, as such, remains an
autonomous prophetic voice indicting that context. These examples
of the art form of theatre will be read in light of their socio-

historical context. to determine how they respond to that context,

27 The i n s i g h t s I have g a i ned f r o m p r o f e s s i o n a l e x p e r i e n c e i n


t h e f i e l d o f drama w i 11 i n f o r m my t h e o r e t i c a l r e s e a r c h .

not in terms of what they do or the effects they have on that


context, but how they differentiate themselves as works of art from
the context around them.

This differentiation is crucial to

discussing art as an autonomous work of art and art which i s a tool


of something outside of itself. For although art is implicated in
the s t a t u s quo in that it is created out of the elements of its

social-historical moment, autonomous art does not obey the s t a t u s


quo;

rather, in its differentiation of itself from its context, art

critiques and subverts its very origins in the s t a t u s quo.

The irony of purporting to write a thesis on Adorno's works


should not go unmentioned-

In light of the f a c t that Adorno

i n s i s t e d on the fragrnentary nature of thought and the inability of

concepts to grasp the truth of the whole which they claim they
grasp, it is daunting to propose one will b e able to produce a
smooth, seamless written project - a whole - on the thought of
Adorno.

1f ,

as Adorno contends , philosophy's moment has passed

because of the f a i l u r e to realize it , then the most one can hope to

offer will be a constellation of fragmentary ruminations fuli of


holes, through which the reader will catch a glimpse of a momentary
fragile balance of something which might possibly resemble an
insight into truth.

ORIENTING T

INVESTIGATION

" I t is s a d l y unfortuna t e tha t the 1 o n g s t a n d i n g c o n t r o v e r s y


over the r o l e of r e d u c t i o n i s tic or na t u r a l i s t i c e x p l a n a t i o n s
yet plagues Our field a n d , a t l e a s t i n p a r t , has l e d t o
the rela tively l o w p r o f i l e of modern i d e o l o g y cri t i q u e s
r e l i g i o u s practices and doctrines. "f i f

28 Russel 1 T . McCutcheon, "Ideology and t h e P r o b l em o f Nami n g :


A R e p l y , " M e t h o d and T h e o r y i n t h e S t u d y o f R e 7 i g i o n 3 . 2 ( 1 9 9 1 ) :
2 5 5 , n . 15.

Clifford Geertz writes that "although it is notorious that


definitions establish nothing, in themselves they do, if they are
carefully enough constructed, provide a useful orientation, or
reorientation, of thought

. .. ." 2 9

Before proceeding, then, 1 o f f e r

working definitions of key terms to orient this study; they


include: religion and the study of religion. the church, religion

as an established institution, theology, ideology, autonomous art,


and the prophetic voice of art.

1. Working Definitions

i. Religion and the Study of Religion

Currently within the field of the study of religion both the


term "religion" and the premises of the study of religion are hotly
debated. As a result, it is incumbent upon scholars to provide not
only their working definition of the term "religion," but also
clearly establish their approach to the study of religion.

To begin, then, the term "religion" in the present study will


refer to the following definition as provided by Geertz:

*'
Clifford
Interpretat

G e e r t z , "Religion as a cultural s y t e r n , " i n The


i o n o f Cu 7 t u r e s : Se Tected Essays (New Y o r k : B a s i c Books,

Inc.,

1973), 90.

. . .a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful,


pervasive and long-last ing moods and motivations in [ human
beings] by formulating conceptions of a general order of
existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of
factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely
realistic.30
This system of symbols which formulates conceptions of a general
order of existence for the devotee. may conffict with the sociohistorical reality in which the devotee lives.

As

a result, the

devotee may be motivated by religious convictions to critique or

even w w k to change that socio-historical reality, naming the ways


in which it falls short of a religious utopian conception of what
it might be.

This critique, as I will explain below, is what 1

refer to as the prophetic voice of religion.

In light of the above definition, for the purpose of this


investigation m y use of the term "religionm does not depend on the
existence of a divine being; reference to deities, transcendental
beings or the sacred are not assurned. This does not deny, however,

that for the devotee the concept of a god or divine being may be
inherent in the system of symbols which makes the general order of
existence meaningful for the devotee.

In my investigation, 1

approach the study of religion as a study of a system of symbols,


beliefs and actions of human beings. who understand themselves to

be governed by a system which rnay or may not

include their

participation in a relationship to gods or a god. Nor is my use of


the term "religion" essentialist; there is no presumption of an
essence of religion apart from religion in any of its historical or

30 I b i d .

cultural forms.

"Religion is unimaginable apart from the people

who practice it in specific contexts. "31

In thi investigation.

religion is treated as a cultural phenomenon. Geertz's definition


of religion is not, therefore. chosen at random from the myriad of
d e f initions available; rather, as will become evident , in order to

carry out an ideological critique of religion one must recognize


religion as a cultural phenomenon, for otherwise it is "impossible
to analyze adequately the admixtures of power and domination that
religion harbours and perpetrates. 32
TT

Scholars who study religion, approach their topic from one of


two perspectives.

There is the stream in which scholars assume

that sornething religious naturally exis ts in humans and that


religion is s u i generis; this stream has a religio-theological
approach and is often referred to as a religious study of religion.
The subject of

this type of

transcendent beingfs)/god(s).
religion as

a system

study of religion is a given


Scholars of the other stream view

of culturally postulated

categories, a

phenomenon to be studied like other cultural phenomena are studied;


this stream is often referred to as an academic - or sometimes as
a "~cientific"~~
- study of religion.

The subject of this latter

Marsha Hewi tt, " L i b e r a t i o n T h e o l o g y and t h e E m a n c i p a t i o n o f


Re1 i g i o n , " The S c o t t i s h J o u r n a l o f Theo7ogy XII1 . 1 ( S p r i n g l992),
22.

32 Marsha A . H e w i t t ,
S t u d y o f Religion," 8 .

"Ideology

critique,

Ferninisrn and

the

33 T h e r e e x i s t , f o r example, a p r o f e s s i o n a l s o c i e t y c a l l e d :
The S o c i e t y f o r the S c i e n t i f i c S t u d y o f R e 1 i g i o n , o r t h e SSSR.

type of study is the behaviour of human beings in response to the


gods, whose existence is not necessarily assumed by the scholar.31
Unfortunately , scholars cannot agree which approach is appropriate
for the study of religion within the modern academic setting of the
university. According to the debate currently raging, my adherence
to Geertz's definition of religion places my present investigation
in the second stream, for in rny study, "[rJeligions are viewed as

conceptual

schemes, world

views,

symbolic

representations,

ideograms, representations of the given. 35


The

debate

originated

when

the Christian churchTs own

theologians began asking questions. Donald Wiebe, well-known for


his views in support of the acadernic approach, points specifically
to the twelf th century controversy between Bernard of Clairvaux and
Peter Ablard: Bernard regarded much of Ablard's questioning and
teaching as subversive to the Christian faith.

During

the

controversy, the faith was indeed very much at stake, although not
in the

sense that either

the scholastics [Ablard], or

the

monas tics [Bernard], were "deliberately casting doubts or aspersion

on the truth of the Christian religion, but rather because the very
need to examine the Faith irnplied doubt . n 3 6

Christian theologians

34 A s one s c h o l a r w r i t e s : " T h e r e i s n o t h i n g r e l i g i o u s a b o u t
' r e l i g i ~ n ' . ' ~[Sam G i l l , "The Acadernic S t u d y o f R e l i g i o n , " Journa7
o f t h e American Academy o f R e 7 i g i o n L X I I . 4 ( W i n t e r l994), 965.1

35 Hans H .
Penner,
" H o l i s t i c Analysis:
Conjectures and
R e f u t a t i o n s , " Journa7 o f t h e American Academy o f Re7 i g i o n L X 1 1 . 4
(Wi n t e r l 9 9 4 ) , 991.
36 Donald Wiebe, The I r o n y of Theo7ogy and the N a t u r e o f
Re7 i g i o u s Thought ( M o n t r e a l and K i n g s t o n : McGi 11 -Queen ' s U n i v e r s i t y
P r e s s , 1991), 2 0 7 .

shifted their focus from "wanting 'to know in order to believe* to


wanting 'to know for the sake of knowing. "v3i

The move from using

theological assumptions in order to explain theology to critically


inquiring into theological beliefs led to questions regarding the
very

origins

of

transcendent b e i n g .

religion.

including

the

existence

of

the

This shift, which moved beyond what 1 would

cal1 the theological enterprise into the realm of academic, indeed


reductionistic inquiry, lies at the roots of the modern academic
study of religion.
For J. Samuel Pruess the decisive assumption of the new
paradigm of the study of religion as opposed to theology was that
religion could be understood without the benefit of clergy
. . .and without 'conversion* or confessional and/or
metaphysical commitments about its causes d i f f e r e n t from the
assumptions one mjfht use to understand and explain other
realms of culture.
Thus. contrary to Classical Western Theology's claim, in the new
paradigm it
understand

is no longer necessary to believe

in order to

in fact. many scholars argue that suspension of belief

is necessary for understanding.


The debate over whether one needs to believe or not in order

to study and understand continues to be strong in the North


American academy in light of the recency of the establishment of
the academic study of religion here.

I t is only since the turn of

this century that higher education began to slip away from the

37 I b i d . , 1 2 .

38 J . Samuel P r u e s s , E x p l a i n i n g Religion: Criticism a n d Theory


from Bodin to Freud (Val e U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s , l987), x .

domination of the church.

But the recognition of the study of

religion as a legitimate academic f i e l d came as late as m i d century. Significant for the basic rationale for the establishment
of American university departments of religion was the 1964 Schempp
case.

The U . S .

Supreme C o u r t ruled that prayer and devotional

B i b l e readings in public schools were unconstitutional under the

First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but that " ' t h e teaching
about religion, as distinguished f rom the teaching o f religion, in
t h e public schools' was lawful under the Amendment-"39

It was this

distinction which was crucial for the academic study of religion.


The situation in Canada is somewhat different since the lines
between neither church and state, nor r e l i g i o n and education, have
been drawn as distinctly as in the U . S . .

" [C1 hanges in the

conception and study of religion, rather than legal considerations

. . . led to renaming and tranforming of religion departments . . .

"

in

In Ontario. for example. historically the study of

Canada.O'

religion had been "directed to moral uplift, indoctrination, and


somet imes

proselyt izing .

But

when

the

many

private,

ecclesiastically-founded and -funded universities became publicly

funded in the 1960s and 1970s the approach shifted.

With the

university community's acceptance of "a distinction between the

39 Harol d Remus, W i 11 ia m Closson James and Dani el F r a i k i n,


Re 7 i g i o u s Studies i n O n t a r i o : A S t a t e - o f - t h e - A r t R e v i e w , S e r i e s :
The S t u d y o f Religion i n Canada, Vol. 3 ( W a t e r l o o , ON: W i l f r i d
L a u r i e r U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s , l992), 56.
40 I b i d . ,

Ibid.,

57.

religious study of religion and i t s secular study" departments of


the s tudy of religion were accepte6 as academically l e g i timate.12
it is to maintain this academic legitimacy that scholars like

Donald Wiebe insist on the academic approach to the study of


religion.

To fa11 back into a "crypto-theological" approach - a

term Wiebe often uses

is

to risk losing the very legitimacy

scholars sought so hard to gain by "establishing the 'scientific


Wiebe is concerned with who

objectivity of religious studies. * "43

will set the agenda and thus control the study of religion: "the
scholar-scientist or

the scholar-devotee, the church or

the

academy, the procedures of science or the (supposed) transcendent


subject-rnatter of that science . . . .

33

In academic study , the

"first principle of scholarship in the humanities and social


sciences" must be upheld; according to Bruce Alton, this means
there is no place for "unquestioned or unquestionable beliefs.
especially in the existence of a transcendent reality."'j A l 1 mus t
be open to questioning. but if the transcendent s u b j e c t matter
controls the study, then the existence of that subject matter is

42 C h a r l e s
P.
Anderson,
Guide t o R e 7 i g i o u s Studies in
Canada/Guide des Sciences Re 7 i g i e u s e s au Canada ( N . p . : C o r p o r a t i on

f o r t h e P u b l i c a t i o n o f Academic
1972), c i t e d i n I b i d . , 8.

Studies

i n Re1igion

i n Canada,

43 Donald Wiebe, "The f a i l u r e of n e r v e i n t h e acadernic study


o f r e l i g i on, " S t u d i e s in Re 7 igion/Sciences Re 7 igieuses 13.4 (Fa1 1
1984), 406.
CL

''

I b i d . , 401.

Bruce A l t o n ,
lfMethod and R e d u c t i o n i n t h e study of
r e l i g i o n , " Studies i n ReTigion/Sciences Religieuses 15.2 ( S p r i n g
1986), 1 5 4 .

not open for questioning.

"Since an unquestionable belief is the

product of a faith act. in this case religious faith. Wiebe (not to

mince words) accuses many scholars in the field of allowing their

faith, however 'rational,' to contaminate their work . . . . 46

In contrast, critics of Wiebe "argue that commitment and


practice (to Say nothing of praxis) are the only acceptable way to
pursue the study of religi~n."~' One of Wiebe's

most vocal

Canadian opponents has been Charles Davis, who argues that a


religious awareness is the sine qua non o f the scholar of religion.
Davis insists that "those with no taste for the divine are not in
a position to analyze the ingredients of religious experience nor

to distinguish good religion from bad. ""

In outright opposition

to Wiebe's position, Davis asserts that


[ t ]O assume that the subject-matter of religious studies can
be investigated in the same fashion as the objects o f natural
science is to run counter to both the convictions and the
practice of religious people. What, one may well ask, is the
point of religious discipline if any worldling of a
philosopher has acces to the same level of religious meaning
9
as the tried ascetic?1

Whereas Wiebe maintains that the goal of the academic study o f


religion "is an understanding of the phenomena/phenomenon religion
'contained in' s c i e n t i f i c a l l y w a r r a n t a b l e claims about religion and

46 I b i d .
47 Suan T h i t1 e t h w a i te, "Settl ed Issues and Negl ected
Q u e s t i o n s : How i s Re1 i g i o n to B e S t u d i e d ? " Journa 7 o f t h e American
Academy o f Re7 igion L X 1 1 . 4 ( W i n t e r l994), 1037.

48 C h a r l e s D a v i s , ' l - W h e r e i n There Is No E c s t a s y ,
R e 7 i g i o n / S c i e n c e s R e 7 i g i e u s e s 1 3 . 4 (l984), 3 9 4 .
49 I b i d .

"'

Studies in

religious traditions,n 5 0 Davis contends that "[tlhe student of


religion is unavoidably concerned with the experience of faith."jl
One must, according to Davis' approach to the study of religion,
believe in order to understand - which is precisely the heart of
the problem in the opinion of Wiebe. In fact, in order to maintain
the place for the study of religion in academia, Wiebe claims that
scholars must

ensure that "the value

systerns by which

such

individuals [ like Davis ] may be personally mot ivated to undertake


the study of religion not be allowed to determine the results of
their research.n52

Others concur with Wiebe, insiting that the

influence of "lingering theological and religious commitments a l 1


too often transform analysis into polemics and explanation into

apologetics . v 5 3

The result is that the academic tudy of religion

becomes a religious, as opposed to an academic. study . To prevent


such a transition, students of religion must maintain a neutral

position in relation to t h e i r

topic of study; Davis' "chief

thesis," however, is that " a neutral standpoint is a false and


illusory ideal. " j 4
Donald Wiebe, "*Why t h e Academic S t u d y o f R e l i g i o n ? ' M o t i v e
and Method i n t h e Study o f R e l i g i o n , " R e 7 i g i o u s Studies 2 4
( December 1988 ) , 4 0 8 .
D a v i s , " - W h e r e i n T h e r e 1 s No E c t a s y ,

l u

394.

52 Wiebe, "-Why t h e Acadernic Study o f R e 1 i g i o n ? ' . " 4 0 8 .


53 Mark C . T a y l o r , W n s e t t l i n g I s s u e s , " Joorna 7 o f t h e Arnerican
Academy o f Re 7 i g i o n L X I I . 4 ( W i n t e r l994), 952.
D a v i s , " * W h e r e i n T h e r e 1s No E c s t a y , ' " 399. W i t h r e f e r e n c e
t o W i e b e ' s own i n a b i l i t y t o r e m a i n n e u t r a l , D a v i s s t a t e s : "the
p a s s i o n is t h e r e a 1 1 t h e t i m e i n t h e b a r e l y c o n t r o l l e d in t e n s i t y
w i t h which Wiebe seeks o u t e v e r y symptom o f t h e t h e o l o g i c a l d i s e a s e

At issue is how religion should be studied and whether one


ought to be an "insider" - a devotee, personally committed to what

one is studying - or an "outsidern - detached observer - to pursue


this study.

Those in agreement with Wiebe view "religion as an

object to be tudied rather than as a creed to be followed."" Bu t

because this outsider/insider distinction has not been made clear,


scholars continue to fight:
Theologically-oriented students of religion [insiders] decry
the fundamental insensitivity and methodological illegitimacy
of the approach to religious phenomena taken by social
scientifically-inclined students of religion. while the latter
[outsiders] accuse the former of shying away from the rigours
of a proper method in their analyses n favour of an implicit
apologetic for religious experience.

The fact that many graduate programmes in the study of


religion have rarely completely cut their ties to already existing
divinity or theological schools, has not helped to clarify the
distinction or settle the argument.

Often the very p e o p l e who

teach the study of religion are cross-appointed from divinity


schools .ji

Sam Gill claims that because faculties of religion have

not been able to distinguish themselves from divinity schools, nor


to articulate what the academic study of religion is, departrnents
of religion remain a low budget priority for the university and the

...

[ I b i d . , 393.1

.It

55 E r i c Sharpe, Comparative Religion: A History


I l l . : Open C o u r t , 1986, second e d i t i o n ) , x i .

(La

Salle,

56 L o r n e L. Dawson, "The Irony o f Dichotornous T h i n k i n g : Can


The01 o g y and R e 1 ig i ous Thought b e I n c ~ m m e n s u r a t e ? ~
Method
~
and
Theory i n t h e Study of Re7igion 3.2 ( 1 9 9 1 ) , 1 8 4 .
57

Ironicall y , Donald Wiebe, h i r n s e l f , d i d hold such a p o s i t i o n .

"religious study of religionn is allowed to thrive .j8 Establihing


and maintaining the distinction is crucial for the survival of the
academic study of religion, claims Gill, for "[wlhen the academic
study of religion fails to understand and to accept the demands of
being a member of the academic community, which it does routinely,

it embraces vagueness: it invites its own dissolution. "j9

Wiebe

and others continue the fight to prevent this dissolution.

To avoid vagueness, then, 1 reiterate the following to clarify


my investigation:
1. This is not a religious study of religion, but an academic

investigation of religion, especially in its institutional form


(see the definition below) .
2. Religion is viewed in this study as a system of symbols

which provides for the devotee a framework regarding the general


order of existence. (This will becorne clear in my discussion of
religion as ideology.)
3. While 1 agree with Davis that a position of neutrality in

scholarship in general is impossible, every effort will be made to


adhere to Alton's "first principle of scholarship." Zt is not the
purpose of this study to legitimate religion, its object of belief,
ar its institutional form. The purpose, rather, is one of critique
and understanding.
While it is essential to delineate exactly what it is we are
to do in the study of religion, 1 concur with Russell YcCutcheon,
58 G i 1 1 , " T h e Academic S t u d y o f R e 1 ig i on, " 966.
59 I b i d . , 966-7.

who

laments

the

"longstanding

McCutcheon urges us

controversyw of

this

debate.

to move on from this debate to what he

considers to be of more urgency:

"modern ideology critique of

religious practices and doctrines.

Not o n l y is it time to move

on, but, according to Rudolph, it is precisely a focus on an


ideological critique of

religion

which

"can be

of

decisive

importance for the discipline's self-understanding and relative


autonomy . . . . [And] f r e e [ i t ] . . . from the clutches of theology and
missiology . w 61

ii. The church


Persons who hold in common and adhere to a particular set of
symbols which acts to formulate beliefs regarding t h e general order
of existence

a religion - and practice common corresponding

actions, are united as a community. S u c h a community, according to


Emile Durkheim. forms what is called t h e "church":

society whose members are united by the fact that they think
in the same way in regard to the sacred world and its
relations with the profane world, and b y the f a c t that they
translate these y m o n ideas into common practices, is what is
called a church.

References to "the churchw in this investigation will then refer to

a community of believers who are united by the common ground of the

McCutcheon, llIdeologyand the P r o b l e m o f Nami n g : A Repl y , l 1

255, n . 15.
61 Rudol p h ,

Historica 1 Fundamenta 1s and t h e Study o f R e 1 i g i o n ,

74.
62 Emi l e D u r k h e i m , The Elementary Forms o f t h e Religious L i f e
(London: A l l e n and U n w i n , 1957; c. 1915), 59.

belief system which informs their framework of thought and their


resultant

common

practices.

The

officia1

or

established

institutions of the church, in contrast, refers to a community of


believers in

its positive, institutional form, with its o m

hierarchy of poli tical power and teaching authorit structures ;


these are the actual cultural forms the church has taken throughout
its history.
The focus of this investigation will be on the Christian
religion in its established, historical form of an institutional
organization.

Reference to the distinction I maintain here finds

support in the following distinction offered by Leonardo Boff, a


Catholic theologian:
When we speak of the Church as institution, we do not mean the
community of believers who give witness in the world to the
presence of the risen Christ. We refer to the organization of
this community with its hierarchy, sacred powers dogmas ,
rites, canons, and traditions. By means of its institutional
organization the community responds to the needs for
stability, for identity, the spreading of the Gospel, interna1
assistance, government and so on. No community can exist
without some institutionalization that lends it unity,
coherency, and identity. The institution does not
ist for
itself but is in service to the community of faith.f
f

The question that will arise in our discussion of the church, will
be whether the institution does in fact exist in service to the
community of faith, or for the sake of its own existence.

iii. Theology

Defining "theology" is as contentious as is providing a


63 Leonardo B o f f , Church: Charisrn and P o w e r . L i b e r a t i o n
Theo7ogy and the Institutiona 7 Church, t r a n s . , John W . D i e r c k s m e i e r
(New Y o r k : Crossroad, 19851, 4 8 .

definition for "religion."

Ninian Smart suggests one ought to

differentiate between theology and religion with reference to their


different tasks.

The task of the "Religionist." Smart's term for

the scholar engaged in the academic study of religion, is to


"attempt[] as far as possible to describe and explain religion, and
so to contribute to the general stock of human knowledge and
science." The "task of Theology," on the other hand, States Smart,
"is to express a worldview and a cornitment."

Smart further

clarifies the dif ferentiation. explaining that if the study of


religion
has any share in this activity. it is at one remove. . . . [Wlhat
it [the study of religion] can do is to show that the
understanding of religion, and even of ideology, is a
necessary and indeed ilhinating part of the h man enterprise
of accounting for the world in which we live.6;1
A theology, then, expresses a worldview and a commitment . The

theologian engaged
community -

in this task. does so within a religious

for example, the Christian church.

Theologians

examine, analyze, articulate and defend the stories, practices and


symbols of the religious community in the forms of doctrine and

dogma and their theology is "governed by the values and aims of the
religious community -

n65

This is not to say that a theologian will

always agree with the contemporary theological positions of the


religious community. Indeed, there may be cases where a theologian

64 N i n i a n S m a r t ,
M a c m i l l a n , 1973), 1 4 8 .

The

Phenornenon

of

Rdigion

(New

York:

65 D e l w i n Brown, " B e l i e v i n g T r a d i t i o n s and t h e Task o f t h e


Academi c The01 ogi a n , " Journa 7 o f t h e A m e r i c a n Academy o f R e 7 i g i o n
L X I F . 4 (Winter 1994), 1167.

will take on the role of pointing out to the religious community


how its officia1 position has moved away from its theological
roots. The possibility that the theologian might be disciplined by
the religious community for making such a revelation is a risk the

theologian will have to weigh?


will

be

made

to

the

In thi present study, reference

Christian

church

whose

theological

conceptualizations sometimes support and perpetuate a worldview of


"domination both within the larger society and within their own
teachings and ecclesial structures, [...and sometimes] consciously
strive to promote and s u s t a i n the continuous pursuit of justice and
freedom in al1 dimensions of human experience. 67
t,

As

a scholar of religion, undertaking a study of the theology

of a religious community, 1 begin with an agenda different from


that of the theologian. The task here is not to express or defend
a worldview, but

to

examine the

"religious ideas... ,

moral

practices, rituals, institutions, etc, of concrete actual religious


communi t ies -

t168

In this case. the theological worldview which

either serves to perpetuate or challenge s t a t u s quo domination will

T h e r e are nurnerous examples where t h e C h r i s t i a n C h u r c h , as


an example o f one r e l i g i o u s community, has d e n i e d t h e o l o g i a n s t h e
r i g h t t o t e a c h o r speak p u b l i c l y a s a r e p r e s e n t a t i v e o f t h e Church
because t h e i r a n a f y s i s and c r i t i q u e o f t h o s e i d e a s have n o t
mai n t a i ned and s u p p o r t e d t h e Church ' s o f f ic i a l p o s i t i o n . T h e case
o f L e o n a r d o B o f f , a C a t h o l i c t h e o l o g i a n i n L a t i n America, i s b u t
one well known example.
67 Hewi tt ,
Religion," 22.

" L i b e r a t i on

Theol ogy

and

the

Emanci p a t i on

of

68 B r o w n , " B e f i e v i n g T r a d i t i o n s and t h e T a s k o f t h e Acadernic


Theologian," 1172.

be analyzed as reflective of the nature of the relationship between


a particular theology -

for this study. the theology of the

Christian church - and objects of art,


As well, in contrast to the theologian. the scholar of
religion works not under the auspices of a religious cornmunity, but
within the academy and must.

therefore.

live up

to Alton's

prescribed "first principle of scholarship in the humanities and


social

sciences: no

especially

in

the

unquestioned
existence

of

or

unquestionable

transcendent

beliefs,

reality. 69
VI

Accordingly in response to Delwin Brown 's proposal that " theology

. . .should be undertaken as
I

contend that

if

a religious studies discipline. . .

theology is

to

be

"10

undertaken as such a

discipline. the scholar must clearly have the freedom to question


and even disagree with the beliefs of the religious community including belief in a transcendent reality - without the threat of
discipline. Without this academic freedom. the study of theology
remains a fully religious study under

the domination of the

religious community and not a "fully academic" study of religion.


contrary to what Brown might have us believe.71
69 A l t o n , "Method and R e d u c t i on in t h e S t u d y of Re1 ig i on,
70 Brown, " B e l i e v i n g T r a d i t i o n s and t h e T a k
T h e o l o g i a n , " 1172.

'' I b i d . ,

"

154.

of t h e Academic

1175.
Brown s t a t e s t h a t " q u i t e p o i n t e d l y ,
.much o f t h e o p p o s i t i o n
to t h e o l o g y among r e l ig i o u s s t u d i e s s c h o l a r s i s s i r n p l y p r e j u d i c i a l ,
t h e i r own i n s t i n c t i v e resi s t a n c e t o o7d in t e l l e c t u a l s h a c k l e s t h a t ,
d e s p i t e t h e i r p r o t e s t a t i o n s , s t i 11 r e s t r a i n t h e r n . " [ I b i d . , 1178. ]
S h a c k l e s and a l l , 1 m a i n t a i n t h a t t h e o l o g y and t h e s t u d y of
r e l i g i o n a r e two d i f f e r e n t e n t e r p r i s e s : t h e f o r m e r , as t h e t a s k of
t h e t h e o l o g i a n w i t h i n a r e l i g i o u s comrnuni t y , is r e s p o n s i b l e t o t h a t

..

In his The I r o n y of Theology and the Nature of Religious


Thought, Wiebe sets forth the thesis that there is

something deeply ironic about theology understood as rational


religion or as a process of rationalizing religion . . . . [EJven
though theology's object of interest is "the gods," it is not
itself an essentially religious undertaking.
To put it
bluntly, it can be shown that, even though theology appears to
emerge from within the matrix of religion and in aid and
support of religion, it is in fact detrimental to religion and
the religious form of life because its primar~intention is at
odds with fundamental religious aspirations.i 2
1 concur with Wiebe's claim that theology is "detrimental to the

religious life" and the resulting irony of the enterprise, for


theological questioning can ultimately lead to questions of the
origins of religion and the existence of "the gods ."

In other

words, theology can move beyond a strictly theological enterprise


and lead into the realm of the academic, to the scientific study of
religion - as indeed it did. This is no longer a religious, but an
academic, enterprise, as we have seen.
However, when Wiebe expands the above thesis, I must disagree.

He states: "theology, which it is generally agreed is a rational/


scientific enterprise, is not an essentially religious activity but
rather, quite to the contrary, one ultimately detrimental to the
religious life. tJ3

While theology can be studied by the scholar

of religion "at one remove," to quote Smart, I dispute Wiebe's

cornmuni t y .

The s t u d y of rel i g i o n , and t h e s t u d y o f theology by t h e


scholar of r e l i g i o n , is responsi b l e o n l y to t h e p r i n c i p l e s o f t h e

academy .

'*

W i ebe,

T h e I r o n y o f TheoTogy, 7.

73 I b i d . , 1 1 .

assumed generally agreed upon claim. that theology itself "is a


rational/scientific enterprise [and] not an essentially religious
activity." 1 base my position on the claim that while theological
questioning may ironically be the spring board of inquiry which
leads beyond itself to the scientific study of religion. the

enterprise of theology remains irrational and religious, for above


any academic freedom is the rule of the religious community, whose
guiding principles and beliefs often defy rationality. And even if

one were to insist on using the term theology in its classical


form. which considers theology to be the scientific study of faith
aided by revelation and the teaching authority of the Church, in
the present climate of the volatile debate within the field of
religion. clarity as to what we mean must be our top priority.
1 maintain

that inherent in theological study as undertaken by

the theologian. the tenet of Classical Western Theology remains


firm: it is necessary to believe in order to understand.

To want

to know for the sake of knowing is to cross the threshold of


theology and enter the realm of what scholars such as Kiebe cal1
"science." While theologians might doubt the faith. their doubts
rernain a catalyst for their theological inquiry.

Accordingly

contrary to Wiebe's assertion, theological inquiry does include an


a priori assumption as determined b y the beliefs of the religious

community regarding the ontological existence of "the g~ds."~'

There is nothing scientifically rational about such an assumption.

Wiebe,

The I r o n y o f

TheoTogy, 10.

39

and a study which has such an assumption cannot live up to the


" first principle of scholarship."

While Wiebe's distinction between " 'thinking religiously' and


'thinking theologically'" may be appropriate according to his
discussion of "rnythopoeic thought , " I would not agree that they are
"obviously incommensurate modes of thought.', 75

On the one hand,

1 agree with Wiebe's basis for this argument, which is: "1 do not

consider it possible that myth and science can, logically, coexist


in the same mind. "i6

However. on the other hand. s i n c e 1 do not

consider theo1ogy.a science because its enquiry is governed by the


religious, not the scientific comunity and it therefore will not
question the existence of God, I

cannot agree that thinking

theologically and thinking religiously (that is, as a religious


person) are

incommensurate.

consider them, quite

contrary, to be part of the same mode of thought.


overall argument Wiebe

puts

forth

in his

book

to

the

While the

has made

significant contribution to the current debate, his terminology is


problematic. Where Wiebe uses the term "theology," 1 suggest that
in the present climate of debate one ought to use the term "the
acadernic study of religion."

The difficulty with using the term

"theology" as Wiebe does, becomes apparent in his discussion of


"academic theology," which, he states
attempts to be scientific in the sense that the other sciences
seek a natural (nonrevelational)knowledge about the world.. . .
'[Tjheology' [to be distinguished from 'academic theology']
75 I b i d .

76 I b i d . , 8 5 , n . 1 .

uses reason ( l o g o s ) to explicate 'the Faith' (mythos or


prephilosophical wisdom). al1 the while maintaining that 'the
Faith' (mythos) is not - at least not fully - rationally
explicable, and that it therefore transcends reason and
theology. This hybrid kind of thinking seems to constitute a
theology only in the sense that it attempts to create
plausible arguments for beliefs which people either hold or
are eyected to hold on other than rational grounds - by
faith.
Precisely because. as Wiebe so clearly explains, theology maintains
"that 'the Faith' . . A s not

. . . rationally explicable." neither

theology nor "theologyn are a rational or a scientific, but a


religious exercise. Whereas Wiebe refers to this as a "hybrid kind

"'* maintain that this

of thinking," or a "confessional theology.

type of thought is exactly what constitutes theology qua theology


(use of scare quotes only adds to the confusion - and perhaps
frustration).

The type of theology which Wiebe claims is a

"scientific discipline of the sarne order as the other disciplines


to be found in the university curriculum,,,i9 is, according to him,
a theology
of a scientific character in that, as 1 thought it possible,
it could accept the demands of intellectual honesty in the
sense of abandoning any absolute/ultimate commitments, leaving
itself open to radical change, including abandonment of its

77 I b i d . , 175.
W i e b e ' s need t o d i s t i n g u i s h d i f f e r e n t t y p e s o f t h e o l o g y ( c o n f e s s i o n a l ) t h e 0 1 ogy as opposed t o (academi c ) t h e 0 1 ogy
i 1l u s t r a t e s t h e d i f f i c u l t y
in h e r e n t i n h i s a r g u m e n t .
The
d i f f i c u l t y and c o n f u s i o n i s compounded w i t h h i s i n s i s t e n c e on
theology w i t h ("theologyw) versus theology w i t h o u t ( t h e o l o g y ) scare
quotes.
I m a i n t a i n t h a t t h e o l o g y i s t h e o l o g y is t h e o l o g y ;
o t h e r w i s e i t i s t h e acadernic s t u d y o f r e l i g i o n o f w h i c h we speak.

Wiebe, "The
r e l i g i o n , " 421.
79 Wiebe,

fai lure

of

nerve

in

The I r o n y o f T h e o l o g y , 1 2 .

the

academic

study

of

position.
In this sense, ... theology (philosophical,
theoretical, or scientific), as 'the rational of God or the
gods' countenances the possibility of reductipism, although
it does not, quite obviously, necessitate it.
Although the intellectual honesty of theology may be ironically
detrimental to the faith and lead one into a scientific inquiry.
the fact that theology is governed by the religious community,
itself puts a lirnit on that intellectual honesty. Because 1 do not
agree that

theology

by

its very

nature can

"abandon[] any

absolute/ultimate commitmentsn and countenance the possibility of


reductionism, to

cal1

such

an

exercise

as

described

above

" theologyn by any name, including "academic theology , " merely


confuses the matter and muddies the waters of the debate.

What

Wiebe has in mind here constitutes, au c o n t r a i r e , the academic


study of religion precisely because of the limits placed on
theology by the religious community - the a priori assumption of
the existence of the absolute and the unarticulated assumption of
the authority of the religious leaders. This academic study may,
indeed, include the study of the theology of a religious community,

as a study of religious ideas, which is quite separate and distinct


from theology as a form of "mythopoeic thinking."

In fact, in

order to strengthen his arsenal for the fight, 1 would caution


Wiebe

on his

insistence that

"theologyn

is

rational and

scientific enterprise - for if it is, why does one need to cal1


Wiebe's discipline the academic study of religion? This academic

80 Wiebe, "The
religion, " 4 2 1 .

fai l u r e o f

nerve

in

the

academic

tudy o f

study. however, may

inclride

the study of the theology of a

religious community, as a study of religious ideas: but it i s the


purity of this study which Wiebe fights so hard to protect from
"confessional theology,""crypto-theologicalthinking,""mythopoeic
thinking," or any of the other derivatives of "theology" he uses.
There are scholars in the field of religion wtio vehemently
contest Wiebe's insistence on a distinction between theology and
religion and who continue to fight for an elision of the two which they insist is the inherently correct approach anyway.
example, in her book, Buddhism After Patriarchy: A

For

Feminist

H i s tory, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism, Ri ta Gross

chastises scholars who, like Wiebe, rarely blend their scholarly


perspectives "into one spiritual and scholarly outlook, as [ s h e
has] sought to do in [ h e r ] personal and academic life. v81
explicitly states that her

methodology

"in every

~ros

case,

...

combine[s] methods and approaches that most scholars separate.,,82


When thinking about religion and the study of religion, Gross

intentionally and unapologetically combines the "approaches of


history of religions and of theology." In seeming contrast to al1

that Wiebe has

*'

argued

for, Gross

insists on

"method of

R i t a G r o s s , Buddhisrn A f t e r P a t r i a r c h y : A F e r n i n i t H i s t o r y ,
Ana I y s i s ,
and Reconstruction o f Buddhism ( A l bany , NY: S t a t e
U n i v e r s i t y o f New Y o r k P r e s s , 1 9 9 3 ) , 3 .
I would 1 i k e t o express appreciation to Marsha H e w i tt, who
p o i n t e d me i n t h e d i r e c t i o n o f t h i s s t u d y by G r o s s .
82 I b i d . ,

5.

inseparability,"Il3 and sees no conflict ; rather. she considers her

method to be "a complete and well-rounded approach. ""

Gross

refers to herself as both an "insider and outsider," for she is "an


engaged historian of religions
a "Buddhist 'theologian.'

- and even r e f e r s to herself as

In fact. in her opinion. the question

of which approach, that of the insider or the outsider. "provides


the best approach to and the most accurate understandings of
religion . . . p ose[s] a false dichotomy."

She argues against the

exclusive use of one approach over the other.

As she explains it ,

one approach is incomplete without the other; while "the tools and
the insights of the outsider provide much that is absolutely
essential to the study of religion. . . .The perspective of the
insider provides a level of understanding not otherwise available
that provides warmth and intimacy - a kind of depth not available
without direct experience of the phenomenon being studied.,,87
Although she knows she will be called a ltcrypto-theologianl'
by
sorne scholars - "clearly an assessment lower than 'misguided,' or
'feeble-minded,"'*' - G r o s maintains her position that in the long

run, one cannot "do justice to the phenomenon of religion by

83 I b i d .
Ibid.

85 I b i d . , 3 0 5 .
86 I b i d . , 5 .
j7

I b i d . , 316.

'*

I b i d . , 307-8

limiting oneself to one or the other approach. "89

~ r o s lament

that "at present the academic study of religion is hopelessly


divided into two subdisciplines that do not seriously engage each
other, rather than being a unif ied and coherent discipline.
Because in her view, the present insistence on a separation of

theology and the study of religion "represents a significant loss

for al1 concerned * Gross has abandoned her "allegiance to one side
or the other of this division within religious studies." and
proposes instead to combine the two approa~he.~'Basic to Gross'
methodology then is what some scholars, like Marsha Hewitt, would
term a "conflation of the study of theology, the religious point of
view and the study of religion. ,92

Gross * s perspective clearly

disregards and ignores the argument that Hewitt, Wiebe and other
scholars have set up that " [ t Jheology. the religious point of view

and the study of religion are not to [sic] the same thing; [ f o r ]

they involve different rnethodologies and critical perspectives. 93

In response to those who would accuse her of collapsing and

''

I b i d . , 306.
Ibid.,

309.

91 I b i d .

92 H e w i t t ,
R e l i g i o n , " 17.

Ydeology

Critique,

Feminism

and

the

Study o f

93 I b i d .
D i s t i n g u i s h i n g between t h e s t u d y o f r e l i g i o n frorn a r e l i g i o u s
p o i n t o f view and an academic p o i n t o f v i e w i s c r i t i c a l f o r
c a r r y i ng o u t an id e o l o g i cal c r i t i q u e o f r e l ig i on, a c c o r d i ng t o
H e w i t t , who suggests t h a t " t h e study o f r e l i g i o n frorn a r e l i g i o u s
p o i n t o f view r e s u l t s i n t h e m e t h o d o l o g i c a l i n s t a n t i a t i o n o f
ideology i n t h e academic process, t h e r e b y undermi n i n g t h e c r i t i c a l
p o t e n t i a l o f ideology c r i t i q u e . " [ I b i d . ]

muddying "the distinction between studying religion and taking a


religious point of view," Gross simpfy replies: " that is not the

case at all.

Rather, [she] believes that [she is] able to, and

must. do both, knowing clearly which is being done when. .91


fact, in her

opinion, one

"cannot otherwise

In

function as

responsible. engaged scholar living and working in our chaotic


world.

Not only [ d o e s she] advocate such simultaneous work in

theology and history of religion; [she] contendis] that it always


occurs in adequate or inadequate fashions , in al1 considerations of
religion, so we might as well do it openly and thoroughly.n 9 5

For

Gross, the elision between theology and the study of religion is


complete.

In light of this elision by Gross, it becomes more apparent


than ever that Wiebe ought to maintain an absolute distinction
between theology and the academic study of religion. To emphasise
as W i e b e does, that " theology" (in scare quotes) is something which
could b e considered a rational and scientific enterprise confounds
the problem.

On the one hand, Gross would have scholars o f

religion collapse theology and the study of religion on the basis


of an ontological reality from the insider's perspective and in
fact insist on their identity with one another.

Wiebe. on the

other hand. would have us adopt two definitions of theology distinguished from one another merely via scare quotes.

94 G r o s s ,

95 I b i d .

Buddhisrn A f t e r Patriarchy, 31 7.

Wiebe's

subtle distinction, faced with Gross's insistence on identity,


becomes meaningless.

My disagreement then, with Wiebe, is over the nuance in his


terminology. Because the debate is so muddy. and has in many cases
become so emotionally driven and so persona1 - and in the case of
Cross, so complete

it is absolutely essential that scholars of

religion, such as Wiebe, be as clear as possible in their use of


terminology.

If one's usage

is not clearly and distinctly

explained and adhered to, one could find that one's words could be
appropriated by those with whom one disagrees, one's words could be

made to say precisely what one does not want them to say.

And

to try to rely on a method of inserting theology in scare quotes in


order to distinguish one's usage ignores the fact that the word
theology, itself, is loaded in the present context of the field of
study.

The scare quotes can be al1 too easily disregarded and

scholars of religion can easily Say: "See, even Wiebe agrees that
theology is a scientific enterprise so to undertake one's study of
religion as a theologian fits within the enterprise of the academic
study of religion. " Wiebe rnay argue that their misunderstanding of
h i s terrninology is not his problem; indeed, however, it fuels the

fires of the already over-heated debate.


To reiterate, then, my references to theology will be in
reference to the expression of a worldview and a commitment. As a
scholar of religion, my study of theology in this manner. remains
96 A l though t h i rnight happe" regardless o f o n e ' s e f f o r t s , a t
l e a s t one w i 11 have atternpted i n t h e b e s t way p o s s i b l e t o a v o i d
such a s i t u a t i o n .

at one remove, in an attempt "to show that the understanding of


religion, and

even

of

ideology, is

a necessary and

indeed

illuminating part of the human enterprise of accounting for the


world in which we l i v e . ,, 97

iv. Religion as an established institution

The pattern of the movement of the Christian religion from its


charismatic beginning to its contemporary established concrete form
wi11 be analyzed in Chapter 2 u n d e r the heading "Religion as
concept and reality."

In brief, religion as an established historical institution in


this investigation refers to the Christian church organized around
heteronomous structures with hierarchies of political power and
teaching authority. The term "institution" is used in the sense of
social

institutions, which

are

defined

as

"

the

regularized

practices st ructured by rules and resources [which] are 'deeply


iayered' in time and space, stretching through many decades and
o v e r large or fixed domains. .. . Institutions are clusterings of the

practices that constitute social systems. ""

Power and authority

at the "institutional level," refer here to "a capacity which


enables or empowers some agents to make decisions, pursue ends or

realize interests; it empowers them in such a way that. without

97 S m a r t ,

The Phenornenon o f R e l i g i o n , 1 4 8 .

98 Anthony Giddens, C e n t r a 7 ProbTems i n S o c i a 7 T b e o r y : A c t i o n ,


S t r u c t u r e and C o n t r a d i c t i o n i n S o c i a 7 Ana 7ysis ( London : Macrni 1 1 a n ,
1 9 7 9 ) , 1 0 7 , ci ted i n Thompson, S t u d i e s i n t h e T b e o r y o f I d e o i o g y ,
154.

this institutionally endowed capacity, they would not have been

able to carry out the relevant course. ""

Also significant to

power in an institution is that the capacity of power is "limited


by the structural conditions which circumscribe the range of

institutional variation" and when the relations of power are


"systematically asymmetrical, then the situation
as one of domination."loO

may

be described

In cases of systematically asymmetrical

relations of power, one agent is institutionally endowed with a


capacity of power in a way which excludes and remains inaccessible
to other agents, "irrespective of the basis upon which such
exclusion

is

Relations of

carried out. "'Oi

domination

are

sustained, according to Thompson, in three ways: 1) when they are


represented

as

legitimate

"rational,

via

traditional,

or

charismatic grounds;" 2) b y means of dissimulation, where the


"interests of

some agents at the expense of others rnay be

concealed, denied

or

'blocked'

...and present themselves as

something other than what they are;" and 3) through reification,


where transitory states of affairs, such as the present existence
of an institution, is represented

"as if it were permanent,

natural, outside of time.,,102


The structures of an established institution such as the

99 Thompson,

S t u d i e s i n t h e Theory o f I d e o l o g y ,

'O0

I b i d . , 130.

'O1

Ibi d .

'O2

Ibid.,

131.

129.

church are administratively run and guided by the values and aims
of the church as an officially organized institution. Because the
social totality of the church is not, in my view. a coherent unity
- for there are evidences of prophetic voices who

legitimate the s t a t u s

quo

refuse to

- one cannot merely refer to a concept

"the church" in this discussion.

Rather, through history, the

followers of the Christian religion have established various forms


of the Christian church and have claimed for it teaching authority
and some form of a hierarchy of power.

I will argue that the

church, as a community of believers, which has evolved into the


various historical forms of an officia1 institutional church, has
often abdicated its prophetic role in favour of adoption of a
bureaucratic form of the social institutions in the world around
it .

Through the

institutionalization process , the Christian

religion has for the most part abandoned its original identity
which made

it something which stood apart

from, rather than

identifying with, the social reality around it.


The period of significant transition, according to Rosernary

Radford Ruether, was the period of "the five centuries during which
the Christian church itself is transformed from a marginal sect
wi thin the messianic renewal movements of first century Judaism
into the new imperial religion of a Christian Roman Empire."103

The oral tradition of the sayings and teacbings of Jesus were

gathered together in writing at that time and "cast in the form of

'O3 Rosernary Radford R u e t h e r , Sexism and God-Ta 7 k :


Feminist Theo 70gy (Boston : Beacon P r e s s , l983), 122.

Toward a

biographical dramas , " which became the "definit ive texts of the
sayings of the Lord."lU4 The "Spirit sent by Christ to the
community," notes Radford Ruether,

is no longer to 'blow where it will' but is institutionalized


in the authority of bishops.. . .Both the interpretation of the
words of Christ and the power of reconciliation with God is
to be wrested from the hands of charisrnatics, prophets, and
martyrs and placed in the hands of the eq%pcopacy, which takes
over the claims of apostolic authority.
What began as a charismatic movement, developed into a "social
institution, conservative rather than prophetic in nature. .i06
I will propose that there is an inherent contradiction in the

established cnurch's abdication of its identity as something other


than the world, in favour of an identity with something of the
world; 1 wi11 argue that remnants of this contradiction are
apparent and can be highlighted in a critique of the historical
forms of the institutional church.
will

follow

the

Frankfurt

To develop this argument, 1

School's

referred to as "immanent critique. "

methodological approach,

According to Horkheimer, an

immanent critique compares a concept with its reality.loi

In the

case of social institutions. such as religion in the form of


established authoritative structures, the social institutions and
their activities are compared with the values they themselves have
-

'O4

Ibid.

'O5 I b i d . , 1 2 3 .
'O6 Paul Peachy, " P r e f a c e , t 1 Concern: A Pamph 7et
( S c o t t d a l e : H e r a l d P r e s s , l956), 3.

Series, Vol

'O7 Max Horkheimer, " N o t e s on Institute A c t i v i ti e s t t i n C r i t i c a l


Theory and S o c i e t y : A Reader, e d s . , Stephen E r i c B r o n n e r
Douglas Mackay Kellner (New Y o r k : R o u t l e d g e , 1989), 264 f f .

and

set up as their standards and ideals.

This analysis reveals that

social agencies most representative of the present pattern of


society ,

"disclose a pervasive discrepancy be tween what

actually are and the values they accept.

they

The rift between

value and reality, claims Horkheimer, is typical of the totality of


modern culture.

Adopting the assumptions of this method, 1 will

undertake an analysis of a single social institution representative


of the prevailing pattern of reality - in this case, religion in
its concrete forms of established, authoritative structures of the
Christian church - which "may be far better able to develop and
grasp the nature of the pattern than would an extensive compilation
and description of assorted facts.n 109

v. Ideology
As Geertz notes, "one of the

minor

intellectual history [is] that the term


thoroughly ideologized.d10
was

once

"neutral," has

ironies of

modern

'ideology' has become

A concept which, according to Geertz.

become

saturated

with

polemical

connotations. The "neutral" definition of ideology, according to

'O8

Ibid., 2 6 5 .

Ibid., 2 6 6 .
This methodology
and
the
particular
application
and
presuppositions will be examined i n more detail i n Chapter 2.
'O9

Geertz, "Ideology A s a Cultural Systern,'< i n Interpretation


o f Cu7tures, 194.

A more extensive analysi s o f i deology w i 1 1 be found i n Chapter


2 of this investigation; here 1 o f f e r a preliminary definition.

Geertz, is "an ordered system of cultural symbols.di .An ideology


is established, he notes, in response to "a loss of orientation

. . . , an

inability, for lack of usable models, to comprehend the

universe of civic rights and responsibilities in which one finds


o n e s e l f located.

one

grasps

With the a i d of ideological concepts, w h i c h

via

"suasive

images." one

reaches

a meaningful

understanding of the social structure in which one lives.

In

response. one is able to act p u r p o s e f u l l y within that structure.


The ideology by which one reaches this understanding, also compels

a certain attitude towards the order of that social structure and


one becomes committed to the w a y in which the ideology names that
structure.

The style of ideology, maintains Geertz, "is ornate,

vivid, deliberately suggestive," for ideology objectifies moral

sentiment and is act ively concerned wi th establishing and defending


patterns of b e l i e f and values. 113
In light of the fact that, as Geertz suggests, ideology has
been

thoroughly ideologized, '' scholars like Thompson contend that

"the term

cannot be easily

. . . ' [ Ildeology'

Geertz,

stripped of its negative sense.

is not a neutral term.

'

Thornpon argues intead

"Ideology A s a C u l t u r a l System," 196.

I b i d . , 219.
I b i d . , 231.
Ilc Thompson, Studies i n the T h e o r y o f I d e o l o g y , 1 - 2 .
Thompson c o n t i n u e s t h i s l i n e o f argument w i t h t h e f o l l o w i n g :
"Few p e o p l e today would
proudly proclaim themselves t o be
' i d e o l o g i sts
, whereas many w o u l d n o t h e s i tate t o d e c l a r e t h a t t h e y
were c o n s e r v a t i ves, soci a1 i s t s o r r e v o l u t i o n a r i e s . Ideology i s the
thought o f t h e o t h e r , t h e t h o u g h t o f someone o t h e r t h a n o n e s e l f .
To c h a r a c t e r i z e a view as ' i d e o l o g i c a l ' is a7ready t o c r i t i c i z e i t ,

for a critical conception of ideology. which preserves the negative


connotation. Thus. the term ideology is linked "to the process of
sustaining asymmetrical relations of power -

that is, to the

process of maintaining domination. . . . [And] the analysis of ideology

In this particular

(is bound] to the question of critique."'15

study, the term ideology will be used in the sense of its critical
conception and Thompson's understanding of the study of ideology
will be adhered to: "To study ideology . . A s to study the ways in

which meaning (or signification) serves to sustain relations of


dominat ion.'"16
Religion will be analyzed as an ideological cornplex. the
commitment and thought patterns of which are manifest in the
actions of the religious devotee. And the study of the ideology of

be

religion. will

a study of the ways

in which

religious

signification has been used to sustain relations of domination


within established institutions of the Christian church. To refer
to Geertz once again:
Religion is sociologicaliy interesting not because, as
vulgar positivism would have i t , it describes the social order
(which, in so far as it does. it does not only very obliquely
but very incornpletely), but because, like environment.
political power, wealth, juralobligation. persona1 affection,

f o r 'ideology'

i s not a neutral term."

[Ibid.]

Ibid., 4.
Ibid.
T h e r e a r e as many d e f i n i t i o n s o f i d e o l o g y as p e o p l e who u s e
t h e term.
Thompson's d e f i n i t i o n w i 1 1 be a d h e r e d t o f o r t h e
purposes o f t h i s i n v e s t i g a t i o n , f o r i t o f f e r s a c l e a r , c r i t i c a f ,
M a r x i s t d e f i n i t i o n , c o i n c i d i n g w i t h the same s e n s e o f t h e t e r m a s
Adorno used i t .

and a sense of beauty, it shapes it.117


1 will argue that the ways in which religion and ideology shape the

social order, including the authoritative structures of religion,


are significant for the nature of their relationship with art.

vi. Autonomous art

According to Adorno, "[alrt is not some well dernarcated area


but a momeotary, fragile balance.

Not trying then. to define

art, in this present study 1 will refer to art which is autonomous


( a u t o s , which means "self," and nomos, which means "law," thus,

being a law to oneself) . Art which maintains its autonomy insists


on maintaining non-identity with its context; i t refuses to be
ruled by an external law. Adorno maintains that art's autonomy is
precisely an outgrowth of art's "struggle with society.

l'

However,

art is not created ex n i h i l o , but rather is created out of and in


response to its socio-historical context.

Thus, as a cultural

artifact with origins in a heteronomous essence, the autonomy of

art

is

in

"ever-present danger

[.

..

of ]

relaps[ing]

into

heteronomy . 119
lf

In a discussion of art's expression, Adorno establishes the


difference between art which is autonornous and art which is not:

I b i d . , 119.
And i n c o n t r a s t t o s c h o l a r s o f t h e " v u l g a r p o s i t i v i s t " t y p e ,
1 m a i n t a i n that a c r i t i q u e o f t h e i d e o l o g y o f r e l i g i o n i s
essential, as w i 11 become c l e a r f rom t h i s i n v e s t i g a t i o n .
'la Adorno,

Aesthet

I b i d . , 337-8.

ic

T h e o r y , 41 6 .

Art is imitation only to the extent to which it is objective


expression, far removed from psychology. There may have been
a time long ago when this expressive quality of the objective
world generally was perceived by the human sensory apparatus.
I t no longer is. Expression nowadays lives on only in art.
Through expression art can keep at a distance the moment of
being-for-other which is always threatening to engulf it. Art
is thus able to speak in itself. This is its realization
through mimesis.
Art ;fi expression is the antithesis of
"expressing something . "
1 will establish throughout the ensuing chapters

the dif ference

between the expression of autonomous art and art which is engulfed


by

"the moment

of

being-for-other" and

made

to express

in

accordance with some heteronomous rule.


The connection with the world in which autonomous art is
created and to which it responds, is a key element in art's
critique of that world.

Because art intimately knows that world,

from its stance of critique, art is able to reveal the cracks and
fissures of the world for what they are: art lays bare what al1
know and recognise, but none are wiliing to articulate.121

vii. Prophetic voice of art

As this investigation is restricted to the Christian religious

tradition, it may be helpful at this point to highlight rny analogy


between

the artist

and

the

prophet

with

reference

to

the

"prophetic-liberating tradition of Biblical faith," as outlined b y

I2O I b i d . , 163-4.
12' The terrns "autonornous a r t " and " a r t , " a s w e 1 1 as " a u t h e n t i c
a r t " w i 11 be used i n t e r c h a n g e a b l y i n t h i s i n v e s t i g a t i o n . When t h e
d i s c u s s i on r e f e r s t o a r t w h i ch is n o t autonomous, i t w i 1 1 be n o t e d .

Rosemary Radford Ruether .122

The prophets of the Jewish and

Christian traditions are the spokespersons of God, whose words


often contradict and cal1 into question the assumed way of thinking
and living of the dominant culture.

I t is the task of the prophet

to bring to light the lie of "the closed world of managed reality"


which the people have corne to accept as t r ~ t h . ' ~ ~And when
religious leaders define their r o l e as "stabilizing the existing
social order and justifying its power structure,"12' then it is the
prophet who must critique the status quo of the religion itself.
In fact, as described by Radford Ruether, the mission of the
prophet was to evoke "a continua1 confrontation with the scribal
and priestly leaders and their self-serving use of religion to
enforce their own sacred caste. "12'

The prophetic-liberating

tradition cannot, however, be cast into a "static set of 'ideas'."


Rather, inherent in this tradition is a "plumb line of truth and
untruth, justice and injustice that has to be constantly adapted to
changing social contexts and circumstances.,, 126
In the chapters that follow, 1 will argue that the Christian

122 Radford R u e t h e r , S e x i s m and God-Ta l k , 2 4 .


123 W a l t e r Brueggemann, The Prophetic I m a g i n a t i o n
(Phi l a d e l p h i a : F o r t r e s s P r e s s , W 7 8 ) , 66.
Or to b o r r o w f r o m Noam
Chomsky, prophets r e v e a l the h o r r i f i c r e a l i t y o f " m a n u f a c t u r e d
consent.

124 Radford R u e t h e r ,

S e x i s m and God-Talk,

29.

125 I b i d . , 2 7 .

Ibid.
As 1 w i l l a r g u e , t h e same i s t r u e f o r a r t , f o r i t , too, must
respond t o t h e s i t u a t i o n i n w h i c h i t i s c r e a t e d .

religion in its established, positive forms has in many ways


abdicated its prophetic role and conformed to an identity with the
social-historical context of the world around

it . 127

Art

as

critique has taken on or m a y take on religion's prophetic t a s k . 1 2 8


Basic to my discussion is the contention that art cannot be
isolated from its function as a cultural artifact of a sociohistorical context , for, indeed, this is precisely what art is. Ln
its prophetic role, autonomous art gives life to an impulse which
established church institutions have abandoned. Like the prophets

of the Jewish and Christian religious traditions, art can respond


to t h e world around it by calling for an end to domination and
oppression, by articulating the suffering and struggles of that
world, and by revealing the ways in which present reality f a l l s
short of a utopian conception of what it might be or ought to
be .12'

Indeed. as

Horkheimer

stated:

"art. since

it

became

127 I n h e r e n t i n m y usage o f t h e t e r m l'world" i n r e f e r e n c e t o


a r t ' s r e l a t i o n s h i p t o i t s w o r l d , o r t h e church i n r e l a t i o n s h i p t o
t h e world a r o u n d i t , i s t h e i d e a o f t h e s o c i a l - h i s t o r i c a l c o n t e x t
i n which t h a t work o f
art
i s created,
or
i n which t h a t
in s t i t u t i o n a l s t r u c t u r e o f t h i s church i s e s t a b l ished.
128 Io no way do I mean t o i n d i c a t e t h a t a r t i s t o be viewed as
an E r s a t z r e 7 i g i o n , b u t r a t h e r t h a t a r t may c a r r y o u t t h e p r o p h e t i c
t a s k o f r e l ig i o n .

lz9 Al so h e l p f u l here i s R i c h a r d R o r t y rs argument t h a t "people


who a r e s u f f e r i ng, do n o t have much in t h e way o f a l anguage. That
i s why t h e r e i s no such t h i n g s as " t h e v o i c e o f t h e oppressed" o r
t h e ' 1anguage o f t h e v i c t ims. ' The language t h e v i c t i m s once used
i s n o t w o r k i n g anymore, and t h e y a r e s u f f e r i n g t o o much t o p u t new
words together.
So t h e j o b o f p u t t i n g t h e i r s i t u a t i o n i n t o
language i s g o i n g t o have t o be done for them b y somebody e l se.
. n o v e l is t , p o e t , o r j o u r n a l i s t is good a t t h a t . " [ R i c h a r d
The
Rorty, " P r i v a t e ir o n y and 1ib e r a l hope, " chap. in Contingency,
i r o n y , a n d s o 7 i d a r i t y (New Y o r k : Cambridge U n i v e r s i t y Press, 198% ]

. .

autonomous,

has

preserved

the

utopia

that

evaporated

from

religion.,,130
Adorno argues that a r t ought to a r t i c u l a t e the oppressive
conditions of i t s s o c i a l c o n t e x t ; i n fact, he proposes that
[slurely it would be better for art t o vanish altogether than
to forget suffering, which is art's expression and which g i v e s
substance t o its form
Suffering, not positivity, is the
humane content of a r t . r3 1

Art

ought not

to

avoid

"[plerennial s u f f e r i n g

being

the voice

has as much

of suffering, for
to e x p r e s s i o n as a

right

tortured man has to scream. . .n132 - even a f t e r A u s c h w i t z .

In t h i s

voice of s u f f e r i n g - this Leidensprache - it is made clear that


things are not as they should be. The voice o f s u f f e r i n g longs for
tbings to be different.

The prophetic voice of art is critical of the society around

Horkheimer,

' < A r t . and Mass C u l t u r e ,

l1

i n

Critica7

Theory:

Se7ected Essays, 275.


The u t o p i a n t h i n k i n g o f t h e c r i t i c a l
social theory o f
Horkheimer and Adorno "was i n s p i r e d S y t h e f a i t h i n a b s o l u t e
j u s t i c e , t h a t i s , t h a t the t o r t u r e r a n d t h e m u r d e r e r d o n o t have
t h e l a s t word i n h i s t o r y , and t h a t t h e i n n o c e n t have n o t s u f f e r e d
[Hewi tt, " L i b e r a t i on The07 ogy and
n o r been sl aughtered i n v a i n .
I t is i m p o r t a n t t o n o t e ,
t h e Emancipation o f R e l i g i o n , " 32.1
however, t h a t t h i s w a s a 1a t e r c o n v i c t i o n o f H o r k h e i m e r 1s; e a r l i e r ,
he had, i n f a c t , r n a i n t a i n e d j u s t t h e o p p o s i t e , t h a t t h e murderer
d i d have t h e l a s t word.

13' Adorno, A e s t h e t ic Theory,

369.

Adorno, N e g a t i v e D i a 7ect i c s , 362.


Because al1 wi17 n o t agree on what c o n s t i t u t e s s u f f e r i n g , i t
rnay be i m p o r t a n t to n o t e t h a t rny r e f e r e n c e s t o s u f f e r i n g i n t h i s
i n v e s t i g a t i o n r e f e r t o c o n d i t i o n s t h a t cause u n n e c e s s a r y human
pain.
Not i n v e s t i g a t e d h e r e a r e o t h e r d e f i n i t i o n s o f s u f f e r i ng
w h i c h a r e dependent upon t h e o r i e s o f t h e p e r s o n .
j3*

it and, in fact. " a r t criticizes society just by being there."lZ3


The artist , like the prophet, recalls Radford Ruether's "plumb line
of truth and untruth, justice and injustice" and brings to light
" ( through the medium of expression and in historically determinate

"'"

ways) what is wrong with present social conditions.

Becaue

the present social conditions have corne to be accepted as the


familiar, it is often a shock to see that which art reveais.

As

"the epiphany of the hidden essence of reality." the revelation of


art

"inspires shudder

in

the

face of

the

falsity of

that

essence.n 135
Prophets of the prophetic-liberating tradition very often used
ugly images and shocking language i n their critique. The prophet

Ezekiel. for example, used the image of a whore in his references


to and tirades against the inhabitants of Jerusalem, laying bare
the horrific truths of the society he saw around him.136
133 Adorno,

1n a

A e s t h e t i c Theory, 321 .

I b i d . , 337.

135 I b i d . ,

366.

136 The f o l l o w i ng passage is b u t one example: "But you t r u s t e d


i n your b e a u t y , and p l a y e d t h e whore because o f your fame, and
1 a v i shed y o u r whori ngs on any passer-by. . X h e r e f o r e , O whore, hear
t h e word of t h e Lord: Thus says t h e L o r d God, Because your l u s t was
p o u r e d o u t and y o u r nakedness uncovered i n your whoring w i t h y o u r
l o v e r s , and because o f al 1 y o u r abominable i d 0 1 s, and because o f
t h e b l o o d o f your c h i l d r e n t h a t you gave t o them, t h e r e f o r e , 1 w i 11
g a t h e r a1 1 y o u r l o v e r s , w i t h whorn you t o o k p l e a s u r e , a l 1 t h o s e you
l o v e d and a l 1 t h o s e you h a t e d ; 1 w i 11 g a t h e r them a g a i n s t you f r o m
a l 1 around, and w i l l u n c o v e r y o u r nakedness t o them, so t h a t t h e y
rnay see a l 1 y o u r nakedness. .
1 w i 11 d e l i v e r you in t o t h e i r hands,
and t h e y s h a l l t h r o w down y o u r p l a t f o r m and b r e a k down your l o f t y
p l a c e s ; t h e y s h a l l s t r i p you o f y o u r c l o t h e s and t a k e y o u r
b e a u t i f u l o b j e c t s and l e a v e you naked and b a r e .
They s h a l l b r i n g
up a mob a g a i n s t you, and t h e y s h a l l s t o n e you and c u t you t o

..

world of terror and suffering, especially in a world where the


atrocity of an Auschwitz and more recently, the horrific ethnic
cleansing in Yugoslavia are possible, in art, too, there is often

an ugliness. Adorno contends that "art has to make use of the ugly
in order to denounce the world which creates and recreates ugliness
in its own image."13'

In uch a world perhaps there can only b e

a nicht mehr schone Kunst - an art which is no longer beautiful

because perhaps beauty is no longer possible.

The dissonance we

find in art has nothing to do with the psychological and personal


pain and suffering of the artist, rather " f dlissonance is the truth
about harmony. Harmony is unattainable, given the strict criteria
of what harmony is supposed to be. "13*

1f true harmony is cornposed

of a peaceful and agreeable arrangement of al1 the parts, then art


reveals that in an unjust society there is only an illusion of
harmony: it is the false harmony of

"managed reality."

In

opposition to the s t a t u s quo of this reality, Herbert Marcuse


writes that "thought" - and here, Adorno would Say art as well "must become more negative and more utopian . . . . ,,139
The yearning and hope for utopia and justice as opposed to the
injustice which has corne

to be tolerated, is common to both

pieces w i t h t h e i r swords."
Revised S t a n d a r d V e r s i o n ) ]

[Ezekiel

16:15,

35-37,

39-40

(New

137 Adorno, A e s t h e t ic Theory, 72.


13*

I b i d . , 161.

j3'
H e r b e r t Marcuse, Negat i o n s : Essays i n C r i t i c a 7 Theory,
trans. Jeremy J . S h a p i r o ( B o s t o n : Beacon Press, 1 9 6 8 ) , x x .

authentic works of art and to the prophetic-liberating tradition.


Radford Ruether explains how Jesus of Nazareth, for example, also
in this prophetic tradition, "pressed beyond the critique of the
present

order

to

more

radical

vision,

revolutionary

transformative process that will bring al1 to a new mode of


relationship.n'40

And Adorno contends that "[elven in the most

sublimated

of

work

otherwise' . "14'

art

there

is

hidden

'it

should

be

It is the artist and the prophet who question what

is and who insist that "[wlhat is must be changeable if it is not


to be a11. w142

As Adorno explains:

Thinking men and artists have not infrequently described a


sense of being not quite there, of not playing along, a
feeling as if they were not themselves at all, but a kind of
spectator . . . . the spectfifor's posture . . .expresses doubt that
this could be al1 . . . . "

This doubt that what is, really is all, is not based on nothing;
for if it were, why then would we despair?

Adorno insists that

" [glrayness could not fil1 us with d e s p a i r if our minds did not

harbour the concept of dif ferent c o l o u r s , scattered traces of which

are not absent from the negative whole. "14'

Rather than bowing to

the posture of uncritical thinking which sees only the possibility


of ever more of the same greyness, art " k e e p s alive our hopes. n 145
140 R a d f o r d R u e t h e t , Sewism and God-ta l k , 30.
j4'

Adorno,

142 Adorno,

"Cornmi t r n e n t ,

" 31 7 .

N e g a t i v e D i a 7 e c t i c s , 398.

I b i d . , 363.
144 I b i d . ,

377-8.

la5 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 4 1 2-3.

62

Indeed, by

their very

presence, works

of

art

"signal the

possibility of the non-existent; their reality testifies to the


feasibility of the unreal, the possible . . . . the yet-to-corne. . . . n 146
And yet, that "yet-to-corne" cannot be detailed in art; we do

not know the shape of that which is yet-to-corne, nor can we know
its shape.
In the right condition, as in the Jewis? theologoumenon, al1
things would differ only a little from the way they are: but
not even the least can be conceived now as it would be then.
Despite this, we cannot discuss the intelligible character as
hovering abstractly, impotently above things in being; we can
talk of it only insofar as it keeps arising in reality, in the
guilty cpatext of things as they are, brought abot b y that
context .
For Adorno, all we can Say is that what is now, ought to be
It is important to note that even Jesus of Nazareth,

otherwise.

who called for a new mode of relationship, did not detail an

alternative.

He called the people of Israel to a mode of

relationship where they were to love their neighbour as their self


and even love their enemy and to prepare for the kingdom of God.

But when pressed to define what he meant, he responded with


parables; while this may be more than insisting that what is now
ought to be otherwise, even Jesus of Nazareth would not spell out
the detailed ways in which that love would be constructed.

He

spoke of a Samaritan, for example, who rescues his enemy left lying

on the road to die, and instead of detailing a vision of the


kingdom of G o d , he compared it to a mustard seed. Like the artist,
-

j4'

Ibid.,

147 Adorno,

192.

N e g a t i ve D i a 7ect i c s , 2 9 9 .
63

the prophetic response grows out of the material of its context,

and re-arranging that material into a new constellation, both the


artist and the prophet shed light on the everyday which everyone
knows, but dares not articulate.

Both the prophet and the artist

criticize society within their socio-historical moment and neither

is capable of either stepping outside of that moment or foretelling


the future.II8 The prophet and the artist can only s p e a k and
create "within a horizon of untruth that bars the door to r e a l
emancipat ion. "14'

Predicting the hape of a true alternative is

an impossibility. for inevitably that prediction will be shaped by


the imperfections of the present.

To avoid the co-opting of

expressions of hope b y the dominant way of thinking of the world in


which they live. the hope-filled yearnings of the prophet and the
artist are best expressed in the negative.''il

By embracing the

negative and giving form to the imperfections of what seems to be

a perfect reality, through the cracks one might be able to catch a


glimpse of the possibility of hope.

Indeed. if reality as is, is

not perfect, then by implication perfection lies in some other


I n h i s r e c e n t book, Dreams o f M i 7 7ennium: Report f r o m a
c u 7 t u r e on the b r i n k , M a r k K i n g w e l l speaks o f t h e phenornenon o f an
i n c r e a s e i n t h e number o f p r o p h e t s who arise i n a m i 1 l e n n i a l a g e .
P r o p h e t s , he states a r e I1gadf1 ie s , " " s p i r i t u a l d i s s i d e n t s who
r e f u s e t o r e m a i n si l e n t as t h e y s e e t h e w o r l d d e c l i n i n g i n t o a c t u a l
o r metaphorical d i saster, " t h e y a r e "rabbl e-rousers. "
But, very
cl e a r l y ,
[ p l r o p h e t s don t p r e d i c t t h e f u t u r e . "
[Mark K i n g w e l l ,
Drearns o f M i 7 7ennium: R e p o r t from a c u 7 t u r e on t h e b r i n k ( T o r o n t o :
Pengui n Books, l996), 6 6 . ]
Marcuse,

Negations,

151

Which i s why for Adorno, h i s t h e o r y o f t h e a e s t h e t i c must


remain negative.
T h i s w i f 7 become c l e a r i n rny d i s c u s s i o n o f h i s
"negative d i a l e c t i c " i n Chapter 3 .

form. What form, one cannot Say. It is precisely for this reason
that not only is it futile for the artist to pretend to articulate
what an alternative would be, but it is also dishonest to pass off

any alternative as dif ferent from present reality.I5l

1t i also

precisely this tendency to dwell on the portrayal of the negative.


as well as refusing to construct an alternative, which "constitutes

the motivational core or animating impulse of the critical theory


of Horkheimer and Adorno. 152
tu

Neither the prophet, nor the artist as individuals can change


the world.

Indeed, al1 that may happen is that they might

encourage the eyes of their audience to open to the reality of the


worXd around them and maybe evoke in them the sense that the world
ought to be changed and that domination is not complete. But this

does not mean the artist and the prophet ought to be quiet, or
ought to stop creating.

Horkheimer urges that the following be

15' Marcuse speaks t o t h i s i s s u e r e g a r d i ng t h e p r e d i c t i o n o f a


new emanci p a t e d s o c i e t y : "The subsequent c o n s t r u c t i o n o f t h e new
s o c i e t y c a n n o t be t h e o b j e c t o f t h e o r y , f o r it i s t o o c c u r as t h e
f r e e c r e a t ion o f t h e 1 ib e r a t e d indi v i dual S . '' [Marcuse, Negat ions,
135. ]
R a d f o r d Ruether also g i v e s t h e example o f how i n t h e
f e m i n i s t r e a c t i o n ta p a t r i a r c h a l : r e l i g i o n , t h e r e l i g i o n o f t h e
Goddess o f a n t i q u i t y has been r e v i v e d and t o u t e d as one p i c t u r a o f
the way t h i ngs ought t o be. However, " b o t h t h o s e who a p p r o p r i a t e d
t h i s i d e a and those who oppose it o f t e n i n c o r r e c t l y p r o j e c t modern
d u a l isms on t h e a n c i e n t Goddess.
.The r e s u l t is t h e c r e a t i o n o f a
Goddess r e l ig i o n t h a t is t h e r e v e r s e o f p a t r i a r c h a l re7 ig i on. "
[Radford Ruether, S e x i s m and God-tak, 5 2 . 1
This i l l u s t r a t e s the
danger o f c o n s t r u c t i ng a l t e r n a t i v e s w i t h i n t h e p r e s e n t , f o r al 1
a l t e r n a t i v e s a r e o n l y and can only be inforrned and shaped b y t h e
c o n t e x t i n which t h e y a r e c o n s t r u c t e d .
1 w i Il speak t o t h i s in
more d e t a i l i n Chapter 4, where 1 w i l l argue t h a t a r t w h i c h engages
i n prophetic c r i t i c i s m i s not p o l i t i c a l a r t .
I n f a c t , a r t which i s
po1 i t i c a l and angry is no l o n g e r t h e v o i c e o f s u f f e r i ng, b u t a cal 1
t o f i g h t f o r an a l t e r n a t i v e dominant way o f t h i n k i n g .

..

ls2 H e w i t t , Critica7 Theory o f ReTigion, 33.

kept in mind:
I t is true that the i n d i v i d u a l cannot change t h e course of the
world. But i f h i s whole l i f e i s not a gesture of wild d e s p a i r
that r e v o l t s against i t , he will f a i l t o realize that
i n f i n i t e l y srnall. insignificant. futile, nugahyry modicum o f
good of which he is capable as an individual.

In the face o f

the post-Auschwitzian world. where

terror

and

s u f f e r i n g have not subsided, the prophetic voice of art must not


q u i t speaking.

I n these very

cries of rnisecy Adorno sees

the

f a i n t e s t hope t h a t something d i f ferent f rom t h e p r e s e n t could b e

possible.

153 Horkheimer, Notizen 1950 b i s 1969 ( F r a n k f u r t , l974), 1 8 4 ,


ci ted in Jrgen Habermas, Justification and App7 ication: Remarks on
Discourse E t h i c s , t r a n s .
C i a r a n C r o n i n (Cambri dge, M a s s . and
London: M I T Press, 1993), 135.

THE

IDEOLOGY O F RELIGION

"Even in an age when they fall s i l e n t ,


great works of art express hope more powerfully
than the tradi tional theological t e x t s ,
and any such expression is c o n f i g u r a t i v e w i t h that pf
the human s i d e .

Adorno,

N e g a t i v e D i a Tectics, 397.

67

This chapter begins with the premise, as argued by Thompson,


that ideology cannot be stripped of the negative connotation that
has been so much a part of its history.15'

An ideology as a sytem

of meaning serves to justify the status quo of a specific order and


as such, dominates the way of thinking of adherents of that
ideology.

In light of this understanding, it will not be argued

here that ideology is pure illusion.

Rather than suggesting that

ideology is "an inverted or distorted image of what is

real, ' "

this investigation will accept Thompson's argument that 'Tideology

is partially constitutive of what, in Our societies, 'is rea17.


Ideology is not a pale image of the social world but is part of
that world, a creative and constitutive element of Our social
lives .

f1156

TO carry out an ideology critique then, is to disclose

the relations of domination in our social lives which ideological

discourse serves to sustain. The critical thinking of a critical


consciousness undertakes the task of this critique.

As

explained

by Adorno, critical thinking sees through to the material, the

structural, the class interests, which an ideology tries to conceal


in its legitimation of a particular social order.
lS5 Thompson,

Studies i n t h e T h e o r y o f I d e o l o g y , 1 - 4 .

156 I b i d . , 5 - 6 .
The v i e w o f i d e 0 1 ogy a s i1 1 u s i o n , states Thompson, " d r a w s
support f r o m a famous and o f t - q u o t e d passage i n which M a r x and
E n g e l s compare t h e o p e r a t i o n o f i d e o l o g y t o t h e w o r k i n g s o f a
camera obscura, which r e p r e s e n t s t h e w o r l d by means o f an image
t u r n e d upside-down."
Thompson contends that because ideology i s ,
i n f a c t , partfally c o n s t i t u t i v e o f w h a t f o r us i s V e a l , " t h a t
" f w ] e must r e s i s t t h i s v i e w . " [ I b i d . , S . ]

In this chapter. 1 will begin with a discussion of ideology in


general and then examine religion as an ideology. Using the method
of immanent critique, as outlined byhiax Horkheimer, 1 w i l l analyze
both t h e concept and reality of religion in its manifestation of
Christianity and the established,
Christian church.

the

From this 1 will make preliminary observations

of the implications of
religion and art.

institutional forms of

rny

analysis for the relationship between

Before moving into a specific discussion of

Adorno's views of this relationship in Chapter 3, 1 will conclude


this chapter with an investigation of his comments on religion. In
spite of what amounts to a harsh critique of religion in its
institutional form, Adorno holds on to the ideals of religion - a
critique of oppression and a yearning for the possibility of hope
for a more humane world. Art is the last place of refuge for these
ideals .

1. Ideology

The danger inherent in any ideology , as Adorno clearly argues,

is that one can easily be duped under the "spellW of an ideology,


seeing the world only through the whole of the frarnework of that
ideology, reaching a point w h e r e one no longer thinks criticall.
Instead of maintaining a critical view and recognizing an ideology
as a determinate systematic structure which unifies the elements of
thought, one cornes to accept an ideology as "operative
from it rather than about it. "15'

think

Because an ideology structures

157 H e w i tt , From T h e d o g y to Socia 7 Theory, 3 3 .

69

. . .we

the whole in which one lives, one is oblivious to what constitutes


the b a s i c unity of that ideology. and

is likewise unable

to

critically relate that basic unity to the actual socio-historical

moment in which one lives. The only hope for successfully dragging
up the buried theoretical presuppositions of an ideology, lies in

the possibility that one might be able to think against the grain
of that ideology. Although human beings live in and respond to the

socio-historical moment in which they find themselves


maintains the hope - however faint

Adorno

that self-reflection upon

one's situation in a critical manner may still prove possible. It


may be only through the cracks in the ideology. the places where it
does not quite fit together. that one glimpses a trace of something
that does not fit the

systern

of the dominant ideology.

These

nexcrescences," as Adorno refers to them, reveal that the world as


characterized by ideology is not al1 it might possibly be
lies the faintest of hopes.15'

herein

1 f , as Thompson argues. the social-

historical world "is not articulated once and for al1 but is in
each case the creation of the society concerned,"15'
p o s s i b l e that reality as it is now, could be other.

then it is

Adorno i n s i s t s

Is8 >'The excrescences o f t h e systems, ever s i n c e t h e C a r t e s i a n


p i n e a l g l a n d and t h e axioms and d e f i n i t i o n s o f S p i n o z a , a l r e a d y
crammed w i t h t h e e n t i r e r a t i o n a l i s m he w o u l d t h e n d e d u c t i v e l y
e x t r a c t - by t h e i r u n t r u t h , t h e s e e x c r e s c e n c e s show t h e u n t r u t h ,
t h e mania,
o f t h e systems t h e r n s e l v e ~ . ~ ~ [Adorno,
Negative
D i a lectics, 22. ]

Thompson, S t u d i e s i n t h e Theory o f Ideo logy, 21


T h i s v i e w , n o t e s Thompson, i s i n c o n t r a s t t o " t r a d i t i o n a l
t h o u g h t [whi c h ] m i sses [ t h i s ] e s s e n t i al f e a t u r e , " f o r it assumes
t h a t t h e world
i s a <'given
. d e t e r m i n a t e sequence o f t h e
determined." [ I b i d . ]

15'

..

on "the responsibility of thought not to accept the situation as


finite.

If there is any chance of changing the situation, it is

only through undiminished insight.,, 160

It is important to keep in mind the necessity of thinking


against the grain, of thinking critically, as we reflect on the
ideology of

the Christian church in

its various established

institutional forms in the present chapter and seek to reach an


understanding of Adorno's theory of the negative dialectic in
Chapter 3 .

The ways in which the truth-claims of an ideology and

especially of a religious ideology attempt to and, in fact. do


shape the social order - including the official forms of religion -

are significant for the nature of their relationship with art.


The interaction between the ideology and art, in terms of the
reflection upon art, and as a result, the shape of works of art,
lies at the root of the nature of this relationship.

To address

the question of the relationship between religion or ideology and


art, one must examine the theoretical presuppositions which shape
the inherent modality of reflection.
religion or an

The way an adherent of a

ideology refiects upon art in general, will

determine the relationship and interaction with an actual art work.


However, one must not assume that this process begins strictly

from the theoretical presuppositions as abstract thought-processes.


With Marx, we must admit these thought-processes do not arise ex

Theodor W . Adorno,
Se 7ected essays on mass
Routledge, 1991), 1 7 3 .

"Resi g n a t io n , " T h e Cu 1 t u r e I n d u s t r y :
7 t u r e , e d . J . M . Bernstei B (London :

CU

nihilo:

Morality, religion, metaphysics. al1 the rest o f ideology and


their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer
retain the semblance of independence. They have no history,
no development, but men, developing their material production
and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their
real existence, their thinking and the products of their
thinking.. . .This method of approach is not devoid of premises .
1 t s t a r t s out from the real premises and does not abandon them
for a moment. Its premises are men, not in any fantastic
isolation and rigidity, but in their actual, empirically
perceptible
process
of
development
under
definite
conditions.161
Thus, an essential component of the investigation of the nature of

the relationship between the Christian religion and art, will be to


reflect upon the historical process of the development o f this
religion into its historical institutional forms of the church. It
is important to note that although an authoritatively structured
institution, the church in al1 its forms is s t i l l made up of real
human beings in (albeit, often distorted) relationship with one
another. The point is n o t to argue t h a t the Christian church as an
organization is monolithic, but rather, to examine the distortion
of relationships among human beings which has occurred during and

as

result

of

its

development

into

various

established

institutional forms with a structured authority of power.

For in

this development, we will see how the theoretical presuppositions

were both propelled and shaped by the place of the Christian church
in its socio-historical moment.

This then in turn influences the

way in which the adherents or devotees

'''

real human beings - of the

K a r l Marx and F r e d e r i c k E n g e l s , The German IdeoTogy, edited


w i t h an i n t r o d u c t i o n by C. J . A r t h u r (London: Lawrence and W i s h a r t ,

1970), 4 7 .

Christian church interact with one another and with other o b j e c t s ,


such as a r t , in a given moment.

i. Religion as ideology
In his H i s t o r i c a l Fundamentals and the S t u d y of Religions.

Kurt Rudolph pays close attention to the relationship between


religion

partially

and
be

ideology. but
classified

insists that

under

"religion can

ideology. "'62

Rudolph

only

defines

ideology in the following manner: "human concepts as they are


constituted historically and stamped with a particular worldview
and as they decisively determine human thoughts, p e r c e p t i o n s , and
behaviour . "lC3 Regarding religion. Rudolph aserts that the pat
and present concrete forms of religion "embrace more t h a n ideas,"
for they also embrace "much

that f a l l s outside the scope of

ideology: the entire cultus and social organization. for example.


except insofar as these are given their characteristic shape by
ideas.

He explains, therefore. that religion consists of an

"'ideology' - a religious ideology or t h e ideology of a religion and of a social. political and moral praxis. n165

16*
Rudolph,
Re7 igions, 65.

Historica7

FundamentaIs

and

Rudolph suggests

the

Study

163 I b i d . , 6 4 .

of

Rudolph clearly argues agai nst a " n e u t r a l fl use of "ideology, "


for a n e u t r a l meani ng i s t f u n h i s t o r i c a l . It ignores the almost 200
y e a r s d u r i n g w h i c h t h e t e r m has been used and d e b a t e d . "

I b i d . , 65.

165 Ibid. (Italics mine.)

[Ibid.]

here that the social. political and moral praxis of a religion are
something other than the ideas of that religion.

would argue.

however. that because they are "given their characteristic shape by


ideas." as Rudolph acknowledges. that. hence. they are what they
are precisely because of the influence of a particular ideology.
In other words, in contrast to Rudolph's contention that religion
may consist of "more" than an ideology, the elements which make up
the "much that falls outside the scope of ideology" are undeniably
shaped by the ideology of that religion.

These elements of a

religion. therefore. do not at al1 V a l 1 outside the scope of


ideologyTW for they would not be what they are without their
shaping by that ideology.
In a similar vein, August

Comte, a nineteenth

century

sociologist of religion. discusses religion in its social role and


defines i t

as an " ideological complex that performs certain

functions indispensable to society."


society

must

have

at

least

Comte proposes that every

"functional

equivalent"

of

religion.166 Marx also peaks of religion in term of ideology.


stating that religion provides a:
general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium.
its logic in popular form. its spiritual point d'honneur, i t s
enthusiasm. its moral sanction, its solemn complem t and its
universal basis of consolation and justification.f6f'

166 A u g u t Comte, c i t e d i n P r u e s s ,

Explaining Religion,

109.

167 K a r l M a r x , "A C o n t r i b u t i o n t o t h e C r i t i q u e of Hegel's


P h i losophy of R i g h t . I n t r o d u c t i o n , l1 Ear7y W r i t i n g s , t r a n s . Rodney
L i v i n g s t o n and Gregor Benton ( N e w Y o r k : V i n t a g e Books, Random
House, 1 9 7 5 ) , 2 4 4 .

I f religion establishes a "general theory of the world" in which

one lives, then inherent in a religion is an ideological framework;


in other words, religion is ideological.
One tends to think within the parameters of the ideological
theory to which one adheres. Any alternatives become unthinkable.
Indeed, to think otherwise is to challenge reality as it is
understood and justified by the general theory of one's world.
When reality is arranged in a certain manner by a dominant way of

thinking - in this case, by a religion - then reality itself cornes


to "yield to the repressive identification" with that way of
thinking?

For Marx, religion, as such, is a repressive form of

consciousness. The appropriate response, according to Marx, is a


cal1 for the "abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of

men, [thisj is a demand for their real happiness.,169


Adorno accuses religion of legitimating the social structure
of reality; he turns religion on itself in the manner of Durkheim:

Durkheim . . . recognized that what society worships in the world


spirit is itself, the omnipotence of its own coercion.
Society may find itself confirmed b y the world spirit, because
it actually has al1 the attributes which it proceeds, then, to

Adorno. Negative D i a 7ecti c s , 330.


Whi 1 e Adorno is s p e a k i ng h e r e s p e c i f i c a l 1 y o f p h i losophy as
t h e domi n a n t mode o f t h i n k i ng as p e r Hegel s system, t h e same can
be appl i e d t o r e l i g i o n a s t h e dominant mode o f t h i n k i n g .
Adorno
r e p e a t s t h i s theme i n h i s A e s t h e t i c Theory, where h e speaks o f
i n it s
" a e s t h e t i c i d e n t i t y u as a s s i s t i n g " t h e n o n - i d e n t i c a l
s t r u g g l e a g a i nst t h e r e p r e s s i ve i d e n t i f i c a t i on compulsion t h a t
r u 1 es t h e o u t s i de w o r l d. "
[Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 6 .]

16'

169 M a r x , "A C o n t r i b u t i o n t o t h e C r i t i q u e o f Hegel 's Phi losophy


o f R i g h t . I n t r o d u c t i o n , " 244.

worship in the spirit. i 70


Religion legitimates not only the worship of the spirit, but also,

according to Durkheim, that which the spirit is

- society itself.

I t should be no surprise then, when even theologians like Juan

Luis Segundo assert that "Christianity, like al1 religions, is


indeed

ideology, "17'

in

the

ense

that

religion,

too.

has

legitimated the status quo of a certain order at various points in


its history: "under the guise of protecting the integrity of the

Christian

faith,

theology may in fact legitimate the existing

socio-poli tical order. 1'172

Not denying that the theology of the

'a

Adorno, N e g a t i v e D i a l e c t i c s , 316.
Durkheim d e v e l o p s t h i s t h e o r y o f r e l i g i o n i n The Efementary
F o r m s o f t h e Re 7 igious L i f e : "Re1 ig i ous r e p r e s e n t a t i ons a r e
c o l l e c t i v e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s w h i c h e x p r e s s c o l t e c t i v e r e a l it i e s ; t h e
r i t e s a r e a manner o f a c t i n g w h i c h t a k e r i s e i n the m i d s t o f t h e
assembled g r o u p s and w h i c h a r e d e s t i n e d t o e x c i t e , m a i n t a i n o r
r e c r e a t e c e r t a i n m e n t a l s t a t e s i n t h e s e g r o u p s . " [ D u r k h e i nt, The
EIementary F o r m s o f t h e Re7igious L i f e , 211 And, a n a l y s i n g t h e
t o t e m i c symbol o f a r e 1 ig i on, he s t a t e s : "The symbol is t h e o u t w a r d
and v i s i b l e forrn o f w h a t we have c a l l e d t h e t o t e m i c p r i n c i p l e o r
god.
B u t i t is a l s o t h e symbol o f t h e d e t e r m i n e d s o c i e t y c a l l e d
t h e c l a n . . . So if it is a t once t h e symbol o f t h e god and o f t h e
s o c i e t y , i s t h a t n o t because t h e god and t h e s o c i e t y a r e o n l y
one?. .The god o f t h e cl an, t h e t o t e m i c p r i n c i p l e , can t h e r e f o r e be
n o t h i ng e l s e t h a n t h e c l an i t s e l f , p e r s o n i f i e d and r e p r e s e n t e d t o
t h e i m a g i n a t i o n u n d e r t h e v i s i b l e forrn o f t h e animal or v e g e t a b l e
w h i c h s e r v e s as t o t e m . " [ I b i d . , 2361

Hewi tt, F r o m T h e o t o g y t o Socia 7 Theory,

22.

17* I b i d .
H o r k h e i m e r r e f e r s t o Thomas Aquinas as t h e one who "made t h e
Cath01 i c d o c t r i n e a m o s t v a l uabt e t o o l f o r p r i n c e s and t h e b u r g h e r
c l ass.
[ A n d f o r ] succeedi ng c e n t u r i e s soci e t y was w i 7 1 ing t o
e n t r u s t t h e c l e r g y w i t h t h e a d m i n i s t r a t i o n o f t h a t h i g h l y developed
id e o l o g i cal in s t r u m e n t " [Max Horkheimer, Ec7 i p s e o f Reason (New
Y o r k : O x f o r d Uni v e r s i t y Press, 1 9 4 7 ) , 67. ]
Horkheimer accuses
Instead o f developing i t s
Thomi sm o f b e i ng a "ha1 f - t r u t h .
t e a c h i ngs w i t h o u t c a r i n g about t h e i r u s e f u l ness,
it s e x p e r t
propagandi s t s have a1 ways adapted them t o t h e changi n g r e q u i r e m e n t s

...

Christian church has taken on this legitimating role. another


Catholic theologian, Leonardo Boff, indicates that the Christian
church has been pressured into playing this role by the ruling

class of society:
The religious-ecclesiastical realm is strongly pressured to
organize itself in such a way that it is adjusted to the
interests of the ruling classes, a pressure that takes the
form of economic, juridical, poli tical, cultural and even
repressive measures .
In this way, the Church serves a
conserv t ive and legitimating function for the ruiing
class.13
1 f Christianity can

be viewed as "another ideology of social

conservatism in the service of the preservation of prevailing


social forms,w l i d then the institutional forms of that religion may
be in many ways no different from other institutions which are
"oppressive and exploitative forces.

Unfortunately. as Bof f

laments, "[ilt may happen that the Church has reproduced the
structures of the ruling classes wi thin itself, thereby creating an
equally unbalanced structure that reflects the dominant social
realm -

In the Roman Catholic Church, Boff explains, this power

structure operates as an authoritarian system and runs from the


Pope to the bishop, to the priest and excludes the religious orders

- -

--

o f t h e prevailing social f o r c e s . "


173 B o f f ,

C h u r c h : Charism and Power, 1 1 2 .

174 H e w i t t ,

IT5

[ibid., 87.1

Herbert

C r i t i c a 7 T h e o r y o f Re7igion, 1 7 9 .

Marcuse,

One-Dimensions 7 Man: S t u d i e s i n t h e
Society ( B o s t o n : Beacon P r e s s ,

I d e o 70gy of Advanced I n d u s t r i a 7
1964; second ed. 1 9 9 1 ) , 47.

IT6 B o f f , Church: Charisrn and P o w e r ,

112.

and the laity.1i?


The Christian church w i t h its o f f i c i a l forms of a hierarchy o f
p o w e r has a l 1 too often in its h i t o r y exchanged the t r u t h of i t s

religious

ideal

oppressed -

being

the

voice o f

for pragmatism, as i t

the

suffering

has corne t o

and

the

recognise t h a t

maintenance of "its own s o c i a l p o s i t i o n depends on t h e continued

177 B o f f ddefi nes '%ystemrl as " t h e d e f i n i t e r e l a t i o n o f elements


( p e r s o n s and i n s t i t u t i o n s ) t h a t a r e m u t u a l l y c o n n e c t e d and
in f luenced, f o r m i ng a more o r less o r d e r e d body w i t h it s p a r t i c u l a r
t h e o r i e s and p r a c t i c e s . " [ i b i d . , 168.1 I n c o n t r a s t , t h e B e l i e v e r s '
Church t r a d i t i o n c l a i m s i t does " n o t b e l i e v e i n a b u r e a u c r a t i c
s t r u c t u r e o r a l o c u s o f a u t h o r i t y t h a t makes p u p p e t s o u t o f
members.
[Rather, members o f t h e B e l i e v e r s ' c h u r c h t r a d i t i o n ] do
b e l i e v e i n a b r o t h e r h o o d where e v e r y i n d i v i d u a l has w o r t h and v a l u e
and where t h e v o i c e o f each one i s equal l y i m p o r t a n t i n a c h i e v i n g
o f consensus and u n d e r s t a n d i ng.
[Paul N. Kraybi 11 , Change and t h e
Church, Focal Pamph'let No. 19 ( S c o t t d a l e , Pa. : H e r a l d P r e s s , l97O),
20. ]
However, when s p e a k i ng o f denomi n a t i o n s o f t h e Be1 ie v e r s '
Church t r a d i t i o n , one must acknowl edge, t h a t d i v e r s e o p i n i o n s
r e g a r d i n g a u t h o r i t y exist among them.
Among t h e M e n n o n i t e s i n
N o r t h America, f o r exampl e, one group ( t h e Mennonite Church, o r MC)
" p l aced
emphasi s
on
authorit y
structures
and a u t h o r i t a t i ve
p r a c t i c e s t o p r e s e r v e t h e c h u r c h ' s t r a d i t i o n s , [whereas J t h e GC
g r o u p [General Conference Mennonites] chose a r a t i o n a l - l e g a l t y p e
o f a u t h o r i t y , emphasi z i n g t h e i n d i v i d u a l as t h e c e n t r e o f re7 ig i o u s
i n t e g r i t y and t h e c o n g r e g a t i o n as t h e c e n t r e o f a u t h o r i t y . " [George
R. Brunk III,"The Mennonite Church and t h e General Conference
Mennoni t e Church : some compari sons, " The Mennonite, ( O c t o b e r 25,
1 9 8 8 ) , 462.1
And even the Mennonites have adopted a b u r e a u c r a t i c
s t r u c t u r e . Kraybi 11, h i m s e l f a Mennoni t e , acknowledges t h i s : "Many
o f o u r i n s t i t u t i o n s a r e c a r b o n c o p i e s o f o t h e r s t h a t preceded us i n
t h e qarger denominations.
Even n o w we s t i 1 1 hang on t o t h i s
in s t i t u t i o n a l
ambition
and
t a 1k
rather
gl i b l y
of
unified
s t r u c t u r e s , a d m i n i s t r a t i v e e f f i c i e n c y , and growi ng o r g a n i z a t i ons. "
[ K r a y b i 11, Change and t h e Church, 22. ]
Throughout t h i s d i s c u s s i o n I w i 11 r e f e r p e r i o d i c a l l y to t h e
M e n n o n i t e Church as an example o f t h e C h r i s t i a n c h u r c h i n an
e s t a b l i s h e d i n s t i t u t i o n a l f o r m . S i g n i f i c a n t f o r t h i s s t u d y , is t h e
f a c t t h a t t h e Mennonite Church i s a denomination o f t h e C h r i s t i a n
c h u r c h whose r o o t s a r e i n t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y R e f o r m a t i o n
r e j e c t i o n o f t h e h i e r a r c h y mode1 found i n t h e Roman C a t h o l i c
Church.
Questions wi11 be r a i s e d r e g a r d i n g how t h e Mennonite
Church has e v o l v e d i n i t s own e s t a b f ishment o f c h u r c h i n a
s t r u c t u r e d i n s t i t u t i o n a l form.

existence of the basic traits of the present system..li8


system of the Church," Boff states, "is a sub-system of society,
influenced by society and in turn capable of exerting influence on
that society."li9

If the system were to change. established

church institutions could lose their positions of authority.

In

light of this possibility, established institutional forms of the


Christian church have often had little interest in having prophets
cal1 for something other than the system which is.180

And yet Boff insists that the

Church is not doomed to carry out a purely preservative


mission, contrary to the view held by orthodox Marxism;
rather, because of i t s ideals and origins (the dangerous and
subversive memory of Jesus of Nazareth ucif ied under Pontius
Pilate), its mission is revolutionary.58i

The task is to compare and analyze the ideal aad the reality of the
Christian church.

And the question is whether or not in l i g h t of

the established historical forms of the church, i t has been


possible or may be possible for the leaders and members of the

church to keep the "subversive" and "revolutionary" ideals of the

178 Horkhei m e r ,
179 B o f f ,

llThoughts on Re1 ig i on,

" 130.

Church: Charism and Power, 4 0 .

One p a r t i c u l a r example, n o t e d by Paul T i l l i c h ( f o r whom


Adorno w r o t e h i s Habi 7itationschrift), i s that of t h e Church i n
G r e a t B r i t a i n.
T i l l i c h writes:
"on the whole what has been
c h a r a c t e r i s t i c o f t h e B r i t i s h s i t u a t i o n is t h e unwi 1 1 ingness t o
s a c r i f i c e t h e s e c u r i t y o f i t s 1 it u r g i c a l l y founded t r a d i t i o n f o r
t h e sake of r a d i c a l t h e o l o g i c a l t h o u g h t .
T h e r e f o r e , i t has n o t
g i v e n answers t o t h e q u e s t i o n s i m p l i e d i n t h e e x i s t e n c e o f modern
man."
[Paul T i l l i c h , A Histary of C h r i s t i a n T h o u g h t : Frorn its
J u d a i c and He77enistic Origins to Existentia7isrn, ed. Car1 E.
B r a a t e n (New Y o r k : Simon and S c h u s t e r , 1967), 360. )

18'

B o f f , Chorch: Charisrn and Power, 1 1 5 .

church as the focus.

The institutional form of a bureaucracy in

and of itself may be neutral; at issue is how the prophetic ideal

of Christianity has

too often been

forgotten and

how human

relationships have too often been distorted under the domination of


the teaching authority and hierarchy of power which the established
church in its many forrns has claimed. And undeniably at issue is

also the difference between religion's "illusory happiness," in the


words of Marx, and the "demand fcr . . . real happiness."

I f , with

Marx, one calls on human beings "to give up their illusions about
their condition," essentially, one is calling for them
a condition that requires illusions.
calls

"

to give u p

For kfarx, this means, one

for humanity to give up religion, one calls

for the

"abolition of religion."
But does raising critical questions of religion and revealing

the illusions of religion to be just that - illusions - lead one to


the inevitability of calling for the abolition of religion? Does
this mean. in fact. that religion requires illusions?

Not al1

scholars would respond in the affirmative, According to Rudolph,


for example, the critical questions of a "'critical consciousness'
is not foreign to religions themselves . "183
"close connection

of

In fact. there is a

- . . .a correlation - between religion and

182 M a r x , "A C o n t r i b u t i o n to t h e C r i t i q u e o f Hegel


R i ght
I n t r o d u c t i o n , t' 244.

183 Rudolph,
Re 7 igions, 69-70.

HistoricaI

Fundarnentals

and

's P h i l o s o p h y

the

Study

of

criticism."In4In support of hi argument, Rudolph cites the work


of Dieter Rossler: "Religion is in itself critical of itself.

It

criticizes its own principles on the basis of reality; and it


crit ically examines the difference between what its principles Say
it

should be and the way it actually appears.w185

one mut

acknowledge, however, notes Rudolph. that critique is

into a

introduced
critique

is

not.

religion f rom

the outside,"la6

therefore, always

religiously

"often

Religiou
autonornous.

"Actually, what we are talking about here," explains Rudolph, "is


the spirit that moves prophets and reformers.

In the background

lurks the really astounding phenomenon that, through the agency of


individuals and groups, religions - above all, 'religions of the

book '

can raise self-critical questions.

""' ~ h u s .self-crit i c a l

questions do not necessarily lead to abolitionWhile

acknowledging

the

reality

of

the

established.

institutional forms of Christianity and in spite of the seeming


despair of

the situation, 1 maintain that such

questions can and will still be raised.

self-critical

Even Adorno, who mourned

the passing of the individual, still maintained the hope for selfreflection. I recognize that on this issue, I must part ways with
the Frankfurt School ; nevertheless , rny arguments for my position

184 I b i d . ,

70.

D i e t e r Ross1 er, D i e V e r n u n f t der R e 7 i g i o n (Muni ch,


2 5 , cited i n I b i d . , 7 1 .

18'

I b i d . , 70.

j8?

Ibid.

lW6),

are firmly grounded in their writings, especially those of Adorno.


Adorno and Horkheimer and other Critical Theorists, would not agree
with my position regarding the possibility of hope for change
within the established church, which they view as an authority
which chahs and coerces members into submission. hihile I do not
deny that such indeed has been and in many cases continues to be
the case, within the context of church institutions, there is the
hope that the religious ideology is not total and that even one
prophetic voice might have the dialectical capacity to resist what
seems to be a total system.

Instead of insisting on the "totality

as a coherent unity," it is important for an ideology critique of


established institutions of religion to stress instead, as Adorno
states, "the cornplexity of mediations and inconsistencies in an
effort to highlight those areas of negation still left in the
'adrninistered,' 'one-dimensional' society of the post-[NWIIJwar
world.

"'"

Thu, within established church institutions, there

still the possibility that even one consciousness among those who
adhere to the Christian beliefs may defy reification and maintain
the capability to recognize even the "minimal di f ferences from the

Adorno, Negat i v e D i a 7ect i c s , 3 4 9 .


i s i m p o r t a n t t o n o t e , as M a r t i n Jay e x p l a i n s ,
''the
F r a n k f u r t School was i n c r e a s i n g l y r e l u c t a n t t o a n a l y z e t h e s o c i a l
t o t a l i t y as a c o h e r e n t u n i t y , s t r e s s i n g i n s t e a d t h e c o m p l e x i t y of
rnedi a t i ons and inconsi s t e n c i e s i n an e f f o r t t o h i ghl ig h t those
areas o f n e g a t i o n s t i l l
l e f t i n the
drninistered,'
oned i m e n s i o n a l ' soci ety o f t h e p o s t - [ W W I I I w a r w o r l d . "
[ M a r t i n Jay,
Permanent E x i 7es: Essays on t h e I n t e 7 7ectua 7 M i g r a t i o n from Germany
t o A m e r i c a (New Y o r k : Columbia U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s , 1985), 37.1
188

It

"'*'which

ever-constant

becorne manifest.

Such a consciousness

especially in an authoritative position, or in an administrative


position within the various bureaucracies of the institutions o f
the church, may be capable of diverging from the norm of the
organization because of the rifts and crevices which are recognized
as remaining open to that person.

I t is those who are capable of

thinking beyond the boundaries o f their known way of thinking, who


will be agents of critique.lgO

" I f negative dialectics calls for

the self-reflection of thinking," as Adorno insists it does, then


"the tangible implication is that if thinking is to be true - if it

is ta be true today, in any case - it must also be a thinking


against itself.

As we will note in Adorno's theory of the

negative dialectic, the importance of the presence of even the


minutest of differences in a proposed false unity are not to be
underestimated.

This is not to Say that the recognition of the

differences cornes easily or is self-evident. Rather, to those who


are conscious o f them, the differences prove, that what one had
thought was so, is not in fact the case at all: the totality is not
'81
Adorno,
I n d u s t r y , 11 3 .

"The

Culture

Industry,"

chap.

in

The

Culture

Adorno has o f t e n been accued o f el i t i s r n , c o n s i d e r i n g i t


o n l y p o s s i b l e t h a t c r i t i q u e can b e I o d g e d from t h e s o l i t a r y
Whi l e 1 would n o t go so f a r as t o s u b s c r i be t o t h i s individual
correct o r incorrect
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f A d o r n o ' s t h o u g h t , 1 would
i n s i s t t h a t g r o u p - t h i n k i n g as c r i t i q u e o f a s i t u a t i o n i s n o t an
option.
Rather, i t i s p r e c i s e l y t h e i n d i v i d u a l s who make up t h e
group who t h i n k beyond t h e Iimits o f t h e group i d e n t i t y . T h i s does
n o t deny, however, t h a t in d i v i d u a l s i n d i a l o g u e w i t h one a n o t h e r
i n d i v i d u a l s i n a cornmunity, f o r example
c o u l d push one a n o t h e r
and encourage one another t o ever more p r o f o u n d l e v e l s o f c r i t i q u e .

Ig1 Adorno. N e g a t i v e Dialectics, 3 6 5 .

what it seems.

One's sense of security in the reality one has

known may be shattered, but it is in the scattered shards where


hope may be glimpsed.

the difference itelf.

"Hope is concentrated," argues Adorno, "in


lJg2

Or. as otherwie stated: the air in the

bureaucratic structure "may be thin, but

it is what can

be

breathed .

In light of rny stated position, while I do agree with Yarx


that religion is ideological, I cannot agree with his cal1 for its
abolition. Certainly. the repressive elements apparent in religion

here, s p e c i f ically, the various historical manifestations of the

Christian church - must be critiqued.

Criticism of ordained

authority, resultant actions and bureaucratic arrogance can be


carried out by focusing on the rifts made evident. But, as 1 will
argue, in that critique must also be grasped the dialectic of the
repressive and emancipatory impulses which structure religion.
Marx

criticises

religion as directing humanity's desire

for

c o n c r e t e justice on earth to a desire for illusory happiness in

some hereafter; the result, he charges, is that human beings m a k e

no attempt to change their present oppressive conditions. "That is


why for Marx the critique of religion is central. to 'the p r e m i s e of

al1 criticism*: with the abolition of religion and its compensating


illusions, the

'

task of history* as the establishment of 'the truth

lg2 I b i d .
lg3 Robert Hu1 lot-Kentor, " F o r w a r d ,
in T h e o d o r W . Adorno,
Kierkegaard: Construction o f t h e A e s t h e t i c , t r a n s . and e d . R o b e r t
Hu1 l o t - K e n t o r ( M i nneapol is : U n i v e r s i t y o f M i n n e s o t a P r e s s , W 8 9 ) ,
xxi i

of this world' becomes possible.

Indeed. Marx's accusation is

accurate; many times, for example. in the history of the Christian


church believers are told to concentrate on saving souls for heaven
rather than working to stop the violence against women and children
in their own community - even in their own homes.

However, one

must not ignore the dialectic in Marx's own critique. Yarx refers
to religion both as an illusion. as "the opium of the people." and
as "the expression of real suffering and a protest against real

suffering.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature. the

heart of a heartless world and the sou1 of oulless conditions."lg5


Rudolph insists that one must not lose sight of either aspect of
Marx's definition of religion.
states Rudolph, one

Through a critique of religion.

"should pursue

and attempt

to

validate

historically Marx's notion of religions as, on the one hand, 'the


opium of the people.' and on the other. 'the protest against real

distress. * "

To keep in mind both aspects in one's call for an

ideology critique of religion. does not , therefore. entai1 the call


for the abolition of religion. To be true to both aspects of the
dialectic inherent

in

religion as explained by Marx, is

understand that "Marx provides

... insight

to

into those aspects of

Ig4 M a r x , r C o n t r i b u t i o n t o t h e c r i t i q u e o f Hegel's philosophy


o f law. Introduction. I n Coiiected Works, V o l . 3, K . M a r x a n d F.
Engels, 1843-1844 (New Y o r k : I n t e r n a t i o n a l Pub1 i shers, l W ' 5 ) , 1 7 6 ,
c i t e d i n Marsha A . Hewi tt, "Cyborgs, d r a g q u e e n s , a n d goddesses:
Emanci p a t o r y - r e g r e s s i v e p a t h s i n ferni n i s t t h e o r y ,
Method and
T h e o r y in t h e S t u d y o f Re7 i g i o n 5 . 2 ( 1 993), 1 3 5 .
Ig5 M a r x , " A C o n t r i bution t o t h e C r i tique o f Hegel ' s P h i losophy
o f Right.
Introduction, " 2 4 4 .

religion as concealment where it functions to reproduce and sustain


certain material practices of a society which instantiate and
maintain power as domination and hierarchical structure."lg6

One

must be clear regarding just what the cal1 for abolition means.
Although the insights gained may lead one to cal1 for an abolition
of those aspects and power structures of religion which serve to
sustain the status quo, it does not necessarily mean that the
emancipatory elements of religion must also be abolished. In fact ,
one may be led to question why Marx

himself called

abolition with such a sweeping generality.

for the

To insist. as Adorno

does, that critical thought grasps the dialectic inherent in that


which it is critiquing, is to reveal, in this case, the dialectic
of

the

repressive and

emancipatory elements which

structure

religion. To ignore the dialectic is, in effect, to cast away the


necessity for critical thinking i tself.
Nevertheless, perhaps the most that can be hoped for is that
one voice - and then perhaps another and another - from within the
context of the various established forms of the church will find
enough air to critique the distortions which are, without question,
apparent and to highlight for others the dif ferences which are made
manifest.

Hope rests with the conviction that hurnan subjectivity

is not yet cornpletely impotent, rather, as the Israelite prophets


believed, a "remnant" remains. The hope is that there exist

"

those

few,..who are conscious of the situation," those who "have broken

Ig6 Hewi tt,


Religion," 2 .

Vdeology

critique.

86

Feminisrn and

the

Study

of

through their own ideological self-seclusion. They have learned


what is going on in history." l g i

The glimpe of hope may be only

momentary, yet the yearning remains for the possibility that a


prophetic voice of the remnant could articulate "the dangerous and
subversive memory" of the ideals of the Christian community.

II. Religion as Concept and Reality


1 - Methodology for analysis

According to the rnethodological approach of the Frankfurt


School as outlined by Max Horkheimer, " [cloncepts are historically
fO rmed .

The categories used by the Frankfurt School are not

generalizations attained by a process of abstraction.

Rather, in

forming categories the historical character of the category's


subject matter and its genesis must be taken into account.

This

rnethodology, therefore, recognizing the relation of the concept to


its "materialn does not allow abstract concepts unless they are
merely used as " formalistic classifications of phenornena common to

Ig7 T i 1 1 ic h , A H i s t o r y o f C h r i s t i a n T h o v g h t , 4 8 6 .
I n t h e r e c e n t f i l m " P r i e s t , " one o f t h e C a t h o l i c p r i e s t s ,
F a t h e r Matthew, expresses h i s d i s g u s t w i t h what he knows has been
g o i ng on in t h e h i story o f t h e Roman C a t h o l i c Church.
D u r i n g mass
he g i v e s a horni l y which addresses t h e f a c t t h a t many p e o p l e doubt
t h e e x i s t e n c e o f God.
He says: "But when 1 l o o k a t t h e Church
t o d a y and see c a r e e r i s t s and h y p o c r i t e s and p h a r i sees t h r i v i ng t h e n
I doubt t h e e x i s t e n c e o f God.
How could he l e t t h i s happen?
Cathedra1 s, b i s h o p s , popes, al 1 t h e t r a p p i ngs o f power - w e c a r e
more a b o u t t h a t t h a n
. . t h e t e a c h i n g s o f C h r i s t : l o v e and
compassion f o r a11 mankind, a77 mankind."
It i s s i g n i f i c a n t t h a t
t h e bishop p r e s e n t a t t h i s mass, w a l k s o u t d u r i n g t h e rniddle of t h e
homi 1y.
[ P r i e s t , d i r e c t o r , A n t o n i a B i r d , produced by M i ramax F i 1ms
and BBC F i 1ms, 1 9 9 5 . 3

...

lg8 Max Horkheimer, "Notes on I n s t i t u t e A c t i v i t i e s ,

"

264.

all forms of society. "lJgAs a result, the category i s led.


by the very nature of i t s concrete content, to take in other,
different s e c t o r s of the given social configuration and to
follow out the genesis and import of its content within the
social totality. The general concept is thus not dissolved
into a multitude of empirical facts but is concretized in a
theoretical analysis of a given social configuration and
related to the whole 4& the historical process of which i t is
an i n d i s s o l u b l e part.

Horkheimer insists that such analysis, essentially critical in


character, results in concepts which

are

critically formed.

Inherent in this analysis is an immanent critique. whereby the


social institutions and their activities are compared with the
values they themselves have set up as their standards and ideals.

When subjected to such an analysis, social agencies which most


represent the present pattern of society "disclose a pervasive

discrepancy between what they actually are and the values they
accep t . n201

The categorie of social theory becorne crit ical , for

they reflect the actual rift between the values of the social
agency and its reality - "they provide a basis for critique within

I b i d . , 265.

200 I b i d .
201 I b i d .

Robert J . A n t o n i o o f f e r s t h e f o l lowi n g : " I m m a n e n t cri t i q u e i s


a rneans o f d e t e c t i n g t h e s o c i e t a l c o n t r a d i c t i o n s which o f f e r the
most determi nate p o s s i b i 1 it i es f o r emanci p a t o r y s o c i a l change. The
cornmentary on method c a n n o t be s e p a r a t e d f r o m i t s historical
application,
since the content o f i m m a n e n t c r i t i q u e i s the
d i a 7 e c t i c i n history. "
[ R o b e r t J . A n t o n i o , " I m m a n e n t cri t i q u e a s
t h e c o r e o f c r i t i c a l t h e o r y : i t s o r i g i n s and developments i n H e g e l ,
Marx and contemporary t h o u g h t ,Ir B r i t i s h Journa 7 o f Socio 7ogy 32.3
(September 1 9 8 1 ) ,

332.

historical reality. 2d2


The rift between value and reality, claims Horkheimer, is
"typical of the totality of modern culture."2(13

Accordingly.

"[tlhis leads to the hypothesis that society is a system in the


material sense that every single social field or relation contains
and reflects, in various ways, the whole i t s e l f . '204
intense analysis of a single social relation or

AS

a result.

institution

considered "particularly representative of the prevailing pattern


of reality may b e far better able to develop and grasp the nature

of the pattern than would an extensive compilation and description


of a s s o r t e d facts.tt205

Because the pervasive character of our

society makes its relations "felt in every nook and cranny of the
social whole," a methodological conception which takes account of
this fact is necessary.

Rather than verifying the hypothesis by

collecting individual experiences unt il they amount to universal


laws, Horkheimer suggests seeking
particular

"the universal within

the

. . . , and, instead of moving from one particular to

*O2
Antonio,
Ymrnanent c r i t i q u e as t h e c o r e o f c r i t i c a l
t h e o r y , l t 333.
Accordi ng t o A n t o n i O ,
Horkheimer a r g u e s t h a t
"immanent
c r i t i q u e d e s c r i b e s t h e d i a l e c t i c i n h i s t o r y w h i c h i s d r i v e n by t h e
c o n t r a d i c t i o n s between i d e o l o g y and r e a l it y .
E l i t e s attempt t o
s t a l l change by d e n y i ng these c o n t r a d i c t i o n s ; t h e y p o r t r a y a f a 1 s e
u n i t y o f t h e i d e a l and r e a l
However, t h e g r e a t e r t h e i d e o l o g i c a l
d a i m s , t h e more dangerous t h e y become t o t h e i r s o c i a l c o n t e x t .
Immanent c r i t i q u e seeks, b y r e v e a l ing t h e c o n t r a d i c t i o n s o f d a i m
and c o n t e x t , t o t r a n s f o r m 1 e g i t i r n a t i o n s in t o e m a n c i p a t o r y weapons. "
[ I b i d . , 338.1

203 Horkhei mer,


20c I b i d .

205 I b i d .

"Notes on I n s t it u t e A c t i v i t ies,

266.

another and then to the heights of abstraction." delving deeper


into the particular and discovering therein the universal law.206

ii. Religion as a social institution

Following the above outlined me thodologg of the Frankfurt


School. the concept of religion will be analyzed by delving into
its concretization in the historical manifestations of the social
institution of the Christian church. a particular. single social
field. "Religion,"a phenornenon common to al1 forms of society will
here. as before. refer to the definition provided by Geertz. The
pattern of the historic rnovement of the Christian religion from its
charismatic

beginning

to

the

distort ions

apparent

in

its

contemporary established forms will be considered as particularly


representative of the nature of the pattern of social reality.
From this, an investigation of the pattern of the relationship of
art to the church, as an institution with its own structures
endowed with authority and power, whose purpose is ideological,
will be informative for the study of the relationship between art

and ideology in general.


Through the years of its history, the Christian religion has
adopted an institutional form. What began as srnall groups of two
or three gathered together in homes in the first century of the
Common Era, awaiting the immediate return of the Hessiah. has
evolved into the many organizational denominational structures
carrying out missions. educational and administrative tasks, which
*O6 I b i d .

constitute the Christian church of the late twentieth century. As


the organization of the church became more complex
be problematic in and of itself

which may not

the Christian faith became

routinized (veralltaglichte), a term used by Yax Weber in his


description of the process
whereby either the prophet [original charismatic leader] or
his disciples secure the permanence of his preaching and the
congregation's distribution of grace, hence insuring the
economic existence of the enterprise and those who man it, and
thereby monopolizing as well the p$&vileges reserved for those
charged with religious functions.
The personal following of the believers was transforrned into a
permanent congregation, involving a division of

roles among

believers into priests and laity. The priest was charged with the
task of adapting the content of prophecy and religious tradition to
the everyday life of the laity. With the developing character of

the congregation, the priest became increasingly confronted with


having to keep in mind the needs of the laity, but always "in the
interest of maintaining and
community . ,,308

enlarging the membership of

the

In the evolving history of the Christian religion, when "no


prophets appeared for generations, or even centuries, the life of
the people became dominated by a class of priestly administrators
with vested interests . "209

These administrators often opposed the

*O7 Max Weber, The Socio7ogy o f Religion, t r a n s . ,


P a r s o n s ( B o s t o n : Beacon P r e s s , 1 9 6 3 ) , 60.

Talcott

208 I b i d . , 65.

209 L e w i s Benson, IlThe Order t h a t b e l o n g s to t h e G o s p e l , "


C o n c e r n : A Pamph7et Series, V o l . 7 (1960) 4 1 .

prophets and continually weakened


religion.

What

as a

began

the prophetic element of the

charismat ic movement ,

eventually

developed into a "social institution, conservative rather than


prophetic in nature. ,1210

The institution of

the Christian church evolved

into an

organization created to establish instruments to meet needs and


realize

goals.

bureaucracy:

In

the

short,

"a particular

distinctive rationality. "211

Christian

church

form of organization with

became

its own

The structure of the church came to

parallel the structures of and operate in accordance with the same

basic principles as other large scale organizations around it.

210 Paul Peachy,


(1956), 3 .

"Preface,

*"

"

Concern: A Pamph 7et Series, Vol

The

Kenneth Thompson, 'Bureaucracy and t h e Church, " in Davi d


M a r t i n , ed., A Socio7ogica7 Yearbook o f Re7igion i n B r i t a i n , 1
(London: SCMj 1968), 39.
The Mennoni t e Church was f o r a l o n g p e r i o d i n it s own h i s t o r y
a p p r o x i m a t e l y 300 y e a r s
a denomi n a t i on o f t h e C h r i s t i an Church
w h i ch r e s i s t e d a d o p t i ng a f o r m a l s t r u c t u r e .
However, t h i s changed
in " t h e f i na1 q u a r t e r o f t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y as [ N o r t h Ameri can J
Mennoni t e s f o l lowed t h e American p a t h t o w a r d denomi n a t i o n a l ism. "
[ K e r r y L.
S t r a y e r , "Background and H i s t o r y o f t h e Mennonite
Churches i n N o r t h America,"
in " E x p l o r i ng MC/GC
Integration"
i n f o r m a t i o n packet,
produced by t h e
I n t e g r a t i o n Exploration
Committee o f t h e Mennonite Church/General Conference Mennonite
Church i n N o r t h America (February l 9 9 3 ) , 31-32. ]
One paper which
examined t h e
importance o f
church s t r u c t u r e
i n the
MC/GC
in t e g r a t i on process of t h e N o r t h Ameri can Mennoni t e Churches ( 1 a t e
1 9 8 0 s - e a r l y 1990s) d e f i n e d s t r u c t u r e i n t h e Church as " t h e o r d e r l y
p a t t e r n by which t h e church o r g a n i z e s i t s e f f t o be t h e c h u r c h and
t o do i t s work.
This u s u a l l y i n c l u d e s t h r e e p a r t s : 1 ) church
p o l i t y ( b a s i c p h i l o s o p h i c a l approach), 2 ) c o n s t i t u t i o n s and b y l a w s
(ways o f c o n d u c t i n g o u r a f f a i r s ) , 3 ) and a c l e a r o r g a n i z a t i o n a l
The word ' c h u r c h f
p a t t e r n which shows who i s a c c o u n t a b l e t o whom.
as used h e r e means t h a t network whi ch in c l udes t h e c o n g r e g a t i on,
t h e area conferences, and t h e w i d e r denomi n a t i on. " [Harder , "The
Importance o f Church S t r u c t u r e , lt i n " E x p l o r i ng MC/GC I n t e g r a t i o n "
packet, 13.1

Christian religion adopted the form of a bureaucratic organization


"which strives

for

technical

efficiency, places

premium

on

precision of operation, control by professional experts, speed,


continuity of policy, and an optimal return from the money and
labour expended. "212

The church in it various historical forms

has hired bureaucrats, administrators, subordinate off icers and

staff, to operate the organization in an o r d e r l y and efficient


manner.

In brief, the ideology that has been adopted is that an

administrative bureaucratic structure is the best

some, the only

and perhaps for

- way to effectively and efficiently organize

itself, 2 13
With the magnitude of the organization, cornes the need to

establish policies which dictate standard procedure for the various


212 Paul M. H a r r i s o n , A u t h o r i t y and Power i n t h e Free Church
T r a d i t i o n : A Social Case S t u d y o f t h e A m e r i c a n Baptist Convention
(Carbondale and E d w a r d s v i l l e : Southern I l l i n o i s U n i v e r s i t y Press,
1959; A r c t u r u s Books e d i t i o n , 1971), x i .

2'3 I n t h e r e c e n t p r o c e s s which t h e Mennonite Church i n N o r t h


America embarked upon t o r e a c h i n t e g r a t i o n of i t s v a r i o u s f a c t i o n s ,
f o r example, one study paper e x p l a i n e d t h e need f o r structure:
" B e i ng an Anabapti st-Mennoni t e p e o p l e commi t t e d t o t h e b i b l ic a l way
as u n d e r s t o o d b y our t r a d i t i o n , a l r e a d y g i v e s s t r u c t u r e t o Our
faith.
O r g a n i z i n g Our c h u r c h programs i n accordance w i t h t h i s
u n d e r s t a n d i ng p r o v i des a v e h i c l e whereby t h a t t r a d i t i o n can be
lived.
L i v i n g w i t h i n s t r u c t u r e i n t h i s way i s n o t o n l y h e l p f u l ,
b u t v e r y necessary i n o u r complex w o r l d .
S t r u c t u r e s g i v e form t o
o u r i d e n t i t y and w i t n e s s , and p r o v i d e a vantage p o i n t from which t o
d i a l o g u e w i t h o t h e r C h r i s t i a n churches and w i t h a v a r i e t y o f s o c i a l
and p o l it i c a l o r g a n i z a t i ons. " [Harder, "The I m p o r t a n c e o f Church
Structure, " 14. j
Whi l e e s t a b l is h i n g a s t r u c t u r e m a y be h e l p f u l i n
d e a i i n g w i t h Our complex w o r f d , one ought t o be w i f l i n g t o q u e s t i o n
t h e whole i d e a o f i n s t i t u t i o n a l s t r u c t u r e .
The danger o f t h e
m i n d s e t w h i c h c l a i m s t h i s i s t h e o n l y p o s s i b l e w a y t h a t t h e Church
o f t h e late 2 0 t h c e n t u r y c o u l d o r g a n i ze it s e l f ( a n d s p e c i f i c a l l y ,
i n t h e case o f t h e Mennonite Church which has t r a d i t i o n a l l y been
ambi v a l e n t t o w a r d s Church s t r u c t u r e s ) , i s t h a t no o t h e r o p t i o n s a r e
consi dered.

levels of the bureaucracy .

Indeed , " r a tionalized organization

requires the standardization of administrative techniques, of human


operations, of human beings . "214

Wherea originally it was the

prophet who called the believers, then the priest who cared for
their

spiritual

needs ,

established

church

institutions have

developed a division of labour among a staff of professionals who


administer programs to meet the needs according to the policies of
the institution.

While this may prove the most efficient way in

which to carry out the mission of the church. the danger lurks that
human beings will no longer relate to one another as one human
being to another.

Unfortunately the bureaucrats often remain

faceless and nameless to the members whom they serve, and the
members become clients who have needs which fit categories met by
services pxwided.215

The need of the client determines which

bureaucrat will deal with it. If the need changes, another office
holder will take over. Sadly, what often develops is antipathy of
the bureaucratie expert toward the client. Such an attitude is of

214 C h a r l e s H. Page, IrBureaucracy and t h e l i b e r a l


Review o f Religion 16 ( 1 9 5 2 ) , 139.

church,"

T h i s r e a l i t y can cause p a r t i c u l a r concern i n cases o f


denomi n a t i o n s such as t h e Mennoni tes i n t h e i r c h o i c e t o e s t a b l i s h
One Mennonite
N o r t h American-wide
institutional structures.
t h e o l o g i a n states t h a t an i s s u e which must be k e p t i n mind i s :
"What s i ze o f o r g a n i z a t i o n c m be h e l d i n u n i t y g i v e n t h e Mennonite
p a s s i o n f o r v o l u n t a r i sm, it s p r i o f i t y on f a c e - t o - f a c e d i scernment,
i t s zeal f o r r a d i c a l d i s c i p l e s h i p and i t s r e j e c t i o n o f c e n t r a l
c o n t r o l a n d a u t h o r i t y ? " [Brunk, "The Mennonite Church and The
General Conference Mennonite Church: some c o m p a r i s o n s , ~ 463.1

*15 T h e r e a r e o r g a n i z a t i o n s o f t h e c h u r c h which t r y t o combat


t h i s ; t h e Mennonite Savings and C r e d i t Union o f O n t a r i o , f o r
example, i n s i s t s on r e f e r r i n g t o a11 c l i e n t s a s "members." W h i l e
l a u d a b l e ; t h e c h a l l e n g e i s t o m a i n t a i n t h e humanity i n t h e c o n t a c t .

In fact, many

course never sanctioned by the organization.

organizations insist that their number one responsibility is to


those they serve.

"and some agencies carefully

train

their

personnel to avoid any open display of impatience with the inexpert


outsider.

But this very training is evidence of the continua1

strain faced by the office holder to show good face before the
members of the client-public.n216

Whereas the priest may have had

a persona1 relationship with each believer. in large religious


organizations it could be any office holder meeting the need of no
member in part icular .21i

This leave little r o m for developing

inter-persona1 attachments between client and bureaucrat.

The

system must continue to function no matter who does the job or who
receives the service.
This does not deny the continuation of the role of the priest.
Nevertheless, that office, too. has its place in the established
hierarchy of the church. consisting of the local, provincial/state.
regional and national levels.

In most

denominations of the

Christian church. def initive statements of faith, values and


*16 Page,

''Bureaucracy and t h e 1 ib e r a l church,

Ir

140.

217 An example o f t h i f r o m t h e Mennonite Church would be any


of t h e v a r i ous Mennoni t e Church I n s u r a n c e a s s o c i a t i ons, Mennoni t e
Mutual A i d i n Goshen, I N , o r Mennonite B e n e f i t ~ s s ~ c i a t i oi nn
Baden, ON. Whereas it used t o be t h a t t h e elders would c a l 1 church
members t o g e t h e r t o r e b u i l d someone's b a r n a f t e r i t w a s d e s t r o y e d
by f i r e , f o r example, now t h e c l i e n t subrnits a c l a i m , an i n s u r a n c e
a d j u s t e r v i s i t s t h e s i t e t o c o n f i r m t h e c l a i m and a cheque i s
i s s u e d t o t h e c l i e n t t o c o v e r damages and pay t h e c o s t o f
replacement.
A s an aside, t h e former approach s t i 11 happens i n
Ami sh and O1 d O r d e r Mennoni t e comrnuni t i es; t h e i r " b a r n - r a i s i ngsrt
a r e understood even by t h e i r non-Mennoni t e n e i ghbours t o be a c t s o f
a c a r i n g communi t y o f C h r i s t i a n s w h o are l o o k i n g o u t f o r one
another .

ideology are established at the top and passed along down the
hierarchy to the p r i e t at the local leveL218 I t is the theology
of the Christian church. which from a "sociological point of view,

. . . functions as a relatively stable normative system to which the


members

of

religious

group

may

appeal

for

guidance. ,. 219

Certainly the stability is necessary if the Christian church is to


And the theology provides the necessary frarnework of

continue.

interpretation and articulation of the meaning of history and the


place and purpose of the church in the world around it . From their
218 Leonardo B o f f p o i n t s t o a moment i n t h e h i t o r y o f t h e
c h u r c h which cemented t h e power h i e r a r c h y :
"In t h e e l e v e n t h
c e n t u r y , w i t h Gregory V I I , a d e c i s i v e change t o o k p l a c e w i t h i n t h e
s t r u c t u r e o f power i t s e l f . I n h i s Dictatus Papae ( l O ? 5 ) , t h e Pope
r o s e up a g a i n s t t h e s e c u l a r p r a c t i c e s o f
power which
had
degenerated i n t o simony and e v e r y t y p e o f s a c r i l e g e and he
i n s t i t u t e d t h e i d e o l o g y o f t h e a b s o l u t e power o f t h e papacy.
S u p p o r t f o r t h i s was n o t t h e f i g u r e o f t h e p o o r , humble, and w e a k
Jesus b u t r a t h e r God h i m s e l f , omnipotent L o r d o f t h e u n i v e r s e and
s o l e source o f Power. "
[ B o f f , Church: C h a r i s m and P o w e r , 51 ]
There a r e e x c e p t i o n s t o t h i s r u l e .
During the sixteenth
c e n t u r y Reformati on, s p l i n t e r groups
t h e Anabapti s t s ( f o r e r u n n e r
o f t h e M e n n o n i t e s ) , for exarnple
b r o k e away f r o m t h e Roman
C a t h o l i c Church because o f t h e i r b e l i e f i n t h e e q u a l i t y o f a l 1
b e l i e v e r s b e f o r e God. S t r u c t u r a l l y these communiti es of b e l i e v e r s
d e v e l oped a more d e - c e n t r a l ized denomi n a t i o n a l p o l it y
Y e t , today
w i t h i n t h e s e denominations examples can be f o u n d where t h e hand
f r o m above p u t s those below back i n p l a c e .
I n t h e Mennonite
Church, f o r example, (whi ch now has a Mennonite Wor7d Handbook, i n
which t h e
various
levels o f
a l 1 committees and boards
admi n i s t r a t i v e , e d u c a t i v e , e t c .
and t h e i r s t r u c t u r e s and i n t e r r e l a t i o n s h i p s a r e c a r e f u l l y 1a i d o u t ) c o n f e r e n c e o f f i c i a l s a r e
r e g u l a r l y c a l l e d i n t o mediate a t t h e l o c a l 1e v e l
The complai n t
has been t h a t t h e y a r e n o t p r o f e s s i o n a l enough, sometimes c a u s i n g
more o f a p r o b l em than had e x i s t e d .

219 H a r r i son, A u t h o r i t y and Power, 8.


Speaki ng from w i t h i n t h e Cath01 i c Church t r a d i t i o n , B o f f
e x p l a i n s t h a t t h e Church "as an i n s t i t u t i o n i s c h a r a c t e r i z e d by
endurance, s t a b i 1 i t y , and by t h e r u l e s o f t h e game f o l lowed by it s
members.. . It b e g i n s t o understand i t s e l f i d e o l o g i c a l l y , as t h e
epiphany o f t h e promises i t safeguards. [ B o f f , Church: C h a r i s m and
Power, 48. ]

theology. a religious group discerns their actions. goals and


relation to their deity. At issue, however, is how church leaders
respond to laity who question the statements of faith and values
which are passed down the rungs of the hierarchy to them."770
The organizational structure of institutions reflects their
beliefs; so also does the church's official structure, for the
theology also informs the structure of the religious institution.
"Organizational

doctrines

to

proclaiming

instrumentalities are

be

infused

allegedly

with

ultimate

just as

ultimacy

in

""'

truths.

likely as

religious
Theology

are

groups

can

be

referred to in legitimizing the established order of the religious


institution.

In turn, questioning the institution's of f i c i a l

structure - especially that of its structures of teaching authority


and hierarchy of power - can be interpreted as a questioning of the
ultimate beliefs. On the flip side, however, theology can also be
referred to as a corrective to established or proposed distortions

220 Once again, w i t h r e f e r e n c e t o t h e r e c e n t N o r t h American


Mennoni t e in t e g r a t i o n p r o c e s s , one t h e o l o g i an r a i sed w h a t 1 v i e w as
a d i sconcerti ng q u e s t i o n : "How shal1 we d e v i s e a c o n f e s s i onal
s t a n d a r d o f f a i t h that can keep t h e f o r c e s o f d i v e r s i t y i n check
and b u i l d among us an i d e n t i t y t h a t c a l l s us t o f a i t h f u l n e s s and
t h a t c a l 1s t h e w o r l d t o f a i t h ? " [Brunk, "The Mennonite Church and
t h e General Conference M e n n o n i t e Church: some cornparisons," 463.1
Keeping t h e I 1 f o r c e s o f
d i v e r s i t y i n checkv i s p a r t i c u l a r l y
t r o u b l i n g i n a d a n o m i n a t i o n w h i c h emphasizes t h e B e l i e v e r s ' Church
t r a d i t i o n o f " t h e p u r s u i t o f u n i t y in s c r i p t u r a l d i a l o g u e " [George
R. Brunk, III, "The M e n n o n i t e Church and t h e General Conference
Mennoni t e Church: What Mennoni t e s b e l ieve about c h u r c h u n i t y , " The
Mennonite (Novernber 8, 1 9 8 8 ) , 4 8 6 1 .
A t r a d i t i o n w h i c h emphasises
d i a l o g u e , assumes t w o e q u a i p a r t n e r s , n o t t h e domi n a t i o n of t h e
l a i t y by a h i e r a r c h y who t r i e s t o keep them i n check.

221 James A . B e c k f o r d , R e l i g i o u s Organization: A T r e n d Report


and Bib7iography. C u r r e n t Socio7ogy X X I .2 ( l W 3 ) , 23.

in the organization of the ~ h u r c h . ~ ~ ~


Through the organizational charter, organizations tend to
abstract and objectify the persons of their structure.
doing, however,

they

risk

losing

contact

with

the

In so
people

themselves, and - unwittingly perhaps - end up causing distortions


in the relationships among persons, who are reduced to reified

objects identical with their title or place in the organization.


Organization 'represents . . . the universal against the
particular', that is. if the universal - the actual
structuring principle of society - treats men [and women] as
means, then it is opposed to the @terest of the particular.
[person] as an end in [themself],'

The particular person as an individual person is lost sight of and


becomes a means to the end of the overall structure of the
organized institution. Established church institutions, likewise,
through various abstractions and objectification via dogma and
doctrine also risk losing contact with both the material situation
222 D u r i n g t h e 1 a t e 1980-early
1990 d i s c u s s i o n s o f t h e
Mennoni t e Church and General Conference Mennoni t e Church r e g a r d i ng
t h e i r i n t e g r a t i on p r o c e s s , b i b l ic a l r e f e r e n c e was gi ven t o s u p p o r t
t h e need f o r s t r u c t u r e .
A t t h e same t i m e , however, c a u t i o n was
a l so n o t e d r e g a r d i ng p o s s i b l e abuses o f s t r u c t u r e : "God is a God o f
order.
The f i r s t c h a p t e r o f Genesi s t e l 7 s us t h a t t h e C r e a t o r ' s
o r i g i n a l work was o r d e r l y and good.. . S t r u c t u r a l o r d e r l i ness is a
g i f t o f God t h a t must be n u r t u r e d w i t h c a r e . W i t h o u t such c a r e , we
use s t r u c t u r e s i n h a r m f u l and a b u s i v e ways.
From t h e b e g i n n i n g ,
humans have been t e m p t e d t o become c a r e l e s s a b o u t God-given
structures.
.The f i r s t c h a p t e r o f I s a i ah g i v e s exampl es of how
God's good purposes b r e a k down when p e o p l e do n o t g i v e a t t e n t i o n t o
c a r i n g s o c i a l s t r u c t u r e s . Thus w e s h o u l d n o t t a k e o u r work o f
s t r u c t u r i n g our c h u r c h 1 i g h t l y .
The o r g a n i z a t i o n a l n e t w o r k s we
b u i I d up can and should be r e f l e c t i v e o f t h e g l o r y o f God; and t h e y
s h o u l d a s s i s t us in d o i ng God's w i 11. " [Harder, "The I m p o r t a n c e o f
Church S t r u c t u r e , " 1 3 . 1

..

223 G i 11ian Rose, The Me7ancho 7y Science: An Introduction to


t h e Thought o f Theodor W. Adorno (New York: Columbia U n i v e r s i t y
Press,

1978),

116.

and the particular people who are members of the church and their
material situation.

In a worst case scenario, persons no longer

count as particular people, but are reduced to an identity with


their role in the overall organization of church institutions.

To reduce persons to an identity with their role is to engage


in "identity thinking. "

Such thinking, contends Adorno, is the

"'prima1 form of ideoloey' because identity generates an illusory


sense of reconciliation that

is in turn based upon a deeper

falsehood that concepts are adequate to that which in reality they


suppress.m224

To equate a person with such and such an identity

is to ignore or, in some cases, to suppress their particularity.


Adorno insists there always remains at least a trace of difference
between objects and their concepts, because of their mediated
relationship to their socio-historical context.
between

an

individual

and

their

identity

The difference
remains

despite

suppression of that difference, for "[tlhe individual is both more

and less than his general definition. 225


The

abstraction

institutions can

lead

and
to

identity

thinking

carried

"increasingly intangible

out

by

forms of

22c Adorno, Negat i v e D i a 7ect i c s , 1 4 8 .


(Further detai l e d
d i s c u s s i o n o f i d e n t i t y t h i n k i n g w i 1 1 f o l l o w i n Chapter 3 . )

225 I b i d . , 1 5 1 .
I n r e f e r e n c e to t h i s d i s c u s s i o n , Buck-Morss n o t e s : "One i s
reminded o f M a r x ' s comment - A Negro i s a N e g r o . He o n l y becomes a
SI
ave i n c e r t a i n rel a t i ons. ' "
[Karl Marx, "Wage Labour and
C a p i t a l , " K a r 7 Marx and Frederick Enge7s: Se7ected Works (New Y c r k :
I n t e r n a t i ona1 Pub1 i s h e r s , l972), 8 1 , quoted i n Susan Buck-Morss,
Wa 7 t e r
The O r i g i n o f Negat i v e Dia 7ect ics: Theodor W . Adorno,
B e n j a m i n , and t h e F r a n k f u r t Institute (New Y o r k : The F r e e P r e s s ,
M a c m i l l a n , 1977; 1 9 7 9 ) , 2 4 4 , n . 1 0 0 . 1

domination.m 226

In

established

church

institutions,

power

structures are couched in theological terms. One loses a sense of


the structure as immediately oppressive because the power, in the
theologicall abstract, is detached from the concrete situation.
In this way, the theology of the established church can be used to
both support and legitimate the "atomizing and alienating power" of
the church as a form of domination.22i -lembers of the variou

historical forms of the Christian church, as members of any


institution, corne to believe that their place in the overall
structure is rational because it has been decreed so by

the

institution. To the individual in that institution, the domination

of the

institution

actuality.w228

"appears to

be

the universal:

reason in

This can be especially dangerous in the case of

226 Marha A. H e w i t t , "Woman, N a t u r e and Power: Ernancipatory


themes i n cri tical t h e o r y and f e r n i n i s t t h e o l o g y , " Studies in

Re7igion/Sciences Religieuses 20.3 (1991), 277.


W h i l e t h e r e f e r e n c e i n t h e above a r t i c l e i s t o t h e power o f
c a p i t a l i s m , a p a r a l l e l can be drawn t o t h e power o f c h u r c h
institutions.

?27 I b i d .
For f u r t h e r e x p l a n a t i o n o f t h i s phenomenon o f t h e power o f
words spoken - i n t h i s case, i n t h e o l o g i c a l e x p r e s s i o n - 1 t u r n t o
"The u t t e r a n c e o f
the s i m p l e s t e x p r e s s i o n i s an
Thornpson:
i n t e r v e n t i o n i n t h e w o r l d , more o r l e s s e f f e c t i v e , more o r l e s s
endowed w i t h in s t i t u t i o n a l a u t h o r i t y . .
It i s i m p o r t a n t t o s t r e s s ,
moreover, t h a t forms o f power i n f u s e the m e a n i n g o f what i s s a i d as
w e l l as t h e s a y i ng o f it . .
[ D l if f e r e n t in d i v i d u a l s o r g r o u p s have
a d i f f e r e n t i a l c a p a c i t y t o make a meaning s t i c k .
It i s the
i n f u s i o n o f meaning w i t h power t h a t l e n d s l a n g u a g e so f r e e l y t o t h e
o p e r a t ions o f i de01 ogy
Re1a t i ons o f domi n a t i on a r e s u s t a i ned by
a m o b i 7 i z a t i o n o f meaning w h i c h I e g i t i m a t e s , d i s s i m u l a t e s o r
r e i f i e s an e x i s t i ng s t a t e o f a f f a i r s . " [Thompson, S t u d i e s i n t h e
T h e o r y o f Ideo logy, 131 - 1 32.1

..

..

228 Theodor W.
Adorno and Max Horkheimer,
Diafectic o f
En7 ightenment: Phi 7osophica 7 Fragments (New York: C o n t i nuum, IgQO),
22.

church

institutions

since

corne

members

to

believe

that

established order "is a sacred and cosmic hierarchy,

the

In other

words, its legitimacy cornes n o t from below but from above, from the
will

of

God. "229

The

rationality

which

*become[s] synonymous with compromise and

the

members

resignation. " 230

adopt

The

danger i s t h a t members will n o t question the system or actions b y

those in power even when oppressed, for they believe the claim of
teaching authority o f institutions of the church, even when that

authority coerces them into conformity.

Members of a church ni11

often display the "mode1 of a behaviour which submits t o the


overwhelming
229 B o f f ,

power

of

Church:

230 Buck-Morss,

the

established

state

C h a r i s m and Power, 40-41

of

affairs. "231

The Origin o f Negative Dialectics, 7.

231 Theodor W. Adorno, " I d e o l o g i e ,


i n K u r t Lenk, ed. Ideologie
(Neuwied, Luchterhand, 1 9 6 1 ) , 262.
I t i s i n t h i s mode o f b e h a v i o u r t h a t one u n q u e s t i o n i n g l y
conforms o n e s e l f ( s i c h anpassen) t o o n e ' s role i n a s o c i a l
A s one example, t h e i s s u e o f c o n f o r m i t y and i t s
institution.
p o s s i b l e dangers has remai ned a many-si ded i s s u e w i t h i n t h e
A s a denomination w h i c h s t r o n g l y s e e s i t s e l f as
Mennoni t e Church.
" i n t h e w o r l d , b u t n o t o f i t , " f a c t i o n s o f Mennonites have d e a l t
w i t h c o n f o r m i t y i n d i f f e r e n t ways, be i t c o n f o r m i t y t o l a r g e r
s o c i e t y o r c o n f o r m i t y t o t h e group, i e., t h e Mennoni t e Church.
D u r i n g t h e l a t t e r p a r t o f t h e n i n e t e e n t h and e a r l y t w e n t i e t h
c e n t u r i es, N o r t h Ameri can Mennoni t e Church 1 eaders became more and
more aware o f t h e p o s s i b i 1 i t i e s o f a s s i m i l a t i o n i n t o t h e l a r g e r
N o r t h American mainstream 1i f e s t y l e . I n response, " [ r ]it u a l s , like
f o o t w a s h i ng, and symbols, 1 ike p l a i n c l o t h i ng, became i m p o r t a n t
methods o f mai n t a i n i ng s e p a r a t i o n f r o m t h e general p o p u l a t i o n ; a
rneans o f e x e r c i s i ng s o c i a l c o n t r o l " [ S t a y e r , "Background and
H i s t o r y o f t h e Mennonite Churches i n N o r t h America,
30. ]
The
f a c t t h a t many groups o f C o n s e r v a t i v e Mennonite,
O l d Order
Mennonites and Amish s t i 11 t o d a y have been a b l e t o m a i n t a i n t h e i r
separate i d e n t i t y from t h e world
around them i s due t o a
c o m b i n a t i o n o f a t h e o l o g y o f humi l i t y and a s t r o n g emphasis on
outward appearance whi ch immedi atel y id e n t if i es them as " o t h e r . "
" C l o t h i ng and o t h e r v i s i b l e a p p l ic a t i o n s were [and s t i 11 a r e ] v e r y
i m p o r t a n t i n t h e t h e o l o g y o f humi 1 i t y - i m p o r t a n t f o r i s s u e s l a r g e r

Persons thinking within an ideological f ramework m i r r o r


framework, remaining uncritical of it .

that

So long as these persons

"do not floutw the guidelines established by the institution, "in


a way which propels

[that] institution[] beyond the limiting

conditions, then their action may be s a i d to reproduce social


structure;" such persons help to perpetuate the s t a t us

quo. 232

Self-reflection seems an impossibility. for the institution's


established ideology "is operative [and. . . one] think[s] from it
rather than about it.

lJ3'

one's m i n d .

A cal1 for anything o t h e r does not enter

Adorno and Horkheimer lament this 'kew form of

delusion" which has people under its spell to such a degree that
they are unable "to hear the unheard-of with their own ears, to
touch the unapprehended with their own hands. ,,234
With the establishment of church institutions to carry out the
various functions, the attitude can arise which insists that these
institutions are essential.

A strong interna1 conservatism and

than j u s t t h e m ~ e l v e s . ~
[Theron Schlabach, Peace, F a i t h , N a t i o n :
M e n n o n i t e s and Amish i n N i n e t e e n t h C e n t u r y A m e r i c a , The Mennoni t e
E x p e r i ence in America, V o l 2 (Scottdal e , P a . : Heral d P r e s s , l988),
100, quoted i n I b i d . ]
But as the l a r g e r s o c i e t y becornes aware o f
i s s u e s such as spouse abuse (because wives must submit t o t h e i r
husbands) w i t h i n C o n s e r v a t i v e and O1 d Order Mennoni t e communi t i e s ,
q u e s t i o n s o f c o n f o r m i t y , power and a u t h o r i t y i n t h a t community must
also be a d d r e s s e d .

232 Thompson, Studies i n t h e T h e o r y o f Ideology, 129.


233 P a u l R i c o e u r , Hermeneut i c and the human sciences; Essays
on Language, a c t i o n , and i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , ed. , t r a n s . , i n t r o . , John
B. Thornpson (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni v e r s i t y Press, 1981 ) , 2 2 7 ,
c i t e d i n H e w i t t , From Theo7ogy t o Socia7 T h e o r y , 3 4 .
234 Adorno and Horkheimer,

Dialectic o f E n l i g h t e n m e n t , 3 6 .

structural

rigidity

perpetuation.

can

develop

in

order

to

ensure

self-

What began as methods of procedure as a means of

attaining certain goals, can become ends in thernselves.

The

probability is very high that eventually the methods themselves


will become "sacrosanct for the ritualists and routineers..235

The

insistence that needs be met the way they have always been met can
mean that human spontaneity is out of the question.

It can become

acceptable to believe that rational procedures - according to the

established rationality
labour.

As a result

dictate the most efficient division of


face-to-face informal cooperation and

camaraderie between staff members as individuals are discouraged.


In order to continue. an institution must remain economically
sound. Unfortunately. the institution's raison d 'tre can often

change from meeting the needs of the clients to simply meeting the
bottom line in order to keep the institution itself afloat.

An

attitude is adopted which dictates that programs be cut and staff


let go in the name of the budget; so be it if the programs c u t were
precisely the ways in which the original needs of the client were
addressed and so what if, in the case of an institution of the

Christian church, staff took the job in what

for them was a

response to a religious call. I t can become the case that it must


be proved to the constituency that not only is a particular
organization necessary, but that organization is also well-managed.
Having well-managed organizations which accomplish their goals and

235 Page, "Bureaucracy and t h e 1 i b e r a l church," 139.

103

carry out their mandate may be a good idea. but real achievement
may.

in fact, "not be important so long as objective and irnpressive

results are continually presented to the constituency."236

Tao

often. the key is to ensure that the legitimacy and management of


the organization will

not be questioned. or worse yet. its

existence threatened. A very real vicious circle can take shape:


the bureaucrats mus t follow t h e established procedures to ensure
the existence of an organization the constituency will financially
support so they (the bureaucrats) continue to have j o b s which must
be carried out according to t h e es tablished procedures to ensure
the perpetuity of the organization.
the membership of

Because

the religious organization is

voluntary. it can be seen as particularly crucial that staff not do


anything that would cause concern among t h e supporting constituency
as we11 as prospective recruits.237

ideal of

"The ubiquitous religious

'loving one another' prevents the organization from

condoning overt conflict. and there is the disquieting possibility


that

attendance

and

participation

might

suffer.,,238

The

implication can be a further entrenched conservatism in order to


ensure satisfaction. if not harmony, among members. When signs of
dissatisfaction or other dilemmas
-

--

arise, it can become more

- -

236 H a r r i s o n , Authority and Power, 136.


237 T h i s does n o t deny t h a t a sirni 1 a r a t t i t u d e can be i n s i sted
upon by po7 it i c i a n s who do not want t o l o s e v o t e s o r b u s i n e s s
owners who do n o t want t o l o s e c u s t o m e r s .
238 R o b e r t C . L . Brannon, "Organi z a t i o n a l vu1 n e r a b i 1 i t y i n
modern r e l ig i ous o r g a n i z a t i o n s , " S c i e n t i f i c Study o f R e 7 igion 10.1
(Spring, 1971), 29.

important to preserve the gains that have been made, than to "risk

the dangers of a prophetic and imaginative leadership. ,,239

In Peter Berger's 1961 study of the religious establishment in


the United States a disturbing

trend became apparent which is

directly related to the vulnerability of church organizations.


Berger found that ins tead of raising troublesome questions and
forcing attention to the rifts between values and reality, the
religious establishment "supports and guarantees the value s y s t e m
of the c o m i n ~ n i t y . " ~The
~ ~ main attitude of church authorities in
239 H a r r i s o n , A u t h o r i t y and Power, 15.
240 P e t e r L. B e r g e r , The Noise o f SoTemn Asemblie: C h r i s t i a n
Commi t m e n t and the R e 7 i g i o u s Estab 7 ishrnent i n America (Garden C i t y ,
NY: Doubleday and Co., 1 9 6 1 ) , 40.
Leonardo B o f f g i v e s a n o t h e r f r i g h t e n i n g t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y
exampl e of t h e Church 's compl ic i t y w i t h the s o c i ety around it : "The
German b i shops condernned in t r a s y s t e m i c excesses b u t made c l e a r it s
p o s i t i o n t h a t ' t h e C a t h o l i c religion was no more opposed to the
Nazi f o r m o f government t h a n t o any o t h e r , even though i t was
w i d e l y known t h a t genocide w a s an i n t e g r a l p a r t o f t h e N a t i o n a l
S o c i a l i s t d o c t r i n e . ' " [G. Lewy,
The C a t h o 7 i c Church and Nazi
Germany (McGraw-Hi 11 Paperback Edi t i o n , l96S), 331, c i t e d in B o f f ,
Church: Charism and Power, 54. ] I n a r e c e n t f ront-page a r t i c l e i n
t h e G7obe and M a i 7 , t h i s p o s i t i o n o f t h e C a t h o l i c Church i n Germany
has corne back t o haunt C a t h o l ic Church l e a d e r s , in c l u d i n g t h e Pope,
f i f t y y e a r s a f t e r t h e end o f t h e war.
"Angry h e c k l e r s , j e e r i n g and
t o b b i n g p a i n t bags, gave t h e Pope h i s w o r s t r e c e p t i o n i n y e a r s
y e s t e r d a y [in B e r l in ]
. .The r o a r i ng s e n d o f f topped a v i s i t
dominated by much s e r i o u s t a 1 k a b o u t t h e w a r t i m e Roman C a t h o l i c
Church ' s s i 1ence d u r i ng t h e Ho1ocaust
. [ H f undreds o f young
a n a r c h i s t s f r o m B e r l in s 1 ive1 y underground scene screamed 'Go t o
He7 1 ' and ' Burn t h e Popet
The Pope t w i c e dropped f rom h i s
speeches passages i n h i s p r e p a r e d t e x t s t h a t defended t h e Roman
C a t h o l i c C h u r c h f s l o w p r o f i l e d u r i n g t h e T h i r d Reich i n terms even
t h e c o n t r i t e German b i s h o p s no l o n g e r use.
But he ended w i t h a
m e e t i n g w i t h German Jewish l e a d e r s a t w h i c h he acknowledged t h a t
t o o f e w Cathol i c s had d e f i e d H i t l e r . .
Jewish leader I g n a t z Bubis
p r a i sed t h i s statement as t h e most d i r e c t acknowl edgement a Pope
had e v e r made o f t h e V a t i c a n ' s f a i 1 u r e t o denounce t h e Ho1ocaust "
[ R e u t e r s News Agency, "Angry B e r l i n rnob h e c k l e s t h e Pope: V i s i t
domi n a t e d by t a 1 k o f Church ' s wartime s i 1ence d u r i ng Ho1o c a u s t , "
The G7obe and M a i l (22 June 1 9 9 6 ) , A ( 1 - 2 ) . ]

..

. .. .

.. ..

..

the 1960's showed evidence of a shift from prophesying against the


reality of the world that is, to not only affirming the s t a t u s quo.
but working towards ensuring harmony within it. Berger found that
elements of religious teachings serve to internalize within the
individual the norms of society. a psychological mechanism of guilt
and

repentance which encourage a smooth

functioning

society

requiring but a minimum of external control. According to Berger.


probably the most important social function of religion in the
United

States

is

"the function of

symbolic

integration ....

[Rleligion. especially through its solidarity-generating symbols,


This lead to

functions to integrate and maintain society.n241

what Berger tags "the O.K. world." where the religious institution
becomes

"guarantee that

the world

is

as

it

should

be.

Affiliation with the religious institution becomes an act of


allegiance to the 'O.K. world.' to normalcy, to the s t a t u s quo.n242
1

propose that there is an inherent contradiction in the

abdication by the Christian church in its various historical forms

of its identity as something other than the world around it. in


favour of an identity with something of that social reality.

If

the Christian religion originated with a charismatic and prophetic


leader, who called the children of Israel to be in the world but
not of the world and prepare themselves for the Kingdom of Heaven
which was at hand. then for the resulting church to adopt the forms

*"

Berger,

The Noise o f

Solemn Asernblie, 5 1 .

2L2 I b i d . , 93.

106

of and affirm the institutions of the world around it, contradicts

the very ideals to which Christians are to adhere. Bureaucratization itself may not be the issue. What does raise concern is the
fact that the religion which grew out of the tradition of the
prophets of Israel who were "critical of institutions in Israel as
part of a larger process of desacralization" has itself adopted

forms,

institutional

often

resulting

in

the

routinization.

corruption and legalization of its faith "to the extent that its
inner meaning was lost . f 1 2 4 3

The rift grows ever deeper between the

inner meaning of faith and institutional form with an increasing


rigidity

of

established church structures, which

instead of

challenging the s t a t u s quo, grow more in its likeness. Ironically.


it is not the threat of the world around it that "throttles the
dynamic

of

the spiritw244which

inspired

the

birth

of

the

Christian church, it is rather the resultant officia1 church's own


adoption and affirmation of an identity with heteronomous elements
from that world. By adopting a bureaucratic format, the Christian
church has opened the way for conservatism and rigidity, which so
often in turn have squelched its prophetic voice.
The argument is made that an institutional form is necessary

in order to get things done; if the Christian church is to carry

243 J .
Lawrence B u r k h o l d e r , "Toward a t h e o l o g y of c h u r c h
s t i t u t i o n s ( 1 1 : Mennoni tes have a1 ways been ambi v a l ent about
e i r i n s t i t u t i o n s , " Gospe7 Hera7d (September 13, l994). 2 .

M i l l e r , P r o f e s s o r o f B i b l i c a l S t u d i e s . Conrad
W a t e r l o o , O N . Persona1 c o n v e r s a t i o n , June 1994.
( U s e d by permi s s i on. )
244

John

W.

Grebel Col 1 ege,

out its mission, it must do so in an organized and efficient


manner: programs must be administered, staff must be trained, and
funds must be equally distributed.

But in opposition to this

mindset , the argument is also made that "by the time an informa1
movement [such as the Christian church was when it began] has grown
'conservative,' i ts u s e f u l n e s s is probably over. w243

I t must also

be recognized that institutions by their very nature are prone to

corruption, petrification. pride. and abuse of power.

In the

process of institutionalization, the Christian church in its


various forms has on many occasions proven no exception.

Sadly,

the rift between the ideals of the social institution of organized


religion and its reality have been al1 too apparent at many moments
throughout its history.
Institutional structures may
"inevitable and

...exist

in

the

eyes

of

many

be

by way of compromise,"246 and disrnantling

them may not be an option. Rather than bemoan this fact, one ought
to be aware of the dangers inherent in their existence and remain
relentlessly

critical

of

their

operations,

reminding

the

bureaucrats and administrators again and again of the original


values which the Christian community upholds.

But to cal1 for a

theology of church institutions, as J. Lawrence Burkholder has

245 Paul Peachy, " S p i r i t and Forrn i n t h e Church o f


Concern: A Pamphiet S e r i e s , V o l . 2 ( 1 9 5 5 ) , 2 4 .
2C6 J . Lawrence B u r k h o l d e r ,
2 6 , 1 9 9 5 . (Used by perrni s s i o n . )

persona1 correspondence,

Christ,
January

recently done, is to move in the exact opposite direction,24ifor


to develop a theology around institutions merely works to further
legitimate and

entrench their existence.

While

Burkholder ,

himself, insists that to develop a theology of institutions does


not entai1 legitirnation of the negative aspects of institutional
hierarchies,

he

also

acknowledges

that

his

theological

conceptualization could be manipulated to mean the opposite of his


Religion in its various historically establihed

intention.'18

forms already has a tendency to conceal the problems within it


behind a "quasi-theology of the c h ~ r c h ; " ~with
' ~ a theology of

church institutions, who knows what rnay be manipulated and remain


hidden? This is not to

Say,

however, that theology ought not to be

referred to in one's criticism of various distort ions apparent in

In fact, it may be the task of

institutions of the church.

theologians of the various Christian communities to make visible


the structural interests couched
authorities -

in the

language of church

the possible reprimands of

dealing with

those

authorities remains, however, a risk not to be underestimated.


Wi th reference to theology, members and leaders of es tablished

church institutions can reorient themselves in order to strive to

247
c. f.
institutions".

Burkholder,

"Towards

248 Personal c o n v e r s a t i o n ,
(Used by permi s s i o n . )

30

Augut

theology
1996,

of

Goshen,

church
I n d i ana.

249 Franz X a v i e r Kaufrnann, "Recherches e t D b a t s : r e l i g i on e t


bureaucrati e
le problerne de 1 ' o r g a n i s a t i o n re1 i g i e u s e ,
Socia7
Compass X X I . 1 ( 1 9 7 4 ) , 1 0 2 .

achieve

the

original

religious

ideals.2 50

Demands

for

justification of the various distortions which becorne apparent


under the eye of ideology critique, "and the attempt to meet this
demand

by

supporting the original claim [of the ideals of the

Christian religion] with reasons, represents a form of discourse


which," according to Thompson, "diverges frorn the kinds of speech
'authorized' b y existing institutions.

Indeed it could be said

is this very demand which renders possible a r a t i o n a l

that t

critique of existing institutions and of the ideological forms of


expression by means of which they are sustained.w251

To the extent

that a critique questions the present officially established


authority structures and with reference to the original ideals
generates interpretations of what the Christian religion is al1
about

interpretations

which

diverge

from

the

authorized

interpretations - to this extent "a critique of the relations of


domination which ideology serves to sustain" within religious
structures is indeed a possibility.252

250 Members o f t h e Mennoni t e Church, f o r exampl e, can t u r n t o


t h e f o l l o w i n g i m p o r t a n t element o f the A n a b a p t i s t - M e n n o n i t e f a i t h
t r a d i t i o n t o h e l p r e o r i e n t themselves: " W e b e l i e v e i n t h e c h u r c h as
a sign t o the world.
The c h u r c h i s a c i t y on a h i 1 1 t e l l i n g God's
[Brunk, "The
s t o r y t h r o u g h i t s l i f e as a community o f f a i t h . "
Mennoni t e Church and t h e General Conference Mennoni t e Church: What
Mennonites b e l i e v e about c h u r c h u n i t y , " 486.1
I f t h i s i n fact i s
i m p o r t a n t i n t h e i r f a i t h t r a d i t i o n , t h e i s s u e w i t h w h i c h members o f
t h e Mennonite Church must deal is how t o rernain " a s i g n t o t h e
prophetic voice t o t h e world
i n l i g h t o f the fact that
worldu
t h e y , t o o , have chosen t o a d o p t an i n s t i t u t i o n a l f o r m s i m i l a r t o
what i s f o u n d i n t h a t v e r y w o r l d around them.

251 Thompson,

Studie i n t h e T h e o r y o f Ideo 7ogy, 71 .

252 I b i d . , 66.

Certainly

criticism

spontaneity and

ought

to

be

launched

when

human

inter-persona1 relationships are squelched and

dehumanized within the bureaucratic organization of the authority


structures of religion.

A basic tenet of Christianity

- love for

one's fellow human beings - ought to be articulated in the face o f


heavy-handed suppression of dynamic and critical thinkers within
the ranks

of

church

institutions. 253

It

is

precisely

these

dissenting voices which must remain active, for the concern must
beings, not

with

the perpetuation

of

remain with

human

institution.

Indeed, the ideal may be that the "task o f the Church

the

253 Leonardo B o f f , who was h i m s e l f s i l e n c e d by t h e h i e r a r c h y o f


t h e Cath01 i c c h u r c h , e x p l a i n s t h e e x t e n t t o w h i c h t h e c h u r c h e x e r t s
it s power: "The h i e r a r c h y speaks o u t s t r o n g l y a g a i n s t c e n s o r s h i p
p r a c t i s e d by t h e
s t a t e and y e t
t h e Church e x e r t s
almost
i n q u i s i t o r i a l c o n t r o l o f the Cath01 i c means o f communication.
Any
a r t i c l e i n t h e o l o g i c a l , s c i e n t i f i c , o r s p i r i t u a 1 j o u r n a l s n o t in
1 i n e w i t h a p a r t i c u l a r e c c l e s i a l i n t e r p r e t a t i on, any t h e o l o g i c a l
h y p o t h e s i s t h a t i s advanced i n view o f new problems r a i s e d by
society,
p r o v o k e s an o f t e n v i o l e n t r e a c t i o n w i t h t h r e a t s o f
s u b m i t t i n g t h e a u t h o r t o a d o c t r i n a l t r i a l h e l d by h i e r a r c h i a l
s u p e r i o r s . " [ B o f f , Church: Charism and Power, 36. ]
Even i n t h e Mennonite Church, which t r a d i t i o n a l l y has shunned
h i e r a r c h i a7 s t r u c t u r e s , d i s s e n t i ng v o i ces a r e someti mes he1 d in
line.
3 . Lawrence B u r k h o l d e r ( p r o f e s s o r emeri t u s and f o r m e r
p r e s i d e n t o f Goshen Col 1 ege, a Mennoni t e church-funded 1ib e r a f a r t s
c o l l e g e i n I n d i a n a ) was "under p r e s s u r e f o r a l o n g t i m e by Goshen
Co1 l e g e because o f m y t h e o l o g i c a l p o s i t i o n , p a r t i c u l a r l y w i t h
r e s p e c t t o e t h i C S r e g a r d i ng power, j u s t i c e , a u t h o r i t y , and number :
a persona1 e t h i c t o a s o c i a l e t h i c . "
[Burkholder,
persona1
conversation
30
August
1996,
Goshen,
Indiana.
(Used
by
permi s s i on. ) ]
I t is al so s i g n i f i c a n t t h a t B u r k h o l d e r 's PhD
d i s s e r t a t i on,
s u c c e s s f u l 1y defended a t
P r i nceton Theol o g i c a l
Seminary i n 1958, was r e f u s e d p u b l i c a t i o n by a l 1 Mennonite Church
pub1 ishers u n t i 1 1989 because it was c o n s i d e r e d c o n t r o v e r s i a l
w i t h i n t h e Mennoni t e Church.
[ J . Lawrence Burkhol der,
"The
Problem o f S o c i a l R e s p o n s i b i l i t y from t h e p e r s p e c t i v e of t h e
Mennonite Church, " E l k h a r t , I N : I n s t i t u t e o f Mennoni t e S t u d i e s ,
1989.1
O f c o u r s e , t h e p u b l i s h e r now w r i t e s t h a t t h i s ' 9 s a
1andmark document in t h e o n g o i ng Mennoni t e (and C h r i s t i an) dt' a l ogue
about peace, j u s t i c e , power and s o c i a l r e s p o n s i b i l i t y . '' [ I b i d . ,
Pub1 isher ' s n o t e s . ]

in the world is not to survive at any price, b u t to serve the world


by proclaiming and following the will of God,"254

m i l e it is not

impossible for the Christian church to maintain its form of an


established organized institutional structure of authority and
remain faithful to its ideals, it must do more than merely mouth
the platitudes. The Christian church in its many established forms
must stay closely in touch with human life and determine its
response in light of the suffering and hope it finds, not in terms

of established principles and techniques of an organization.255


Sixteen years after his study of the religious establishment
in the United States, Berger came to the conclusion that in that
time the attitude toward religion had changed, "The change since
then can be conveniently summed up by saying that more and more
people have corne to the conclusion that t h e i r world is not 'O.K.'
and religion bas lost much of its ability to persuade them that it

254 Jan M.

War,"

Lochmann, T h r i s t i a n t h o u g h t i n t h e Age o f t h e C o l d

Concern: A Pamph7et S e r i e s , V o l . 10 (1963), 6.

255 The f a c t t h a t e s t a b l i s h e d c h u r c h i n s t i t u t i o n s i n e a r l y
t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y Europe d i d n o t s t a y in t o u c h w i t h human needs b u t
c o n c e n t r a t e d more on t h e s u r v i v a l o f t h e c h u r c h has l e d t o s t r o n g
a n t i - c h u r c h sentiments.
Paul T i 11 i c h w r i t e s o f t h i s s i t u a t i o n :
"The churches were t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i ves o f t h e id e o l o g i es which k e p t
t h e r u 1 ing c l asses i n power o v e r a g a i n s t t h e w o r k i ng masses.
This
was the tragic situation.
It i s a g r e a t t h i n g t h a t i n America t h i s
has happened on a much srna1 l e r s c a l e .
B u t i n Europe i t has led t o
t h e r a d i c a l a n t i r e l ig i o u s and a n t i - C h r i s t i a n a t t i t u d e s o f a l 1
labour
movements . . . . lt
was
not
the
'bad
atheistsl
- as
p r o p a g a n d i s t s c a l 1 them
w h o were r e s p o n s i b l e f o r t h i s ; i t was t h e
fact
that
the
European
churches,
Orthodox,
Lutheran,
and
E p i scopal ian, were w i t h o u t s o c i a l sensi t i v i t y and d i r e c t i on.
They
were
d i rected
toward
1i t u r g i c a l
or
dogmatic
efforts
and
refinements, b u t t h e s o c i a l problem w a s l e f t t o d i v i n e providence."
[ T i 11i c h , A H i s t o r y o f C h r i s t i a n T h o u g h t , 4 8 3 . 1

is."256

The reaction on the part of

official. establishment

churches, he noted. has become one of retrenchment.


A more recent study which concluded that "[plastors take a

stand on controversial issues about 1.7 times per y e a r , " confirms


that in the 1990s religious leaders continue to usually toe the
Interestingly, the pators surveyed

line of the s t a t u s quo.

"reported that when they did speak out, comments were more positive
than negative. n258

If reponse to their prophetic voice is more

often positive than negative, then one could conclude that the
laity wish their religious leaders were more prophetic more often.
Indeed. it

institutions

may

be argued

too much

that one gives established church

credibility if

one

insists

that

the

dissenting, prophetic voices within have been totally quietened.


The totality of a system is never total, never a coherent and
seamless unity; likewise there are voices which do not quite fit
the mould of the church's officia1 authoritative structures.

In spite of his own condemning critique of the historical


forms of Christianity , Horkheimer maintains the hope that the

256 P e t e r L . Berger, F a c i n g U p t o M o d e r n i t y : Excursions i n


Society, Po7itics, and Re7igion (New Y o r k : B a s i c Books, l977), 1567.

257 " P a s t o r s were asked to comment on t h e i r p a s t o r a l p r o p h e t i c


r o l e s . Exampl es of p r o p h e t i c i ssues were a b o r t i o n , homosexual it y ,
c a p i ta1 p u n i shment and women i n m i n i s t r y . The s t u d y was conducted
by Michael Yoder, a s o c i o l o g i s t a t Northwestern Col lege [ I o w a ]
He
f o u n d t h a t p a s t o r s i n mid-career were more willing t o speak o u t
t h a n those a t t h e b e g i n n i ng o r end o f t h e i r c a r e e r s . " [Mennoni t e
World C o n f e r e n c e news r e 1 ease, c i t e d i n M e n n o n i t e R e p o r t e r 2 6 . 1 ( 8
January l996), 2 . ]

258 I b i d .

original ideals of Christianity will not be totally forgotten:


There rernains the hope that. in the period of world history
which is now beginning. the period of docile masses governed
by clocks. some men can still be found to offer resistance,
like the victBs of the past and, among them, the founder of
Christianity.

iii. Methodological presuppositions


Horkheimer states the hypothesis that "society is a system in
the material sense that every single social field or relation
contains and reflects. in various ways. the whole itself.,,260

To

reiterate, then, to carry out an intense analysis of a single


social relation or institution, one may be far better able to corne
to an understanding of the nature of the pattern of society than if
one had compiled numerous assorted facts. When subjected to such
an analysis. social agencies which most represent the present

pattern of society "disclose a pervasive discrepancy between what


they actually are and the values they accept. II 261
In the above analysis, religion in its various concrete

official forms of the Christian church was analyzed as such a


social agency. which is administratively run and guided by the
values and aims of church authorities.

Through the method of an

259 Max Horkhei mer, C r i t i q u e of Instrumenta 7 Reason, t r a n s . ,


Matthew

J. O f Conne1 1 e t a1 . (New Y o r k : S e a b u r y P r e s s , 1 9 7 4 ) , 4 9 .

260 Horkheimer, " N o t e s on Insti t u t e A c t i v i t i e s ,

"

266.

261 I b i d . , 2 6 5 .
Schroyer d e s c r i bes an immanent c r i t i q u e a s " a means o f
r e s t o r i ng ' a c t u a 1 i t y t o f a 1 s e appearance ' by f i r s t d e s c r i b i ng ' what
a s o c i a l t o t a l i t y h o l d s i t s e l f t o b e , and then c o n f r o n t i n g i t w i t h
what it is i n f a c t becomi n g
[ T r e n t S c h r o y e r , The C r i t i q u e of
D o m i n a t i o n (Boston: B e a c o n P r e s s , 1 9 7 3 ) , 30-31 . ]

immanent critique it became apparent that a significant rift has


often existed between the ideals and the reality of this religion.
Through its history in the various concrete form of the Christian
church, a religion which, under the charismatic leadership of its
original prophet criticized the institutions of its day. has often
integrated itself into the world around it and adopted a form of
bureaucracy like the institutions of that world -

The community of

believers, which has evolved into many forms of established church


institutions, has often abdicated the prophetic role, its worldnegating role

(to follow

Max

Weber), of critiquing

inhumane

conditions and over-turning the tables of the dishonest rnoney


changers.262

In exchange, church institutions have often adopted

a world-sustaining role , supporting the s t a t u s

quo

and mirroring

the institutions of their context.263

262 T i 11 i c h l s r e f e r e n c e t o t h e C h r i t i a n c h u r c h i n England i n
t h e e a r l y p a r t o f t h e t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y i s b u t one example.

263 A f r o n t - p a g e a r t i c l e i n The Globe a n d M a i 7 c o n f i rms t h a t


t h e c h u r c h i s v i e w e d i n t h e same l i g h t as o t h e r o r g a n i z a t i o n s i n
present-day s o c i e t y .
The a r t i c l e , e n t i t l e d Vhurches t o l d t o t r y
t h e o l d h a r d s e l 1 : 'Customersr l o s t , a u t h o r warns" h i g h l i g h t s a
r e c e n t book by R e g i n a l d B i bby
Unknown Gods.
00th t h e reviewer
and B i bby use j a r g o n frorn t h e b u s i n e s s w o r l d i n an a n a l y s i s o f t h e
p r e s e n t s i t u a t i o n o f t h e church i n Canada.
Although Bibby d a i m s
h i s use o f b u s i n e s s and m a r k e t i n g j a r g o n i s rnerely "an extended
metaphor t o 'pu7 7 t o g e t h e r a l o t o f m a t e r i a l ' ," t h e v e r y f a c t t h a t
t h e metaphor is s u i t a b l e underscores m y c l a i m.
Exarnpl es in c l ude:
" A l t h o u g h Canadians have demonstrated t h e r e i s a s t r o n g market f o r
religion,....";
" ' T h e r e l i g i o u s f i r m s t h a t a r e f a i l i n g i n Canada
1 II
a l so have a i a c k on t h e market.
, "They [ c h u r c h e s ] have a
d i s t r i b u t i o n problem,
and cannot I g e t t h e f a i t h o u t of t h e
warehouse. " F i na1 1y , B i bby a d v i ses c h u r c h e s how t o " i mprove t h e i r
' p r o d u c t t and t h e i r ' m a r k e t share ' . . . . l [ i ] t s n o t enough t o have a
product
t h e y must make t h e i r members a w a r e t h e y have a p r o d u c t . "
[ J a c k Kapica, "Churches t o l d t o t r y t h e o l d h a r d se1 1 : 'Customersl
l o s t , a u t h o r warns, " The G7obe and M a i 7 ( 9 Septernber 1991 ) , A ( 1 -

... .

Christanity, in its theologically manipulated forms, claims


Horkheimer, is to blame for the fact that religion can no longer
indict the present situation.

" [Tlhe more Christianity brought

God's rule into harmony with events in the world, the more the

meaning of religion became perverted .

""'

Great ingenui ty was

required for this process, notes Horkheimer: "Theology has always


tried to reconcile the demands of the Gospels and of power.

In

view of the clear utterances of the founder, enormous ingenuity was


required. n263

Horkheimer is correct that this often ha been the

case; it is incorrect, however, to i n s i s t that this has always been

the case.

Just as one gives a false impression if one insists on

the totality of a system as a coherent unity - which, according to

2) 1
B i b b y i n s i s t s t h e p r o b l e m 1 i e s w i t h t h e f a c t t h a t tlchurches
are
' in e p t
r e l ig i ous
compani es '
wit h
f 1awed
organi z a t i onal
structures
that
make
them
unable
to
sel1
their
product
effectively." [Ibid.]
1 would argue, however, t h a t the reason
c h u r c h e s ( h e r e 1 mean b o t h i n d i v i d u a l C h r i s t i a n communi t i e s and t h e
o f f i c i a 1 c h u r c h o r g a n i z a t i o n s ) a r e i n a c r i s i s i s because t h e y a r e
t r y i n g t o conform t o o r g a n i z a t i o n a l s t r u c t u r e s o f a b u s i n e s s w h i c h
i s n o t t h e church. A s 1 w i 11 argue, a r t must c o n c e n t r a t e on b e i n g
a r t , and 1ikewi se ought C h r i s t i a n communi t i e s and o f f i c i a 1 c h u r c h
o r g a n i z a t i ons c o n c e n t r a t e on b e i ng t h e ct-iurch; a n y t h i ng e l se is n o t
t h e church.
264 Horkheimer,

"Thought on Re1 i g i on,

"

129.

1 c o n s i d e r Horkheimer s use o f t h e w o r d " C h r i s t i a n i t y " i n t h i s


sentence t o be sloppy and propose t h e fo11owing c l a r i f i c a t i o n :
because t h e t e a c h i n g s o f C h r i s t i a n i t y have been t h e o l o g i c a l l y
t w i s t e d and manipulated by church a u t h o r i t i e s t h r o u g h o u t
it s
history
to
suit
the
particular
socio-hi s t o r i c a l
moment,
C h r i s t i a n i t y ' s o r i g i n a l meaning has been 1 o s t s i g h t o f .
I n another
t e x t , Horkheimer s t a t e s : "The v i c t o r i o u s c o u r s e o f C h r i s t i a n i t y
s i n c e N i c a e a and e s p e c i a l l y s i n c e A u g u s t i n e ,
. s e a l e d i t s pact
w i t h t h a t w o r l d l y wisdom w h i c h i t had o r i g i n a l l y p r o f e s s e d t o
renounce.
[Horkheimer, C r i t i q u e o f I n s t r u m e n t a 7 Reason, 35. ]

265 H o r k h e i mer,

C r i t i q u e o f Instrumenta 7 Reason, 36.

Jay, the Frankfurt School was reluctant to do anyway266 - likewise


one gives a false impression if one's criticism contains blanket
statements. One ought to remember, for example, that theology has
also been used as a basis from which to criticize power and
domination.

Sixteenth century -4nabaptists. for example, believed

that theologically they could not justify the hierarchy of power of


the Roman Catholic Church, for they believed in the equality of al1

believers before their Cod.

This continues to be a main tenet of

Anabaptist (Mennonite) theology today; whether or not it is always


adhered to in practice, is a question of an ideological critique.
It was not the purpose of the above analysis to gather a

multitude of examples in which the general concept of religion is


dissolved, but

rather,

to

delve

into

particular

social

configuration which is "related to the whole of the historical


process of which it is an indissoluble part. "26i
relation between

The ambivalent

the posi ted values of Christianity and

its

officia1 authoritative structures in reality throughout history


which became evident, reflects the rift between value and reality,

which Horkheimer d a i m s , is "typical of the totality of modern

culture.n268

Through an immanent critique, the contradiction

between the claim and the context, the ideology and the reality,
become apparent.
Again and

This is what drives the "dialectic in history":


again

in history, ideas

have cast off

266 Jay , Permanent E x i l e s , 37.

Horkheimer,

" N o t e s on I n s t i tute A c t i v i ti e s ,

268 I b i d .

117

"

266.

their

swaddling clothes and struck out against the social systems


that bore them. The cause, in large degree, is that spirit,
language. and al1 the realms of the mind necessarily stake
universal d a i m s . Even ruling groups, intent above al1 upon
defending t h e i r particular interests must stress universal
motifs in religion, morality and science. Thus originates the
ideology, a
contradiction between the existent and
contradiction that spurs al1 historical progress.
While
conformism presupposes the basic harmony of the two and
includes the minor discrepancies in the ideology itself ,
philosophy makes men conscious of t h e contradiction between
them. On t h e one hand i t appraises society by the light of
the very ideas that it recognizes as its highest values; on
the o t h e ~it~ is
~ aware that these ideas reflect the taints of
reality.

Because the pervasive character of our society makes its


relations "felt in every nook and cranny of the social whole," a
methodological conception which takes account of this. such as the
analysis undertaken above. leads to the conclusion that the pattern

of dehumanization which often results from bureaucratization found


in the societal nook of established church institutions, is

reflective of the pattern in the social reality in which the


various forms of that church have their existence-

iv. General implications for religion and art

How is the pattern of bureaucratization's dehumanization found


during moments in the history of the Christian church reflected in
the relationship between the forms of the various institutional

forms of the church and art? If relationships between human beings


are distorted through domination and oppression. one might also
expect

to

find

similar pattern

of

relationship

between

established church institutions as subject and other objects. such


269 H o r k h e i mer, Ecl i p s e o f Reason, 178.

118

as art.

This is the conclusion which Adorno reaches, a s we shall

note in the discussion of his essay on the topic, "Theses Upon Art
and Religion Today."270
its

Art's " t r u e affinity with religionn is in


But art as the

relationship to truth, insists Adorno.

mouthpiece of religion is no longer art: it is a means to an


ideological end.

As noted earlier, even Marx, usually remembered as a harsh


critic of religion, (stating, for example, that religion is among
those "conditions in which man is a debased, enslaved, neglected

and

contemptible beingn272) alo

admits

an

affinity

between

religion and truth, One cannot ignore the fact that h e writes that
religion manifests truth as "the sigh of the oppressed creature,
the

heart

of

conditions.w273

heartless

world

and

the

sou1

of

soulless

Ideally. religion is this sighing voice of those

who are suffering; ideally, it is this sou1 amidst dire conditions.

Religion a s a world-negating protest of prophets denounced the


conditions of suffering and called for a more humane world.
when

religion

established

itself, in

its

forms, complies

various

with

the

But

historical officially
powers

causing

these

conditions, religion then works "in the service of the preservation

270 C . f .

Chapter 3 o f t h i s i n v e s t i g a t i o n .

271 Adorno,

"Theses Upon A r t and R e 1 ig i on Today,

" 679.

272 M a r x , "A C o n t r i b u t i o n t o t h e cri t i q u e o f H e g e l ' s Phi l o o p h y


o f R i g h t . I n t r o d u c t i on,
251

273 I b i d . , 2 4 4 .

of prevailing social forms .n2i4

In uch a regressive form of

religion, how can its prophets denounce the world which religion
itself is trying to conserve? 1 s it possible for a prophetic voice
to emerge and begin to articulate judgement on the religious
institution when

that voice has itself been assimilated

and

relegated to its niche within the authority structures of the


institution?

1 s it in

some way still possible for there to be a

prophetic voice, a voice which even in the midst of a seemingly


totally-administratively controlled environment can somehow see the

"fault

lin es^^^' of

that totality and inist on the presence of the

rift between the real and the ideal?

If there is such hope -

however m a l 1 - from where can this voice cry?

And how in these

dire conditions can an object of a r t b e expected t o be anything but

a mouth-piece of the regressive agenda of a regressive religion?


Although on the one hand Adorno claims that the relationship
between religion and art is problematic, in his writings one finds,
on the other hand, that he also builds a case in favour of art as
the prophetic voice which makes manifes t the content of the ideals

of religion.

Many of Adorno's descriptions of art reflect his

claim that "art may be the only rernaining medium of truth in an age

27C Roernary Radford R u e t h e r and Eugene C . B i a n c h i , From


Machisrno to Mutua 7 ity; Woman-man Liberation (New Y o r k : Paul is t
P r e s s , 1 9 7 6 ) , 1 1 3 , c i t e d i n H e w i t t , Critica7 Theory o f Re7igion,

179.
275 As Adorno w r i tes i n h i s study of K i e r k e g a a r d , i t i t h e
" f a u l t 1 i n e s " of a t o t a l s t r u c t u r e which a r e " a s i g h o f hope; its
fault 1 i n e s a r e t h e t r u e c i p h e r s ,
a t once h i s t o r i c a l
and
ontologi c a l . " [Adorno, Kierkegaard, 139. ]

of incomprehensible terror and suffering.w2i6

As this medium of

truth. art carries on the ideals of religion, which religion.


itself. in

its

regressive forms of

structures of

power

and

authority, has too often abandoned.

I I I . Adorno's Response to Religion

Before one can turn to Adorno's discussion of the nature of


the relationship between religion and art, one first needs to
examine Adorno's view of religion which can be gleaned from the
critical comments he makes in many of his writings.
begin is with Adorno's

disagreement with

4 place to

Hegel * s at tempt

to

reconcile the differences between reason and revelation in the


Absolute. For Adorno. such reconciliation is in fact impossible in

Hegel's idealism. which is "incompatible with any kind of tendency

to harrnony, no matter how much the late Hegel may subjectively have
had such tendencies... .ln Hegel the tendency of idealism is to move
beyond itself.

significant aspect of Hegel's theory for

Adorno is the possibility of self-transcendence; thought which is


able to engage in self-reflection is able to transcend itself and
therefore think something which is beyond itself, which is other
than itself.

In this way thought sympathises with metaphysics and

theology even in their state of ruin.

The ruin came about,

explains Adorno, because metaphysics and. specifically, theology


--

276 Adorno,

Aesthet i c Theory, 2 7 .

Adorno, Hege7: T h r e e S t u d i e , t r a n s . ,
Weber N i c h o l s e n ( C a m b r i d g e , M a s s . : M I T Press, 1 9 9 3 ) , 4 - 5 .
277 Theodor W .

Shierry

could not measure up to Enlightenment's reason.

Moving beyond

Hegel's idealism then, Adorno emphasizes the incommensurability of


reason and revelation as modes of thought.

Adorno clearly sides

with reason in his response to the irrationality characterizing the


neo-Orthodoxy of the so-called "Offenbarungsglaube"

( belief

in

revelation). especially as found in the theologies of Kierkegaard


and Barth. Adorno's essay. " Vernunf t und Offenbarung"
Revelation," )
twentieth

"Reason and

in which he explains his disagreement with

century

revival

of

Offenbarungsrel igion

"*

significant aspect of his theory of religion.

forms

the
a

As part of his

criticism, Adorno refers to the necessary sacrifice of reason on


the part of the believer, as well as the ways in which reason has
beenused to manipulate revelation. One particular example of this
phenornenon which 1 will examine is his scathing criticism of the
manipulative behaviour used by the American radio evangelist,
Martin Luther Thomas.

Thomas scares his listeners into becoming

278 Theodor W . Adorno, " V e r n u n f t und offenbarung, " Gesamme 7 t e


S c h r i f t e n 10.2, ed., R o l f Tiedemann ( F r a n k f u r t a m Main: Suhrkamp,
1 9 7 7 ) , 608-616 .
Adorno w r o t e t h i s essay as a response t o a debate which h e had
w i t h Eugen Kogon i n Mnster; t h e debate was broadcast on r a d i o
(Westdeutschen Rundf unk) on 20 November 1957. T h i s essay w a s f i r s t
pub1 ished i n F r a n k f u r t e r Hefte 13.6 (June 1958): 3 9 7 f f .
Not much
has been w r i t t e n i n Engl i sh about t h i s p a r t i c u l a r essay, e x c e p t f o r
t w o a r t i c l e s by Rudolph S i e b e r t (one o f which seems t o be m e r e l y a
longer version o f the o t h e r ) : ttAdornofs c r i t i c a l theory o f
r e l i g i o n : Toward a n e g a t i v e t h e o l o g y , lt Phi 7osophy o f Religion and
Theo logy: 1976 Proceedings. Ameri can Academy o f Re1 i g i on S e c t ion
Papers.
No. 19, complied by P e t e r S l a t e r , ed. John P r i e s t
( M i s s o u l a, Montana: Schol a r s Press, 1 9 7 6 ) : 115-1 17; a n d "Adorno ' s
Theory o f Rel igi on, " Te7os 58 ( W i n t e r l983/84) : 108-1 1 4 .

believers and assures them that he will do the thinking for


them.219

In spite of the repeated criticisrn of the forrns of positive


religion and the acknowledgment of his own atheism. one cannot
ignore the remnants from his Jewish heritage which often surface in
Adorno's

writings .

Rolf

Wiggershaus highlights

regarding these theological motifs and themes.


illustrates Wiggershaus, Adorno

ernphasized

the

paradox

On the one hand.

to Horkheimer

the

necessity which he and Benjamin saw of "avoiding any explicit use


of

theological

categories.n 2 8 0

On

the

other

hand.

also

in

correspondence wi th Horkheimer. Wiggershaus argues that Adorno


"again and again insisted on the justification for theological
motifs, and had attempted to demonstrate an implicit use of
theological categories by Horkheimer himself in his essay 'On
Theodor Haecker : the Christian and History ' .

lv2"

The influence of

the Enlightenment tradition. as well as his own personal experience

of despair in the face of the horror of Auschwitz are other


elements which must be taken into serious consideration when

279 Theodor W . Adorno, "The Psycho1 o g i cal Techniques of M a r t i n


L u t h e r Thomas; Radi O Addresses,
i n Gesamme 7te Schri f t e n , Band 9 . 1 ,
Hrsg. Susan Buck-Morss and R o l f Tiedemann ( F r a n k f u r t am M a i n :
Suhrkamp, l975), 1 1 - 1 1 1 . 1

*O0 Adorno to H o r k h e i m e r , 2 1 January 1 9 3 7 , c i t e d i n R o I f


W i ggershaus, T h e F r a n k f u r t Schoo 7 : Its H i s t o r y , T h e o r i e s , and
Po7 i t i c a 7 S i g n i f i c a n c e , trans. M i chael R o b e r t s o n (Cambridge, Mass:
M I T P r e s s , 1994), 2 1 5 .
281 Max Horkheimer, "Zu Theodor H a e c k e r : Der C h r i s t und d i e
G e s c h i c h t e , " Z e i t s c h r i f t f r Soria 7 f o r s c h u n g 5 ( 1 9 6 3 ) , 372-383: c f .
Adorno t o Horkheimer, 2 5 J a n u a r 9 2 3 9 3 7 , c i ted i n I b i d .

examining Adorno ' s views of religion.282

one must note, for

example, that Adorno viewed theology to be in a state of ruin; only

fragments of its ideals remain.

I t is in the context of this

combination of elements that one cornes to unders tand how Adorno ' s
theory points to "the central philosophical dilemma of Our time:
namely, how to think and operate without an appeal to the absolute,
on the one hand, without falling into Nietzschean nihilism. on the
other. ,,283

In 1947 the first edition of Adorno and Horkheimer's joint


work, D i a l e c t i c of Enlightenment appeared. Twenty years later in
response to many requests they reissued the book and stated their
conviction that "not a few of the ideas it contains are still
apposite to the times and have to a large extent determined our
later theory. w284

Any attempt to analyze Adorno's later writings,

282 Verena Lenzen i s one a u t h o r who in s i s t s on t h e s i g n i f i c a n t


i m p a c t o f t h e h i s t o r i c a l f a c t o f Auschwitz on Adorno.
Auschwitz
s t a n d s a t t h e " c e n t r e o f A d o r n o ' s t h o u g h t , " she w r i t e s , and i s as
the "key t e n o r o f h i s t h e o r y . "
[Verena Lenzen, "Sprache und
Schwei gen nach A u s c h w i t z , " in Theo 7 o g i e und Xsthetische Erfahrung:
B e i t r a g e z u r Begegnung von Re7igion u n d Kunst, ed. W a l t e r Lesch
(Darmstadt: W i s s e n s c h a f t l i c h e B u c h g e s e l l s c h a f t , 1993), 189.1 The
e f f e c t s on A d o r n o ' s t h i n k i n g o f t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f l i v i n g as a J e w
i n t h e T h i r d R e i c h o u g h t n o t be u n d e r e s t i m a t e d ; even h i s c r i t i q u e
o f t h e Enlightenment
r e f e r e n c e s t o d o m i n a t i o n , f o r example needs t o be seen i n l i g h t o f t h i s e x p e r i e n c e .

283 J o e l Whi t e b o o k ,
( S p r i n g 1 9 8 5 ) , 166.

"The

P o l it i c s o f

284 Adorno and Horkheimer,


D i a 7ect i c o f En 7 ightenment, ix .

"Preface

Redemption,
to

the

" Te7os

new

63

edition,"

especially his writings on religion, must take into consideration


the i d e a s developed in tandem - and in tension - with Horkheimer in
this earlier work.

The very program of "Enlightenment" itself,

which they outline, can be seen to influence Adorno's

decision

to side with

reason

in the

debate

on

later

reason and

revelation. "The program of the Enlightenment " they explain. "was


the disenchantment of the world: the dissolution of myths and the
substitution of knowledge for fancy."285

Immediately , however ,

they acknowledge that the Enlightenment ought not to be viewed only


in the sense of progressive thought. for "the fully enlightened

earth radiates disaster triumphant . "286

Much of thi disater is

the result of the manipulative power of reason over the masses. to


which Adorno often refers.

"Knowledge

which is power

l1

they

write, ''knows no obstacles: neither in the enslavement of men nor


in cornpliance with the world's rulers. 11 281
The basic principle of myth, according to the Enlightenment

tradition, is anthropomorphism. Confirming Durkheim's conclusion

of an undeniable connection between the form of a society and its


religion, Adorno and Horkheimer indicate that the view of the
Enlightenment is that "the supernatural, spirits and demons , are
mirror images of men who allow themselves to be frightened by
natural phenornena. . . . [ T]he many mythic figures can be brought to

285 I b i d . , 3 .
286 I b i d .

287 I b i d . , 4 .

a common denominator, and reduced to

the human subject. "288

Although it was precisely these myths which gave meaning to the


world, [o]n the road to modern science, men renounce any claim to
meaning . n289

As

science operates without categories of meaning ,

human beings come to view the world around them as so many


disconnected objects to be measured and manipulated.

With this ,

progressive thought turns regressive:


Myth turns into enlightenment, and nature into mere
objectivity. Men pay for the increase of their power with
alienation from that over which they exercise their power.
Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward men.
He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them. The man of
science knows things in so far as he can make the80 In this
way their potentiality is turned to b i s own ends.

Whereas humanity at one time depended upon nature for its very
survival, now the survival of nature has come to depend on how
humanity manipulates it; total annihilation of nature b y humanity

has become a real possibility.


Because the spirit world has been discovered to be nothing

other than human projection, there is no longer anything unknown for makers know that which they make.

There is, therefore, nothing

to fear. But to maintain the upper hand over fear, everything must
be categorizable and countable.

Indeed, " [nlothing at all may

remain outside, because the mere idea of outsideness is the very


source of fear; [this is] mythic fear turned radical. v291
28B I b i d . ,

6-7.

289 I b i d . , 5 .

290 I b i d . , 9 .
291 I b i d . ,

16.

That

which remains dissimilar, refusing reduction to some comparable or


numeric form is written o f f as "illusionn or "literature. 292
fi

But the great twist to the tale, claim Adorno and Horkheimer,
is that enlightenment returns to myth in the law of repetition,
which is the principle of myth itself.
That arid wisdom that holds there is nothing new under the
Sun, because al1 the pieces of the meaningless game have been
played , and al1 the great thoughts have already been thought ,
and because al1 possible discoveries can be construed in
advance and al1 men
decided on adapt ion as the rneans to
self-preservation.,. .
Inherent in the cycle of fate is the dread of the ever-same.

In

the enlightened world, the cycle of inevitability has merely been


secularized. Adorno and Horkheimer refer to Homer's Odyssey as the
story in which "the prehistoric world is secularized as the space
whose measure the self must take."294

The world i dienchanted

as places are named, space is surveyed and fearsome powers are


defeated.

In the disenchanted world the rationale of brute facts

has become as sacred as the structure of mythical meaning used to


be in the ancient world.

Once again human beings have accepted

their reduction to a "demonically distorted form" in the scheme of


things. The form this time, however, has been assumed not in fear
of spirits and

deities, but

"in

the

light

of

unprejudiced

cognition, [which] indicates domination. " As Adorno and Horkheimer


explain, this is the sarne principle of domination "which effected

292 I b i d . ,

7.

293 I b i d . ,

12.

294 I b i d . ,

46.

the specification of mana in spirits and gods and occurred in the


jugglery of magicians and medicine. w295

Humanity. having dominated

nature, has now become the victim of the structures of its own
Thus, Enlightenment, which was "supposed to bring

domination.

freedorn and emancipation, had resulted in barbarism and slavery

. . .as the

logical outcome of the historical process. w296

f rom myth to enlightenment

The road

has twisted and humanity f i n d s i t s e l f

once again under a spell of a new and yet ever-the-same form.

ii. Micrological survival: Theology after the Enlightenment

In light of the disenchantment of the world, theological and


metaphysical categories and presuppositions are left in ruin; as we

will

see in Adorno's

Offenbarungsglaube,

specific

response

theology cannot meet

to

the

revival of

the requirements o f

reason. When it attempts to, the result is merely laughable.

In

fact, the power of Enlightenment ''leaves practically nothing of the

295 I b i d .

28-29.

296 Peter Uwe Hohendahl, MAutonomy o f A r t : L o o k i n g Back a t


Adorno 's A s t h e t ische T h e o r i e , " The German Q u a r t e r 7y 5 4 . 2 ( 1 981 ) ,
135.
Hohendahl mai n t a i ns t h a t t h e f a s c i sm whi ch t h e y e x p e r i enced
i n Germany and I t a l y , combi ned w i t h monopoly c a p i t a l is m which they
observed i n t h e
USA,
7ed Horkheimer and Adorno t o t h e s e
concl u s i ons
L i kewi se, Eva Geul in e x p l a i ns how " f a s c i sm is f o r
Adorno t h e end that changed e v e r y t h i n g
because n o t enough
changed. The t r u l y d i s r u p t i v e e x p e r i e n c e i s n o t h i n g o t h e r t h a n t h e
u n i n t e r r u p t e d c o n t i n u i t y : l i v i n g on a f t e r t h e end."
Eva Geulin, "A
Matter o f T r a d i t i o n , "
review o f
Late Marxisrn: A d o r n o ,
the
P e r s i s t e n c e o f the D i a 7 e c t i c , F r e d e r i c Jameson (London: Verso,
1 9 9 0 ) , i n T e 7 o s 8 9 (Fall 1 9 9 1 ) , 1 6 0 . T h e t h e m e o f " l i v i n g on a f t e r
t h e endw w i 11 be more c l o s e l y examined i n t h e Chapter 5 d i s c u s s i o n
of Adorno's response t o t h e t h e a t r e o f Samuel B e c k e t t .

metaphysical content of truth. "29i

The truth content which doe

remain, explains Adorno


keeps getting smaller and smaller, as Goethe describes it in
the parable of New Melusine's box. designating an extremity.
It grows more and more insignificant; this is why, in the
critique of cognition as well as in the philosophy of history,
metaphysics immigrates into micrology. Micrology is
place where metaphysics finds a haven from totality.2 9 i he

The only way in which theology can survive in the aftermath of the
Enlightenment is in a small

insignificant

micrological form

somewhere on the extremity of thought.

In contrast t o Hegel, Adorno did not see hurnanity's selfconsciousness as sublated in absolute consciousness; the negation
of the negation does not , for Adorno, lead to a positive Absolute.
Nor is theology completely sublated in an absolute.

Certainly in

Adorno's view, it is merely the ruins of theology which survive.


that is. theology's ideals, uncoupled so to speak from official
structures of an established religion.

Nevertheless, even in

micrological form. the ideals of theology can still provide a


critique of totality: the existence of its very ruins are proof
that totality is not whole - in opposition to Hegel, Adorno
discovers therefore. that " [ t ] he whole is the untrue.,,299

The

significance of the survival of even the most insignificant of


elements outside of the whole ought not be underestirnated:
The smallest intramundane traits would be of relevance to the
absolute, for the micrological view cracks the shells of what,
297 Adorno,

Negat i v e D i a T e c t i c , 4 0 7 .

298 I b i d .
299 Adorno,

Hege7:

T h r e e S t u d i e s , 87.

129

measured by the subsuming cover concept, is helplessly


isolated and explodes its identity, the delusion that it is
but a specimen. There is solidarity bgbween such thinking
and metaphysics at the time of its fall.
Adorno insists metaphysics is not merely "an historically
later stage," as "positivistic doctrinen would have one believe.301
Theology's essential content - its ideals which critique present
reality - survives, but "must be 'displaced' by the critical and
self-critical activity of reason, yet which, in its capacity as
justifying morality's claim to unconditionality. cannot be replaced
Philosophy t h e n becornes "disguised theology" and

b y reason.n302

its "normative orientations" are borrowed by critical theory.303


Adorno was influenced by Benjamin's image of the "puppet called
'historical materialism'" who needs the services of theology in the
form of a hunchback hidden inside it.

The puppet is engaged in a

chess game and in order to win al1 the time, its every move must be
determined by theology.

But theology "is wizened and has to keep

out of sight. 304


,t

Several authors argue for the influence of the ideals of


theology on the thought of Adorno.

Wiggershaus

for example.

suggests that like the puppet of Benjamin's story, " i t was merely

300 I b i d . , 408.
301 I b i d . , 3 9 7 .

302 Habermas, Justification a n d AppTication, 136.


303 I b i d . , 136, 135.
304 Walter Benjarni n , "Theses on t h e Phi l o s o p h y o f Hi s t o r y , " in
17 7uminations, t r a n s . , H a r r y Zohn, ed., Hannah A r e n d t ( N e w Y o r k :
Schocken Books, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1 9 6 8 ) , 253.

a rnatter of consistency for Adorno to see himself as a thinker


inspired by theology . n305

Hullot-Kentor alo conf irms the presence

of "densen theological content "always moving right under the

surface" of everything Adorno w r i t e s .

In fact, Hullot-Kentor goes

so far as to claim that ideas which seem opaque in Adorno ( a s i n


Benjamin) "becorne immediately comprehensible when grasped in this
context of theological interests. "306

One mut remernber, however,

that the traces of the ideals of theology in Adorno's thought, are

often indirect and live on in a form thoroughly uncoupled from the


official, established structures of

religion.

This

"profane

illumination, to quote Susan Buck-Morss, is extrapolated by Adorno


"out of the extremes of theology and Marxism t o the point where
- t h e y could

be

show

to

converge.. . . ,,307

For

Adorno,

the

supersession of theology by philosophy does not mean that theology


is merely

sublated

into a

philosophical concept.

Rather,

philosophy preserves the ideals of theology even in theology's

305 Wiggershaus, The F r a n k f u r t Schoo7, 188 and 9 2 - 9 3 .


Wiggershaus l i s t s t h e f o l l o w i n g t e x t s as examples: Adorno t o
Kracauer, 14 March 1933, and Adorno t o Horkheimer, 4 September
1941 . S t r e s i u s p r o v i des an in v o l v e d a n a l y s i s o f Adorno ' s w r i t i ngs
t o g i v e e m p i r i c a l evidence o f t h e s i g n i f i c a n c e o f t h e o l o g i c a l
language and m o t i f i n A d o r n o ' s t h o u g h t . [ C f . L o t h a r S t r e s i u s ,
Theodor W. Adornos negat i ve D i a 7ekt i k : E i n e k r i t i s c h e Rekons t r u k t i o n ( F r a n k f u r t am Main and Berne: P e t e r Lang, l 9 8 Z ) , l92ff.
xxi

306 Robert Hu1 1o t - K e n t o r ,

f'Forward, " i n Adorno,

Kierkegaard,

The Origin o f Negative D i a l e c t i c s , 141.


Buck-Morss c i t e s as one exampl e: " A t it s most m a t e r i a l i sti c,
m a t e r i a l i s m cornes to a g r e e w i t h t h e o l o g y .
I t s g r e a t d e s i r e would
b e t h e r e s u r r e c t i o n o f t h e f l e s h , a d e s i r e u t t e r l y f o r e i g n to
ideal ism t h e realrn o f t h e a b s o l u t e . " [Adorno, Negative Dia7ectics,

307 Buck-Morss,

283.1

state of ruin, for even the micrological remnants of theology's


ideals provide a basis for critique.

iii. "Reason and Revelation": Adorno's response to a


religious revival
Adorno could not agree with Hegel ' s conclusion that reason and
revelation are resolved in the Absolute; Adorno. rather. emphasises
their

incommensurability.

In

his

essay,

"Vernunft

und

Offenbarung," Adorno charges that when the attempt is made to

resolve their differences, the categories of religion look as


ridiculous as does the person incapable of of fering a convincing
explanation.

Adorno expresses his own assumption that the battle

between reason and revelation tiad already been won by reason during
the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, its revival in the twentieth
century merits a response.
The revival of "Offenbarungsglaube" is , in Adorno's opinion,

actually futile.

Any attempt to keep revelation alive today can

only be done through "desperate abstraction."308

He inits that

his contemporaries are returning to a belief in revelation not

because they are seeking its truth. but rather because they need
orientation for their lives in a world without meaning.

I n this

need for orientation, people return to the "faith of their fathers"


because "allegedly it would be good to have revelation.n309 Adorno
warns, however, that a literal recuperation of theological content

308 Adorno, " V e r n u n f t und Offenbarung,


309 I b i d .

609.

is not possible: one must acknowledge that "theological content


does not continue unchanged . w310

-4nd today. notes Adorno. even

theologians find it difficult to believe.

In their attempts to

rationalize their beliefs, theologians have merely made theology


more and more obscure. A more appropriate response. he determines,
is that today one must put theological content "to the test in [the
realm of] the secular, the profane. ,,31t
The intellectual sacrifice demanded by an Offenbarungsglaube
does not bode well with Adorno, especially when one remembers the
importance he places on the need for critical thinking. He points
out that today the sacrifice demanded of the intellect has already
been socialized because too much thinking makes life difficult in
"an administrated world

to which one must adapt oneself. "312

Because of the proliferation of mechanization and automization to


which reason has l e d now dominates the lives of the masses, there
is little hope that a rational society will be realized. However,
if the possibility of self-reflection is the only hope for getting

out from under the domination of that administrated world, then to


follow in Kierkegaard's steps and take a leap of faith will lead

Ibid.,

608.

311 I b i d .
I b i d . , 610.
Adorno c r i t i c i ses t h e P r o t e s t a n t f a i t h ' s emphasis on " t h e
primacy o f f a i t h W as an example o f t h i s demand f o r t h e s a c r i f i c e o f
i n t e l l e c t : t h e "innuendo" o f t h i s emphasis, he concl udes, i s t h a t
o f "bl ind f o l 1 o w i ng . " [ A d o r n o , T h e Psycho1 o g i c a l Techniques o f
M a r t i n L u t h e r Thomas; R a d i o Addresses," 65.1

nowhere .313

Rather than either placing rationality in the form of

an absolute - as per Hegel

or denying it - as per Kierkegaard -

reason ought to determine rationality as i tsel f an independent


moment within the whole.

Only through self-reflection i s reason

able to transcend itself. Adorno acknowledges that this motif of


transcendence is not foreign to the great religions of the world;
nevertheless, in today's context, this transcendence must

be

secularized, in order to avoid leading to the same "darkening of


the world" which reason itself would like to avert.314
"The

renaissance of the Offenbarungsreligion refers to the

predilection of the concept of commitments, which are seen as


neces sary . "315

But in the "bad collectivity" of current reality.

explains Adorno, where there are too many commitments demanded of


people, this need for cornmitment becomes increasingly merely a need
for a spiritual redoubling and justification of already existing
authority.

When people are reduced to only a function in the

313 As Adorno warns e l sewhere, w e o u g h t n o t " h y p o s t a t i ze t h e


l e a p , a s K i e r k e g a a r d does, l e s t we blaspherne a g a i n s t reason. "
[Adorno, N e g a t i v e D i a 7 e c t i c s , 1 8 2 . 1

314 Adorno, V e r n u n f t und O f fenbarung , 61 1


I n N e g a t i v e D i a 7 e c t i c s , Adorno speaks o f t h e n e c e s s i t y o f t h e
p o s s i b i 1i t y o f transcendence i n a s e c u l a r i z e d form: "Any man who
as by K a r l
would n a i l down transcendence can r i g h t l y be charged
w i t h l a c k o f i m a g i n a t i o n , a n t i -in t e l l e c t Kraus, f o r i n s t a n c e
ualisrn, and t h u s a b e t r a y a l o f transcendence.
O n t h e o t h e r hand,
i f t h e p o s s i b i 1 i t y , however feeble and d i s t a n t , o f r e d e m p t i o n i n
e x i s t e n c e i s c u t o f f a l t o g e t h e r , t h e human s p i r i t w o u l d become an
i 1 l u s i o n , and t h e f i n i t e , c o n d i t i o n e d , m e r e l y e x i s t i n g s u b j e c t
would eventual l y be d e i f i e d as c a r r i e r o f t h e s p i r i t ." [Adorno,
Negative D i a 7ectics, 4 0 0 . ]

Adorno,

V e r n u n f t und O f f e n b a r m g ,

"

61 1 .

totality, their inner sense of s e l f - their "In


- is weakened. The
result. asserts Adorno. is that "human beings are incapable of
humanity . v316

But the "homelessness" of the individual has become

an ideology and it is really only the weak who seek commitments.

In turn. this desire for transcendence functions merely as a coverup for "societal hopelessness."

Adorno warns that the victories

promised b y Offenbarungsreligion in response to this Angsf are


pyhrric victories at best, for when religion is not sought for its
truth but out of

fear,

it undermines itself.

The fact that

positive religions are willing to use these fears for their own

advantage. claims Adorno, "testifies to their desperation. n31i


During the years which he spent in the United States, Adorno
became aware of an American radio evangelist who manipulated the
f e a r s of his audience to scare them into becoming believers.318

In the essay, "The Psychological Techniques of Martin

Luther

Thomas' Radio Addresses," Adorno analyses the "true intentions" of


this evangelist .319

Whereas Thomas uses the Christian message to

316 Ibid., 612.

317 Ibid., 613.

318 Adorno was in the United States from 1938-1949. A s a Jew,


i t was too dangerous f o r him to remain in Germany during Hitler's
rule. He returned to Los Angeles in 1952 to work for the Haecker

Foundation on social psycho1ogica1 analysis o f popular culture.


[Cf. Martin Jay, Adorno (Cambridge, Mass: H a r v a r d University P r e s s ,
1 9 8 4 1 , 44ff.I

319 Adorno, "The Psycho1o g i cal Techniques of Marti n Luther

Addresses," 17.
One notes many parallels which Adorno draws between the
persona1 ity o f Martin Luther Thomas and Adolf Hitler, both whom h e
consi d e r s to be total i tari an 1 eaders who mani pu1 ate thei r

Thomas ' Radi O

reach his audience, Adorno concludes that everything he says serves


the purpose of his "actual interest [which] is the manipulation of
men, their transformation into adherents of his organization."
Proof for this is that more attention is given "to his advertising
techniques than to the ideas which he tries to sell. 1,320
Adorno is scathing in his critique of Thomas' manipulation of
his audience, who, Adorno concludes, are expected to "cry to God
night and dayn and follow Thomas "out of their fears as well as out
of their rnasochistic pleasure in the imagery of the lost soul.

1,321

While abhorrent, it is in f a c t , "hardly accidental," notes Adorno,


that Thomas' "attempt to terrorize the audience is linked up with

the concept of belief . "

For in terrorizing people into belief,

they are also terrorized "to wit, to stop

thinking,"

since

"terrorized people are incapable of clear thinking." In this

way,

Thomas is able to reduce his audience to "the blind reactions of


the sauve-qui-peut pattern, an attitude particularly favourable to
adherence to a leader who promises to think and act for them if
only they trust in him. "322

Reason and revelation are confounded

in Thomas ' skilful confusion of the " threat of eternal penalties


with the threat of earthly unpleasantness."

He uses reason to

manipulate "metaphysical salvation" to the point where it becomes

fol 1 o w e r s .
320 I b i d . , 3 8 .

321 I b i d . , 7 3 - 7 4 .
322 I b i d .

tlsynonymouswith membership in the Christian American Crusade. 323


tt

Adorno quotes one of Thomas* radio addresses in which such blatant

manipulation is apparent:
I appeal to the man who walks the streets that you remember
there is coming a day, my friend, when God will compel you to
give an account of the deeds that you are done in the body
[sic]. My friend, are you an American? Are you a Christian?
If you are, you will take cognizance of the s&fuation facing
herica, b u t if you are not you are a coward-

Because Thomas, as a Presbyterian clergyman, is not able to


threaten his audience "with concentration camps," Adorno points out
how he resorts to a manipulation of Eternity "in such a way that it
serves exactly the same purpose. Thus the most modern pattern of
oppression

terror

by

draws

upon

the

oldest

resource

of

terrorism . vv 325
The theological message which Thomas shares with his audience
is

based

on

highly

selective set

of

Biblical

passages,

exclusively taken from the New Testament. What the audience hears
has none of the "reconciliatory features of Christian teaching,"
Instead, notes Adorno, there is a "constant stress on the negative
elements, such as the idea of the evil and eternal punishment, the
defamation of the intellect, and the exclusiveness of Christianity
against

other

combined

with

religions, particularly
this

are

references

to

Judaism."326
the

faith

~leverly
of

one's

323 I b i d .
324 M a r t i n L u t h e r Thomas, r a d i o a d d r e s s , 26 May 1935, c i t e d i n
I b i d . , 74.

325 I b i d .
326 I b i d . , 9 5 .

" forefathers."

According

to

Adorno

such

references

carry

"overtones of an ancestor worship and a mythological religion of


In
nature which contradict the very essence of Christianity."327
this turn tc the idea of the faith of the fathers, Adorno finds the
presence of a "paternalistic authority" functioning in a manner
which keeps "at bay those whose belief in the truth of the
Christian dogma itself is shattered." Although use of the device
of paternalistic authority "enforces Christianity by worldly,
external means, fit also . . . ] sounds highly respectable, humble,
and pious. "328

Christian content is manipulated for a purpoe

which purports to be Christian and those who are true believers


will not question either the content or the purpose, but will
accept the message on faith alone.
Zn contrast to Martin Luther Thomas, religious scholars such

as Thomas Aquinas maintained their dignity, in Adorno's view,


because they did not insist on either absolutizing or outlawing
reason. When belief does lose its agreement with knowledge, or at
least a "fruitful tension" with it, it pays dearly and is viewed as
the enemy of reason

" vernunftfeindlich.

t1329

Atternpts to bring

together the beliefs in revelation with critical results of modern


science are short-lived.

The confrontation between religious

teachings and scientific findings become simply laughable and those

327 I b i d . , 1 1 0 - 1 1 1 .

328 I b i d . , 1 1 1 .
329 Adorno, l l V e r n u n f t und O f f e n b a r u n g ,

138

l'

61 3 - 6 1 4 .

who try to prove revelation scientifically, look ridiculous. But


once

religion

gives

up

its

claims, which

it

cannot

prove

scientifically, it becomes merely symbolic.


Adorno concludes that "the break between the social mode1 of
the great religions and society today is most likely decisive.,, 330
Christianity. states Adorno. is not the same for al1 people
throughout al1 time and people do not approach it in a timeless

For example, the image of one's "daily bread" will not

manner.

have the same meaning for Christians who live in a world where
bread is (over-) abundantly mass produced as it does for those wbo
experience famine, especially when in our world today it is social
and material circumstances which bring about these inequities. One
ought not to a b i d e by naive literal interpretation of the words of
the

Gospel,

nsists Adorno.

And

alternatives are not enticing.

yet, Adorno

admits, the

If one must change the words of

theology to make them fit the times, then the changes, and even the
act of making such changes, are incompatible with the authority of
revelation.

Or, alternatively , the claims one makes on present

reality remain unfulfilled, or at their most essential do not meet


the real suffering of humanity. Adorno expresses the concern that
the prospects are not promising if one were to dispense with the
utterly

impossible

mediated

from

determination

each

and

concrete ,

adhere

to

socially-historically
the

letter

to

the

Kierkegaardian dictum, that Christianity is nothing other than a

I b i d . , 615.

Nota Bene, that at one moment in time God became human.

Without

such moments, namely as historically concrete, the result would be


that in the "name of paradoxical purity," Offenbarungsreligion
would dissolve into a complete indeterminateness, into nothing ,
which would hardly be any different from its "liquidation.Il 331
Whatever remains after the liquidation, Adorno contends, would
quickly flee into the category of the unsolvable. 1 t would require
a "mere trick of the locked away consciousness, unsolvable itself,"

to explain the failure of finite human beings to liquidate al1 as


a religious category. This in itself , argues Adorno, would testify
to the actual lack of power of the religious categories.

In Iight of his conclusions regarding the revived battle


between reason and revelation, Adorno reaches the decision that for
himself there is but one possibility: an "extreme asceticism"
towards any belief in revelation and "extreme fidelity" to the
banning of images of the Absolute, "even to a greater extent than
was originally meant. w332

331 I b i d .

332 I b i d .
A c c o r d i n g t o E l l i o t Wolfson, i t was t h e b e l i e f o f medieval
Jewish p i e t i sts i n t h e Rhi neland r e g i on ( o f p r e s e n t - d a y Gerrnany)
t h a t a s c e t i c i s m ( i n p a r t i c u l a r , o b t a i n i n g frorn a11 forms o f sexual
and bodi ly c o n t a c t ) l e a d s t o a v i s u a l i z a t i o n o f t h e d i v i n e g l o r y .
T h i s v i s u a l iz a t i o n c o u l d o n l y be g i v e n by t h e d i v i n e g l o r y , i t s e l f ,
as i t had been g i v e n t o t h e p r o p h e t s who " m e r i t e d an epiphany o f
t h e d i v i n e splendeur. " To be g i v e n such a v i s u a l iz a t i o n was t h e i r
i d e a l . [ E l 1i o t R . Wo1 f s o n , "Sacred Space and M e n t a l Iconography:
Imago T e m p 7 i and Contemplation i n Rhi ne1 and Jewi sh P i e t i srn, " Guest
L e c t u r e s e r i e s , Centre f o r t h e Study o f R e l i g i o n , U n i v e r s i t y o f
Toronto, 29 January 1996. ]
I n response t o my q u e s t i o n r e g a r d i n g
t h e i n f l u e n c e o f t h i s t r a d i t i o n on Adorno, Wolfson s t a t e d t h a t he
could n o t a g r e e w i t h Adorno's i n t e r p r e t a t i o n .
For t h e Jewish

iv- Negative knowledge: yearning f o r the possibility of hope

To name the spell of the totality under which one is dominated


is already to break the power of that spell. for one has been able

to think far enough beyond the boundaries set by the spell to see
that it is in fact not total.

There is power in naming, for to

name is to conceptualize and in conceptualization one reduces the

named thing to its name.

For example, in Negative Dialectics,

Adorno states: "The subject as ideology lies under a spell from


which nothing but the name of subjectivity will free it, j u s t as

only the herb named 'Sneezejoy' will free the enchanted 'Dwarf
Nose' in Wilhelm Hauff's fairy tale. n333

With this in mind. as

well as Adorno's acceptance o f the Enlightenment claim that the

basis of myth and religion is actually anthropomorphic, his push


for "extreme fidelity" to the banning of any images of the absolute
becomes understandable.

The identifications of the absolute transpose it upon man, the


source of the identity principle. As they will admit now and
then, and as enlightenment can strikingly point out to them
every tirne, they are anthropomorphisms. This is why, at the
approach of the mind the absolute flees rom the mind: its
approach is a mirage.'334

p i e t i s t s mental images are al lowed, b u t m a t e r i al i c o n s a r e n o t .


Adorno1s in s i s t e n c e on compl ete a b s t e n t i o n f rom images o f a n y s o r t ,
i n s i s t e d Wolfson, w a s a m i s i n t e r p r e t a t i o n .

333 Adorno, N e g a t i ve D i a 7ecti c , 1 8 2 .


Adorno e x p l a i n s t h e f a i r y tale: " T h i s h e r b w a s kept a s e c r e t
f r o m t h e d w a r f , and a s a r e u 1 t he n e v e r I e a r n e d t o p r e p a r e ' p t
S u z e r a i ne, ' t h e d i sh t h a t bears t h e name o f s o v e r e i g n t y in decl ine.
No amount o f i n t r o s p e c t i o n w o u l d l e t him d i s c o v e r t h e r u l e s
he needs an o u t s i d e
g o v e r n i n g h i s d e f o r m i t y and h i s l a b o u r ;
i m p u l s e , t h e wisdom o f ' M i m i t h e G o o s e . ' " [ I b i d . ]
334 I b i d . ,

407.

Adorno does not allow for the possibility of images of

the

absolute; any image, any word is merely an anthropomorphism and, as


such, participates in the rationality of identity thinking: it

makes that which is absolute identical with al1 that it is not the anthropomorphic and, therefore, not absolute.
In a discussion of Adorno's references to religion, one cannot

ignore those scholars, who, like Wayne Whitson Floyd, Jr. insist
thatf'Adorno'sself-consciouslynon-religious,negative-dialectical
writings need to be placed back into the context of their more
explicitly theological roots."

Floyd highlights the fact that

Adorno's "anti-systematic projectn was actually "informed heavily


by the Jewish negative-theological tradition.1 t 3 3 3

While Floyd

not alone in his argument of the presence of the negative theology


tradition in Adorno's thought (Wiggershaus is another scholar to
whom 1 have already made reference regarding the presence of
theology in Adorno's thought), 1 maintain that in light of Adorno's
own insistence on his atheism. references he makes to theology and
the negative theology tradition must be viewed as metaphorical .
Adorno's emphasis of this point cannot be ignored, for example, in
the following passage from Negative Dialectics:

335 Wayne W h i t s o n F l o y d , Jr., '>Transcendence i n t h e L i g h t o f


Redempti o n : Adorno and t h e Legacy o f Rosenzweig and B e n j a m i n , "
Journa7 o f t h e American Academy o f Religion L X 1 . 3 (Fa11 1 9 9 3 ) , 1 4 0 .
T h i s t r a d i t i o n was m e d i a t e d t o Adorno by Walter Benjamin i n
t h e i r p e r s o n a 1 c o r r e s p o n d e n c e and i n B e n j a m i n ' s The O r i g i n o f
German T r a g i c D r a m a [ t r a n s . John Osborn (London and New Y o r k :
Verso,
19851,
as well
as by t h e Jewish t h e o l o g i a n ,
Franz
Rosenzwei g ' s The S t a r o f Redemption [ t r a n s . from 1930 e d i t i o n ,
W i 1 1 i a m W . H a l l o (New Y o r k : Ho1 t , R i n e h a r t and W i n s t o n , 1971 . ) 1

Taking literally what theology promises would be as barbarian


Historically accumulated respect
as that interpretation.
alone prevents Our consciousness from doing so, and like the
symbolic language of that entire cycle, poetic exaltation has
been pilfered from the theological realm. Religion la
lettre would be like science fiction: space travel would take
us to the really promised heaven.
Theologians have been
unable to refrain from childishly pondering the consequences
of rocket trips for their Christology, and the other way
round, the infantile interest in space-travel brings to l g h t
the infantilism that is latent in messages of salvation:
As Adorno will not allow for literal interpretation of theological
texts , likewise readers of Adorno must understand his references to
theology, including references to the absolute, as metaphorical.
It is not that for Adorno theology survives as the worldview of a
certain religious community, directed
of that community.

by

the aims and authorities

Rather , the emancipatory impulse, the ideals

which when held up to reality serve to critique reality, these are

the theological fragments which remain. And today they are "put to
the t e s t , " as he states in "Vernunft und Offenbarung," not when
they remain attached to religious communities and authorities, but
in the context of the world in which we live, in the secular and

profane.337

And

yet, Adorno also understands that if the

theological "messages were cleansed of al1 subject matter, if their


sublimation were complete, their disseminators would be acutely
embarrassed if asked to say what the messages stand for. If every
symbol

symbolizes

nothing

but

another

336 Adorno,

N e g a t i v e D i a lect i c s , 399.

337 Adorno,

"Vernunft

und O f f e n b a r u n g ,

143

" 608.

symbol,

another

conceptuality, their core remains empty - and so does religion.,338

But tu hold on to hope for the possibility of the emancipatory


impulse, is not to treat it as a mere symbol, rather it is to

yearn, even in the face of profound despair, for the possibility of


more humane conditions.
Adorno and Horkheimer do make explicit reference to the
tradition

of

negative

theology

in

their

discussion of

the

Enlightenment:
In Jewish religion . ..the bond between name and being is still
The
recognized in the ban on pr'onouncing the name of God.
disenchanted world of Judaism conciliates magic by negating it
in the idea of God. Jewish religion allows no word that would
alleviate the despair of ail that is mortal. It associates
hope only with the prohibition against calling on what is
false as God, against invoking the finite as the infinite.
lies as truth.
The guarantee of salvation lies in the
rejection of any belief that would replace t : it is knowledge
obtained in the denunciation of illusion.

3h

They conclude that all that can be said about the absolute, about

hope, about salvation, is what

they are not.

Any

positive

attributes are mere i l l u s i o n , mere lies. And any ''guaranteed roads

to redemption are sublimated magic practices.


of

redernption, the hope

1v340

I t i the ideal

for emancipation from

the

inhumane

conditions of this world full of terror and suffering, which must


be understood here; for Adorno and Horkheimer, the term redemption
338 I b i d .

339 Adorno and H o r k h e i m e r , D i a 7 e c t i c o f En7 i g h t e n m e n t , 2 3 .


Jay ci t e s an i n t e r v i e w which Horkheimer gave i n D e r S p i e g e 7 ,
where h e " c l a i m e d t h a t C r i t i c a l T h e o r y l s r e f u s a i t o name t h e
' o t h e r ' was d e r i v e d f r o m t h e Jewish t a b o o on naming God o r
p i c t u r i n g p a r a d i s e . " [ D e r Spiege7 ( 5 . January, 1970), 2 4 , c i t e d i n
J a y , Permanent E x i 7es, 2 8 0 , n o t e 1 0 . 1
340 Adorno and H o r k h e i m e r , D i a l e c t i c o f En 1 i g h t e n m e n t , 2 4 .

has thrown off the garments of the Christian religion. which. as


Horkheimer states, "lost its function of expressing the ideal. to
the extent that it became the bedfellow of the state.,,341

Briefly, the tradition of negative theology asserts that i t is


rationally inconceivable to speak of the absolute.

Positive

theology maintains that the absolute can be named and that al1
names and

al1

things.

"so far as

they

are

positive," are

attributable to and point to the absolute w h i c h is "the ground of


al1 being. "312
possibility

Negative theology. on the contrary, denies this

and

maintains

that

al1

names

for

the

absolute

disappear; however, the "existence of God is not in question. 343


If

Both Stresius and Tillich indicate the Jewish ban on the image of
God as a significant source for the tradition of negative theology.
But they also emphasise that the tradition as it bas corne to be
known is "unthinkablev without the influence of platonic and neoplatonic philosophy; the absolute who is both one and beyond any
possible being, transcending al1 that exists. could only ever be

341 Horkheimer,

V h o u g h t s on R e 1 igi on, " 129.

342 T i I l ich, A H i s t o r y o f C h r i s t i a n Thought,

92.

343 S t r e s i u s , Thheodor W. Adornos n e g a t i v e Dia7ektik, 232.


I n h i s s t u d y o f Adorno,
S t r e s i u s goes i n t o a l e n g t h y
h i s t o r i c a l p r o o f f o r t h e presence of t h i s t r a d i t i o n i n A d o r n o ' s
thought.
H e s t a t e s : "1 woufd 1 iko t o p u t f o r w a r d and g i v e reasons
f o r t h e a s s e r t i o n t h a t an o b j e c t i ve rel a t i o n s h i p e x i s t s between
n e g a t i v e d i a l e c t i c,
w i thout
n e g a t i v e t h e o l o g y and Adorno l s
a s s e r t i ng t h a t Adorno e v e n presumabl y possessed a s u p e r f i c i a l
knowledge o f i t [ t h e n e g a t i v e t h e o l o g y t r a d i t i o n ] . "
[ I b i d . , 231.1
The remainder of h i s book i s d e v o t e d t o t h i s e f f o r t .

known indirectly if at all.344


Adorno expresses his insistence on "extreme fidelityn to the
ban on images of the absolute when he speaks of how the ban, once
"extended to pronouncing the name," has now itself, "in that form
corne to evoke suspicions of superstition.

The ban has been

exacerbated: the mere thought of hope is a transgression against


i t , an act of working against

it.n345

Adorno even hangs a

"bilderverbotv (banning of images) over utopian thinking. For al1


such thinking will be merely based on the present; "no utopian

mode1 is free of the present. n346

"[Fjor the chance of the right

consciousness even of those last things , "


"nothing u t a future without life's

Adorno will

miseries. "34i

trust

The very

utopian telos of critical theory, "the concept of 'redemption,'"


may not be thought of, spoken of, or described concretely because

344 I b i d . , 233.
1 do n o t see i t a s a necessary p a r t o f t h i s p r e s e n t
i n v e s t i g a t i o n t o go in t o a d e t a i 1ed d i s c u s s i o n o f the h i s t o r y o f
the t r a d i t i o n o f negative theology.
I p o i n t t h e reader t o t h e
S t r e s i us study f o r s p e c i f i c arguments r e g a r d i ng t h e in f 1uence o f
t h e h i s t o r y o f t h e t r a d i t i o n on Adorno, o r f o r a more g e n e r a l
i n t r o d u c t i o n t o t h e t r a d i t i o n , c f . T i 11 i c h , A H i s t o r y o f C h r i s t i a n
Thought, S O f f , 9 O f f .
An in t e r e s t i ng p o i n t t o n o t e , n e v e r t h e l ess,
i s t h e d i f f e r e n c e i n t h e t r a d i t i o n s i n t h e West v e r s u s i n t h e E a s t .
Whereas i n t h e w e s t e r n t r a d i t i o n , the emphasis i s on t h e 1 i n g u i s t i c
dimension, i n t h e e a s t e r n t r a d i t i o n , t h e i n e f f a b i l i t y o f t h e
a b s o l u t e i s connected t o t h e q u e s t i o n o f a c t i o n t h a t l e a d s t o nona t t a c h m e n t , as i n f o r example, Buddhism. [ c f . Robert S c h a r l emann,
ed. , N e g a t i o n and Theo7ogy ( C h a r l o t t e s v i 11e, Va: U n i v e r s i t y o f
V i r g i n i a P r e s s , 1992).]
345 Adorno,

Negative

Dialectics, 402.

346 A l o Allkempet, R e t t u n g und U t o p i e :


( P a d e r b o r n : F e r d i nand Schoni ngh, 1981 ) , 10.
347 A d o r n o ,

Negative D i a l e c t i c s , 398,

146

Studien

zu Adorno

al1 such thinking, speaking, and describing would be "insufficient


Adorno and Horkheimer argue t h a t "the justness of the

means."

image" of the absolute and of any possible hope of redemption is


preserved

precisely

prohibition."348

They

in

" faithful

the

refer

to

thi

pursuit

faithful

of

pursuit

its
of

prohibition as "determinate negativity," which. they explain,


"rejects the defective ideas of the absolute. "349

The mot that

is permitted, is to Say that utopia will be "categorically totally


other than al1 that has appeared in history to date: it will be

free of al1 domination.,r 350


Because models of utopia cannot be based on anything without

being based on present reality in even the smallest of ways,


"utopian thinking is without any security, for security would mean
agreement with that which already exists.

11351

A s Jay explains, for

the Frankfurt School "no hopes could be called sure, although the
need to hope was no less urgent. "352

As there is no guarantee of

the security of utopia's possibility, likewise there is also no


optimism. But j u s t because Adorno's thought lacks optimism, this
does not mean it lacks hope: "hope is n o t the same

a s optimism

--

348 Adorno and H o r k h e i m e r , D i a 7 e c t i c o f En 7 ightenment, 2 4 .


349 I b i d .
Rei nhard Kager, H e r r s c h a f t und Versohnung: E i n f h r u n g i n
Theodor W. Adornos ( F r a n k f u r t and New Y o r k : Campus,

das Denken
1988), 43.

351 Alo Allkernper, R e t t u n g und U t o p i e :


(Raderborn: Ferdinand S c h o n i ng, 1981 ) , 1 1 .
352 Jay, Permanent E x i l e s , 1 0 0 .

Studien ru Adorno

... .Hope is critical.

it commits itself to a despair regarding what

isn and maintains confidence that "humanity will yet assume


reason."353

Even in despair there is hope, asserts Adorno, for

"despair dissociates the self, and the ruins of the shattered self
are the marks of hope-"354

But the marks of hope can only be

glimpsed negatively. As will become clear, Adorno maintains that


it is art which "is able to utter the unutterable, which is Utopia,

through the medium of the absolute negativity of the w~rld.~'~~


For Adorno, the negative dialectic is "the epitome of negative
knowledge.,, 356

Crucial

for

his

negative

dialectic

is

the

negativity of materialism, which also does not permit positive


images of Utopia.

The "materialist longing," asserts Adorno,

strives " to grasp the thing" by aiming "at the opposite," for "it
is only in the absence of images that the full object could be
conceived. "35i

The form of hope found in the negative dialectic

lies in its definition: "that it will not corne to rest in itself,


as if it were total."358
writing.

The dialectic interpret "every image as

It shows how the admission of its falsity is to be read

in the lines of its features - a confession that deprives it of its

353 I b i d .
354 Adorno,

K i e r k e g a a r d , 85.

355 Adorno, A e t h e t ic T h e o r y , 48.


356 Adorno, N e g a t i v e Dia lectics, 4 0 5 .
357 I b i d . , 2 0 7 .

358 I b i d . , 406.

power and appropriates it for truth. "359

In the lines of t h e

features of the image, i n t h e traces o f its falsity. are where the


dialectic lays bare hope.

Yet no truer image of hope c a n b e irnagined than t h a t of


ciphers, readable as traces. dissolving in history,
disappearing in front of overflowing eyes , indeed confirmed in
lamentation. In these tears of despair the ciphers appear as
incandescwt figures, dialectically, as compassion, comfort,
and hope.
Wolin stresses the importance of recognizing just what type of
u t o p i a is meant in Critical Theory.

which is

It is not "a utopian future

in essence a secularized version of

eschatological

religious longing . . . [This is] the strong version of utopianism


[whichJ resurfaces in the secular messianism of Bloch, B e n j a m i n ,
t h e early Lukacs, and Harcuse. w361

Instead of the reconciliation

"beyond the split between subject and objectn of the strong


35g Adorno and Horkheimer,

D i a 7 e c t i c o f En7 ightenment,

24.

Kierkegaard, 126.
I n h i s "Forwardu t o t h e book,

360 Adorno,

Hu1 l o t - K e n t o r r e f e r s t o t h i s
but
the
particular
passage:
"This
passage
is
beauti ful ,
mistakenness o f t h i s beauty i s b e t r a y e d b y i t s c o s i n e s s , w h i c h
b r i n g s i t t o t h e edge o f r a t i o n a l i z a t i o n . Kafka's q u o t e d - t o - d e a t h
'Hope, b u t not f o r u s f i s s o b e r l y o p t i m i s t i c i n comparison w i t h
t h e s e passages. The best t h a t can be done f o r them i s t o t r a n s l a t e
t h e m back i n t o t h e h e l p l e s s n e s s t h a t m o t i v a t e s them.. .I n
A e s t h e t i s c h e T h e o r i e (l969), h i s l a s t work, t h e i d e a o f hope no
l o n g e r s a i l s t h r o u g h t h e window: r a t h e r t h e work f o l l o w s o u t t h e
idea o f a l legory.
I n t h e sparseness o f t h e l a t e Adorno, t h e a i r
may be t h i n , b u t i t i s what can be b r e a t h e d : i t c a r r i e d o u t t h e
r e v i s i o n o f t h e e a r l i e r image o f t h e r e a d i n g o f t h e p a l i r n p s e s t :
' A u t h e n t i c a r t knows t h e e x p r e s s i o n o f t h e e x p r e s s i o n 1 ess, a c r y i n g
from which t h e t e a r s a r e m i s s i ng.
[Adorno, A e s t h e t i c Theory,
n . p . , c i ted i n H u l l o t - K e n t o r , flForward,lf i n I b i d . , x x i i . ]
Sparse
o r n o t , t h e a i r o f hope can s t i l l be b r e a t h e d ; t e a r s o r no t e a r s ,
t h e c r y s t i 1 1 has a r i g h t t o a v o i c e
even a f t e r A u s c h w i t z .

361 R i c h a r d Wolin,
The Terms o f C u 7 t u r a 7 Criticism:
The
F r a n k f u r t Schoo7, Existentia 7ism and P o s t s t r u c t u r a 7ism ( N e w York:
Col umbi a U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1 9 9 2 ) , 76.

version, Adorno intends a "weak version of utopianism," as found in


his advocacy of "aesthetic alienation.n362
Chapter 3, the negative dialectic
essential component of

his

AS we will note in

of Adorno's

aesthetic

theory .

theory

is an

Likewise

his

aesthetic theory is intimately tied to the possibility of the


negative dialectic.
[ A l r t presents the familiar and everyday to us in a new and
unexpected light, such that we are impelled to modify our
habitua1 modes of thought and perception ....Genuine works of
art are intrinsically utopian insofar as they both highlight
the indigent state of reality at present and seek
illuminate a path toward what has never-yet-been.36i0

The only possibility for any hope of glimpsing the utopia which has
never-yet-been in any form. is in the subversive negation of
present reality as revealed in art. After Enlightenment 's ruin of
theology and the manipulation and domination of humanity in forms
which are more and more intangible to which rationality has led,
only in authentic works of art does Adorno find any possible refuge
for intimations of utopia.

362 " W i t h t h e e c l i p s e o f t h e hope f o r e m a n c i p a t i o n t h a t


formerly resided w i t h t h e i n d u s t r i a l p r o l e t a r i a t , " a s per t h e
M a r x i s t b e l i e f s u b s c r i b e d t o by B l o c h , Benjamin, Lukacs, and
Marcuse, f o r Adorno "works o f a r t assume an i m p o r t a n t f u n c t i o n as
t h e r e p o s i t o r i e s o f t h e c o l l e c t i v e hopes t h a t a r e d e n i e d t o
humani t y i n r e a l it y a t p r e s e n t ''
[ R i c h a r d Wol in ,
l'The Dea e s t h e t i c i z a t i o n o f a r t : On A d o r n o ' s A e s t h e t i s c h e Theorie," T e l o s
41 (Fa17 I W g ) , 1 2 1 . ]

363 W o l i n ,

The Terrn o f CuTtura7 Criticism, 76-77.

UNRELENTING N E G A T I V E T Y :

PROIPHETIC

VOICE OF ART
"[Alrt

. .. a l w a y s

was, and is,


of the humane
agains t the pressure of domineering i n s ti tu tions ,
rel i g i o u s and o thers,
no less than that i t r e f l e c t s thydr
objec t i v e s u b s t a n c e . "

a force of p r o t e s t

354 A d o r n o ,

"Theses Upon A r t and R d i g i o n Today, " 678.


151

In his essay, "Theses Upon Art and Religion Today, " Adorno
makes it clear that in his opinion any renewed attempt at creating

a religious art is nothing but blasphemous. He argues that if art


is to be religious, it must abstain from mentioning religion; this
recalls his "extreme fidelityn to the "Bilderverbot" of the Jewish
theologoumenon .

In this

respect, the negative dialectic is

significant for his discussion of art.


negative

dialectic

of

art

can

Adorno claims that the


"break

the

spell

of

identifi ~ a t i o n "without
~~~
reverting to the dogma of an ideology,
whether that be religious or political. Through its insistence on
the difference between reality as it appears under the spell of
what we have corne to accept as the dominant way of thinking and
reality by its real name, art negates the status quo insistence
that reality as it is, is identical to reality as it should be.
Art maintains the tension of this dialectic in its preservation of

the fractures in reality which become manifest.

Adorno views art

as able to indict its context because it intimately knows its


context; art grows out of and responds to the socio-historical
An examination of the influence

moment in which it is created.


apparent

in

Adorno's

theory

of

Hegel's

theory

of

the

"Geschichtlichkeit der Kunst" (the historicity of art) will help

bring this into perspective.

In the concluding portion of this

365 Adorno, Negative D i a T e c t i c s , 172.


152

chapter. I will examine how. according to Adorno. becorning aware of

the contradictions of reality in art's negation o f i t , we become


aware of Our own participation in identity thinking.
its viewers exercise their cognitive faculty o f

Art demands
judgement in

response to it. Then hope for that which has-never-yet been might
become a possibility.

1. Adorno's "Theses Upon Art and Religion Today"

It is the difference between art as the medium of truth and


art as ideological tool that concerns Adorno.

"Theses Upon

Art

and

Religion Today," Adorno

difference, stating defiantly that


nothing

but

I n his essay.

blasphemy. "366

An

defines

" [r Jeligious art

important

aspect

of

this

today is
Adorno's

discussion of the relationship between art and religion. is his


concern with art in a coercive relationship with religion, where
art is a means to the end of propagating religion's regressive
ideology. He begins this particular essay with the claim that the
unity between art and religion is irretrievably lost.

If indeed

there ever was such a unity, this unity was based on "the whole
objective structure of society during certain phases of history"
and not on some cooperative purpose.367

In fact this unity could

only ever exist in a society characterised as non-individualistic,

hierarchic and closed.

During such times art would not have been

religious because of the subjective convictions o f the artist, but


366 Adorno,

"Theses Upon A r t and Re1 ig i o n Today,

367 I b i d . , 677.
153

" 679.

because

the overall social reality of the time was religious.

However, with the political and economic emancipation of the


individual such a unity is no longer possible. Nostalgia for this
unity is merely "wishful thinking, even if it be deeply rooted in
the sincere desire for something which gives 'sense' to a culture
threatened by emptiness and universal alienation.,368
The possibility of a unity between religion and art is in

He refers to

fact, according to Adorno, problematic in itself.

this unity a s an "exalted unity" which is "largely a romantic


projection. " This unity would only have been possible during times
of the creation of art qua ritual symbols, "which are works of art
only accidentally.

Such a unity could never exist when the

emphasis of the creation of art is on art qua the freedom of human


expression. Adorno argues that even during supposed periods of the
unity of religion and art qua art - such as the age of the
classical Greeks - it was a repressive unity "largely superimposed
upon art. n370
protest

of

As

a reult

the

humane

"art

. . .always wa, and

against

the

pressure

is, a force of

of

domineering

institutions, religious and others. no less than that it reflects


their objective substance. ,1371
Adorno cautions that a cry for a r t to return to its religious

368 I b i d .
369 I b i d .

370 I b i d . , 678.
37! I b i d .

roots, should be viewed with suspicion. Inherent in this wish may


also be

"the wish that

repressive function.

f13iZ

art should exercise a disciplinary,

The danger is al1 too great that art may

in this manner become a mouthpiece for the dominant regressive


religious ideology under whose auspices it is created.
Adorno saw an unfortunate trend in contemporary at tempts to
revive a unity between religion and art, where religion became
merely

"ornamental."

Religion as such is no more

than

"a

metaphorical circumscriptionn for what are mostly psychological


experiences of individuals.

In response, he explains that one

should not attempt to add "spiritual meaning and

. . . religious

content" to art because such attempts are affected, external,


decorative additions. This type of art
glorifies religion because it would be so nice if one could
believe again. Religion is on sale, as it were. I t is
cheaply marketed in order to provide one more so-called
irrational stimulus among many others by which the members of
a calculating society are calculatin$Jymade to forget the
calculation under which they suffer.
At this point in his essay, however, Adorno highlights the
fact that art does have a "true affinity with religion" in its
relationship to truth.

But the only way for art to maintain this

affinity in light of the so-called cheap marketing of religion is,


paradoxically, to refrain from

touching upon the subject of

religion altogether. Any attempt to produce "religious art" in the

372 I b i d .
373 I b i d .

present

context

blasphemy. "3i4

is,

in

Adorno's

opinion,

"nothing

but

Art must. therefore. carry on as the voice of the

humane crying out wi thout reference to religion.


Any attempt on the part of art to "convey a messagen of
religion is quite ineffectual, contends Adorno.

The ideas of

religion, like those of philosophy, "can only consist in their


inherent truth. not in their social applicability, and even less in
the way they are effectively propagated in art. t13i5

Even if one

concedes to the notion that art, religion and philosophy are


identical, to put the content of religious or philosophical ideas
into sensuous form "virtually amounts to nothing and remains almost
as

thin

the

as

truisms

pronounced

in

Sunday

Schools

and

Philharmonie Committee meetings. "376 As such. the "content" of art

becomes "emasculated" and art itself is viewed as nothing more than


a harmless cultural good which no one takes seriously. The result
is that the "apparently humanistic emphasis on it [art] has turned

into a mere

ideology.

Art that wants

to fulfil its humane

destination should not peep at the humane, nor proclaim humanistic


phrases. "3ii

Art should be art, not a slogan.

Adorno does concede, nevertheless, that originally there


374 I b i d .

679.

375 I b i d .

376 I b i d . 680.
377 I b i d .
In h i s A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , Adorno r e i t e r a t e s t h i s p o i n t : " O f a l 1
t h e paradoxes i n a r t , t h e most c e n t r a l o n e rnay b e t h e f a c t t h a t a r t
f i nds n o n - a r t e f a c t u a l
t r u t h on1 y by p r o d u c i ng speci fic and
t h o r o u g h l y e l a b o r a t e d w o r k s , t h a t i s t h r o u g h making, n e v e r by g o i ng
a f t e r t r u t h w i t h t h e gaze of immedi acy. "
[Adorno, A e s t h e t i c
Theory, 1 9 1 . ]

156

existed

an

intimate

relationship

between

art

and

religion.

Equating religion and the magical, he claims that works of art

still manifest "the imprint of its [art's] magical origin. 378

But

this magic is not found in the content or form of art, but rather
in the traits of art.

A true work of art. he explains, casts a

"spell," it has a "halo of uniqueness" and an "inherent clairn to

represent something absolute.n379

However, thee traits cannot be

conjured up or forced upon art.

Only the "hit composer and the

seller

bes t

writer"

claim

some

magic

" irrationality

inspiration" as aspects of their creativity.

and

In contrast, the

conscious, rational control b y the artist on the irrational, magic


element of art do not eliminate the magic but strengthen it,
allowing it
fO rms .

"to make

itself

felt in new and more

adequate

Paradoxically once again, in order for art to maintain

its magic, art must not prate about its magical, irrational
quality.
In conclusion, Adorno admits that while the dichotomy between

religion and art may be irreversible. he does not believe that it


378 Adorno,

"Theses Upon A r t a n d Re1 ig i on Today,

" 680.

379 It may be c o n f u s i n g t o use t h e t e r m t r s p e l l w i n t h i s ense


as he does, f o r Adorno a l s o o f t e n uses t h e terrn l l s p e l l M i n
r e f e r e n c e s t o t h e dominant o p p r e s s i v e i d e o l o g y under w h i c h p e o p l e
a r e unwi t t i n g l y c a p t u r e d i n a s p e c i f i c s o c i a l - h i s t o r i c a l moment.
I n b o t h cases, t h e s p e l l i s c a p t i v a t i n g and c r e a t e s an i1 l u s i o n .
I n t h e case of a r t , t h e v i e w e r i s aware t h a t t h e work o f a r t
c r e a t e s an i11u s i o n , an i 1 l u s i o n o f t h e p o s s i b i 1i t y o f what-hasnever-yet-been.
I n the c a s e o f t h e dominant i d e o l o g y , however,
p e o p l e are unaware o f t h e s p e l l and i t s c a p t i v a t i n g power under
w h i c h t h e y l i v e and o n l y respond t o r e a l i t y w i t h i n t h e p a r a m e t e r s
o f t h e i 11u s i o n t h e y have corne t o c a l 1 r e a l it y .

380 Adorno, "Theses Upon A r t and Re1 igi on Today, " 680.

can be "naively regarded as something final and ultimate. "381

Nevertheless , the relationship between works of a r t and

the

universal concept is not direct. Rather, the work of art is like


a monad.

With reference to Leibnitz, Adorno explains that

each monad "represents" the universe, but it has no windows,


it represents the universal within its own walls . . . . [ I]ts own
structure is objectively the same as that of the universal.
f t may be conscious of this in different degrees. But it has
no immediatgtaccess to universality. it does not look a t it,
as it were.
Only when art becomes "infatuated with its own detached world, its
material, its problems. its consistency. its way of expression,"
does it become profoundly universal.

Marcel P r o u s t is a prime example, proposes Adorno, of an


artist whose work is obsessed with the concrete world.

Yet it is

through his concentration on the "utterly mortaln traces of memory,


claims Adorno. that Proust's novel becomes a "hieroglyph of 'O
death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? ,,383
-

381 I b i d . ,

681.

382 I b i d .
I n h i s Aesthetic T h e o r y , Adorno s t r e s s e s t h a t n o t o n l y must
a r t n o t look a t u n i v e r s a l s , b u t " [ a l r t speaks i n u n i v e r s a l s o n l y
when it moves away f r o m u n i v e r s a 7s t o s p e c i f i c impul ses. " [Adorno,
A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 2 9 3 (Ital i C S m i n e ) . 3

383 Adorno, "Theses Upon A r t and Re1 i g i o n Today, " 682.


F r e d e r i c k Engels r e f e r s t o t h e a r t o f Goethe i n a s i m i l a r
v e i n : "Goethe d i d - n o t l i k e t o deal w i t h 'Godl: t h e word made hirn
uncornfortable.
He f e l t h i m s e l f a t home o n l y i n t h e human, and i t
was t h i s h u m a n i t y , t h i s e m a n c i p a t i o n o f a r t f r o m t h e f e t t e r s o f
r e l ig i o n t h a t d e t e r m i ned G o e t h e ' s g r e a t n e s s . I n t h i s r e s p e c t
n e i t h e r t h e g r e a t w r i t e r s o f a n t i q u i t y n o r even Shakespeare rneasure
up t o h i m . "
[ F r e d e r i c k Engels, D i e Lage Eng7ands, MEGA, Part 1,
V o l . 2., 428, c i t e d i n Kar7 Marx and F r e d e r i c k Enge7s: L i t e r a t u r e
and A r t .
Se7ections from t h e i r e a r 7 y W r i t i n g s ( N e w Y o r k :
I n t e r n a t ional Pub1 is h e r s , 1 9 4 7 ) , 80. ]

Once again. it is not for art to make the universal concept its
"theme."

Rather.

only

by

concentrating

on

its

concrete

individualization does art become the bearer of the universal. Art

must concentrate on being art; anything e l s e is indeed not art.

i. The nature of the relationship between art and religion


Adorno begins his argument in the above discussed essay with
the premise that if there ever was unity between art and religion.
such a unity occurred during periods of time when the dominant
social structure of society was religious.

This unity was "not

simply due to [the] subjective convictions and decisions" of the


artist. but to the fact that the underlying general theory of the
social reality of the time was religious; this general theory
appears as mediated in art.384

As

will become clear in further

discussion of Adorno's theory, art grows out of and responds to the


social-historical context in which it is created. Also in need of
consideration is that human reactions to and receptions of art are
extremely (or exteriorally) mediated

and not immediately

(or

directly in an unmediated manner) related to the work of art


itself.

Thus, in an age when the general theory of the social

reality was religious. art was viewed through a mediation of the


religious

theory

of

that

social-historical context.

Today

reactions to art may be dif ferent because the general theory under
which contemporary human beings live may not be the same as the
religious theory of another age. Indeed to maintain that today art
384 Adorno, Theses Upon A r t and Re1 igion Today,

159

677.

ought to be viewed and interpreted from a religious perspective may


lead to a misuse and manipulation of art.

Horst Schwebel cautions

that insisting each work of art be "interpreted in a religious way,

. . .would

lead in most of the cases t o manipulation according to


one's i d e a s and visions. ,,385
Familiar with hialter Benjamin's essay "The Work of Art in the
Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Adorno no doubt knew of Benjamin's

references in that essay to art's origins as a cult object.


Benjamin proposed that " [ojriginally the contextual integration of
art in tradition found its expression in the cult ,...the earliest

art works originated in the service of a ritual


magical, then the religious kind."386

first the

4s cult objects. however.

"the being-for-self of art is sacrificed for the sake of the


transmission of 'other-worldly' truth." 3 8 i
"pre-modern art"

remained

subordinated to the content.

The

inner logic" of

"stultified," for

its

form

was

T h i s meant t h a t "the independent

development of artistic technique was perennially subservient to


the ends of salvation. 388
t,

385 H o r s t Schwebel , " T h r e e modes of Transcendence i n Modern


S p i r i t u a l Images, unpubl ished paper d e l i v e r e d at ACE-Conference,
B e r k e l e y , C a l if o r n i a , (27-31 J u l y l995), 4 .
Further reference t o
Schwebel ' s r e s e a r c h on r e 7 i g i o n and a r t w i 1 1 be made a t t h e end o f
Chapter 5 .

386 W a l t e r Benjarni n , "The Work o f A r t i n t h e Age o f Mechanical


R e p r o d u c t i o n , " i n 1 7 7uminations: E s s a y s and R e f lections, ed. flannah
A r e n d t , t r a n s . H a r r y Zohn (New Y o r k : Schocken Books, 1 9 6 8 ) , 2 2 3 .
387 Wol i n , "The D e - A e s t h e t i ci z a t i on o f A r t ,

388 W o l i n ,

The T e r m s o f Cu7tura7 C r i t i c i s r n ,

" 106.
65.

In Dialectic of Enlightenmen t, Adorno and Horkheimer express


strong views against religion's demand for sacrifice. I n their re-

telling of the tale of Odysseus. they describe sacrifice as nothing

more than hurnanity's cunning deceit of the gods in order to master


the gods, and eventually humanity's deceit of fellow human beings

for the same purpose. Odysseus, "by calculating his own sacrifice,
,,.effectively negates the power t o whom the sacrifice is made."
Thus it is with al1 human sacrifices, for "when systematically

executed, [sacrifices] deceive the god to whom they are made: they
subject him
powe r .

to the primacy

""' But

of human ends, and dissolve bis

the proces of deception does n o t stop there: i t

"carries over smoothly into that practised by the disbelieving


priests on

the believers. n390

And

those who do believe

in

sacrifice are probably repeating an "impressed pattern according to


which the subjected repeat upon themselves the injustice that was
done them, enacting it again in order to endure it. "391

I t is

precisely because of the need for art to sacrifice its being-for-

self to the r u l e of religion, that Adorno insists "art be strictly


separated from religion, the historical matrix of art.

389 Adorno and Horkheimer,

D i a 7ect i c o f

Works of

En 7 ightenment, 50.

390 I b i d .

391 I b i d . ,

51.
U n f o r t u n a t e l y s a c r i f i c e does n o t end a f t e r t h e age o f
Odysseus . R a t h e r , t h e " h i s t o r y o f c i v i l i z a t i o n i s t h e h i s t o r y o f
the introversion o f s a c r i f i c e .
I n o t h e r words: t h e h i s t o r y o f
r e n u n c i a t i on. Everyone who p r a c t i ses r e n u n c i a t i o n g i ves away more
o f h i s 1 i f e t h a n i s g i v e n back t o hirn: and more t h a n t h e l i f e t h a t
he v i n d i c a t e s . T h i s i s e v i d e n t i n t h e c o n t e n t o f t h e f a l s e s o c i e t y
i n which e v e r y o n e i s s u p e r f 1 u o u s and i s d e c e i v e d . "
[ I b i d . , 55.1

art are neither absolutes themselves nor repositories of

the

absolute.n 392
Adorno refers to art's

"progressive liberation from

the

mythic, cultic, ritualized context out of which it emerged, and its

pursuit of interna1 laws of developmentn as the "Entkunstung" or


"de-aestheticization of art.q393

In the hitorical proce of the

disenchantment of the world and rationalization of 1ife in the


modern age emerged the differentiation of the spheres of science,
morality, and art.

As

a result, contends Max Weber, art "need no

longer legitimate itself in terms of a logically prior, allInstead, it is free to develop its own
intrinsic forma1 potentialities to an unprecedented extent. " 394

encompassing worldview.

Art which no longer has to legitimate itself in the service of

providing the solace of a religion and art which has differentiated


itself from the politics of the social-historical context out of
which it is created, is no longer obligated to sacrifice its being-

for-self in order to perpetuate the imposition of the given


concepts of reality.

As opposed to pre-modern art, art in the

modern period displays "one of the essential traits of modernism

. . r a d i c a l autonorny.. A t s firm refusal to participate in the


utilitarian mil1 of social life.,,395
-

--

--

392 A d o r n o , A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 1 9 3 .
393 Jay, Adorno, 1 5 7 .
394 Max Weber c i t e d i n Wolin, The Terrns o f Cultural C r i t i c i s m ,

65-66.
395 Wol i n ,

"The D e - A e t h e t i c i z a t i o n o f A r t ,

'' 105.

According to Adorno, however, art as autonomous was not merely


a result of the disenchantment of the world.

Rather, because of

its "allerg[y] to any relapse into rnagic, art is part and parce1 of
the process of

the disenchantment of

the world. w396

Adorno

believes that although the element of magic is still apparent in


the

semblance

of

art,

art

is

"inextricably entwined

with

rationalization." As we will see in the following discussion, for


Adorno, the dialectic of mimesis and rtionality is intrinsic to
art.

In fact, he criticises the "sentimentality and enfeeblement

of almost al1 traditional aesthetic thoughtn for paying

no

attention whatsoever to the importance of this dialectic.397


Art began its process of liberation frorn religion "with the
nascenc radical secularization of life forrnstTin the period of the
Renaissance, "a process
historical turn to

that

is

coincident with

this-worldly concerns.v398

the

world-

Or. as Adorno

States, art is in fact "what is left over after the magical and
cult functions of archaic art have fallen by the wayside. " 399
Achieving autonomy from religion, ran also be referred to as art's
achievement of "self-consciousness." This process was "vigorously
renewed in the 19th century with

romanticism and

396 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 8 0 .
397 I b i d .

398 Wol i n , "The D e - A e t h e t i c i z a t i o n o f Art,


399 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 1 8 5 .

106.

1 'art pour

1 'art.w400

Ironically. in light of the control of the market over

art today

or the power of the "culture industry," as Adorno

refers to it - art's liberation from under the domain of the


heteronomous rule of religion is closely linked wi th capitalism.
Art's

liberation

during

the

Renaissance

reflected

concerns

characteristic of the capitalist spirit, as well, explains Wolin,


[vliewed from a socio-cultural perspective, both movements
[romanticism and the 1 ' a r t pour 1 'art of the 19th c e n t u r y ]
originate in rebellion against the increasingly unspiritual,
prosaic nature of life under capitalism in its entrepreneurial
phase, a life with which the ' beautiful soul* will tolerate no
intercourse. Hence, the artistic consciousness seeks refuge
in the sovereign, subjective power of the creative spirit, in
the 'affirmative' preserve of culture where the positive
values that are repulsed in reality itself can be realized,
albeit in sublimated form. j y c h are the historical origins of
radical aesthetic autonomy.
Art's liberation froma heteronomous subject matter, states Adorno,
has "allowed art to corne into its own, purifying it of al1 crudity
that stands in the way of mediation by spirit.
As

17

102

autonomous, however, art risks irrelevance.

If no longer

required for the purposes of ritual, art, fetishized as beautiful


objects, often ends up embalmed in museums - "the mausoleums of
culture . "403

Or, at the other extreme, if art renounces autonomy,

it quickly regresses to its pre-enlightenment state of cult - o b ject ,

400 I b i d .

Wol i n, "The D e - A e s t h e t i c i z a t i on o f A r t , " 1 06. .


The i rony of t h i s d e v e l o p m e n t wi 1 1 become more apparent i n my
exami n a t i o n o f Adorno1s d i scussi on o f the "culture i n d u s t r y t ' i n
401

Chapter 4 .
'O2 I b i d . , 93.

'O3

I b i d . , 107.

as the functional tool of some heteronomous rule.

In fact, if art

does renounce its autonomy, it is, according to Adorno's Aesthetic


Theory, no longer art: "That art has freed itself is not some
a c c i d e n t a l even t. but a r t ' s p r i n c i p l e -

'14*'

The difficulty

that

post-cultic art faces, what Wolin refers to as a "serious crisis of


identity and direction."'O5

Art must walk a fine line, " f a r enough

removed from the fray to prevent itself from being swallowed up b y


it, yet at the same time close enough to keep from appearing
frivolous and self-indulgent in grave t imes ."'O6

It is on this

fine line which Adorno focuses in the development of his theory.


Adorno and Horkheimer propose that even in its post-cultic
form, "art still has something in common with enchantment..JO?
They compare the work of art to the cultic magician, for both posit
their own, self-enclosed area, wi thdrawn from "profane existence,"
where "special laws apply. "
-

However, this claim to autonomy -

- --

404 I b i d . ,

482 ( I t a l i c s m i n e ) .

' O 5 Wol in,

"The D e - A e t h e t ic i z a t i on of A r t ,

rf

1 07.

406 I b i d .

D i a 7ect i c o f En 7 i g h t e n m e n t , 1 9 .
Benjamin also s t a t e d t h a t even a f t e r works o f a r t were no
l o n g e r made as c u l t o b j e c t s , t h e y s t i 1 1 r e t a i n e d a c e r t a i n "aura"
which o r i g i n a t e d i n t h e i r r i t u a l f u n c t i o n .
T h i s "aura" i s a
" ' unique phenomenon of a d i stance
however close it may b e r [ a n d ]
r e p r e s e n t s n o t h i n g b u t t h e f o r m u l a t i o n o f t h e c u l t value o f t h e
work o f art i n c a t e g o r i es o f space and t i m e p e r c e p t i o n . D i stance i s
The e s s e n t i a l l y d i s t a n t o b j e c t i s t h e
t h e opposite o f closeness.
Unapproachabi 1 it y [ s i c ] is i ndeed a m a j o r
unapproachabl e one.
q u a l i t y o f t h e c u l t image.
True t o i t s n a t u r e ,
it remains
' d i s t a n t , however c l ose i t rnay be. '
The c l o s e n e s s w h i c h one rnay
g a i n from i t s s u b j e c t m a t t e r does n o t irnpai r t h e d i s t a n c e which i t
r e t a i ns in it s appearance. [Ben jami n, " A r t i n t h e Age o f Mechanical
Reproduction," 243, n o t e 5.1
407 Adorno and Horkheimer,

"renunciation of influencen - which dist inguishes art from "magical


sympathy," is at the same time the very element which "retains the
magic heritage a l 1 the more surely."'OB
the p a r a l l e l

Adorno and Horkheimer draw

between the nature of aesthetic semblance - which

contrasts the pure image to the elements of existence - and "the


new, terrifying occurrence

... in the primitive's magic: the

appearance of the whole in the particular- In the work of art that


duplication s t i l l occurs by which the thing appeared as spiritual,
as the expression of m a n a .
Adorno

also

This constitutes its [art's] aura. 409


11

indicates that although liberated

from

the

domination of religion, there exists, nonetheless, an "affinity"


between art and religion in their "relationship with truth.1,410
If religion in this reference has a relationship with truth, then

to Say

that

Adorno

limits religion to a function of

false

consciousness is misconstrued. Adorno does harshly criticize the


regressive practices of established institutions of religious
authority, which work

to support and sustain the s t a t u s

quo.

However, as we have see, the ideals of religion, the emancipatory

aspects which structure religion, having thoroughly abandoned the


trappings of official religion, are present in Adorno's insistence
that "[tlhe need to lend a voice to suffering is the condition of

'O8

Adorno and Horkheimer, D i a lectic o f En 7 ightenment, 19.

'O9

Ibid.

"O

Adorno,

"Theses Upon A r t and Re1 ig i on Today,

166

" 679.

al1 tr~th."'~' Art's

"true affinity with religionf1 is in it

" relationship with truth;"412 in i t igh, the critical voice of

art condemns the lie of reality and like the prophets of the Jewish

and Christian traditions, calls for that other which ought to b e .


Likewise Horkheimer states that " [r Jeligion is the record of
the wishes, desires, and accusations of countless generations.n 413
Horkheimer a l s o argues, however. that while the expression of
"solidarity w i t h wretchedness, and t h e struggle for a better world"
used to be at the heart of religion, they "have now thrown off
their religious garb. "'14

Religion, in its bid to establish itself

as an institution among institutions of the world, has abandoned


the impulse to cal1 reality by its real name and can no longer lay
d a i m to the ideals of religion, which maintain solidarity with
wretchedness; understood in this manner, religion, then can no

longer d a i m an "af f inity wi th t ruth.

In the contemporary

context, the ideals of religion no longer reflected in the officia1


institutions of religion are reflected in art; for the content of
art is the material of its context.

Art, which is t h o r o u g h l y

mediated i n and t h r o u g h its context, intimately knows that context


and

gives

suppresses.

form

to

the

suffering which

the

lie of

Religion was once the voice which articulated this

411 A d o r n o ,

Negative Dialectic, 1 7 - 1 8 ,

412 Adorno,

"Theses Upon A r t and Re1 ig i on Today,

413 H o r k h e i m e r ,
'j4

reality

"Thought on Re1 i g i o n ,

l1

679.

129.

I b i d . , 130.
Adorno,

" T h e s e s Upan A r t and Re1 ig i on Today , " 679.

167

critical

impulse,

but

religion

in

its

forms

of

institutions of authority has abandoned its ideals.

official

For Adorno,

"art may be the only remaining medium of truth in an age of


hliile insisting on the

incomprehensible terror and suffering.

problematic relationship between art and the regressive ideology of


established forms of of ficial religion, Adorno a l s o confirrns that
art has

taken on that impulse which religion has abandoned.

Central to Adorno's view of art is his argument that " a r t

was, and is, a force of protest of the humane.

. . .always

""' In "Theses Upon

Art and Religion Today," he speaks of art as a force of protest of


the humane

specifically in the context of "the pressure of

domineering institutions, religious and others.

"

However, key to

art's indictment of and protest against institutions, is the very


fact that

art "reflects [the] objective substancew of

those

institutionsli8 - in this case the objective substance of the


institutions of religion.
creature"

and

reflects

Art voices the "sigh of the oppressed


the

conditions," to cite Marx.

ideals

of

"hope under

hopeless

In its own prophetic voice, art as

being-for-self and not the tool of heteronomous rule, reflects the


abandoned ideals of religion.

In Chapter 1 1 argued for an analogy between the artist and


the prophet.

The prophets of the Jewish and Christian traditions

once lamented the condition of the present world.


416 Adorno,
'j7

Adorno,

Now, Adorno

A e s t h e t i c Theory, 2 7 .

"Theses Upon A r t and R e 1 ig i o n Today,

Ibid.
168

" 678.

claims, art "is an animated wailful lament, whereas elsewhere


laments

have

fallen

cornplete

into

articulated that which no one else dared.


to utter the unutterable.. . "420,

silence.vr 419

Prophets

But now "[alrt is able

for it is art which reveals the

truth about human suffering. The language and imagery of prophets

was often unpleasant and crude as they condemned the evil around
them: likewise art "has to make use of the ugly in o r d e r to
denounce the world which creates and recreates ugliness in its own

image. "421

refuses to

Art

disintegration of reality.

cover up
As

the contradictions and

prophets were also unwilling to

remain silent and legitimate the unjust actions of their rulers.


"modern art

. . .despairingly realized that it would

the role of a henchman of the powers that


but conciliatory instead. w422

b e , if

find itself in

it were not cruel

Prophets brought to light the false

and unjust aspects of reality and foretold of the possibility of a


Adorno,

Aesthetic T h e o r y , 96.

420 I b i d . , 48.

'*'

Ibid.,

72.

'**I b i d . ,

74.
I n h i s discussion o f the de-aestheticization
o f a r t per
A d o r n o ' s t h e o r y , Wol i n draws a c o n t r a s t between b e a u t i f u l a r t o f
t h e p a s t and u g l y , o r d i s s o n a n t art o f the p r e s e n t :
"If i n
t r a d i t i o n a f s o c i e t i es, whose u n i v e r s e w a s governed by the n o t i o n o f
c y c l i c a l t i m e , where t h e p r e d i c t a b l e and f a m i l i a r p o s i t i o n o f t h e
sun i n t h e sky would p r e s c r i b e t h e r h y t h m o f d a i l y life, t h e
d o m i n a n t c a t e g o r y o f a e s t h e t i c s was t h a t o f b e a u t y , i n modern
s o c i e t i e s , where t h e f l o w o f 1 if e has been a l 1 b u t r e d u c e d t o a
series
of
minutely
subdivided
instants,
that
is,
to
the
c a l c u l a t i ons o f t i me-cl ock and s t o p - w a t c h , t h e predomi n a n t c a t e g o r y
o f a e s t h e t i c s has becorne t h a t o f d i ssonance. . by v i r t u e o f its
's i n is t e r '
qua1 it i e s , d i s s o n a n t a r t i s t h e o n l y a r t t h a t r e t a i n s
the c o u r a g e to c a l 1 s o c i e t y by it s a c t u a l narne. " [Wol i n , "The DeA e s t h e t i c i z a t i o n o f A r t , " 105.1

. .

more just reality. The antinomy of art not only indicates that the
reconciliation of present reality is a false reconciliation, it
also carries the connotation that true reconciliation lies beyond
what we know as present reality as we kzow it.

Art insists that

"only what does not fit into this world is true-n 123
Adorno views art as the last possibility of a refuge for hope
for humanity in a hopeless world.

However, if there is to be any

hope at ail for more humane conditions t h e n the people of this


present age must become cognizant of the "spelln of a false
reconciliation under which they are living. Art takes its position
against reality

"by stepping outside of reality's spell, not

abstractly once and for all, but occasionally and in concrete ways,
when it unconsciously and tacitly polemicizes against the condition
of society at a particular point in tirne. n 4 2 4

Becaue of the

immense gap between reality and true reconciliation, the only way
in which art can bring the "spell" to light is through relentless

negativity .

The t ruth of the supposed reconciliation of reali ty

might be glimpsed if "perspectives [are] . . .fashioned that displace


and estrange the world, reveal it to b e ,

with its rifts and

crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in


the messianic light. ,,425

Art is better suited than theology to break that spell; for,


423 Adorno, A e t h e t i c Thheory, 86.
424 I b i d . ,

7.

425 Theodor W . Adorno, Minima Mora 7 i a : R e f Tections from Damaged


L i f e , trans. , E . F. N . Jephcott (London: NLB V e r s o , 1 9 7 4 ; seventh
p r i n t i n g , 1993), 247.

whereas theology al1 too often loses contact with the particular
and concrete in its abstractions, art maintains that connection.
In its indictment of the spirit of its age, art grows out of and

responds to a particular condition at a particular time and depends


for its voice upon the material out of which it is created.426
Theology, having severed its ties to the particular in favour of
the universal. can no longer adequately cal1 upon its prophetic
voice to condemn the present situation. A voice crying out in the
abstract often has little relevance to concrete reality. Art, on
the other hand, which is created in the shadow of that which
exists, grows out of the world around it and finds its voice within
the concrete reality which it condemns.

Because it intirnately

knows the world it polemicizes, it is art which is the prophetic

voice "articufating the struggles and wishes of its age. w427


exposes the

Art

irrationality of what appears to be a rational system

of the s t a t u s

quo;

the prophetic voice of religious institutions

dare not attempt such an exposure, for it would expose

the

426 T h e " G e s c h i c h t 7 i c h k e i t der KunstU t h e o r y a s d e v e l o p e d by


H e g e l in f 1uences rny f o r m u l a t i o n o f t h i s a r g u m e n t .
A c c o r d i n g to
H e g e l , a r t is c r e a t e d by a p a r t i c u l a r p e o p l e a t a p a r t i c u l a r t i m e ,
in a p a r t i c u l a r p l a c e . The c o n n e c t i o n between Hegel ' s and A d o r n o ' s
t h e o r i e s on t h i s p o i n t w i Il be e x p l o r e d i n g r e a t e r d e p t h as a p a r t
o f t h i s investigation.
C27 H e w i t t , 'fWoman, n a t u r e and power," 267.
I n h i s d i s c u s s i o n o f t h e i d e a o f u t o p i a i n t h e t h o u g h t of
Ben j a m i n as opposed t o t h a t o f Adorno, F l o y d p r o p o s e s t h a t B e n j a m i n
had a s i g n i f i c a n t in f 1uence on A d o r n o ' s u n d e r s t a n d i ng o f " u t o p i a,
as t h e
state of
diversi t y without
domination.
However ,
"Ben jarnin's dream o f t h e u t o p i a n f u t u r e w a s , t o be s u r e , decidedly
t h e o l o g i c a l , whi l e Adorno i n c r e a s i n g l y emphasi zed t h e p o t e n t i a l f o r
art, n o t t h e o l o g y , t o s e r v e as t h e r e f u g e f o r the u t o p i a n i m p u l s e . "
[ F I oyd, Theo7ogy and the D i a 7ect i c s o f O t h e r n e s s , 269.]

institutions of religion as themselves irrational, having conformed

to the rationality of reality.

The prophetic voice of art dares

and does cry out: "This is how chaotic your order actually is. n 428

I I . Negative Dialectics

thinking the unconditioned.

"'''

Adorno's theory of the negative dialectic is central to his


discussion of art, for, it is through mimesis and negation of its
context that art becomes authentic and autonornous, able to critique
its context.

1 will examine Adorno's formulation of this theory,

with a particular focus on his argument that the response of art to


its context is one of negative dialectics. It is important to note
that Adorno does not mean negation in the sense o f a cancellation.
Rather, negation, for Adorno, refers to a non-identity with the
existent context through a maintenance of a dialectical tension
between the existent and its concept. In its refusal to affirm the
reality of its socio-historical moment, the negative dialectic
exposes the apparent truth of reality as untruth.

In his inaugural lecture to the philosophy faculty of the


University of Frankfurt, where he taught until 1933 and then again
in the post-WWII period, Adorno pronounced that it is
not the task o f philosophy to present ...meaning positively,
to portray reality as "meaningful' and thereby justify it.
Every such justification of that which exists is prohibited b y
the fragmentation in being i tself . . . .The text which philosophy
has to read is incomplete, contradictory and fragmentary, and
much in it may be delivered up to blind demons; in fact

Adorno,

'*'

Adorno,

A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 138.

H e g e l : T h r e e S t u d i e s , 50.

172

perhaps the reading of it is our task precisely so that we, by


reading. can bel&er learn to recognize the demonic forces and
to banish them.
Thus,

in contrast to the idealism of Hegel, Adorno does not

recognize the dialect ic as a me thod through which a meaningful


system of history could b e justified. Although Hegel "defined the
dialectic as the organized spirit of contradiction.
for him was a systematic unity.

tt431

the outcorne

Adorno attempts to rescue the

negative core of Hegel's dialectics from its "embeddedness in a


doctrine

of

undialectical

affirmation.

reconciliation

and

unification:"432 it is crucial in Adorno*s estimation that the


dialectic remain negative. One sees then, in Adorno's writing, an
emphasis on the contradictory and the fragmentary nature of the
dialectic, in an effort to put an end to the idea of unity, of
synthesis, of something positive, as the outcome of negation.
Adorno e x p l a i n s that
[dlialectical contradiction "is" not simply; it means - it has
the subjective significance - that it cannot be talked out of
this. In this meaning, this intention, dialectics aims at
what is different. It is as philosophy's self-criticism that
430 Theodor W. Adorno, '!The A c t u a l it y o f P h i 1oophy, " t r a n s .
n o t in d i c a t e d , T e l o s 31 ( S p r i n g I W i ) , 126.
T h i s speech was d e l i v e r e d b y Adorno on M a y 7, 1 9 3 1 .
The
e d i t o r o f Te7os n o t e s the i n f l u e n c e o f B e n j a m i n i n t h i s speech and
t h a t i t s pub1 i s h e d f o r m was t o have been d e d i c a t e d t o B e n j a m i n .
However,
p u b l i c a t i o n d i d n o t t a k e p l a c e and t h e speech was
e v e n t u a l ly found i n t h e Adorno e s t a t e a f t e r h i s d e a t h .
It appeared
f o r the f i r s t t i r n e i n t h e Volume 1 o f h i s G e s a m m e 7 t e S c h r i f t e n .
43' Adorno,

Hege7: Three Studies, 4 3 .

432
Shierry
Weber
Nicholen
and
Jeremy
J.
Shapi r o ,
" I n t r o d u c t i o n , " in Adorno, Hege7: Three S t u d i e s , x i .
Buck-Morss e x p l a i ns t h a t un1 i ke Marx, Adorno s " a h was not t o
d e v e l o p a t h e o r e t i c a l s y n t h e s i s, b u t t o d e c i p h e r a c o n t r a d i c t o r y
[Buck-Morss, The O r i g i n o f N e g a t i v e D i a 7ectics, 97.]
r e a l it y . "

the d i a l e c t i c a l motion s tays philosophical .433

The dialectic cannot be talked out of its recognition of what


Adorno terms "dernonic forces," b u t calls them by their real name:

"demonic" and in s o d o i n g , "banishes them."

Critical thought and

autonomous art, are involved in this naming,

Through their

unrelenting insistence upon calling the demons by their real name,


critical thought and autonomous art make it clear that reality as
dernonic is not to be justified, for it is not as it ought to be.

Adorno begins his text of Negative Dialectics with

the

statement that "[p]hilosophy, which once seemed obsolete. lives on


because the moment to realize it was missed. w434

From Adorno's

perspective, the pre-World War II "revolutionary optirnisrnu was


revealed to be premature.

"Whatever hopes for change that might

have survived the defeats of the working class movement were


[sic]

irrvocabley

silenced

by

Auschwitz. .j3'

The

historical

barbarity of Auschwitz was a significant element in Adorno's


development of the theory of the negative dialectic, just as,
"[tlhe earthquake of Lisbon sufficed to cure Voltaire of the

433 Adorno, Negat i v e Dia 7ect i c s , 153.


Emphasi z i ng t h e c o n t r a d i c t o r y and in s i s t i ng on t h e n e g a t i ve o f
t h e d i a l e c t i c was e s p e c i a l l y i m p o r t a n t f o r Adorno "at a t i m e when
t h o s e who admi n i s t e r t h e d i a l e c t i c i n i t s m a t e r i a l i s t v e r s i o n , t h e
o f f i c i a 1 t h o u g h t o f t h e East b l o c ,
have debased i t t o an
u n r e f l e c t e d copy t h e o r y .
Once d i v e s t e d o f it s c r i t i c a l f e r m e n t ,
t h e d i a l e c t i c i s as well s u i t e d t o dogmatism as t h e immediacy o f
S c h e l l i n g ' s i n t e l l e c t u a l i n t u i t i o n , a g a i n s t which Hegel's p o l e m i c
was d i r e c t e d
[ A d o r n o , Hege 7 : T h r e e S t u d i e s , 8. ]

434 Adorno,

N e g a t i ve D i a 7ect i c s , 3 .

435 J a y , "The Concept o f Total it y i n Lukacs and Adorno,"

129.

theodicy of Leibnitz.. . .Our metaphysical faculty is paralysed


because actual events have shattered the basis on which speculative

metaphysical thought could be reconciled with experience.v 4 3 6

The

optimism was shattered by the actuality of the "administrative


murder of millionst' at Auschwitz, which Adorno refers to as "the
absolute integration. " This process of absolute integration occurs
wherever human beings are " levelled off -

' polished

off , ' as the

German military called it - until one exterminates them literally,


as deviations from the concept of their total nullity."
concludes that "Auschwitz confirmed
identity as death. " 437

Adorno

the philosopheme of

pure

In response, al1 synthesizing and unifying modes and methods


of thinking must be criticized. Adorno refuses to subordinate the

particular to the general category, synthesizing and repressing the


truth of the differences which make the particular exactly that:
particular.

To maintain

the dialectic

tension between

the

particular and the concept and resist the impulse which would make
the two identical, is of paramount importance to the theory of the
negative dialectic. " T h e name of dialectics says no more, to begin

with," he States, "than that objects do not go into their concepts


without rernainder

. . . .It indicates the untruth

of identity, the

fact that the concept does not exhaust the thing conceived.,r 138
The tension between the object and
436 Adorno,

N e g a t i ve D i a l ecti C S ,

C37 I b i d .
438 I b i d . ,

5.

361 - 2 .

its concept must

be

maintained, for it is in the objectTs differentiation of itself


from the concept that the traces of its repressed particularity

become apparent. The left-over aspects of the object which do not


fit the concept's definition of i t as it tries to force the object
to fit, are the truth of the object's non-identity with that
concept. Asserting the importance of the repressed aspects is to
critically challenge the logic of thinking which insists on the
identity of the concept and its actuality; it is to "disenchant[]

This challenge brings to light the untruth of the

the concept,d39
"totalizing

conceptualizations

[which)

function[]

to

annex

difference and particularity as alien otherness. ,440

But

to

resist

reality's

appearance

is

to

"think

the

unconditioned," for it is to think against the grain of the


dominant way of thinking which is presumed to be t r u e ; this is,
according to Adorno. "the epitome of negativity. w'41

1n fact, as

Jay explains it , Adorno "stresses nonidentity and the importance of


negation as

last

the

439 I b i d . ,

refuge of

freedom."442

The

dialectic

11.

440 Marsha Hewi t t ,


'>The Po1 i t ics o f Empowerrnent : E t h i cal
paradigms i n a F e m i n i s t C r i t i q u e o f C r i t i c a l S o c i a l Theory,I1 The
Annuai o f the S o c i e t y o f C h r i s t i a n E t h i c s ( 1 9 9 1 ) , 1 7 4 .
The r e f e r e n c e h e r e is t o A d c r n o t s d i s c u s s i o n o f t h e d i f f e r e n c e
between c o e r c i o n of t h e a l i e n and r e s c u i n g it: " t o r e s c u e i t rneans
t o l o v e t h i n g s . . .The r e c o n c i l e d c o n d i t i o n w o u l d n o t be the
p h i losophi c a l irnperi al is m o f annexi ng t h e a l ien.
I n s t e a d , it s
happiness w o u l d l i e i n t h e f a c t t h a t t h e a l i e n , i n t h e p r o x i r n i t y i t
i s granted, remains w h a t i s d i s t a n t and d i f f e r e n t , beyond t h e
heterogeneous and beyond that w h i c h i s o n e r s o w n . "
[Adorno,
N e g a t i v e Dia 7ectics, 191 ]

441 Adorno,
442 J a y ,

H e g e l : Three Studies, 50.

P e r m a n e n t Exi Tes, 6 .

recognizes reality's truth as untruth, the dominant way of reason


as unreason. and what is supposedly healthy as- in fact, infested
with sickness.

Adorno draws out these images in the following

graphic passage from Minima !foralia:


The dialectic cannot stop short before the concepts of health
and sickness, nor indeed before their siblings reason and
unreason. Once it has recognized the ruling universal order
and its proportions as sick - and marked in the most literal
sense with paranoia, with 'pathic projection' - then it can
see as healing cells only what appears. by the standards of
that order, as itself, sick, eccentric, paranoia - indeed,
'mad'; and it is true today as in the Middle Ages that only
fools tell their masters the truth. The dialectician's duty
is thus to help this fool's truth to attain its own reasons,
without which it will certainly succumb to the abyss of the
sickness ~ p l a c a b l ydictated by the healthy common sense of
the rest .
Thus, in opposition to Hegel, truth is not found in agreement of
the concept with its actuality. Rather, "[tlhrough the dialectic,
which is the approach of a consistent nominalism awakened to selfconsciousness, an approach that examines any and every concept in
terms of its subject matter," the concept is convicted of its
"inadequacyw with regards to its actuality.441
In the section of Minima Moralia entitled: "Warning: not to be
misused," Adorno cautions the reader that the "truth or untruth" of
the dialectical method "is not inherent in the method itself, but
in its intention in the historical process. m445

The dialectical

method must maintain its materialist edge. for the theory will only

643 Adorno,

"'

M i n i m a MoraTia, 73.

Adorno,

Hege 7 :

Adorno,

M i n i m a Moralia, 2 4 4 .

T h r e e Studies, 39.

remain dialectical if philosophical interpretation does "not take


place within

closed

interrupted, in an
refuse[] to adapt

paths

of

thought, but

' intermittent

themselves

dialectic',

to

the

by realities which

interpretation, and

objections f rom inter-subjective t ruth."416


think abstractly but concretely.

[is] constantly

by

The aim is not to

Dialectical thinking seeks to

understand the contradictions of concepts and realities in their


specific contexts. For critical theorists the "relevant contexts
and processes are social, cultural, psychological, and intellectual

- they are historical through and through.*'44i

The aim is to

understand the contradictions; the dialectical method attempts to


achieve this understanding by "freeing thought from the spell of
the instant.tt 448
Revealing the untruth in the compulsion to achieve identity,
the dialectic discloses "the energy stored up in that compulsion
and congealed in its objectifications,

it frees the truth that

was repressed. Precisely because al1 objectifications can refer to


the possible truth repressed within, it is incorrect to Say that
446 W i ggershaus,

The F r a n k f u r t Schoo 7 , 9 4 .

4C7 Weber Nichof sen and Shapi r o , " I n t r o d u c t i o n , " i n Adorno,


H e g e 7 : T h r e e Studies, x i x .
" I n emphasizing t h e n e g a t i v e moment i n t h e d i a l e c t i c a l
they
[ t h e c r i tical t h e o r i s t s ] f o s t e r e d a c r i t i c a l
process,
awareness whi ch b o t h sci e n t i f i c and humani s t Marxi sm seemed t o
lack. And i n so doi ng, t h e F r a n k f u r t Schoof p r e s e r v e d t h e hope o f
a more t r u l y human s o c i e t y i nhabi t e d by c o n c r e t e men r a t h e r t h a n by
t h e a b s t r a c t s u b j e c t s o f t h e humanists, w i t h whom t h e y have so
o f t e n been confusea.
[ J a y , Permanent E x i les, 27.1

448 Adorno,

Hege 7 : T h r e e S t u d i e s , 1 0 8 .

449 Adorno,

N e g a t i v e D i a lect i c s , 1 5 7 .

philosophy or any conceptualization is wholly untrue.

One must

keep in mind that determinate negation "is not simply negative


criticism. Determinate negation remains what it was for Hegel - a
process of disclosing

In

truth. n450

the

repressed truth of

determinate reality, is preserved the possibility of hope.

i - The negative dialectic of art - introductory remarks

In a letter to Max Horkheimer, Adorno refers to hirnself as an


artist needing to account for the possibility of art in the
present :
1 , however, by background and early development, was an
artist, musician, yet animated by an impulse to account for
art and its possibility in the present. in which something
objective also desired expression. the suspicion of the
insufficiency of a nai e aesthetic procedure in view of the
tendencies of society.

4s

He opens his Aesthetic Theory with reference to this same impulse:


Today it goes without saying that nothing concerning art goes
without saying, rnuch less without thinking.

Everything about art

has become problematic: its inner life, its relation to society,


even its right to exist. r, 452
This need to d e f e n d art may have also been provoked by the

chastisement which was thrown Adorno's way by many members of the

450
Lambert
Zuidervaart,
A d o r n o ' s A e s t h e t ic Theory:
The
Redemption o f 1 7 7usion (Cambridge, Mass: M I T P r e s s , 1991 ) , 5 6 .
451 Theodor W . Adorno, " O f f e n e r B r i e f an Max H o r k h e i m e r , " D i e
Z e i t ( 1 2 F e b r u a r y l965), 3 2 , c i t e d i n Benjamin Snow, " I n t r o d u c t i o n
t o A d o r n o ' s ' T h e A c t u a l it y o f P h i l o s o p h y , " Te7os 31 ( S p r i ng I W i ) ,
113, n o t e 2 .

452 Adorno,

A e s t h e t i c Theory,

1.

left-leaning student movement of the 1960s. They criticized what


they perceived as his retreat from social theory into aesthetics.
However, others argue Adorno's concern with social questions led
more to aesthetic than political theory.'j3

Adorno never dropped

his concern for liberating change which would abolish alienation:


alienation between subject and object, human beings and nature, and
one human being and another.

His move to aesthetics naturally

follows from the critical theorists' view of the aesthetic:


critical theorists have always seen the aesthetic as embodying
precisely such a non-alienated relationship .... They have seen
the aesthetic both as a mode1 of such an emancipated
relationship and as an indication that such a relatiopahip can
exist beyond the limits of the aesthetic dimension. 3
In his defence of art, Adorno explains that one ought not to
think of art in the abstract as some unchanging concept adequate
for al1 time.

"Art is not what it has always been from time

immemorial; it is what it has become . . . Art is a syndrome in


motion.

Highly mediated in itself, art calls for intellectual

mediation terminating in a concrete concept."455

What we recognize

as art, shifts and changes in the context of history. As a r e s u l t ,


Adorno will not allow for a universal concept which can def ine the
453 Hohendahl , "Autonorny o f A r t ,

*t

136.

454 S h i e r r y M. Weber, " A e s t h e t i c E x p e r i ence and S e l f - r e f l e c t i on


as Emancipatory Process: Two Cornplementary Aspects o f C r i t i c a l
in On Critica7 Theory, e d . John O'Nei 11 (London:
Theory,"
H e i nemann, 1 9 7 7 ) , 7 9 .
I n c o n t r a s t t o t h e i r orthodox M a r x i s t c o u n t e r p a r t s , C r i t i c a l
T h e o r i sts d i d n o t reduce a r t t o an i d e o l o g i c a l t o o f
A r t used i n
such a manner was no 1onger autonornous, b u t c r e a t e d a s a means f o r
t h e heteronomous r u l e o f t h e i d e o l o g y . 1 w i l l d i s c u s s t h i s i n more
d e t a i l i n Chapter 4 .

455 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 4 8 2 .

plurality of the arts known to humanity.


A work

becomes art through its form which differentiates it

from its historical moment.

Through their form. "artworks both

oppose s o c i e t y and communicate with it. "456

Art shapes the content

it receives from its historical moment, but the form of that


content in art is not a mere copy of that content in its context.

mile a work of art is created out of the elements of reality. "as


art it remain the antithesis of that which is the case.m45i In
the artistic form. the elements of reality are rearranged in a new
"constellation." (as we shall discuss l a t e r in this Chapter).
Through this rearrangement , art insists on i ts non-identity wi th or
negation of r e a l i t y .

. . .structures

Although

" i t s socio-historical context

(bestimmt) both the nature of [art's] opposition and

the character of art's autonomy" from that context. art only


becomes art upon differentiation from what it is not.

456 Z u i d e r v a a r t ,

~ r only
t

Adorno's A e s t h e t i c Theory, 1 2 3 .

457 Theodor Adorno, "Reconci 1 ia t i o n under Duress, " A e s t h e t i c s


and P o l i t i c s , t r a n s . and ed. Ronald T a y l o r (London: NLB, 1977;
Verso e d i t i o n , f i f t h p r i n t i n g 1992) 159.
I n h i s essay, " S o c i e t y , " Adorno rnakes t h e f o l l o w i ng argument:
"whi le t h e n o t i o n o f s o c i e t y rnay n o t be deduced f r o m any in d i v i d u a l
f a c t s , n o r on t h e o t h e r hand be apprehended as an i n d i v i d u a l f a c t
i t s e l f , t h e r e i s n o n e t h e l e s s no s o c i a l f a c t w h i c h i s n o t d e t e r m i n e d
by s o c i e t y as a w h o l e . " [Theodor W. Adorno, " S o c i e t y , " t r a n s . F.R.
Jarneson, in C r i t i c a 7 Theory and S o c i e t y : A Reader, eds. Bronner and
K e l l n e r , 268.1
A work o f a r t i s a l s o a s o c i a l f a c t , d e t e r m i n e d by
t h e c o n t e x t o f t h e s o c i e t y o u t o f which i t i s c r e a t e d and t o which
it responds n e g a t ive7 y .

458 James M. H a r d i n g , " H i s t o r i c a l O i a l e c t i c s and t h e Autonorny


o f A r t in Adorno ' s A s t h e t ische Theorie, I r The Journa 7 o f Aesthet i c s
and A r t C r i t i c i s m 5 0 . 3 (Summer f 9 9 2 ) , 187.
H a r d i ng h i g h l ig h t s a c r u c i a l i ssue r e g a r d i ng A d o r n o t s t h e o r y
o f t h e autonomy o f a r t : "Each work o f a r t i s s i n g u l a r l y exemplary,

becomes art. therefore, by insisting on the negative dialectic.

In its non-identity with its own origins - socio-historical


reality

- art refuses to perpetuate the attitude of identity

thinking and insists on its heterogeneity. I t is precisely its own


heterogeneity which gives art "the conceptual basis from which to
question and negte the appearance of continuity in concepts. . . .
[and expose

the]

repression of

appearance of uni ty ."'jg


social condition.

heterogeneities

beneath

the

Art cannot directly change the actual

Nevertheless, in its mimetic transformation of

reality's elements, art can refuse to join the perpetuation of the


s t a t u s quo.

Adorno ' s aesthet ic

theory presupposes

the

"corresponding

~ ~ e c i f i c i
~ ~ with
~ ~ ~its
~ socio-historical moment.
oftart

Art, like

dialectical thinking, is "not just an indictment of the reigning


consciousness, but the match of that consciousness. "461 Detachent
from the context which is the object of i t s critique, would mean

that art's "autonomy is fictitious."462

The resultant question

would be: autonomous from what? Art is autonornous as i t "rnanifests

i t s n o n 4 d e n t i t y n o t b e i ng an exampl e o f a greater u n i v e r s a l , b u t
a s i ngular instance o f i t s e l f .
For Adorno, any c o n c e p t i o n o f t h e
autonomy o f a r t , o t h e r t h a n t h e p o s i t i o n a g i v e n work o c c u p i e s i n
n e g a t i ve r e l a t i on t o it s O t h e r [ie . i t s s o c i O-hi s t o r i cal c o n t e x t ] ,
r e g r e s s e s i n t o r e i f i c a t i o n and a r e p r e s s i ve p o s i t i v i s m . l 1
[Ibid. ]

"'

I b i d . 192.

460 I b i d . , 191.
461 Adorno,

Negative D i a lectics, 303.

462 I b i d . , 223.

itself in dialectical tensions with its own historical moment :"463


if art detaches itself from its context, it is neither relevant to

that context, nor does it maintain a dialectical tension with that


context. Such art can no longer claitn to be autonomous. In fact,
"if the separation of art and l i f e are accepted as matter-of-

course, that is also the end of art. 464


tt

Art is a "mediated recognition of the negativity of the world;


mediated because the world of appearance is not a mirror of
reality.

To recognize the negative of the world, is

to

recognize that the contradiction at the sarne time anticipates the


necessity of its being overcome .

According to Sauerland, Adorno

often names this "die Sehnsucht nach dem Anderen - the desire for
the other.n466

However , although art may anticipate the overcoming

of the contradictions it discloses in reality, art does not bring


about their reconciliation.
negative standpoint.

Instead, art maintains a relentless

To assume Adorno pushes for art to achieve

reconciliation is to misunderstand his aesthetic theory. Art "aims

463 H a r d i ng, " H i s t o r i cal

Dialectics and t h e Autonomy o f A r t , "

183.
I n an essay on Schonberg, Adorno r e i t e r a t e s the n e c e s s i t y of
t o t h e c o n t e x t o u t o f w h i c h i t grows.
Speaki ng
s p e c i f i c a l ly o f t h e t r a d i t i o n of music, Adorno w r i t e s : " O n l y t h a t
w h i c h has been n o u r i s h e d w i t h t h e 1 i f e b l o o d o f t h e t r a d i t i o n can
p o s s i b l y have t h e power t o c o n f r o n t it a u t h e n t i cal 1 y . "
[Adorno,
Prisms, 1 5 5 . 1

art's t i e s

464 P e t e r B r g e r , "The
( W i n t e r 1984-85), 130.

D e c l i n e o f t h e Modern Age,"

465 K a r o l
S a u e r l and,
Einfhrung
( B e r l i n : W a l t e r de G r u y t e r , 1 9 7 9 ) , 1 1 .
466 I b i d .

in

die

Asthetik

T e l o s 62

Adornos

at truth content in a context of irreconcilable contradictions.,,467


but it does not aim at directly bringing about the resolution o f
those contradictions. Just as the emphasis in dialectical thought
must rernain on unrelenting negativity, so also the dialectic of
art. "No longer is reconciliation the result o f conflict: the only
aesthetic purpose is to articulate this conflict."468

In the

context of the "contemporary world which is striving for total


integration," the

possibility

" radically denied . "469

for

false

true

reconciliation

reconcilfation

would

is

merely

continue the repression of that which truly is alien, is other and


refuses integration, and would not anticipate any move of freedom
from the compulsion towards total integration beyond the limits o f
the aesthetic dimension.

I I I . "Die Geschichtlicltkeit d e r Kunstn - Hegel's theory of art in


historical context

Before continuing the discussion of Adorno's aesthetic theory,


a brief analysis of the "Geschichtlichkeit der Kunstn theory as
developed by Hegel will help put into perspective the argument in

467 Adorno,

A e s t h e t i c Theory,

282.

468 I b i d .
The i m p o r t a n c e o f r e c o g n i z i ng Adorno1s in s i s t e n c e t h a t a r t n o t
r e s o l v e t h e c o n t r a d i c t i o n s w i l l become c l e a r i n t h e Chapter 4
d i s c u s s i o n o f autonomous a r t v e r s u s a r t which has a f f i r m e d a
heteronomous i d e o l o g y .
469 Wol fgang Wel ch, Asthetisches Denken ( S t u t t g a r t : Phi 1 ipp
Reclam, 1993). 130-2. Wel sch a r g u e s strenuousl y agai n s t t h o s e who
would see A d o r n o ' s r e f e r e n c e t o t h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f r e c o n c i l i a t i o n
as a n t i c i p a t e d i n a r t as ever o c c u r r i n g i n t h e p r e s e n t f a r frorn
r e c o n c i 1 ed world.

Adorno's theory that art grows out of and responds to a partcular


context at a particular time and depends for its voice upon the
material out of which it is created.

As

we have already seen. the

influence of Hegel's theory of religion is apparent in Adorno's own


response to and criticism of religion- Likewise, in a discussion
of Adorno's aesthetic theory. it is essential to take into account
the influence of Hegel's aesthetic theory.4W

With thi in mind.

1 will explore the connection between the theories of Hegel and

Adorno. especially with regards to the significance of art's


necessary and intimate connection to its context; this is crucial
in terrns of a view of art as a medium of truth, particularly in the

post-Enlightenment world.

From the vantage point of an intimate

relation with its socio-historical moment, art can critique the


reality it knows in its negation of that reality.471

470 J u s t as one c a n n o t u n d e r s t a n d A d o r n o ' s a e t h e t i c t h e o r y by


on1 y exami n i ng h i s post-humousl y pub1 ished A e s t h e t i s c h e Theor i e ,
b u t one must also c o n s i d e r h i s o t h e r w r i t i n g s , p l u s t h o s e o f his
F r a n k f u r t School c o l I e a g u e s , as we11 as t h e i n f l u e n c e s o f t h e
Hegel ian-Marxi s t t r a d i t i on, Annemarie Gethmann-Si e f e r t in s i s t s t h a t
one c a n n o t r i g h t l y u n d e r s t a n d Hegel ' s A s t h e t i k by r e f e r r i n g o n l y t o
[Annemari e Gethmann-Si e f e r t ,
Die
h i s L e c t u r e s on F i n e A r t .
F u n k t i o n d e r Kunst i n der Gesch i c h t e : U n t e r s u c h u n g e n zu Hege 7s
Asthetik.
Hegel S t u d i e n B d . 19 (Bonn: B o u v i e r , 1 9 8 4 ) , 9.1
As
we17, t h e d i f f i c u l t y in h e r e n t i n an exarni n a t i o n o f t h e development
o f h i s t h e o r y o f art i n v o l v e s g e t t i ng t o t h e a c t u a l i d e a s o f Hegel.
The v e r y n a t u r e o f t h e L e c t u r e s on F i n e Art t h e m s e l v e s p r e s e n t s a
d i f f i c u l t y , f o r t h e y a r e a s e r i e s o f l e c t u r e s , n o t a composite
whole.
T h e r e i s also t h e f a c t t h a t t h e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s o f H e g e l ' s
s t u d e n t s o f t e n c l o u d what Hegel meant.
T h i s has l e d t o many
m i s i n t e r p r e t a t i ons o f Hegel .
471 Much o f t h e f o l l o w i n g i s taken f r o m e a r l i e r r e s e a r c h o f
m i ne: C h e r y l Nafzi g e r - L e i s, "Hegel ' s 1 e c t u r e s on t h e Phi 1 osophy o f
A r t : The Dramatic Form and t h e End o f A r t as a V e h i c l e o f T r u t h , "
(unpublished M.A.
thesis, University o f S t
M i c h a e l ' s College,
T o r o n t o , 1992).

For Hegel t h e Geschichtlicbkeit der Kunst, or historicity of

art, does not merely imply an art object

qua

historical object. but

inherent is also that art as an historical object is a vehicle of


truth at a specific time in history. Throughout history, according
to Hegel, art has had a role in humanity's self-understanding and
the orientation of humanity's actions and interpretation of the

Art arises out of a particular time and place and is a

world.

mediator of truth in that context. The history of art. according


to Hegel's system, is the history of spirit moving as it strives

for the Ideal, for the synthesis of content and form.

Art in

history is the form which the content of spirit takes on as the


most adequate, the most true, to spirit at that time and in that
place* The relationship of the Idea to its shape in the sphere of
art consists of the following " three relations," according to
Hegel,

"

. . .the striving for, the attainment , and the transcendence

of the Ideal as the true Idea of beauty. " l i 2

In Hegel's sytem,

then, "beauty and truth are in one way the same. w1i3

Howeve r

these moments of a corning together of spirit and its form do not

last; they dissolve and spirit moves on.


Like his contemporaries of the Romantic generation, Hegel was
concerned with the notion of history, as well as with the notion of
art as the "organon" (Schelling's term) of all human activity,

472 G e o r g W i 1 helm F r i e d r i c h H e g e l , A e s t h e t i c s : L e c t u r e s on F i n e
A r t , Vol. 1, t r a n s . , T . M . Knox ( O x f o r d : C l a r e n d o n P r e s s , 1975;
r e p r i n t , 1 9 9 1 ) , 81.
473 I b i d . ,

111.

including philosophy.

Art was referred to as this "organon," for

it "exemplifies the expression, or more properly self-expression,


found to constitute the essence of humanity. ,,4 74

went

one

step

further, in

that

he

Hegel , however ,

"historicized" art

and

"systematized" the individual arts by putting them in an historical


context.

His approach is thus to discu the function and

meaning of art in history.

According to Annemarie Gethmann-

Siefert , while history is the category central to Hegel's As t h e f i k ,

his discussion of art and history is intertwined with two other


themes: art and truth, and the thesis of the end of art.176

The

theory of the historicity of art has, in fact, certain implications


for both art and truth and for the thesis of the end of art.
Since, according to Hegel's system, truth only exists in so

far as what exists has existence in the Idea and the Idea is only
realized in this process, therefore this process is essential in
order for truth to exist.

As Hegel explains, "al1 truth exists

only as knowing consciousness , as spirit confronting i tsel f as

474 Gethrnann-Si e f e r t , D i e

Funktion d e r Kunst i n d e r G e s c h i c h t e ,

261.
C7S I b i d .
476

Annemari e

Gethrnann-Si e f e r t ,

"Hegel

Kunst und d e r ' K l a s s i z i srnus' d e r A e s t h e t i k,


( 1 984) , 205-258, passim.

lt

These

vom

Ende

der

Hegel-Studien Bd. 19

Accordi ng t o t h e t h e s i s o f t h e end o f a r t , a r t had meani ng in


t h e p a s t . A s per M a r t i n Donougho, t h e q u e s t i o n now is n o t , has a r t
corne t o an end, b u t , does i t have m e a n i n g i n t h e p r e s e n t - hence,
Donoughols t r a n s l a t i o n o f t h e II Vergangenheitscharakter" o f a r t , as
" t h e pastness o f a r t " i n s t e a d o f " t h e death o f a r t . "
[Martin
Donougho, "Hegel : A T u r n i ng-poi n t i n t h e H i story o f A e s t h e t i c s , " i n
T h e Reasons o f A r t / L ' A r t a Ses Raisons, ed. P e t e r J . McCormick
( O t t a w a : U n i v e r s i t y o f O t t a w a Press, l98S), 265. ]

spirit.

For only concrete individuality is true and actual;

abstract

universality

and

particularity

are

not. ,,417

The

particular art forms of Hegel's system are referred to as "the


concrete determinations of the dea of the beautiful and the Ideal
itself.. . .[as] the

of art

actualizing and

beautiful" within a particular context.

unfolding of

the

Hegel insist that art

must be understood as an historical-cultural phenornenon which


arises out of a certain situation, time and place; art is an
unfolding of beauty and truth in its context. Hence the theory of

the Geschichtlfchkei t d e r Kuns t. Accordingly the adequate form of


art for one people in one time an context. will not be the most
adequate form of art for another people in another time and
context. Not that the art of one period cannot be appreciated by
people in another period. b u t rather. art as an adequate vehicle of
truth for a people, must grow out of their experiences and time.3 79

And

as people and

times

change. so does

art.

Hegel

acknowledges this change and recognises that not only is change


unavoidable, but, as the historic movement of spirit does not stop,
change is also necessary.

477 Hegel

Ibid.,

Aesthetics,

Spirit as the content of art. goes

Vol

1 , 144.

299.

479 L i b e r a t o Santoro e x p l a i ns Hegel ' s t h e o r y i n t h e f o l 1 o w i ng


rnanner: t h e moments o f a r t " r e p r e s e n t t h e epochal v i s i o n s and the
p r o f o u n d modes o f concei v i ng r e a l it y i n d i f f e r e n t cultures. They
a r e d i f f e r e n t moments o f t r u t h : t h e d i f f e r e n t modes t h r o u g h w h i c h
r e a l i t y r e a c h e s t h e 1 i g h t o f human consciousness a l o n g i t s
h i s t o r i c a l development. "
[ L i b e r a t o Santoro, Vfegel ' s A e s t h e t i c s
and ' t h e End o f A r t f , < ' Phi7osophica7 S t u d i e s ( I r e l a n d ) 30 ( 1 9 8 4 ) :

63.1

through a process which it begins as an empty. absolute infinity.


becomes a particular determinate and finally absolute subjectivity.
As the content of art changes. the form to mediate the truth of
that content must also change. Thus, with the movement of spirit.
art changes and evolves.

Many of Hegel's contemporaries, such as Schiller and Goethe,


longed for a revival of the age of the classical Greeks and desired
the creation of an art for the future by looking back to the
mythological content of the art of the past.

Hegel writes:

In recent times a cornplaint about the downfall of classical


art has often been heard. and the longing for the Greek gods
and heroes has frequently provided a subject-matter for the
This mourning is then expressed principally in
poets.
opposition to Christianity: there was indeed a willingness to
grant that Christianity contained a higher truth, but with the
qualification that, so far as the standpoint of art went.
the downfd)1
of classical antiquity was only to be
regretted.
480 Hegel, A e s t h e t i c s , Vol 1, 506.
Hegel t r a c e s t h i s c o m p l a i n t t o r e a c t i o n a g a i n s t t h e in f l uence
o f t h e En1 i g h t e n m e n t , u n d e r w h i c h " t h e i n t e l l e c t made God i n t o a
mere ens rationis, [ a n d ] b e l i e v e d no l o n g e r in t h e appearance o f
A s h i f t occurred
h i s s p i r i t i n concrete r e a l i t y . "
[ I b i d . , 507.1
w h e n t h e U n d e r s t a n d i n g r o s e o u t o f t h e a b s t r a c t i o n s t o Reason. One
t h e n became aware o f a need f o r t h e c o n c r e t e "and a l s o f o r t h a t
concrete t h i n g which a r t i s . "
[Ibid.]
I n Hegel's view, t h e
n o s t a l g i c l o n g i n g f o r what was Greek was based on a f a l s e
understanding o f t h e t r u e n a t u r e o f C h r i s t i a n i t y .
S c h i 1l e r , f o r
example, l o n g e d f o r t h e immediacy o f t h e Greek gods, i n c o n t r a s t t o
t h e ( m i s u n d e r s t o o d ) a b s t r a c t n e s s o f t h e s p i r i t u a 1 C h r i s t i an God.
I r o n i c a l l y , t h e Greek gods w e r e even I e s s irnmediate t h a n t h e
C h r i s t i a n God, f o r , " t h e Greek gods had t h e i r s e a t o n l y i n i d e a s
and i m a g i n a t i o n ; t h e y c o u l d n e i t h e r m a i n t a i n t h e i r p l a c e i n t h e
r e a l i t y o f l i f e nor g i v e f i n a l s a t i s f a c t i o n t o t h e f i n i t e s p i r i t . "
[ I b i d . , 508.1 S c h i 1 l e r s u b s c r i b e d t o an u t o p i a n image o f a Greece
He based
t h a t never was. G o e t h e ' s l o n g i n g was a l so m i s c o n s t r u e d .
h i s work V e s s
. [on] t h e t r u e p r i n c t p l e o f C h r i s t i a n i t y than
. [ o n ] t h e m i s u n d e r s t o o d dernand [ o f C h r i s t i a n i t y ] f o r r e n u n c i a t i o n
and s a c r i f i c e . " [ I b i d . , 509.1
Goethe s e t s up Greek m o r a l i t y as an
a l t e r n a t i v e i d e a l t o an a w f u i , u n t r u e dernand o f C h r i s t i a n i t y .
In
G o e t h e ' s B r a u t von K o r i n t h , " w e see, c o n t r a s t e d w i t h t h e Greek

. .

..

From Hegel's own significant reference to the art of the


Greeks, however, stems the often misunderstood conception that he.

too. longed for that former age.

Indeed, Hegel does propose that

when judging the "truth-capabilityw of a work of art of the


present , one "must fa11 back on 'excellent ' cultural performances,"
such as

the classical art of Greece.

In the art of

the

classical Greek period, one finds an example of where the true


meaning emerged in the adequate configuration of itself; one finds
an example where art achieved "what true art is in its essential
nature. n482

Here art achieved truth in form; art achieved beauty.

But. one must understand that Hegel honours Greek art as an art

form not because it is perfection to be mimicked, rather, because


the form of classical Greek art is the form of art most appropriate

for its context.

Hegel not only acknowledges that "Greece as a

culture, which was grounded in art, is not repeatable," he did not


wish to have it repeated.483

Humanity in its preent time and

frarne of reference would not find in that past art form an adequate
vehicle of truth for its own time.

Thus, Hegel's very thesis of

the Geschichtlichkei t der Kunst goes against the assumption of many

r a l and sensuous j u s t i f i c a t i o n o f l o v e and m a r r i a g e , i d e a s w h i c h


ve belonged o n l y t o a one-sided and untrue v i e w o f t h e C h r i s t i a n
ligion." [ I b i d . ]
481 Gethrnann-Si e f e r t

D i e F u n k t i o n der Kunst i n der G e s c h i c h t e ,

380.
'O2

Hegel, A e s t h e t i c , Vol

1, 4 2 7 .

483 Gethrnann-Si e f e r t , D i e F u n k t i o n der Kunst i n der Geschichte,

228.

philosophers that Hegel placed the classical art of the Greeks


above modern art and wished

for a

revival of Greek art.4 84

Gethmann-Siefert suggests that a new attempt must be made

to

enlarge the historical understanding of Hegel's reflection on the


validity of the principles of art.

Realising this "new atternptn

will aid in answering questions regarding the meaning of art for


citizens of the modern ~orld.'*~

i. Hegel's philosophy of art and history

Hegel's philosophy of art recognises art as an historical


phenomenon: what this phenomenon mani fests in i ts own way regarding
human self- and world-understanding, must be explained through
philosophical reflection. Thus, a philosophy of art does not only
(

la Kant) deal with judgments of taste, but more with

484 H e g e l ' s l e c t u r e s on a r t a r e " n o t a c r i t i q u e o f t h e a r t o f


h i s day t h r o u g h t h e demand t o r e p e a t the p a t t e r n o f a n t i q u i t y .
He
p a r t i c u l a r l y emphasizes t h e ' a e s t h e t i c ' d i s s i m i l a r i t i es o f a r t
w o r k s of v a r i o u s epochs and honours Greek a r t [ a s ] an a r t s i n g l y
because o f it s u n i v e r s a l h i s t o r i c a l [ l y
particular] function. "
[ I b i d . , 316. ] Gethmann-Siefert a l so n o t e s t h a t Hegel 's own t h e o r y
i s " t h e most i m p o r t a n t argument a g a i n s t t h e C l a s s i c i s m a c c u s a t i o n ;
it i s, moreover, Hegel ' s o w n argument. I r [Gethmann-Si e f e r t , "Hegel s
These vom Ende d e r K u n s t , " 238. ]

485 Annemari e Gethrnann-Siefert , ' ' D i e s y t e m a t i sche X s t h e t i k und


das P r o b l em der Geschi c h t 1 ic h k e i t d e r Kunst : b e r l egungen anhand
d e r Bestirnmung d e r M a l e r i e i n H e g e l s s t h e t i k und i n d e r T h e o r i e
d e r a b s t r a k t e n M a l e r i e , " Z e i t s c h r i f t f r Kath07 i s c h e Theo7ogie 102
( 1 9 8 0 ) , 159.
Whi 1e Gethmann-Si e f e r t adds t o t h e h i stori c a l u n d e r s t a n d i ng,
she admi t s t h a t t h e q u e s t i o n on t h e meaning o f a r t f o r t o d a y has
n o t y e t def i n i t i v e l y been answered . [ A n n m a r i e Gethmann-Si e f e r t ,
" E i n l e i t u n g : Wel t und W i r k u n g von H e g e l s h s t h e t i k," i n Annemari e
Gethmann-Si ef e r t and Otto Poggl e r , eds W e 1 t und W i r k u n g von Hege 7s
asthet i k . Wissen und Gese 7 l s c h a f t i m 19. Jahrhundert Col 1o q u i um,
Bochum, December 1984. Hegel-Studien: B e i h e f t 27. (Bonn: B o u v i e r ,
1986), x l v . J

the ontological question ( in the sense of Heidegger) regarding


what particular sort of thing this might be for which
philosophy develops a conception. which disti~uishesitself
from the analysis of knowledge and behaviour.
From Hegel, one gains the interpretation "that such a reflection
has to analyze the historical function of this particular object,
of the work, in order to determine its 'nature. , ,,481
The
assumption is that throughout history art has had a role in the
self-understanding of humanity, in the orientation of humanity's
actions and in hmanity's interpretation of the world.
therefore valid

to determine

" I t is

this historical function of art

philosophically as a means of experiencing the truth. 488


11

While Hegel's Aesthetik speaks to the historical development

of art under various conditions in various epochs, the lectures are


not a mere historical cataloguing of the different arts and their
internal developments.
history and system.

Rather what one finds is an integration of

The historical development of art is "each

time at the same time an indication of the historical constitution


and modification of the truth mediation of which art is capable, as
well

as

of

provides. w 4 8 9

the

historical

specification

this

mediation

But although the specification of art's mediating

function of truth changed throughout history, art as "beauty" has

486 Gethrnaon-Si e f e r t , D i e F u n k t i o n der Kunst i n d e r G e s c h i c h t e ,


1.

487 I b i d .

Ibid.
Gethmann-Si e f e r t ,

" D i e systernati sche A s t h e t i k ,

"

160.

remained consistent. For, "[bleauty is the characteristic of the


fulfilment of the historical function, namely truth mediation. .49O

In Hegel's philosophical system, beauty is one form of grasping the


truth. To follow this line of argument to its logical conclusion,
then: if beauty is found in art and beauty is the characteristic of
the fulfilment of the mediation of truth, art as beautiful V a n
only then have meaning when it appears as truth m e d i a t i o n . 491
rt

In order to determine the "truth-capability" of art of the


present, one must seek a form of art which is the most adequate
form f o r spirit now, a form which grows out of the present context.

Consequently, if c i t i z e n s of the modern world were to attempt a


repetition of Greek art and its role i n society, for example,
modern human beings would have to give up t h e i r way of being and
thinking, including a sacrifice of their "need for reason.n 492
While the sensuous form of art was adequate for the presentation of
the truth of the Greek gods. with the advent of the Christian
version of truth and the development of reason, "art taken just as
artw is no longer adequate.493

We now demand more t h a n

the

immediacy of the objective work of art ; we demand that art "become

490 G e t h m a n n - S i e f e r t , "Hegel s These vom Ende der Kunst ," 238.


491 G e t h m a n n - S i e f e r t , D i e F u n k t ion der Kunst i n der Geschichte,
15.
492 I b i d . ,

228.

K a r s t e n H a r r i e s , "Hegel on t h e F u t u r e o f A r t ,
o f M e t a p h y s i c s 27 ( 1 9 7 4 ) : 689.

"

The R e v i e w

an occasion for reflection. "494

Hegel recognises that because of

the nature of the demands placed on art in the modern world, it


makes no sense to long for a repetition of the art of the past.

ii. Implications of the historicity of art for Hegel's thesis of


"The End of Art"

In Hegel's system, the history of art consists of the path


which spirit takes from its abstract universal concept of what art
is, to the negation of the universal in the finite realization of
this concept, in the external, concrete form of art.

In the

sculpture of the classical age of Greece, the Ideal is attained


because spirit has made the natural form of the human body " into an
adequate embodiment of spirit's own substantial individuality.,495

The Ideal as concept in reality, is true to its concept. Thus, the


Ideal is the manifestation of truth in the concrete form in that

part icular moment.

But spirit is no longer an abstract universal, for through its


negation into its finite particular determination in art, spirit

has achieved determinate individuality.

In its individuality,

spirit finds its essence in itself and thus, overcomes its need for
its external particularity in the sensual form of art.

Through

this "liberation" from its need for particularity, its need for
art, spirit "wins for itself its infinity and absolute independence

d94 Gethmann-Si e f e r t , D i e F u n k t i o n d e r Kunst i n der G e s c h i c h t e ,

228.
495 H e g e l ,

Aesthetics, V o l .

1, 481.

in i t s own province.

Spirit can no longer be satified in the

finite sensuous form of art and desires liberation from the form of
art, which, according to Hegel. it no longer needs.
Therewith externality is regarded as an indifferent element
in which spirit has no final trust or persistence. The less
the spirit regards the shape of external reality as worthy of
it [ L e . itself as spirit]. the less can it seek its
satisfaction therein a d attain reconciliation with itself
through union with it.8,
Spirit thus negates the negation in order to lift itself out of its
opposite, the finite, into something higher than the concrete form
of art. Spirit transcends the Ideal in concrete form in its search
for a form of truth higher than that provided by art; it seeks the
infinite, the Absolute.

Spirit moves on, for it finds that its

correspondent existence of truth is not in its opposite, the finite


form of art, but only in itself, in its inner realm of thought.

This is the infinite realm of the Absolute, the realm of philosophy


and no longer the realm of art. The development of his philosophy
of art led Hegel to conclude that in the modern era there would
corne an end to art as the most adequate medium of truth.

In his

final lecture on the philosophy of art (the dramatic art form).


Hegel points to the "dissolution of art alt~gether."~'~
496 I b i d . , 5 2 8 .
497 I b i d . , 5 2 6 .
498 G . W . F. H e g e l , A e s t h e t i c s : L e c t u r e s on Fine A r t , V o l . 2 ,
t r a n s . T . M . Knox ( O x f o r d ; O x f o r d U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s , 1975; r e p r i n t ,
1 9 8 8 ) , 1236.
Hegel ' s argument f o r t h e end o f a r t i s a l so f o u n d i n h i s
Phenomenology o f S p i r i t : "The work of a r t t h e r e f o r e dernands a n o t h e r
elernent o f i t s e x i s t e n c e , t h e god a n o t h e r mode o f coming f o r t h t h a n
t h i s , i n which o u t o f t h e depths o f h i s c r e a t i v e n i g h t , h e descends
i n t o t h e opposite, i n t o external i t y , i n t o t h e determination o f t h e

I f H e g e l ' s thesis is t h a t a r t e v o l v e s as s p i r i t moves and t h a t

a r t must grow o u t o f i t s c o n t e x t i n o r d e r t o b e t h e most a d e q u a t e


form f o r s p i r i t i n t h a t t i m e ,
t h e end of

t h e s i s of

art?

then how i s o n e t o understand h i s


i m p l i c a t i o n s of

What a r e t h e

the

h i s t o r i c i t y of a r t f o r the a g e when s p i r i t moves t o t h e realm of


philosophy?

Does Hegel mean, as many have i n t e r p r e t e d , t h a t a r t

w i l l e v e n t u a l l y b e no more?

a n t T a c t u a l i z a t i o n t l of
"invalidate o r

Any e f f o r t i n t h e p r e s e n t t o a t t e m p t

the Asthetik w i l l

reinterpret

this

basic

first

thesis.

have

to

either

i n Hegel's

l e c t u r e s one r e a d s of t h e d i s s o l u t i o n of t h e v a r i o u s forms of a r t .

The cause o f each o f t h e s e d i s s o l u t i o n s i s s p i r i t ' s y e a r n i n g f o r a


more a d e q u a t e form f o r i t s e x p r e s s i o n .

Hegel b e l i e v e d t h a t i n h i s

own time s p i r i t w a s ready t o move beyond s p a t i a l r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ,


beyond t h e p a r t i c u l a r , s e n s u o u s form of art.

But does t h i s imply

t h a t f o r Hegel a r t ' s f u n c t i o n a s a mediator o f t r u t h would corne t o


a d e f i n i t e end?

Have w e r e a c h e d a p o i n t i n t h e h i s t o r y o f a r t

T h i ng whi ch 1a c k s se7 f - c o n s c i ousness. T h i s h i g h e r e l ement is


Language
an o u t e r r e a l it y t h a t is immedi a t e l y s e l f - c o n s c i ous
e x i stence
. . [ L I anguage is t h e s o u l e x i sti ng as s o u l
" [G. W. F.
Hegel, Phenomeno7ogy o f S p i r i t , t r a n s . ,
A.V.
Miller,
(Oxford:
O x f o r d Uni v e r s i t y Press, 1 9 7 7 ) , 4 2 9 - 3 0 , ( p a r a . 71 2 ) . 1 And y e t , t h e
movement does n o t end here, f o r s e l f - c o n s c i o u s n e s s does n o t y e t
know itsel f as se1 f - c o n s c i ousness. S p i r i t c o n t i nues i t s movement t o
i t s " l a s t shape
t h e S p i r i t w h i c h a t t h e same tirne g i v e s i t s
complete and t r u e c o n t e n t t h e f o r m o f t h e S e l f and t h e r e b y r e a l i z e s
i t s N o t i o n as r e m a i n i n g i n i t s N o t i o n i n t h i s r e a l i z a t i o n - t h i s i s
a b s o l u t e knowing; i t i s S p i r i t t h a t knows i t s e l f i n t h e shape o f
Spirit
[ I b i d . , 485.1

..

....

. .. -

...."

Annemari e Gethmann-Si e f e r t and B a r b a r a Stemmri ch-Koehl er ,


"Faust:
die
'Absolute
p h i losophische
Tragodie'
- und d i e
g e s e l l schaftl iche
Artigkei t '
des
west-ostl ichen
Divan:
Zu
Edi t i o n s p r o b l e m e n
der
A s t h e t i k v o r l esungen, "
Hegel-Studien
18

(1983), 23.

where art has a different function?


Throughout history, art has had a role in humanity's selfunderstanding and

the orientation of humani ty's

actions

and

Weltanschauung. But if art were to continue in the modern world to

fulfil its function of truth mediation as it did in the past. the


truth content of art would have to 'in virtue of its own specific
character be able to go forth into [the sphere of] sense and remain
adequate to itself therewjoo- a s was the case of classical Greece.

Now, however, explains Hegel, in light of Christianity and the


development of our reason, we have a "deeper comprehension of t ruth
which is no longer so akin and friendly to sense as to be capable
of appropriate adoption and expression in this medium.

We have

moved to a point where art can no longer fulfil its function as it


was previously able to; Hegel believes that for us, art is no
longer the most adeguate mediation of truth.jo2 Art had meaning
in the past; but is art merely a thing of the past?

Spirit has continued to and continues to move and as a result,

'O0

Hegel, A e s t h e t i c , V o l .

'O1

Ibid.,

1, 9 .

10.

'O2 "The p e c u l i a r n a t u r e o f a r t i s t i c p r o d u c t i o n and o f works o f


We have g o t beyond
a r t no l o n g e r f i l l s Our h i g h e s t need.
The
v e n e r a t i n g w o r k s o f a r t as d i v i n e and w o r s h i p p i n g them.
i m p r e s s i o n t h e y make i s o f a more r e f l e c t i v e k i n d , and what t h e y
arouse i n us needs a h i g h e r touchstone and a d i f f e r e n t t e s t .
Thought and r e f 1e c t i o n have spread t h e i r w i ngs above f i ne a r t . . . .
[ I l t i s c e r t a i n l y t h e case t h a t a r t no l o n g e r a f f o r d s t h a t
s a t i s f a c t i o n o f s p i r i t u a 1 needs which earl ie r ages and n a t i o n s
sought i n i t , and found i n i t alone, a s a t i s f a c t i o n t h a t , a t l e a s t
on t h e p a r t o f r e l i g i o n , was most i n t i m a t e l y 1 i n k e d w i t h a r t .
The
b e a u t i f u l days o f Greek a r t , 1 i k e t h e g o l d e n age o f t h e l a t e r
M i d d l e Ages, a r e g o n e . " [ I b i d . ]

the situation has changed in the modern period.

Hegel notes:

The peculiar nature of artistic production and of works of


art no longer fills our highest need . . . . [Alrt, considered in
its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of th
past. Thereby it has lost for us genuine truth and life.63
Truth in the modern world depends on philosophy for its mediation,
thus, art can only be an inadequate mediation of truth.

In the

modern period, "the historical effectiveness of art loses its


universality.

Art degenerates from the universal form of the

mediation of religion and morality in Greece to the function of 'a


mere technical formation* of the citizens in the modern state."'O4
The situation then becomes one where modern art cannot maintain its
claim to truth mediation without philosophical reflection.

But the unsolved question remains: if the function of art in


history has been to mediate truth. what is the meaning of modern
art for the citizen of the modern world?

Art's meaning, proposes

Gethmann-Siefert, has become "partial, " for in the modern world art
has becorne a phenomenon alongside of the phenornenon which mediates

truth: philosophy.

Nevertheless, concludes Gethmann-Siefert,

art remains a 'substantial' orientation in the sense that in


place of information of negligible interest regarding the
inner-life of individuals, art sets the question about the
humani& of human life possibili ty in a [particular] cultural
world.

In Hegel's system it is clear that the art of the modern period


must be philosophically mediated.

'O3

I b i d . , 10-11.

504 Gethrnann-Si e f e r t , "Hegel s These vom Ende der Kunst ,

'O5

Gethrnann-Siefert,

208.

"Einleitung: W e l t und W i r k u n g , " x x x i i .


198

Hegel, nevertheless. earnestly and unceasingly attempted to


answer the question "whether and in which way art can still appeal
to the modern citizen of a modern state."jo6 Hegel concluded that
while art

is

no

longer

"the comprehensive means

of

world-

orientation" as it was in the age of the Greeks, art does remain


one form among others which gives a "world-orientation.,, 507

Thus,

art s t i l l has meaning as a forin of knowledge of absolute spirit.

However, in the modern p e r i o d , not only are there other forms, such

as religion and philosophy, which give "world-orientation," but


art's "content can o n l y be mediated in the medium of speech. ,,508
Art in combination with philosophy provides truth mediation.

And

it is out of this conclusion that the "necessity of philosophical

aestheticsn develops.509
Hegel did not predict. therefore, that art would be no more,
but rather that as the movement of spirit continues, and thus its
content changes, both the form and function of art as mediator of
the truth of spirit would also change.

While it remains clear

throughout that in Hegel's system, philosophy is the medium most


appropriate for the manifestation of truth to the modern mind, this
does not preclude an end to art's evolution and mediation of the
truth of spirit. The existence of one mediator does not imply that

'O6

Ibid., xlv.

507 Gethmann-Si e f e r t , "Hegels These vom Ende d e r Kunt,

"

239.

" E i n l e i t u n g : We1 t und W i r k u n g , " x l v i

'O8

Gethrnann-Si e f e r t ,

'O9

Gethmann-Si e f e r t , "Hegel s These vom Ende d e r K u n t , " 209.


199

other modes of mediation will not also exist.

Nor, to counter

Gethmann-Siefert's conclusion, does it necessarily mean that art


becomes only a "partial" manifestation of truth.

Rather, art
remains one form among others which gives a "world-orientation." 510

Moreover. Hegel admits that philosophy needs art to reflect on art.


Yet this form [philosophical thinking], conversely, is
burdened with the abstraction of developing solely in the
province of thinking, i.e- of purely ideal universality, so
that man in the concrete may find himself forced to express
the contents and results of his philosophical mind in a
concrete way as penetrated by his heart and vision, his
and
imagination and feeling, in order in this way to hay
,if
provide a total expression of h i s whole inner l i f e .
According to Hegel "total expressionn requires more than thought;
the concrete. the sensuous of art cannot be left aside. Thus, to
interpret that Hegel means art will meet its death, implies that
there will no longer be the possibility of total expression of the
whole inner life of the human being.

Therefore, we cannot

necessarily assume that if philosophy has superseded art, that in


the modern world there is no role for art. In fact, what we learn
from the Geschichtlichkeit der Kunst theory is that in the modern

world art will be different from art of the pre-modern period.

There will be new forms of art, forms which would have had no place
and little or no meaning in a context prior to
- our own.

and perhaps after

Rather, the art of our world will be an unfolding of

truth for the particular community, time and place in which it is


created. If Hegel's thesis of the historical character of art has

Ibid.,

239.

H e g e l , Aesthetics, V o l .

II, 1128 (Italics mine).


200

any validity. then by implication it would seem to prove. or at

least to assume, that as history continues, so art will continue as

one form for the mediation of truth for humanity in history.

IV. Das Nichtidentischew - Non-identity Thinking:


Adorno's reinstatement of heterogeneity

Adorno's

interest

in

aesthetic

theory

was

natural

development from the critical theorists' view of the aesthetic, as


well as out of his philosophical roots in German idealisrn.512

He

reacts directly against Idealism. and Hegel in particular. with his


of t-quoted: "the w h o l e

is the untrue. "

turning Hegelianisrn's

tendency towards totalization, or a systematic unity, on its head.


Adorno ' s emphasis on the f ragmentary nature of moderni ty abolishes
the possibility of a hegelian totality.

In fact, t h o s e who would

"choose philosophy as a profession today must first reject the

iIlusion that earlier philosophical enterprises began with: the

The i n f 1 uence o f Gerrnan i d e a l ism on Adorno i s a1 so e v i d e n t


beyond t h e w r i t i ngs o f Hegel
For example, K a n t ' s in s i s t e n c e on
a r t ' s "Zweckmassigkeit ohne Zweck" - p u r p o s e f u l ness w i t h o u t a
p u r p o s e - as found i n h i s C r i t i q u e o f Judgement, i n f l u e n c e d
Adorno's argument f o r t h e autonomy o f a r t .
[Imrnanuei K a n t ,
C r i t i q u e of Judgement, t r a n s . Werner S. P l u h a r ( I n d i a n a p o l is , I N :
H a c k e t t , 1987. ] A l t h o u g h w e w i 17 see t h a t A d o r n o f s use o f t h e t e r m

"autonomy" d i f f e r s somewhat f r o m t h a t o f t h e i d e a l i s t s , i t i s
i m p o r t a n t t o n o t e t h a t Adorno b e l i e v e s t h e b e s t way f o r a r t t o
a v o i d b e i n g used f o r
a p u r p o s e i s t o remain u s e l e s s and
in a s s i m i l a b l e t o t h e p r e v a i 1 in g i d e o l o g y .
When a r t in s i s t s o n it s
tight
to
remain
autonomous,
it
foreshadows
"a
state
of
r e c o n c i 1 i a t i o n : t h a t c o n d i t i o n o f i n t e n t i o n l e s s b e i n g i n it s e l f
where t h i n g s w i 17 no l o n g e r be p r i z e d f o r t h e i r p r a g m a t i c value."
[ W o l i n, "The De-Aesthet ic i z a t i on o f A r t , " 1 2 0 . ]

power of thought is sufficient to grasp the totality of the


real . "'13

In direct opposition to Hegel. Adorno reinstates the

heterogenous elements as central to the dialectic.

Harding views

this move of Adorno's as articulating "a crisis in the basic


mechanics of Hegelian dialectics. Without continuity in concepts,
ublation cornes to a standstill."'14
(sublation) key to Hegel's

The resolution of Aufhebung

method,

is precisely

represses the heterogenous, robbing art

"of the

that

which

dialectical

vitality it has within its specific socio-historical context.,, 515

Whereas for Hegel the existence of that which is non-identical must


be

overcome via

synthesis

into

the

whole,

for

Adorno

the

suppression of non-identity by the concept "is the root of al1


injustice in the theoretical sphere.w 516
I t is just this passing-on and being unable to linger, this
tacit assent to the primacy of the general over the
particular, which constitutes not only the deception of

'13 Adorno, '>The A c t u a l it y o f Phi l o s o p h y , " 1 2 0 .


L i k e w i s e i n h i s s t u d y o f Hegel, Adorno w r o t e : "The d a i m t h a t
h e [ H e g e l ] d i s c l o s e s t h e p a r t i c u l a r a l o n g w i t h t h e whole becomes
il l e g i t i m a t e , because t h a t whole i t s e l f , i s n o t , as t h e famous
s e n t e n c e f r o m t h e Phenomeno7ogy would have i t , t h e t r u e , and
because t h e a f f i r m a t i v e and s e l f - a s s u r e d r e f e r e n c e t o t h a t whol e as
t h o u g h one had a f i r m g r a s p o f it is f i c t i tious. " [Adorno, Hege7:
Three S t u d i e s , 87.1
H a r d i n g , " H i s t o r i c a l D i a l e c t i c s and t h e Autonorny o f A r t i n
A d o r n o ' s A ' s t h e t i s c h e T h e o r i e , 192.
Ibid.
W o l i n , The Terms o f Cultural C r i t i c i m , 7 0 .
Horkheimer proposes t h e p r o f e s s i on o f the e n g i n e e r as " t h e
symbol o f t h i s a g e . . . [ f o r ] a t b o t t o m this r a t i o n a l i t y [ w h i c h t h e
e n g i neer f o l l o w s and i n s i s t s o n ] , t o o , p e r t a i ns t o domi n a t i o n , n o t
r e a s o n . The e n g i n e e r is n o t i n t e r e s t e d i n u n d e r s t a n d i ng t h i ngs f o r
t h e i r own sake o r f o r t h e sake o f i n s i g h t , b u t i n accordance w i t h
t h e i r b e i n g f i t t e d in t o a scheme, no m a t t e r how al i e n t o t h e i r own
i n n e r s t r u c t u r e ; this h o l d s f o r 1 i v i n g b e i n g s a s wel1 as f o r
inanimate things."
[Max Horkheimer, E c l i p s e o f Reason (New York:
O x f o r d Uni v e r s i t y P r e s s , 1 9 4 7 ) , 151 . ]

idealism in hypostatizing concepts, but also its inhumanity.


that has no sooner grasped the particular than it reduces it
to a through-station, and finally comes all too quickly to
terms with suffering and death for the sake ofjl?
reconciliation occurring merely in reflection.
Yet it is not merely idealism, but al1 philosophies which accept
"the principle of identityn in an unreflected manner, that Adorno
criticizes as merely patterning themselves after the principle of

Enlightenment : domination .'18

With the continuation of domination

in ever more barbaric and undetected forms, the most urgent task of
dialect ical thought is " the preservation of the contingent and
particular against the eternal and allegedly universal. 519
tv

For Adorno, unlike Hegel, the repressed element of nonidentity is in fact not effaced in Aufhebung, "but first truly
comes

into i t s

own. m520

The

reinscription of that which

is

heterogenous is the recovery of the truth which fias been repressed


in the false reconciliation through S p i r i t ' s sublation o f the
particular

in

the

universal.

Through

the emphasis on

the

heterogeneity in art, Adorno highlights art's negation of the


appearance of the continuity of concepts and the rescuing of the
elements

which

Adorno,

have

been

suppressed.

As

opposed

to

the

Minima Moralia, 74.

'18 Kager , Herrscha f t und Versohnung, 1 5 4 .


M a r c u s e shows a p p a r e n t agreement w i t h Adorno h e r e .
I n his
e s s a y , "The A f f i r m a t i v e C h a r a c t e r o f C u l t u r e , '' Marcuse states: "The
h i s t o r y o f i d e a l ism i s al so t h e h i s t o r y o f i t s coming t o terms w i t h
t h e e s t a b l is h e d o r d e r . "
[ in M a r c u s e , N e g a t i o n s , W .]

519 J a y , Permanent E x i l e s , 33.


Ibid.

abstractions of philosophy or theology which

operate in

the

conceptual sphere "at a studied remove from the objective world


they seek to grasp intellectually," art has the distinct advantage
of its particularity in the "sensuous dimens ion."52i

insists on

Art. which

its own particularity as differentiated from

the

totality of its context, insists on the very "cornerstone of


heterogenei ty "522 - that which is actually left over after Spirit

has moved through history and sublimated al1 in its path. "Genuine
for Adorno

art, lis]

the

last

bastion

that

has

not

yet

capitulated .... tt j23

Hegel and Adorno place a great deal of importance on the


relationship between art and philosophy; however , Adorno saw the
nature of that relationship in a different light.
and philosophy are untrennbar ( inseparable).j2'

For Adorno, art

I n d e e d . important

for Adorno's aesthetic is the "cognitive status of art


to the truth.,523.
-

. . .pointhg

As we shall discuss in Chapter 5 , one example


---

521 W o l i n , The Terms o f Cultural C r i t i c i r n , 7 2 .


The German word f o r " c o n c e p t " - " B e g r i f f ,
from " g r e i f e n , "
w h i c h means " t o grasp.ll
Thus, i n H e g e l ' s I d e a l i s r n i s t h e need t o
g r a s p t h e o b j e c t o f t h e concept; such h a n d l ing o f t h e o b j e c t by it s
concept a l so in t o n e s t h e r e u 1t a n t mani pu1a t i on t o make t h e o b j e c t
f i t t h e concept.

522 I b i d . , 193.
523 Hohendahl , "Autonorny o f A r t , " 144.
524 W. M a r t i n Ldke, "Der Kronzeuge: Ei n i ge Anmerkungen zum
V e r h a l t n i s Th. W. Adornos zu S . B e c k e t t , lf i n Theodor W. Adorno,
ed. Heinz Ludwig A r n o l d (Munich: t e x t + k r i t i k , 1977), 1 3 6 .

'*'

J a y , Adorno, 158.
The " c o g n i t i v e s t a t u s l t is a l s o r e f e r r e d t o as " c o g n i t i v e
f u n c t i on. " C f . Andrew A r a t o and E i ke Gebhardt , " A e s t h e t ic T h e o r y

of art in which Adorno found this force was the art of Samuel
Beckett precisely because, Adorno believed, Beckett had emphasized
his "renunciations of a philosophical claim . . . . "j2'

For Adorno.

the need for art has not been sublated by Absolute Spirit into
religion and philosophy , as Hegel concluded .

Rather , even after

Auschwitz, the cries of suffering - especially as they have been


repressed b y the dominant forces in history - still have a right to
the voice of art.

Because he views art as revealing the truth of reality, Adorno


also reacted to Hegel's conclusion that in the modern world art can

no longer be the most adequate medium of truth.

Not only does

Adorno insist on art's potential to be an adequate medium of truth

in the modern world, but art is perhaps "the only remaining medium
of truth. "

In fact , Adorno seems to reverse the Hegelian hierarchy

of the dimensions of absolute spirit which includes art, religion

and philosophy. Art, "on the basis of its having incorporated the
moment

of

sensuousness into

the

framework of

its

cognitive

activity," supplants philosophy as the preeminent dimension. for


art shows itself "capable of counteracting the 'bad abstraction'
that af flicts al1 pure theoretical conceptualization." 52i

Al though

Adorno concedes that works of art cari never replace the tasks of
philosophical cognition, he recognizes the potential superiority of

and C u l t u r a l C r i t i c i s m , " i n Arato and Gebhardt, e d s . ,


F r a n k f u r t Schoo 7 Reader, 200.

'*'

Ldke, "Der Kronzeuge, " 1 4 4 .

527 W o l i n ,

"The D e - A e s t h e t i c i z a t i o n

of Art,"

117.

The Essentfa7

the truth claims of the aesthetic sphere precisely because of the


concrete particularity of artworks .

In contrast to conceptual

thought, the work of art lingers with the particular, which is


essential to truth:

One might almost Say that truth itself depends on the tempo,
the patience and perseverance of lingering with the
particular: what passes beyond it without having first
entirely lost itself, what proceeds to judge without having
first been guilty of the iqrstice of contemplation. loses
itself at last in emptiness.
However ,

tf

because truth appears by means of the senses in the

work of art, truth remains inaccessible to aesthetic experience;


since the work of art cannot express the truth which it makes
manifes t ,

aesthetic

experience

does

not

know

what

it

experiences . "jZ9 Art which is a non-discursive form of knowledge,


cannot explain the truth it reveals. At the same time, however, in
a fragmented world, Adorno insists that discursive knowledge is
also incomplete; indeed, as he stated in his inaugural. lecture, one
must forego the illusion that " t h e power of thought is sufficient
to grasp the totality of the real." j 3 0

And the very fact that

knowledge is split into discursive and non-discursive modes ''means


that they can each only grasp complementary fragmented forms of
truth.

""'

But in a world where the supposed whole is in fact

528 Adorno, M i n i m a Moralia, 7 7 .


529 A l b r e c h t We1 lmer,
"Truth,
Sernblance, Reconci 1 i a t i o n :
A d o r n o ' s A e s t h e t i c Redempti on o f Moderni t y ,
t r a n s . Maeve Cooke,
T e 70s 6 2 ( W i n t e r 1 9 8 4 - 8 5 ) , 92-3.

530 Adorno, "The A c t u a l it y of P h i 1 osophy , " 120.

53' W e l lmer, " T r u t h ,

Sembl ance, Reconci 1 ia t i o n , " 92.

untrue, any

attempted whole t r u t h

reconciliation.A32

As it is

"makes a mockery of true

at present. "only in tandem can the

approximate a truth which neither of them can express. A 3 3

Thu

the "momentary fragile balance,n534 which is art, expresses truth


via a concrete presence, but t h a t flash of truth l t a t the same time
eludes

comprehension, 535
fl

and

requires an aesthetic theory.

requires

interpretation.

Art

For Adorno, as for Hegel, art and

philosophy are inseparable; however, Adorno insists they a r e not


identical.

Rather, "when philosophy,... has lost most of its

ernancipatory functions, it becomes the task of the authentic art


work to stand in and d e f e n d the tower of tr~th."'~~
Both Adorno and Hegel acknowledge the strong relationship
between art and history. As history progresses, art too progress.
Art develops out o f and in response to t h e h i s t o r i c a l tradition o f
art. To be relevant for today, art cannot simply repeat the art of

yesterday, and for Adorno, nor can i t merely be a synthesis of what


carne before i t .

While Adorno recognizes that art and society both

evolve in the Stream of history, he also acknowledges the dangers


of such a view.

Art is a fait social; it develops out of and in

light of the social c o n t e x t .

532 J a y ,

However, art is n o t merely a

"The Concept o f T o t a l i t y i n Lukac and A d o r n o , "

533 I b i d . , 92-3.

534 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 4 1 6.

535 Wel l m e r , " T r u t h ,

Sernbl a n c e ,

Reconci 1 i a t i o n ,

536 Hohendahl , "The Autonomy o f A r t , " 1 4 4 .

207

"

93.

131.

reflection of that social context,

Rather, in his emphasis on

art's negation of the reality of the social sphere b y inherently


calling for something other than that present reality, Adorno
stresses the dialectical nature of the relationship between the
aesthetic and social spheres.

Just as Adorno refuses to accept

Hegel's concept of universal history, which "smacked of a theodicy


which must be exposed as an illusion."j3' likewie the historical
process of artistic development must be recognized as dialectical
in nature, but with an emphasis on the unrelenting negativity of
art which would be authentic.
"History," Adorno explains, "is the unity of continuity and
discontinuity.
b u t by means

Society stays alive, not d e s p i t e its antagonism,

of it.'j3'

To say history is a continuous inovement

of one resolved moment sublated into another is to deny the "steady

accumulation

of

unresolved

tensions,

repressed

beneath

the

appearance of re~olution."'~~Adorno contend that history only


J a y , "The Concept o f T o t a l it y in Lukiics and Adorno, " 131 .
I n
Negative
Dia 7ectics Adorno
vehemently
deni es
the
p o s s i b i l i t y o f an o p t i m i s t i c view o f u n i v e r s a l h i s t o r y as p e r
Hegel : f l U n i v e r s a l h i s t o r y must b e c o n s t r u e d and d e n i e d . A f t e r t h e
c a t a s t r o p h e s t h a t have happened, and i n v i e w of t h e c a t a s t r o p h e s t o
corne, i t would be c y n i c a l t o Say t h a t a p l a n f o r a b e t t e r w o r l d i s
mani f e s t e d i n h i s t o r y and u n i t e s it . . . N o u n i v e r s a l h i s t o r y l e a d s
from savagery t o t h e humani t a r i a n i sm, b u t t h e r e is one l e a d i ng f r o m
t h e s l i n g s h o t t o t h e megaton bomb.
It ends i n t h e t o t a l menace
which o r g a n i zed rnankind poses t o o r g a n i z e d men, i n t h e epitorne o f
d i s c o n t i n u i t y . It i s t h e h o r r o r t h a t v e r i f i e s Hegel and s t a n d s h i m
on h i s head. " [Adorno, Negative D i a i e c t i c s , 320. ]

538 Adorno,

Negative D i a lectics, 3 2 0 .

539 H a r d i ng, " H i s t o r i cal D i a l e c t i cs a n d t h e Autonomoy o f A r t in


Adorno's Asthetische T h e o r i e , " 185.
A d o r n o ' s d e s c r i p t i o n o f h i s t o r y c a l 1s t o m i nd Benjamint s essay
on t h e ange1 o f h i s t o r y , whose " f a c e 1 s t u r n e d toward t h e p a s t .

advances because of its contradictions; hence h i s reference to


Hegel's "slaughterbench of history":
The history of an unreconciled epoch cannot be a history of
harmonious development: it is only ideology, denying its
that
makes
it
harmonious.
antagonistic
character,
Contradictions, which are its true and only ontology, are at
the same time the forma1 law of history that advances only
through contradiction and with unspeakable suffe i n g . Hegel
referred to history as a 'slaughterbench.' - . . - ,,s4b
Authentic art, too, is created out of and especially against
the background of the tradition and norms of art. As we have seen.
art becomes art by differentiating itself from its origins: "As
something set off from empirical reality, art requires for its
constitution something indissoluble, non-identical; art becomes art
only through its relation to something that is itself not art.

11

541

And with the passage of time. the dialectic between the form of art

and the context out of which it originates remains taught,

The

lack of resolution is "buried beneath the passage of tirne," rather


than absorbed into some absolute whole cailed art or spirit or
history.j4'

Adorno will not accept an appearance of a hitory of

art as a resolved history - this is what contributes to the


reification of art.

Instead, his aesthetic theory brings the

unresolved tensions into the foreground, for the dynamic of these


Where w e p e r c e i v e a chai n o f e v e n t s , he sees one s i n g l e c a t a s t r o p h e
which keeps p i 1 i ng wreckage upon wreckage and hurf s i t i n f r o n t of
his feet."
[ W a l t e r Ben jami n ,
"Theses On t h e P h i 7 osophy of
Hi s t o r y , " i n 1 7 7uminat i o n s , 257. ]

Adorno,
541 I b i d . ,

Hegel:

Three Studies, 8 3 .

137.

jC2H a r d i n g , " H i s t o r i c a l D i al ecti CS and t h e Autonornoy o f A r t i n


Adorno ' s Rsthet i s c h e Theorie, " 1 8 5 .

tensions is foundational to the very autonomy of art. Art "owe[s]


its existence to a negative dialectical relation with its sociohistorical context,

Influenced by what preceded it and in

response to the context of its empirical reality, authentic art is


ever-changing in its negation of the artistic tradition and in
response to that which is repressed as non-identical in each new
historical moment.

And

each new work of art is a concrete,

particular form at a particular moment in social history.

It is

important to note that art "can negatively mediate ...only from a


position within it [society]."j4' Neither thought n o r art can step
outside of their moment to attain a vantage point beyond; this
limits the possibility of offering alternatives. but at the same
time, ensures intimate knowledge of the moment being critiqued.
His historical understanding of art leads Adorno to make an
emphatic cal1 for modernisrn la Rimbaud: " I l faut tre absolument

moderne. "

In fact according to Wolin, Adorno emphasizes that " the

imperatives of aesthetic modernity dictate that only those works of


art which

rely on the most advanced techniques historically

available become worthy of s e r i o u s consideration..j4'

The art ist ,

543 I b i d .
H a r d i ng r e f e r s t o t h e ongoi ng t e n s i o n between autonomous
a r t w o r k s and t h e i r e m p i r i c a l r e a l i t y , a l s o n o t a u n i f i e d c o n t i n u o u s
h i s t o r y , as " a b i 1 a t e r a l s t a g g e r i ng o f t e n s i o n s s t r a i n i ng a g a i n s t
one a n o t h e r . "
[ I b i d . , 186.1

B. K u s p i t , T r i t i c a l N o t e s on A d o r n o ' s S o c i o l o g y o f
Art,"
The Journa7 o f Aesthetics and A r t Criticism
( S p r i n g 1975), 322.

544 Donald

Music

and

XXXIII.3

545 W o l i n , T h e Term o f Cultural Criticism, 65.

like the philosopher. must maintain connection with their concrete


so that they may

respond to

the apparent

contradictions in ways appropriate to that moment.

Both must be

historical moment

"'absolutely modern.' grasping these contradictions in their most


current and (in an age of disintegration) their most antagonistic
Because the history of art is a dialectical

manifestations.w M 6

process. art becomes authentic for its moment in its negation of


the tradition which came before it.

The "new" in art is essential

for the creation of art which is relevant and thus speaks most
Adorno's cal1 for art to be

forcefully for the context "now."

absolutelymodern must be understood in relationship to the concept


of the historicity of art. or art in its historical context. This
"stress on novelty should not be mistaken for an apology of the
fashionable, it rather indicates that the aesthetic material itself
is drawn into the historical process. "j4'

Aesthetic innovations

do not become fetishized. they are not fixed forms and genres.

rather they are always contextualized as historically determined.


However,

aesthetic

innovation and

up-to-the-minute technical

applications do not guarantee aesthetic truth.

Rather, the

"progressiveness of an artwork depends both on the level of


productive forces it displays and on the social p o s i t i o n

Art which speaks in "an age of disintegration"

artwork takes.

546 Snow,
Philosophy',"

the

"Introduction

to

Adorno's

'The

Actuality

of

115.

5L7 Hohendahl

"Autonorny o f A r t ,

" 137.

548 Zui d e r v a a r t , Adorno 's Aesthet i c Theory, 1 1 6. [i t a 1 ics m i n e ]

will not only speak through innovative form. b u t will also reveal
the rifts and crevices of that socio-historical disintegration
which it recognizes and will' not attempt to achieve a false
reconciliation.

"Artistic innovation, in other words, is the

equivalence of the advanced historical consciousness."549


art may be a social fact, for Adorno this relationship is not one
of reflection, for the dialectic of the social and the aesthetic
spheres is emphasized.

This, contends Hohendahl, "may well be

called a theory of the avant-garde.,550


Adorno's defence of rnodernism led him to develop an "antiaestheticn of the avant-garde.

In its negation of the artistic

tradition, modern art does away with the n o m s of a

As a

result, much of modern art shocks its viewers, for it undermines


the artistic tradition as audiences know it.

Instead of the

harmony in art which audiences have corne to e x p e c t ,

an anti-

aesthetic calls for a "fragmentariness -..[which] originates in


opposition to the concept of totality and the false reconciliation
that

concept

implies.rf551

The shocking

truth which

becomes

apparent in the fragmentary form of art is often ugly, for it


expresses solidarity with elements repressed by society. such as
conflict, suffering and f e a r .

Today there is a need for art to

549 Hohendahl , ltAutonorny o f A r t ,

550 I b i d . ,

"

142.

137.

Wol i n , "The De-Aest h e t ic i z a t i on o f A r t , " 1 1 2 .


As w e s h a l l n o t e i n C h a p t e r 5 , Samuel B e c k e t t adds t o t h e l i s t
by d o i n g away w i t h t h e c o n v e n t i o n a l d r a m a t i c t e c h n i q u e s o f
c h a r a c t e r , p l o t and s e t t i n g i n h i s drainas.

"forsake the realm of beautiful semblance for the sake of the


accumulated suf fering that is otberwise glossed over.

I f art

is a fait social and true harmony does not exist in reality, art
cannot be harmonious .'53

In it mirnesis -

art's function of

critique - of disharmony, art remains "the last preserve of human


yearnings for that 'other' society beyond the present one," an
'other' where true harmony is a possibility,554

i. Art as non-identity thinking

Those who create art are those "who have not been content to
make do with the world as it i ~ , " ~ who
"
have refused to be a

passive mediator of society, accepting the elements of reality as


they are. But instead of reaching for established patterns of an
ideology to protest the given reality, the artist concentrates on
the given material

elements, rearranging those

elements

and

discovering the new in the given, the unfamiliar in the familiar.

552 Wolin, "The D e - A e s t h e t i c i z a t i o n o f A r t , " 1 1 3 - 4 .


Wolin h i g h i i g h t s t h e f a c t t h a t a r t which i s u g l y also i n s u r e s
Y h a t it i s u s e l e s s f o r a7 1 d e c o r a t i v e purposes, " t h u s mai n t a i n i n g
art's b e i n g - f o r - s e l f .
[ I b i d . , 115.1
553 For t h i s reason, e x p l a i n s Hohendahl, Adorno w a c r i t i c a l o f
c l a s s i c a l Greek a r t : " L o o k i ng back a t Greek c l a s s i c i srn Adorno
p o i n t s out t h e m a t e r i a l c o n d i t i o n s o f Greek h i s t o r y w h i c h were
a n y t h i n g b u t i d e a l : b r u t a l w a r f a r e , s l a v e r y and o p p r e s s i o n a r e t h e
r e a l i t y which have t o be suppressed b e f o r e w e can e n j o y t h e n o t i o n
o f p e r e n n i a l beauty and harmony i n Greek a r t . "
[Hohendahl ,
"Autonorny of A r t , " 1 3 7 . ]
554 M a r t i n Jay, The Dialectical Imagination: A History o f the
F r a n k f u r t Schoo7 and the Institute o f S o c i a 7 Research, 1923- 1950
(Boston and Toronto: L i t t l e , Brown and Company, 1973), 178.
555 Adorno,

Prisms, 1 5 2 .

The regrouped

umgruppiert)556 elements become a revelation of

social historical truth.


crystallization

of

the

Instead of eliminating contradictions,


elements

illuminates contradictions.

in

new

"constellation"

Diverse elements are juxtaposed in

constellations : their d i f ferences are not resolved via Aufhebung.

as per Hegel's method.


are not resolved . "55i

"The contradictions are unravelled; they

Adorno i n s i s t s that a constellation is not

a system in which everything becomes resolved , where everything

Instead in a constellation, "one moment sheds

cornes out even.

light on the other, and the figures that the individual moments
form together are specific signs and a legible script."558
But to Say that art is a constellation is also to Say that art
is "not discursive and not biased.

11559

The aethetic truth d a i m

can be neither forcibly articulated nor "produced. rather only in

Buck-Morss is c a r e f u l t o r e m i nd her r e a d e r s t h a t t h e Gerrnan


p r e f i x um i m p l i e s a r e v e r s a 1 and as Adorno uses i t , i t i m p l i e s a
d i a1 e c t i c a l
reversa1 .
[Buck-Morss,
The
Origin o f N e g a t i v e
D i a 7ect i c s , 257, n . 3 ]
Ibid.,
Adorno,

101.
Hege 7 : Three S t u d i e s , 1 0 9 .

F r i edemann Grenz, Adornos P h i losophie i n G r u n d b e g r i f f e n :


A u f l o s u n g e n e i n i g e r Deutungsprob7eme ( ~ r a n k f u r tam Main: ~ i h r k a r n ~ ,
1974), 218.
Adorno r e f l e c t s t h i s c o n v i c t i o n i n h i s i n a u g u r a l l e c t u r e :
" [ P l h i 1 osophy
has
to
b r i ng
it s
el ements.
in t o
changi ng
u n t i 1 t h e y f a 1 7 in t o a f i g u r e which can be r e a d as
c o n s t e l 1a t i o n s .
an answer, whi le a t t h e same t i m e t h e q u e s t i o n d i s a p p e a r s .
The
t a s k o f p h i l o s o p h y is n o t t o s e a r c h f o r concealed and mani f e s t
i n t e n t i o n s o f r e a l it y , b u t t o in t e r p r e t u n i n t e n t i o n a l r e a l it y , in
t h a t , by t h e power o f c o n s t r u c t i ng f i gures, o r images. . , out o f
t h e is o l a t e d e l ements o f r e a l i t y , it negates. . . q u e s t i o n s , t h e e x a c t
[Adorno, T h e
a r t i c u l a t i o n o f which i s t h e t a s k o f s c i e n c e . .
A c t u a l i t y of P h i l o ~ o p h y ,1~2 7 . 1

..

..

..

the "illuminated lightening-like moment" of the fragile balance of


art's constellation can i t be glimpsed.560 Lenzen refers to Adorno

as ascribing the holes in works of art as "enzymes of truth, which


also speak through the gaps in his text, which cannot be harrnonized
or stuffed full."j6'

In this new constellation, "the relationship

between [the elements] become visible to the intellect. so that


they forrn[] an 'idea'.. . . "562
And whereas the particular disappears in the concept in the
process of abstraction, in the aesthetic process, the particular,
although mediated, remains a substantial visible element. In fact.
"Adorno'sconstellations . . .were constructed according to principles
of differentiation, nonidentity. and active transformation.1,563
What

appear as mere

nuances

in apparently similar concrete

phenornena, are articulated as qualitative differences in their


constellation in art.

Indeed, "nowhere do essences separate more

sharply than where they corne closest to each other.~'~~


In a world
where heteronomous elements are coercively integrated into a
totality, becoming only a being-for-other,art " redeem[s] them f rom

Edgar Thaidigsmann, " D e r B I i c k der E r l o s u n g : Z u Adarnos


1etztem Aphori smus i n den M i n i m a Mora 7 i a , " Zei tschri ft fur Theo 7ogi
und Kirche 81 . 4 ( 1 9 8 4 ) , 5 0 4 .
Lenzen, "Sprache und Schwei gen nach Auchwi tz," 1 9 5 .

562 Buck-Morss,

The Origin o f N e g a t i v e D i a 7 e c t i c s , 9 2 .

563 I b i d . , 9 8 .
564 Theodor W .
Adorno, " R a v e l " ( 1 93O), Moments Musicaux:
Neugedruckte A u f s a t z e , 1928 b i s 1962 ( F r a n k f u r t am Mai n : Suhrkamp,
1964), 69, c i t e d i n I b i d .

their deficient everyday state."565

According to Wolin.

for

Adorno, the nonutilitarian principle peculiar to art's construction


(in contrast to empirical reality's principle of instrumental
reason) signifies art's intrinsic utopian quality. In modern works
of art, where "the principle of montage becomes predorninant, such
that the individual parts attain independence. and are thereby no
longer mechanically subjugated to the whole." this "emancipatory
aesthetic practice

is

actually enhanced.~ 3 %

Explaining

the

difference between an object in empirical reality and an object in


art, Adorno states that
[i]n art an object is a man-made product containing elements
of empirical reality while at the same time changing their
constellation, which is a twofold process of dissolution and
reconstruction. This sort of transformation alone, not some
photographic procedure, gives reality its due. Art is the
epiphany of the hidden essence of reality.
It inspires
shudder in the face of the falsity of that essence.
In
aesthetics it is legitimate to speak of the primacy of the
object only in relation to the idea that art is an unconscious
form of historiography. the memory of what has been vanquished
or repressed, perhaps an anticipation of what is possible. In
art the primacy of the object. understood as the potential
freedom of life fro~..
domination manifests itself in the
freedom f rom objects. 1
I t is at this point where the importance of the dialectic of
mimesis and rationality becomes apparent in Adorno's aesthetic

565 W o l i n , The Terms o f C u l t u r a l C r i t i c i s m , 7 0 - 1 .


As Adorno s t a t e s , Y J t o p i a w o u l d b e above i d e n t i t y and above
c o n t r a d i c t i o n ; it would be a t o g e t h e r n e s s o f d i v e r s i t y . " [ A d o r n o ,
Negat i v e D i a 7ect ics, 1 5 0 . 1
566 W o l i n ,

The Terrns o f C u l t u r a l C r i t i c i s m , 7 1 .

567 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c Theory, 366-7.


Z u i d e r v a a r t suggests t h a t t h e t e x t o f Adornof s A e s t h e t i c
Theory
"resernbles
a
c o n t i n u a 7 ly
shi f t i n g
c o n s t e l l a t i o n . If
[ Z u i d e r v a a r t , Adorno ' s A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 4 7 . ]

theory.

Al1 art originates in reality, in that its elements are

drawn from reality.

However, the mimetic technique of authentic

art, ensures that art which is autonomous does not merely identify
with the rationality of the social order and copy reality as is making A b b i l d e r (copies) of reali t y .

Autonomous art refuses to

follow society's rationality and force reality to become an object


which fits the mode of a heteronomous ideology; in fact, "mimesis

takes the place of the need for domination-"j6'

Adorno insist

that mimesis "requires that the subject [art] assume an involved


attitude in the process of imitation as an adaptive

' identifying

with' which is 'guided by the logic (Logik)' of the object. ,, 569


Through the mimetic process authentic art makes itself similar to
but not an imitation of the outside world of reality.

Authentic

art does not merely accept the order of the way things are.

It

becomes a critique of reality by rescuing the elements of reality


from their reified state and re-ordering them.

The new order of

the elements become an image - Bild - of reality.

In the forrn of an image the object is absorbed into the


subject instead of following the bidding of the alienated
world . . . .The contradiction between the object reconciled in
the subject , i .e. spontaneously absorbed into the subject , and
the actual unreconciled object in the outside world, confers
on the.work of art a vantage-point from which i t can criticize

568 Wel ch,

k t h e t i s c h e Denken, 1 1 9 .

M i c h a e l Cahn, 1 9 S u b v e r s i v eMimesi s: Theodor W . Adorno and


t h e Modern Impasse o f C r i t i que, " in Mimesis i n Contemporary T h e o r y :
An
interdiscip7inary
Approach,
Vol.
1,
The
Literary
and
Phi 7osophica7 Debate, e d . M i h a i S p a r i o s u
( P h i ladel p h i a :
John
Benjamins, 1 9 8 4 , ) 3 4 .

actuality.570
However, authentic art is not merely the passive product of
mimesis.
subjective

Rather, inherent in the mirnetic process is also a


imposition

of

form;

this

involves

rationality.

"Rationality is the organizing and unity-constitutive moment of a


work.

1t

is through the combination of mimesis and rationality

that art is produced. m'il

Art

imposes form on reality as it

rearranges reality's elements, but the form of art is "the non-

repressive synthesis of d i f f u s e particulars; it preserves them in


their diffuse, divergent
constellation].

Form

and

contradictory

therefore

condition

is the unfolding of

[in a
truth-"

Grohotolsky proposes that form is "the central category in Adorno's


aesthetic

. . . [because]

form [is] the medium through which art

separates itself from the empirical [reality].n5i2

1n contrast to

art which affirms reality's order and gives the impression of a


reconciled world as it is, art which is autonomous from the order
of its context is "unbequem" (uncomfortable) because it shatters
that semblance of well-being and negates reality by calling it by

its real name.j i 3

570 Adorno,

At the same tirne. however. art is also a mimesi

"Reconci 1 i a t ion under D u r e s s , " 160.

571 P e t e r O b o r n , "Adorno and t h e M e t a p h y s i c o f Modernism: The


Problern o f a ' P o s t m o d e r n ' A r t , " i n The Prob7ems o f Modernity:
Adorno and Benjamin, e d . Andrew Ben jami n (New Y o r k : Routl edge,
1 9 8 9 ) , 31.
572 E r n s t G r o h o t o l s k y , A e s t h e t i k der N e g a t i o n : Tendenzen des
deutschen Gegenwartsdramas ( K o n i gstei n / T s , : Forum Akademi kurn i n d e r
V e r l a g s g t u p p e Athenaum, 1 9 8 4 ) , 27.

573 S a u e r l a n d , E i n f h r u n g i n d i e A e s t h e t i k A d o r n o s , 4 .

of reality. being affected by that reality.

Thus. a l t h o u g h art

involves "mastery over nature' through the imposition of form, art


also "seek[s] to meet nature h a l f w a y " b y virtue of its mimetic

quality.ji4 These two elernents

"or basic moments" - of art,

mimesis and rationality, can never be reconciled .j7'

1n fact, it

is precisely t h e i r dialectical relationship which is essential in

the production of a work of art.


The dialectic of mimesis and rationality of the artistic
process achieves "the objectively mediated b u t subjective process

of objectification." 5 i 6

In the artitic objectification, we are

confronted with the object which

has for far

too long

been

dominated and alienated by the subject; i n the artistic process


primacy is given to the o b j e c t .

However, Adorno clearly indicates

that "prirnacy of the object in art means the primacy of t h e work


over the subject, L e . the creative artist as well as the listener,
reader, viewer, etc. . . . [not]simply

. .t h e

object that happens to be portrayed.n57i

574 Wol i n,

primacy of the empirical

Although Adorno aert

'tThe D e - A e s t h e t i c i z a t i on o f A r t ,

"

1 18.

575 P e t e r Osborne, "Adorno and t h e M e t a p h y i c s o f Modernisrn:


The Problern o f a 'Postmodern A r t , " i n The Probiems o f Modernity:
Adorno and B e n j a m i n , ed. Andrew Ben jami n (London: R o u t l edge, l989),
31-33.
576 Zui d e r v a a r t , Adorno 's A e s t h e t i c Theory, 1 09.

577 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 4 4 6 .

I n summary,
proposes Wiggershaus,
" [ n j e g a t i v e d i al e c t i C S
meant : be m i ndful o f t h e O t h e r .
.H y p o s t a t i z a t i o n s woul d never
succeed i n t h e l o n g t e r m , and t h e o n l y r e a s o n a b l e sol u t i o n must
t h e r e f o r e be t o r e c o g n i z e and a c c e p t t h e o b j e c t , t h e O t h e r , t h e
alien;
this
was
the
conclusion
of
Negative
D i a 7ectics."
[Wi g g e r s h a u s , The F r a n k f u r t Schoo 7 , 602. ]

..

the primacy of the object, he cannot deny and therefore, does not

deny the role of the subject: "But since primacy of the object
requires reflection on the subject and subjective reflection,
subjectivity - as distinct from primitive materialism. which really
does not permit dialectics

becomes a moment that lasts,,,518

Whereas identity thinking makes the object identical to the


subject which conceptualizes it, forcing a false reconciliation,
Adorno calls for the subject and object to relate to one another in
non-coercive ways and emphasizes the necessary gap between them.
"[Nlothing else but abstraction makes the Other like itself. 579
Il

However, "[ajs truly nonidentical, the object moves the farther


from the subject the more the subject 'constitutes' the object. 1,580

In order for the subject to truly approach knowledge of the object


it must "rend[] the veil it is weaving around the object."

subject must be willing to engage in mimesis of

The

the object,

following the logic of the object, not irnposing its own ideas on
the object,

However, the

subject "can do this only where,

fearlessly passive, it entrusts itself to its own experience. .SI31

578 Theodor W . A d o r n o , " S u b j e c t and Object, " i n The Essential


F r a n k f u r t Schoo7 Reader, e d s . , A r a t o a n d G e b h a r d t , 505.

I n K u s p i t ' s o p i n i o n , A d o r n o ' s method i s ' ' s u b j e c t i v e , " and


Adorno t a k e s " p e r s o n a l 1y t h e responsi b i 1 it i es o f d i a l e c t i c in a
w o r l d in which, a s h e u n d e r s t o o d it , t h e s u b j e c t has b e e n d e n i e d
t h e o n t o l o g i c a p r i v i leges o f t h e o b j e c t . . .Adorno r e - a s s e r t e d t h e
rights of the subject..
" [ K u s p i t , " C r i t i c a l N o t e s on A d o r n o ' s
S o c i o l o g y o f M u s i c and A r t , " 3 2 1 . ]

..

Adorno,

" S u b j e c t and O b j e c t ,

580 I b i d . , 5 0 7 .
Ibid.,

506.

"

503.

Following the logic of the object, "subjective reason" will scent


its own contingency.

It is at these moments that "the primacy of

the object is shimmering through - whatever in the object is not a


subjective admixture.

The subject is the object's a g e n t . not its

constituent," insists Adorno.582

Yet the subject cannot pretend

it attempts to comprehend the object in its totality. for this


would be to fa11 into the trap of conceptualization's impulse to
dominate.

Instead. the subject must allow the object to be in al1

its particularity,

and reflect upon its distinctness.

As the

object is allowed "to come into its ownn it is also reminded,


nevertheless, "that it is not yet itself."jg3
Although distinct from one another. the subject and object are
"mutually mediated - the object by the subject. and even more. i n
different ways, the subject by the object."jO'
pretends absolute disconnection from the object

If the subject

the "clairn of

independence heralds the claim to dominance. Once radically parted


from the object, the subject reduces it to its own measure; the
subject swallows the object, forgetting how much it is an o b j e c t

582 I b i d . Adorno d e s c r i bes a " d i s c r i m i n a t i ngu t h i n k e r as "one


who i n t h e m a t t e r and i t s concept can d i s t l n g u i s h even the
in f in i t e s i m a l , that w h i c h escapes t h e concept;
discrimination
a l o n e gets down t o t h e i n f i n i t e s i m a l .
I t s postulate o f a capacity
t o experience t h e o b j e c t
and d i s c r i m i n a t i o n i s the e x p e r i e n c e o f
t h e o b j e c t turned i n t o a form o f s u b j e c t i v e r e a c t i o n
provides a
haven f o r the mirnetic element o f knowledge, f o r t h e element o f
elective a f f i n i t y between t h e knower and t h e known." [Adorno,
N e g a t i v e Dia ectics, 4 5 . ]

583 Adorno, Hegel:


584 Adorno,

Three S t u d i e s , 8 0 .

" S u b j e c t and O b j e c t , " 499.

l t ~ e l f . " ~Yet
~ ~ only when ubject and object "must no longer be
thought of as opposite to one another, can true reconciliation
between them be

In the meantirne, any

realized.

proposed

reconciliation is merely a false posturing of unity.


Because modern art does not give the illusion of unity - as
Adorno claims classical works of art do

- but acknowledge the

ultimate irreconciliation of its basic moments, modern art can be

a medium

of

truth.

Through the dialectic

caused

by

their

irreconcilability, the "configuration of these two moments within


the work produces an image of truth.

""*

Because works of art

contain wi thin themselves a basic irreconcilabili ty, they become


images of reconciliation.

This is possible precisely because of

the failure to achieve unity .

This

failure

results in an

"interpretive indeterminacy that sets the work

free from the

determining intentions of its producer.

In this rnanner art

achieves an autonomy as an apparently self-determining object


that is ' a k i n to reconciliation' in its realization of the
idea of freedom .... I t is as 'images of reconciliation' in the
sense of being free objects that art works are irreconcilable
to, and critical of, the lack of freedom in reality. The

585 I b i d .
586 Kager , H e r r s c h a f t und Versohnung, 4 3 .
587 Osborne,

"Adorno and t h e Metaphysi cs o f Moderni sm,

"

33.

Ibid.
Adorno, i n f 1 uenced by Rosenzwi eg ' s The S t a r o f Redempt i o n , may
have had t h e f o l l o w i n g i n mind: " A r t remains p i e c e w o r k so t h a t life
m i g h t be and become a whole.
And t h u s , a r t i s an e s s e n t i a l
e p i sode. . . [ A ] mong e v e r y t h i ng Spoken, i t i s t h a t which should n o t
remain unspoken."
[Rosenzweig, The S t a r o f Redemption, 191 . ]

589 Osborne, "Adorno and t h e Metaphysi cs o f Moderni sm, " 3 3 .

irreconcilability of art's two basic moments to each other is


thus the basis for its irreconcilability tggfeality. In this
sense, al1 art is critical, simply as art.
Inherent in the form of art, therefore, is a critique of the
Mimes is as "a correlative, adaptive behaviour

world as is.

. . .deals a blow" to reality;jglmimesis as such

subversive.

Reality in its present form is untrue, for i t does not equal its
Rather, the Schein (aesthetic

concept of what it ought to be.


appearance) of reality is true.

Art, as the "antithesis of that

which is the case," articulates this .jg2 Inherent in every work


of art is an attack on the untruth of reality.

sublimated

work

otherwise.*"593

of
As

art
a

there

is

"Even in the most

hidden

'it

result, the Bild which

reality's Abbild "becornes V o r b i l d

should

be

refuses to be

a mode1 for Utopia. ,,591

Works of art mediate the antagonisms in reality without either


" taking sides,m595

or reverting to the dogma of an ideology.

By

relentlessly insisting on the difference between reality as it


appears under the spell and reality by its real name, the negative

590 I b i d .
591 Cahn, " S u b v e r s i v e Mirnesi S . " 4 8 .
592 Adorno,

"Reconci l ia t ion under Dures,

593 Adorno,

"Cornmi t m e n t , " 31 7.

"

159.

594 K a r l a L. S c h u l t z , Mimesis on t h e Move: Theodor W . A d o r n o ' s


Concept o f I m i t a t i o n ( B e r n e : P e t e r Lang, IggO), 1 8 0 .

595 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 4 4 6 .

dialectic of art can "break the spell of identification.,596


"Under the spell, what is different

and the slightest admixture

of which would indeed be incompatible with the spell - will turn to


poison. Agi

That which is non-identical appears as poison in an

unreconciled world which tries to force identi ty-thinking.

Art,

which refuses to resolve the contradictions between reality and its


concept. does not allow the poison of that which does not fit to go
unnoticed. Adorno insists that art "must give voice to this latent
social content, [art] must go inward in order to go outward and
beyond .

Or. as he ays elewhere, art "can s p e a k for what is

hidden by

the veil. "jgg

Convinced tha t

interpreted, was the source of truth,"'OD

" ideology

correctly

Adorno believed that in

the articulation of the non-identical fragment behind the veil of


the spell of ideology, art would reveal
ideology ' s untruth.

Works of art are

the

truth

that

is

reconstellations of what

exists." and as such "are determinate negations of conternporary


596 Adorno,

Negative D i a l e c t i c s , 172.
I n Chapter 4 1 w i l l d i s c u s s t h e s p e l l o f i d e n t i t y t h i n k i n g
more d e t a i 1, as well as a r t ' s r o l e in e i t h e r b r e a k i n g t h a t s p e l l
w o r k i n g as a t o o l t o p e r p e t u a t e t h e status quo o f t h e spe11
whose c o n t e x t i t i s c r e a t e d .
The comments h e r e i n t r o d u c e some
t h e arguments which w i l f be f u r t h e r developed i n t h a t C h a p t e r .

in
or
in
of

597 I b i d . , 347.
O r , as Adorno s t a t e s e a r l i e r : " I n t h e u n r e c o n c i Jed c o n d i t i o n ,
n o n i d e n t i t y i s experienced as n e g a t i v i t y . " [ I b i d . , 3 1 . 1
598 Adorno,

Aesthet i c Theory, 368.

5g9 Adorno e x p l a i n s t h a t t h e v e i 1 is V e a l it y ' s v e i 1


woven by t h e i n t e r a c t i o n o f in s t i t u t i o n s and f a l s e
[Adorno, A e s t h e t i c Theory, 2 7 . ]

'O0
Snow,
"Introduction
P h i l o s o p h y , "' 1 1 5 .

to

Adorno1s

The

a vei 1
needs. "

A c t u a l it y

of

They recollect what society represses, and they

social reality.

anticipate what society and its mernbers could become if domination


would really turn into reconciliation."601

It cannot be denied, however, that " [rladical modern art is

.. .because

hated

it reminds us of missed chances,

. . . also

because

by its sheer existence i t reminds us of the dubiousness of the

Because the cracks and fissures

heteronornous structural ideal.

are preserved in art, we can no longer rest in the appearance of


the unity of reality.

Our experience of what we had thought we

perceived is transformed in art's rearrangement. What we thought


was whole, appears fragmented, what had been perceived as ordered,
is suddenly revealed to be chaotic: "The task of art today is to
bring chaos into order.

Not only does art reveal reality. but

it " a l s o opens our eyes.

Wellmer refers to the opening of eyes

(and e a r s ) causing the transformation of perception, as

"the

healing of a partial blindness (and deafness) of an inability to


perceive and experience reality as we learn to experience and
perceive it by means of aesthetic experience.,,605
In t h e i r rearrangement of reality's elements and articulation
601 Zui d e r v a a r t , Adorno ' s A e s t h e t i c Theory, 169.
602 I b i d . , 9 5 .
Horkheimer r e f e r r e d t o Adorno ' s %al i ciously sharp eye for
e x i s t i n g c o n d i t i o n s w h i c h s t r i k e s t h e deci s i v e n o t e . " [Horkheimer
t o Adorno, 8 December 1936, c i t e d i n W i ggershaus, The F r a n k f u r t
Schoo7, 1 6 2 . 1

Minima Mora 7 i a , 2 2 2 .

'O3

Adorno,

'O4

Wel l m e r , " T r u t h , Sembl ance,

605 I b i d .

225

Reconci 1 i a t i o n ,

" 708.

of the gaps and chaos of reality. " [wlhat works of art really
demand from us is knowledge or, better. a cognitive faculty of

judging justly: they want us to become aware of what is true and


Understanding a work of art involves

what is false in them.

more than merely grasping the plot of the drama, the motivation of
the characters, or the subject rnatter of a painting; also involved
is addressing the intention of the work.

More so, however, for

Adorno, "properly" understanding a work of art is a process,


involving aesthetic experience and criticism.

He explains how

criticism is not to be viewed as "an external factor added to


aesthetic

experience;

it

is

inherent

in

that

experience.

Comprehending a w o r k of art as a complex of truth entails the


recognition that it is also untrue: no art work escapes complicity
w i t h untruth, the untruth of the world outside.

This involves

being aware of the work of art in its context and how it responds
to that context. A work of a r t cannot be understood in isolation,
but must be understood in the context which determines it.

Even

the smallest fragments of the context of reality are revealed in

their conceptual arrangements in the constellation which is art;


the role of the perceiving subject , we who view and experience the
of art, is "to draw connections between the phenornenal

work

elements,

. . .not unlike . . . the astrologer, who

perceived figures in

the heavens. w608


606 Adorno,

'O7

A e s t h e t i c Thheory, 22.

I b i d . , 475.

608 Buck-Morss,

The Origins o f Negat i v e Dia lectics, W .

226

Especially after Auschwitz - and in the continuing suffering


and terror which is Our world

when certain words are denied us,

we need to become aware of the significance of the relationships of


the elements in art ' s constellations, including the significance of

the gaps in between. In art and in our speech become manifest "the
wounds and the scars of the gaps and the empty places. 1,609
The silent interval in music, the blind spot in painting, like
the silenced word in poetry, simultaneously with the audible
and the visible, construct the work of art.
Speech reaches that which can be said only if it wounds
itself on the unspeakable, the unspoken and the unutterable;
that which it fails to Say shimmers through the cracks and
crevices of what is said, in the blank gaps and empty lines
between the black letters, [and] in the silence can be heard
the speech as well as its acoustic ffiiling silent.
Speech is immanent in silence."
If we can become aware that reality as it is structured is not as
it should be, if we can recognize the significance in the gaps

which we perceive, then we can begin to think that something other


than the suffering and the terror which we know might be possible.

ii. The spell of identity thinkinq

The individual who becomes aware of the contradictions and


finds them unbearable "faces a desperate choice.n611

one must

either bring the contrary course of the world into some sort of
harmony and against one's own better judgement, obey it, or, if one
remains loyal to one's own definition of the world, one "must act

" Lenzen, "Sprache und S c h w e i gen nach A u s c h w i t z , " 1 9 7 .

I b i d . , 184.
Adorno,

Negat i v e D i a 7ect i c s , 152-3.

227

as if the world's course did not exist and must perish by it. "612

Al though one can corne to comprehend the objective contradiction and


its emanations in the world. "by conceptual dispositions [one]

cannot eliininate it.


maintained.

The dialectical contradiction must be

"[Elverything else is idle protestation.,614

To become aware of the structure of established reality. is in


turn to become aware of the structure which determines the way one
thinks.

We becorne aware that "society imposes concepts on us.

which we then

reimpose on society.

To

impose the

given

concepts without question. is to participate in and along the


guidelines of the veil which the spell of reality has thrown over
us; it is to participate in identity thinking.
in

the

post-Enlightenment age,

In spite of living

" [hluman beings.

subjects, are under a spell now as ever.

individual

In fact. the "more

relentlessly socialization commands al1 moments of human

and

interhuman immediacy, the smaller the capacity of men to recall


that this web has evolved, and the more irresistible its natural
To be caught under totality' spell is to accept

appearance.

reality as truth, for to be caught under the spell is to no longer

feel it as a spell, or recognize that it is only a spell and


'12

Ibid.

'13

Ibid.

'14

Ibid.

615 Rose,
'16

The Melancholy Science, 1 4 5 .

Adorno,

Negative D i a 7ect i c s , 3 4 4 .

I b i d . , 358.
228

therefore, untruth.
to

be

unaware

To be caught under the spell is to forget or

that

we

live

in

"world

that

incessantly

participates in weaving its own veil of illusion.1,618


To counteract the identity thinking which occurs in a life
lived under the power of a spell, Adorno insists on critical
thinking which will "expose[ ] the motive behind the construction of
philosophical and sociological systems as a will to control the
entire world by construing it as identical to the concepts o f the
system.

The first tep in exposing the overarching motive of

totality cornes with recognizing that the world is not a seamless


unity identical to its concept. for it is the first step to
"gaining access to what had not yet fallen under the spell of the
false totality.v620

To distinguish even the minutest of phenornena

which has escaped the spell, is to begin to delineate the truth of


the untrue totality; it is to relentlessly contradict the concept
of a false reconciliation, a false unity.

This is to refuse to

participate in the pattern of identity t h i n k i n g which has become


the dominant way of thinking under the spell.

Quoting Hegel.

Adorno states: "As a matter of fact, thinking is always the


negation of what we have immediately before us. 621
t,

" I f 'thinking

'j8

Adorno,

...teaches itself

Hege7:

that part of i t s meaning is

Three Studies, 6 4 .

I b i d . , 23.
W i ggershaus,

'*'

Hege 7 :

The F r a n k f u r t Schoo 7 ,

G . W . F . H e g e l , Logic/Encyc7opedia
T h r e e Studies, 64.

600.
1 , 20, cited i n Adorno,

what, in turn, is not a thought [then] its prison has windows. ,

1,622

Critical thinking maintains the tension between the world and its
concept; it is to insist on their non-identity. This is to think
against the grain of the dominant pattern of thought in the world
which

one

knows.

it

is

to

think

what

"is deemed

to

be

In their recontellation of reality's element,

unthinkable.n623

art ists exemplify thinking the unthinkable.

In fact, " [ t ] hinking

men and artists have not infrequently described a sense of being


not quite there, of not playing along, a feeling as if they were
not themselves at all, but a kind of spectator.d2' m i l e often
criticized by those who do play along, "the ability to keep one's
distance as a spectator and to rise above things, is in the final
analysis

the

human

part,

the

very

part

resisted

its

by

ideologists ,...But the spectator's posture simultaneously expresses


doubt that this could be all..

. . "625

Hope for that which is

completely other than al1 this which we have accepted as reality,


then becomes a possibility.

-- -

622 Theodor Adorno,

" P o t r e i t," Geammelte S c h r i f t e n , v o l

8,

306.
Although he r e c o g n i z e s t h e power o f i d e n t i t y t h i n k i n g , Adorno
in s i s t s t h a t n o n - i d e n t i t y o r c r i t i c a l
thought
i s always a
p o s s i b i 1 it y .
"EN] O m a t t e r t o what e x t e n t t h e mind i s a product o f
t h a t t y p e , i t impl i e s a t t h e sarne t i m e t h e o b j e c t i v e p o s s i b i l i t y of
[Adorno, Prisms, 25. J
overcomi ng it "

523 H e w i t t , Critica7 T b e o r y o f R e 7 i g i o n , 221.


624 Adorno,

625 I b i d .

Negative Dia7ectic, 363.

iii. The only move of freedom: the negative moment


Art is determined by the concrete context which is the object
of its critique. But since that which "would be different has not
begun as yet , n626 art cannot offer to its viewers a construction
of reality as it should be.

Adorno insists that "the materialist

longing to grasp the thing aims at the opposite: it is only in the


absence of images that the full object could be conceived.,, 627
Just as Jewish theology would not permit images of God, nor does
materialism permit images of utopia. Art must concentrate on the
manifestation of the cracks in material reality as it is at
present , rather than resolving reality' s contradictions wi th an
alternative it constructs.

Only through the negation of f a l s e

hopes can art make way for the possibility of true hope.

" [ I ] n the

breaks that belie identity. entity is still pervaded by the


everbroken pledges of
ref raining
nothing. 628
Il

from

that

judgements

otherness.. . .\N'bat
is

that

art

everything

is

. . .says
not

in

just

The move of freedom begins in this negative moment,

where one refuses to accept that what is, is al1 that could be.
In the end, hope, wrested from reality by negating it, is the
only form in which truth appears. Without hope, the idea of
truth would be scarcely even thinkable, and it is the cardinal
untruth. having recognized existence to be bad. &I present it
as truth simply because it has been recognized.

Art, as "different from the ungodly reality,


626 I b i d . ,

145.

I b i d . , 207.

I b i d . , 404-5.
629 A d o r n o , M i n i m a Mara7iaS 98.

231

... negatively ernbodies

an order of thingsn in which true reconciliation would be a


posibility .630

Until reconciliation truly exist, authentic art

and dialectical thought will remain unrelentingly negative.

In

this unreconciled world, " [aJ rt will live on only as long as it has
the power to resist society. If it refuses to objectify itself, it
becomes a commodity.

What it contributes to society is not some

directly communicable content but something more mediate, i . e .


resistance."631

With

reference

to

Kant, Adorno states

that

"happiness in relation to works of art is the feeling they instil

of holding one's own, or resisting.n632

Thus. he concludes. that

"art properly understood finds happiness in nothing except its

ability to stand its ground. 633


As we will discuss in Chapter 4, instead of asking how art

"functions" - which connotes art as a tool - one must rather ask


how art "stands in relation to the underlying antinomies in

society: whether music [art] confronts them, overcomes them, leaves


them as they are or indeed hides them. "634

The question, then, is:

does art maintain the negative moment, its ability to stand its
ground and resist society, does it negate the chaotic order of its
social-historical context, or does it construct an alternative, or
630 Adorno, A e s t h e t ic T h e o r y , 322.
I b i d . , 321.

632 I b i d . , 2 2 .
633 I b i d . , 59.

L e t t e r , Adorno t o Krenek, 30 Septernber 1932, i n Adorno und


E r n s t Krenek, B r i e f w e c h s e 7 1974 ( C o r r e s p o n d e n c e ) , c i ted i n Rose,
The Melancho7y Science, 1 1 0 .

even affirm that context?

Adorno concludes that in light of the

"predominant social tendency" what constitutes the only move of


freedom is "the negative moment. n 635
Art must awaken the reified consciousness from its state of

denying or repressing suffering. Adorno does not pretend that the


shocking truth can transform society, but it can alert the deceived
masses to the need for an " o t h e r " reality of t r u e reconciliation.
Yet he admitted that it is "only in traces and ruins" that he was

"prepared to hope" he would "ever corne across correct and just


reali ty ,"636

Despite everything. Adorno maintained hope for the

realization of that other reality.

iv. Art and religion in their historical moments

Adorno recognises art rather than the forms of positive


religion as the refuge for the utopian impulse.

And yet "[tlhe

utopian, anticipatory moment in critical theory that seeks t h e


negation of the present alienation in the name of a future 'that
bursts open the posibilities of the preent '63i contitutes what
can only
moment

n638

be

It

called
i

its

religious

(or perhaps

theological)

not. however, possible to speak of that critical

and emancipatory impulse which was abandoned by religion, or even


635 Adorno,

Prisms, 21.

636 Adorno,

"The A c t u a l it

y o f P h i 1 oophy,

"

120.

637 Seyla B e n h a b i b , C r i t i q u e , Norm and U t o p i a : A Study o f t h e


F o u n d a t i a n s o f Criticai Theory (New Y o r k : C o l u m b i a U n i v e r s i t y
Press, 1986), 353.

638 Hewi tt , "The P o l it i c s o f Ernpowerrnent , " 189.

of art as autonomous. as negative in the abstract .

They must be

viewed within "the context of their part icular manifestations. ,639

For they are only the indictment of the concrete reality which
determines their opposition.

The social truth of works of art

"depends on whether or not they open themselves to that concrete

content, making it their own through assimilation.

For Adorno.

"art is.. .the social enterprise where the thought of freedom is


strongest, and therefore the enterprise in which society endangers
its own authority, is at odds with itself."641

If they no longer

speak to their context, then works of art. like a theology or a


religious institution which has lost touch with the concrete and

particular world around them, will no longer be relevant to their


social-historical moment. In such a case, the affinity between art

and religion is lost, for both have lost their relationship with
truth.

639 Buck-Morss,

The Origin o f N e g a t i v e Dialectics, 99.

640 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 328.


Art,

lt

Kuspi t, " C r i t i c a l N o t e s on A d o r n o f s Sociology o f Music and


322.

ART UNDER THE S P E I L O F IDEOLOGY


"The notion of a 'message' in a r t ,
even w h e n poli tically r a d i c ,
al ready con tains an accommoda tion to the w o r l d . . . . ""

6c2 Theodor W .
Adorno,
"Cornmitment,
F r a n k f u r t Schoo 7 Reader, 31 7.

tt

in

The

Essentia7

The response of autonornous art to its context is one of


negation, of non-identity with the existent.

Xegation does not

entai1 a cancellation of the existent, but rather maintaining a


dialectical tension between the existent and its concept.

"The

dialectic is negative in the sense that it resists affirmation of


any underlying identity or final synthesis of polar opposites
.._.

In light of Adorno's theory of the negative dialectic of

art, 1 will examines his view that authentic art resists being used
to affirm

reality, since

its enigmatic character makes

indeterminate and therefore, useless.

art

Adorno uses the analogy of

a V e x i e r b i l d - puzzle - for the enigmatic character of art and


clearly states that "authentic art
unmistakeable 'message'.w 6 4 4

. . .cannot be

boiled down to some

Defying uefulnes , art inherently

attacks those who would wish to use it; in its refusa1 to bear a
message, art refuses to accommodate itself to the world around it.
If, however, the question to be asked is how art "stands in
relation to the underlying antinomies in society: whether music
[art] confronts them, overcomes them, leaves them as they are or

Z u i d e r v a a r t , Adorno 's A e s t h e t ic Theory, 4 9 .


644 Theodor W . Adorno,
"How t o look a t t e l e v i s i o n , " chap. i n
The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Cu7ture, ed. J . M .
B e r n s t e i n (London: R o u t l e d g e , 1991), 1 4 1 .

indeed hides them,'A4' then one must also ak how art which is
committed to an ideology counter to the s t a t u s
ideology compares with autonomous art.

quo

or dominant

Does such art negate the

chaotic order of its social-historical context? The question here


is: can art be politically committed to an ideology opposite to
that of

its social-historical context, thus, critiquing

the

dominant ideology, and according to the parameters established by


Adorno, still be considered autonomous?

This raises the question

of whether it is possible to subvert the dominant ideology by

proposing a counter ideology. And what about the alternatives to


the s t a t u s quo which committed art insists upon, especially in
light of Adorno's

insistence on the Bilderverbot?

If Adorno

reaches the conclusion that in light of the "predominant social


tendency" the only move of freedom is "the negative moment,,,646
then does politically committed art move

freedom from domination?

toward or away rom

These questions, guided by Adorno's

theory, propel the following discussion.


After establishing a sense of art which either resists or
submits to its context as distinguished by Adorno, 1 will briefly
examine his responses to the "art of the culture industry" and

politically committed art - in particular Fascist and Marxist art.


The discussion will be made concrete through examples which Adorno,

645 L e t t e r , Adorno t o Krenek, 30 Septernber 1932, i n Adorno und


E r n s t K r e n e k , Briefwechse 7 1974 (Correspondence), ci t e d in Rose,
The Me lancho 7y S c i e n c e , 1 1 0 .

646 Adorno,

Prisrns, 21.

himself , gives , such as the dramatic art of Sartre and Brecht. The

focus of this discussion will be on Adorno's views regarding the


degree to which their art maintains autonomy. 1 will then turn to
the contemporary example of feminist theatre which was influenced

by the theatre of Brecht.

These discussions, focused on the

inquiry into the nature of

the relationship between art and

ideology, will provide a background to the discussion in Chapter 5


of

religious art

in

this

case. specifically examples of

contemporary Christian theatre - as opposed to art which has taken

on that impulse abandoned by religion.

Both feminist theatre and

contemporary Christian theatre make clear their commitment to


effecting a transformation of their audience through theatre.
Although Adorno may have been unaware of these particular forms of
theatre (he may have been familiar with feminist theatre of the
l96Os), 1 maintain that the critique offered in his aesthetic
theory is nonetheless relevant for art which has been created fter
his death.

1 . Art: Subversive or Submissive

Art which Adorno finds to be worthy to be called authentic is,

as we have discussed, that art which critiques and subverts the


dominant ideology of the culture within which it is created.
Important for Adorno, is the way in which art subverts.

Adorno

emphasises that art subverts the dominant ideology via form.


Indeed, "the central category in Adorno's Asthetik [is] form . . . .
[which i s ] the medium through which art separates itself from the

empirical

[ reality]. "647

Art gains autonomy through opposition;

through this process of negation art defines its "non-identity"


w i t h i t s social-historical context. To reiterate, important in the

creation of art is the negative tension between the work of art and
its specific historic moment, or the non-identity of the work with
that moment.648

In f a c t . "the more free art

from outer goals,

the more autonomous it is. "649


Harding suggests that for Adorno, the autonomy of art "is
double-edged . " Al though i t appears that he holds to "a philosophy
o f 1 'art pour 1 ' a r t , " in actuality,
Adorno has a radical theoret ical adherence to the relation
between art and society. On t h e one hand, he affirms that

socio-historical change makes the separation of art and


practical l i f e unavoidable. But on the other, t h e separation
does not denote the irrelevance of art to l i f e .
relevance, however, can only be stated in negative terms.

Be

Al1 art, therefore, i s undeniably intertwined with life and the

Grohotolky,
A - s t h e t i k d e r N e g a t i o n - Tendenzen des
deutschen Gegenwartsdrarnas, 27.
A s t a t e m e n t which Adorno makes r e g a r d i n g t h o u g h t i n M i n i m a
M o r a l i a i s e q u a l l y t r u e f o r autonomous a r t : " " F o r t h e v a l u e o f a
t h o u g h t i s measured by i t s d i s t a n c e f r o m t h e c o n t i n u i t y o f t h e
f a m i 1 i a r . It i s o b j e c t i v e l y devalued as t h i s d i s t a n c e is reduced;
t h e more it approximates t o t h e p r e - e x i s t i ng s t a n d a r d , t h e f u r t h e r
i t s a n t i t h e t i c a l f u n c t i o n i s diminished, and o n l y i n t h i s , i n i t s
m a n i f e s t r e l a t i o n t o i t s o p p o s i t e , n o t i n it s i s o l a t e d e x i s t e n c e ,
a r e t h e c l a i m s o f t h o u g h t founded. " [Adorno, Minima Mora 7 i a , 8 0 . ]

647

A w o r k o f a r t i s l i k e i n t e r p r e t i v e p h i losophy, f o r t h e y
l f c o n s t r u c t k e y s , b e f o r e w h i c h r e a l it y s p r i n g s open. A s t o t h e s i z e
o f t h e key c a t e g o r i e s , t h e y a r e s p e c i a l ly made t o o r d e r . " [Adorno,
"The A c t u a l i t y o f P h i l o s o p h y , " 1 3 0 . 1
Wel sch , A s t h e t i s c h e Denken, 125.

650 H a r d i n g , " H i s t o r i c a l D i a l e c t i c s and t h e Autonorny o f A r t , "


183-4.

work of art is a social fact, although the relation of art to l i f e


remains negative in art's negation of its moment.

Xnherent in the

aesthetic process, as we have noted. is a dialectical combination


of mimesis and subjective imposition of

form which involves

Autonomous art becomes a critique of reality by

rationality.

rescuing the elements of reality from their reified state and reordering them.

Adorno insists that unlike art of the period of

classicism, modern works of art "cannot rest content with . . .vague


and abstract universality,"

instead, they "depend on diremption,

and that means that the concrete historical situation, art's other,
is their condition.w651

In fact their very "social truth depends

on whether or not they open themselves to that concrete content,


making it their own through assimilation. Their law of form for
its part does not smooth over the cleavage but concerns itself with
how to shape it . " 6 5 2

As a result. inherent in every work of art

is a quality of subversion of its context, an attack on the untruth

of reality.

In Adorno's estimation, aesthetic truth is "bound tu

the expression of the untruth" of its context and art "really only
exists as long as it is impossible by virtue of the order which it
transcends.

That is why. he explains. the existence of the

Adorno, Aesthetic T h e o r y , 3 2 8 .
Ibid.
~
i n The C u 7 t u r e
653 Adorno, T h e Schema o f Mass C ~ l t u r e , 'chap.
Industry, 6 7 .
I n h i s c r i t i q u e o f M a r x i s t a e s t h e t i c s , Marcuse expresses a
s i m i l a r view t o Adorno:
e v e r y a u t h e n t i c work o f a r t would b e
r e v o l u t i o n a r y , i . e . , s u b v e r s i v e o f p e r c e p t i o n and u n d e r s t a n d i n g , an
in d i c t m e n t o f t h e e s t a b l ished r e a l it y , t h e a p p e a r a n c e o f t h e image
o f 7 ib e r a t i o n . " [ H e r b e r t M a r c u s e , The A e s t h e t i c dimension: Toward

". . .

great forms of art is, in fact, paradoxical.


If " a l 1 art

critical, simply as artn6j4. what then about

art which is committed to something outside of its being-for-self


as art?

If autonomous art is the negation of its origins. then

would one have to conclude that works which submit themselves to


something outside of their being-for-self do the opposite, in that
they affirm and maintain their identity with the s t a t u s quo of

their context? If such art accepts and copies the framework of its
origins, then instead of lodging a critique, it becomes a means to
the ends of the ideology of its social-historical moment.

Adorno points to Stravinsky's compositions as examples of art


which submits itsel f to its origins.
Adorno, follows the pattern

of

Stravinsky 's music, claims

"the characteristic vice

of

bourgeois society" which deals with conflicts within it by feigning


indifference or actually denying their existence.

'"

Stravinky'

refusai of the dialectic of his own art "for an immediate destiny,


f o r a superficial s f a t u s quo, [is] the source of its [his art's]

authoritarian and conformist tendencies."'%1n contrast, it is


precisely through the dialectic of the aesthetic form, which
awakens the dialectic of sensibility, that is the means of breaking

a Critique o f M a r x i s t A e s t h e t i c s ( T o r o n t o : F i t z h e n r y and W h i t e s i de,


1978), x i . ]
O s b o r n e , "Adorno and t h e Metaphyi C S o f Moderni sm," 3 3 .
Art,

655 Kuspi t, " C r i t i c a l Notes on A d o r n o ' s Sociol o g y o f Music and


323.
656 I b i d .

free of conformity - the first step in subverting the s t a t u s quo.

i. Art of the "culture industryn


Art cannot avoid being enmeshed in the reality of its social
matrix.

However. art which is created simply to meet cultural

standards and derive a profit. has compromised itself.


Adorno has difficulty calling such works art
are "products of the culture industry."

qua

art: rather. they

But the term "culture

industry" is not to be taken "too literally.


standardization of the thing itself

In fact.

...and to

It refers to the
the rationalization

of distribution techniques. but not strictly to the production


process.n65i

The culture industry' goal is, quite imply, the

"production of goods that are profitable and consumable."658

The

art-for-profit of the culture industry has become fully integrated


into the culture industry's ideology.
reified

relationships

in

reality

by

Such art reinforces the


identifying

with

the

rationality of the social-historical order and copying reality as


is - instead of making Bilder, or images of reality, it makes

657 Adorno,
"Culture
Cu 7 t u r e I n d u s t r y , 87.

industry

reconsidered,

" chap.

in

The

658 D a v i d H e l d , I n t r o d u c t i o n t o Critical T h e o r y ( C a l if o r n i a :
U n i v e r s i t y o f C a l i f o r n i a Press, 1 9 8 0 ) , 9 1 .
A r t c r e a t e d a s such, i s, a c c o r d i ng t o Barzun, t h e meaning o f
t h e phrase ' a r t f o r art's s a k e ' today.
" A r t f o r a r t ' s sake
1 it e r a l 1y means a r t made because t h e r e is a g u a r a n t e e d consumer t o
take i t i n .
. It is a r t made and d i s t r i b u t e d because a r t i s an
i n s t i t u t i o n o f t h e s t a t u s quo, t h e b r e a d and b u t t e r o f thousands t o
whom it means - b r e a d and butter. " [ B a r z u n , The Use and Abuse o f
A r t , The A.W. M e l l o n L e c t u r e s i n t h e F i n e A r t s , 1973, The N a t i o n a l
Ga1 1 e r y o f A r t , Washi n g t o n D. C. ( P r i n c e t o n :
ri nceton U n i v e r s i t y
P r e s s , 1973), 137.1

..

Abbilder, or copies. Art which returns " to affirmative replication


and harmonyw with its context," contends Adorno, "sell[s] out

freedom."'j9

Having "liquidat[edl" its opposition t o its context.

"art assumes a parasitic character.,1660


In Dialectic of Enlightenment Adorno and Horkheimer describe
the goal of the culture industry as -Massenbetrug (mass decept ion) .
Individuals are deceived into losing their individuality, freedom
and

happiness

the goals

administered world .661

As

of

the Enlightenment

in

this

we have discussed, the very rat ionality

that was to provide for humanity's freedom from mytbic powers, is


the same rationality which brings about a return to myth and to new

and more absolute forms of domination. "The feature of enlightened


reason which accounts for this reversal is its identification of
rationality

and

understanding

with

particular under the universal.

the

subsumption

of

the

Subsumptive or instrumental

rationality disregards the properties which make things or people


particular; al1 are indistinguishable objects subsumed under the
goals of the subject.

659

"Subsumption . . A s domination in the

Adorno, A e s t h e t i c Theory, 369.

Theodor W. Adorno, "The Schema o f Mass Culturesfri n The


Cu 7ture Industry, 56.
661 In h i "Ohne Leitbi Id," Adorno returns to this theme,
stati ng t h a t t h e "overall effect of t h e culture i ndustry i s one of
a n t i - e n 1 ightenment," which uses "mass deception as the means for
chai n i n g consciousness." [Theodor W. Adorno. "Ohne L e i t b i 7d, " i n
Gesamme7te Schriften Band 10.1 Kulturkritik und Gese77schaft I , ed.
Rolf Tiedernann ( F r a n k f u r t am M a i n : Suhrkamp, 1977), 3 4 5 . 1

662

J .M.

Industry, 4.

Bernstein,

llIntroduction,"i n A d o r n o ,

The

Cu7ture

conceptual

realm ....

[and

its]

purpose

conceptual and technical mastery. "663

..As

to

allow

for

Reason no longer judges

particulars or rationally considers ends and goals. and instead of


aiding in the satisfaction of human ends, it has become its own

end, turning against the Enlightenment's emancipatory goals.


The economic organization of modern capitalist society merely
provides for this final realization of instrumental reason and
self-destruction of Enlightenment . Under capitalism al1
production is for the market; goods are produced not in order
to meet human needs and desires, but for the sake of profit.
for the sake of acquiring further capital . . . . [ Wlhat uniquely
characterizes capitalist economies is the tendential
universality of production for exchange rather than use.664
Making a thing or a person equal to their exchange value is to
disregard not only their intrinsic properties for the sake of the
ends of capital accumulation. but even to go beyond merely viewing
something in terms of a purpose outside of itself: unlike things
are treated as if they were identical.

If everything can be made

to be identical to something which it is not, then the moment of


particularity and indeed. individuality. becomes illusory.

The

contrast between autonomous art and "typical productions of the


culture industry" becomes crucial here, for the very contrast
es tablishes the " false identity of particular and universal" found
in culture industry art.665
663 B e r n s t e i n , " I n t r o d u c t i o n , " i n Adorno, The Cu 7 t u r e I n d u s t r y ,
4.
664

Ibid., 4-5.

B e r n s t e i n states 1a t e r t h a t " [ a ] r t is t h e emphati c a s s e r t i on


o f what i s excl uded f r o m En1 i g h t e n m e n t ' s i n s t r u m e n t a l r a t i o n a l i t y :
t h e d a i m o f sensuous p a r t i c u l a r i t y and r a t i o n a l ends. " [ I b i d . , 5 . ]

665 Ibid., 8.

But whoever would speak "of culture speaks of administration


as we11," insists Adorno, "whether this is his intention or
not. w666

In contrat to the view which see culture as something

pure and untouchable (and even Adorno admits that "culture - as


that which goes beyond the system of self-preservation of the
species - involves an irrevocably critical impulse towards the
s t a t u s quo

and al1 institutions thereofn66i),Adorno inist that

bringing things together according to some common denominator of


culture is already to adopt an "administrative view, the task of
which, looking down from on high, is to assemble, distribute,
evaluate and organize."668

Paradoxically. he points out. al though

culture does suffer damage when it is "planned and administrated,"


when left to itself, "everything cultural threatens not only to

lose its possibility of effect, but its very existence as well. ,,669
Adorno refers to the example of cultural festivals which ought to
be celebrated as they corne and not organized only for the sake of
making

sure

they

do

not

overlap

with

one

another.

When

administrative reason "takes control of them

. . . [it] rationalizes

them [and] banishes festivity from them. ,6iO

Culture may be "the

666 Theodor W. Adorno,


C u 7 t u r e Industry, 93.

T u l t u r e a n d Adm i ni s t r a t i o n , "

in

The

667 I b i d . , 100.

668 I b i d . ,

93.

I b i d . , 94.

670 I b i d . ,

102.
A contemporary e x a m p l e of such admi ni strative control and
b a n i shment o f t h e f e s t i v i t y from a cultural c e l e b r a t i o n o c c u r r e d i n

perennial d a i m of the particular over the general , as long as the


latter remains unreconciled to the former. . . [butj administration
necessarily represents - without subjective guilt and without
individual will - the general against this particular.
is relentless in his

criticism of cultural

"

Ado r no

administration's

heteronomous impositions:
culture - no matter what form it takes - is to be measured by
norms not inherent to it and which have nothing to do with the
quality of the object, but rather with some type of abstract
standards imposed from without, while at the same time the
administrative instance - according to its own prescriptions
and nature - must for the most part refuse to become involved
of the
in questions of immanent quality which regard th~~fruth
thing itself or its objective bases in general.

The culture industry brings to fruition the "embryo" of culture's


"schematization and process of cataloguing and classificationn 673
of

its various elements

via

"the systernatic and

programmed

exploitation of cultural goods for commercial ends. w 674


Cultural wares, such as art products, are not appreciated for
what they are in themselves, b u t for their market value: if their

financial return is good, further wares will be patterned after

O n t a r i o i n 1993.
P r o v i n c i a l c i v i l s e r v a n t s w e r e s e n t memos
i n d i c a t i n g t h a t i n o r d e r n o t t o o f f e n d m i n o r i t i e s who d i d n o t
c e l e b r a t e C h r i s t m a s , t h e r e were t o be no C h r i s t m a s t r e e s i n t h e i r
o f f ices and no c a r d s w i t h e x p l i c i t C h r i s t m a s messages on t h e i c
S a n t a Claus was f i n e and they were a l lowed t o w i s h one
d e s ks
a n o t h e r ''Season ' s G r e e t ingsm and "Happy Ho1 idays. "

671 I b i d . , 98.
672 I b i d .
673 Adorno and H o r k h e i m e r ,

D i a 7ect i c o f En 7 i g h t e n m e n t ,

131

674 Marc Jimenez, Theodor W. Adorno: A r t , Ido7ogie et T h o r i e


de L ' A r t ( P a r i s : Union G e n r a l e d t d i t i o n s , 1973), 1 2 8 .

246

t hem.6i5
has

In the culture industry. where an object ' inherent value


replaced b y a market

been

"Zweckmassigkeit mit

Zweck! "

value,

phrase

becomes:

It is no longer the case that

cultural enti t ies are "also commodities


through and through.w676

Kant's

they are commodities

Every element ha the ame purpose and

obeys the same hierarchical pattern.

Nothing remains autonomous.

Nothing cornes as a surprise, because everything is moulded to fit

the

successful

mode1 .

conceivable

Every

individuality

is

" s u b o r d i n a t e d to one end and subsumed under one false formula: the

culture industry. w67i


Products of the culture industry e n t e r t a i n and distract
people.

Such "light artn keeps people going without challenging

them; it encourages its audience to remain passive.

The inherent

message is one of adjustment to the way things are, adherence and

obedience to the s t a t u s

quo.

In contrast to the categorical

imperative articulated by Kant, Adorno describes the categorical


imperative of the culture industry as no longer having anything in
common with freedom

and in fact, " [tJ hose who want to adapt must

learn increasingly to curb their imagination.


industry's

imperative proclaims:

The culture

"you shall conform, without

675 One has on1 y to look at such f i l m a s Rocky 1, Rocky II,


Rocky III, e t c . , t h e S t a r Wars s e r i e s and so on, t o see t h a t t h e
p r o d u c e r s o f Ho1 1 ywood fi1 ms have recogni zed t h e t r u t h o f t h i S .
676 Adorno,

" C u l t u r e i n d u s t r y reconsidered,

677 Adorno and H o r k h e i m e r ,

678 Theodor

Industry, 166.

W.

Adorno,

"

86.

Dia lectic o f En7ightenment, 136.

"Free

tirne,"

chap.

in

The Cu7ture

instruction as to what: conform to that which exists anyway. and to


that which everyone thinks anyway..
ideology

industry's

such

is

C O ~ S C ~ O U S ~ ~679S S . Adorno
r1

..

that

concludes

The power of the culture


conformity

that

overwhelming power of the culture industry

in

has

light

replaced

of

the

"the rat ionali ty of

adjustment has already reached such a point that the slightest j o l t


would be sufficient t o reveal its irrationality. "680

Once a g a i n .

679 Adorno, " C u l t u r e in d u s t r y r e c o n i d e r e d , " 90.


Because
of
the
Irr e t r o g r e s s i v e [ ]
devel opment
of
the
it
"no
consciousness o f
members o f
society,
Adorno
finds
c o i n c i d e n c e t h a t c y n i c a l American f i l m p r o d u c e r s a r e h e a r d t o Say
t h a t t h e i r p i c t u r e s must t a k e i n t o c o n s i d e r a t i o n the l e v e l o f
eleven-year-olds.
I n d o i n g so t h e y would v e r y much 1 ik e t o make
a d u l t s in t o el even-year-01 ds. " [ I b i d. , 91 ]
M i c h a e l Moore, d i r e c t o r o f t h e f i 1rns Roger and Me ( 1 989) and
Canadian Bacon { W g S ) , would 1ike t o see h i m s e l f a s d e f y i n g t h e
mould o f t h o s e " c y n i c a l Arnerican f i l m p r o d u c e r s . "
A televi sion
s e r i e s c a l l e d T V N a t i o n ( a i r e d on NBC and Fox Network) w h i c h Moore
a l s o c r e a t e d , d i r e c t e d and a c t e d i n i s a c o n t r a s t t o much o f what
i s a i r e d on TV; a c c o r d i n g t o Moore, h i s show i s "about something,
[ a b o u t ] w h a t ' s g o i n g on.
It has a b r a i n . " [Liam Lacey, " R e j o i c e
o v e r r e b i r t h o f a T V N a t i o n , " The G7obe and M a i 7 (Thursday, 2 0 J u l y
1 9 9 5 ) , D ( 1 ) ] The show has been c h a r a c t e r i zed as a "Comi c v e r s i on
of 60 M i n u t e s .
[ I b i d. ]
When w o r k i ng on an e p i sode, Moore t e l 1s
h i s crew t h a t i n o r d e r t o m a i n t a i n t h e i r cri t i c a l edge, t h e y a r e t o
be " f e a r l ess and u n a f r a i d o f a u t h o r i t y and n o t t o p r e a c h . " [ I b i d . ]
Moore r e c o g n i z e s t h a t Americans a r e o f t e n i g n o r a n t o f what i s g o i n g
on around them, b u t he does n o t l a y t h e blame on t h e i r s h o u l d e r s :
"The e n t i r e system says, ' D o n ' t a c t , d o n l t t h i n k , d o n ' t v o t e . '
Watch T V .
Cal 1 967-1 111
[How many o f u s can r e a d t h a t number
w i t h o u t s i n g i n g i t s t u n e and t h i n k i n g o f p i z z a ? ]
Most Americans
a r e amazi n g l y c o m f o r t a b l e w i t h t h e i r i g n o r a n c e .
What we' r e s a y i ng
[on t h e show TV N a t i o n ] is ' D o n ' t a c c e p t t h i s d u m b i f i c a t i o n . We' r e
good p e o p l e .
We can l e a r n . "
[Ibid.]

'O Adorno, ''The Schema o f Mass C u l t u r e J N 8 0 .


Statements such a s t h i s g i v e e v i d e n c e o f t h e i n f l u e n c e o f
I n an
Benjami n 's " m i c r o l o g i c a l and f ragmentary methodI1 on Adorno.
essay on Benjamin, Adorno w r i t e s :
" H e never wavered i n h i s
fundamental c o n v i c t i o n t h a t t h e smal l e s t ce1 1 o f o b s e r v e d rea7 it y
offsets
the
rest
of
the
world.
To
interpret
phenomena
m a t e r i a l i s t i c a l l y meant f o r him n o t so much t o e l u c i d a t e thern as
p r o d u c t s o f t h e s o c i a l whole b u t r a t h e r t o r e l a t e them d i r e c t l y , i n
t h e i r i s o l a t e d s i ngul a r i t y , t o m a t e r i a l t e n d e n c i es and s o c i a l

the relevance of even the minutest of fragments which does not


quite fit the schema or the evidence of even the tiniest of cracks
in the seeming totality are not to be underestimated: they alone

are enough to reveal the truth of the culture industry's untruth.


Adorno and Horkheimer acknowledge the great power of the
culture industry to not only deal with consumers' needs, but also
shape and even control them.

Products are made to exactly match

what the consumer wants and thinks s / h e needs - Adorno refers to


the "trash" that is "served up for the ostensible or real needs of

But there is an i n h e r e n t danger:

the masses.
means to

Say

anything, to

"To be pleased

Yes . . . .Pleasure always rneans not to t h i n k

forget suffering even where

it

about

is shown. . . .The

liberation which amusement promises is freedom from thought and


from negat ion. w682

Wi thout thinking. mernbers of society become

"enslaved" by the culture i n d u s t ry .

This enslavement occurs "in

far more subtle and effective ways than the crude methods of
domination practised in earlier eras . . . . [ The culture industry has
an] ability

to

lu11 its victims

into passive acceptance.,,683

Adorno sarcastically highlights the effects on one's life:

. . .how many sorrows he is spared who no longer thinks too many


thoughts, how much more 'in accordance with reality' a person
struggl es. "
[Theodor W .
c h a p . i n Prisms, 236. ]

Adorno,

"A P o r t rai t o f

Walter Ben j ami n, "

Adorno,
"On
t h e F e t i s h C h a r a c t e r i n Music and t h e
R e g r e s s i on o f L i s t e n i ng , " i n The Essentia 7 Frankfurt Schoo 7 Reader,

283.
682 Adorno and H o r k h e i m e r , Dia 7 e c t i c

o f En 7 ightenment, 144.

683 J a y , The Dia 7ect ica 7 Imagination, 21 6 .

behaves when he affirms that the real is right. how much more
~
who
capacity to use the machinery falls to t $ ~ person
integrates himself with it uncomplainingly ....
Once under the influence of the culture industry, not only
does choice no longer matter because everything is programmed to
meet

one's needs, but one's choices become automatic.

Adorno

criticizes the culture industry for attempting to work against the


"formation of autonomous, independent. conscious judging
decisive

individuals.""

Instead

of

independent

and

individuals

consciously responding to the bombardments of culture industry ,


people are "convertedw along their Vine of least resistance, into

the acquiescent purchaser,n686

Neverthele. Adorno will not let

his readers forget that human beings are subjects. and as such
"still represent the ultimate limit of reification."

In contrast

to things, human beings must be caught hold of "again and again;


the bad infinity involved in this hopeless effort of repetition is
the only trace of hope that this repetition might be in vain. that
[human

beings J

'"

cannot

wholly

Adorno,
"On t h e F e t i h
Regressi on o f L i s t e n i ng, " 286.

685 Adorno,

be

grasped

Character

in

after
Music

all. ,687
and

the

"Ohne L e i t b i Id,l 1 3 4 5 .

686 Adorno,
"On t h e F e t i h C h a r a c t e r i n Music and t h e
Regressi on o f L i s t e n i ng, " 273.
Horkheimer a l so lodges a harsh c r i t i que a g a i n s t t h e presumabl y
a u t o m a t i c c h o i c e s consumers so e a s i 7 y make:
"The p a t t e r n s o f
t h o u g h t and a c t i o n t h a t p e o p l e accept ready-made from t h e a g e n c i e s
of mass c u l t u r e a c t i n t h e i r t u r n t o i n f l u e n c e mass c u l t u r e a s
though they were t h e ideas of t h e p e o p l e themsel ves. " [Horkheimer,
Ec 7 i p s e o f Reason, 1 5 4 . ]
687 Adorno, "The Schema o f Mass Cu1t u r e , " 8 0 .
Adorno emphasises a hope based on t h e i n d i v i d u a l as the
" u l t i m a t e 1 i m i t o f r e i f i c a t i o n ; " Horkheimer is more c a u t i o u s : "The

Ironically, the culture industry itself is not autonomous, but


merely an "accessorytlof a dominant ideology .

At

the heart of

the role of the culture industry is an enhancement of political


control over

the

masses.

The

accessory

is

to

accomplish

homogenization of cultural goods so that any possible conflicts are


rendered inoffensive to the ideology and the audience. Art is an
example

of

one

of

the

cultural goods

which

must

be

made

inoffensive. Its dissonances must be repressed or eliminated, and


instead of emphasizing the contradictions in reality, i t merely
flattens and harmonizes those contradictions. A lack of conflict
within a work of art ensures that it no longer has the capability
to "endure any conflict with the life outside itself because life
banishes al1 conflicts into the deepest hidden places of suffering

and keeps them out of sight with pitiless force."689

Art which

objection t h a t t h e i n d i v i d u a l ,
despite everything,
does n o t
e n t i r e l y d i s a p p e a r i n t h e new impersonal
institutions,
that
i n d i v i d u a l is m i s as rugged and rampant i n modern s o c i e t y as e v e r
b e f o r e , seerns t o m i s s t h e p o i n t . The o b j e c t i o n c o n t a i n s a g r a i n o f
t r u t h , namely, t h e c o n s i d e r a t i o n t h a t man i s s t i l l b e t t e r than t h e
w o r l d he 1 ives in.
Y e t h i s 1if e seems t o f o l low a sequence t h a t
H is
wi11 f i t any q u e s t i o n n a i r e he i s asked t o f i 1 1 o u t .
in t e l l e c t u a l e x i s t e n c e is exhausted i n t h e pub1 ic o p i n i on p o l 1S .
Especial 7 y t h e so-ca71ed g r e a t in d i v i d u a l s o f today, t h e i d o l s o f
t h e masses, a r e n o t genui ne in d i v i d u a l s, t h e y a r e s i mpl y c r e a t u r e s
of t h e i r o w n pub1 ic i t y , en1 argements o f t h e i r own photographs,
f u n c t i o n s o f s o c i a1 p r o c e s s e s .
[Horkheimer, Ec7ipse o f Reason,

159.1
688 J i menez,

Theodor W.

Adorno,

1Z 8 f f .

"The Schema o f Mass C u l t u r e , " 67.


Adorno reaches a p o i n t o f despai r i n t h i s essay; he concludes
t h a t "[rn]onopoly is t h e e x e c u t o r : el i m i n a t i ng t e n s i o n , it ab01 i shes
a r t along w i t h c o n f l i c t .
[ T h i s is c l o s e r j t o t h e t r u t h t h a n t h o s e
remnants o f t r a d i t i o n a l a r t t h a t s t i 11 c o n t i n u e t o f l o u r i sh, t o t h e
e x t e n t t h a t al 1 p r e s e r v a t i o n o f i n d i v i d u a l c o n f l i c t i n t h e work o f
a r t , and g e n e r a l l y even t h e i n t r o d u c t i o n o f s o c i a l c o n f l i c t as

689 Adorno,

.. .

does not corne into conflict with reality becomes merely "an
extension of the outside world.

tt690

Art products of the culture

industry give in to and reinforce the s t a t u s quo.

Rather than

making the familiar strange. culture industry art mirrors reality,

becorning palpable because of its familiarity.


With al1 traces of dissonance in art eliminated, what emerges
is a false reconciliation between the individual and society in its
present form. As a result, the viewer "no longer perceives art as
an expression of a better l i f e other than the one which [s/he]

sustains."691

If the culture indutry's art mirrors what already

is, why should the viewer think things oght to be otherwise?


Culture industry art, contends Adorno, promotes a viewer with a

consciousness that is "completely rei fied , " capable only of knowing


the

"appearance of

society, of

describing

institutions and

behaviour as if their current mode of functioning were an inherent


and invariant characteristic or property. n 6 9 2

The viewer believes

w e l l , o n l y s e r v e s as a r o m a n t i c d e c e p t i o n .
It t r a n s f i g u r e s t h e
w o r l d i n t o one i n w h i c h c o n f l i c t i s s t i 1 1 p o s s i b l e r a t h e r t h a n
r e v e a l i n g it a s one i n w h i c h t h e o m n i p o t e n t power o f p r o d u c t i o n is
b e g i n n i ng e v e r more o b v i o u s l y t o r e p r e s s such a p o s s i b i 1 it y .
It i s
a
del i c a t e
question
whether
the
1i q u i d a t i o n
of
aesthetic
i n t r i c a t i o n [ s i c ] and development r e p r e s e n t s t h e 1 i q u i d a t i o n o f
every l a s t t r a c e o f r e s i s t a n c e o r r a t h e r t h e medium o f it s s e c r e t
o r n n i p r e ~ e n c e . ~ [' I b i d . ]
I n l i g h t of o t h e r comments Adorno makes
r e g a r d i n g a r t as t h e l a s t p l a c e o f r e f u g e f o r t h e u t o p i a n i m p u l s e ,
I would s i d e w i t h t h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f t h e a e s t h e t i c as " t h e medium
o f [ r e s i s t a n c e ' s ] s e c r e t omni presence.
690 H e l d ,
691

Introduction t o C r i t i c a 7 T h e o r y , 94.

Jimenez, Theodor W . Adorno, 1 2 9 .

692 Rose,

The Melancho7y Science, 4 8 .

reality as i t is fulfils the concept of what it should b e -

The

effectiveness of the culture industry stems not from the "parading"


of some ideology, or even from disguising the truth, but rather
from

its ability

to

remove

"the thought

alternative to the s t a t u s quo. w693

that

there

is

any

One becomes numb: one doe not

think beyond the parameters of the reality one has come to know.
In this process, art also becomes reified, for it is viewed as
a thing equal to its market or "exchange" value.

Autonomous art,

on the other hand, fights this process; it does not accept reality
as i t is, including the reality of i t s own exchange value.

Nor

does autonomous art desire an audience who remains uncritical of


the reality it knows.

This "silencing of reflection is the

substantial irrationality of enlightened reason.

The culture

i n d u s t r y is the societal realization of the defeat of reflection

....

In contrat to art of the culture industry. autonomous

art promotes the waking up of a reified consciousness.695

Adorno fears that the culture industry could transform art


" into tolerated negativity or even into something negatively useful

693 B e r n s t e i n , " I n t r o d u c t i o n ,

i n Adorno,

The C u l t u r e Indutry,

9.
694 I b i d . ,

9.

695 O r as otherwi se s t a t e d : "If a r t h o l d s on t i g h t l y t o w h a t it


is i n i t s e l f , as p e r Adorno, t h e n i t i s t h e a r t i c u l a t i o n of

c o n s c i o u s n e s s . ~ [ G n t e r Rohrmoser, H e r r s c h a f t und Versohnung:


Asthet i k und die KuIterrevo7ution des Westens ( F r e i burg : V e r 1 ag
Rombach, 1 9 7 2 ) , 20.1

into

consumer. "696

lubricant

for

the

system

. ..calculated

for

the

There is already the fact that society ha found a

way to keep art a t a safe distance by placing it in the niche

created specifically for that purpose - the rnuseum.


the

museum

one

can

enjoy

art

in

state

of

Cpon entering
"artificial

preservation;" here one finds art on exhibition, art which is


"enjoyed for the sake of its uniqueness rather than for any
inherent qualities.

The totality of the culture indutry,

acknowledges Adorno, is "capable of ingesting al1 that cornes its


way .

Under preent conditions, "[tlhe whole world is made to

pass through the filter of the culture industry.n 699

696 Theodor W. Adorno, " C u l t u r e and A d m i n i s t r a t i o n , "


The C u l t u r e I n d u s t r y , 102.

chap.

in

697 Theodor W. Adorno, "What N a t i o n a l S o c i a l ism Has Done t o t h e


20.2,
Hrsg.,
Rol f Tiedemann
A r t s , " Gesamme7te S c h r i f t e n , Bd.
( F r a n k f u r t a m Main: Suhrkarnp, 1 9 . . ) , 428.
Horkheimer echoes A d o r n o ' s concern r e g a r d i n g a r t as a rnuseum
"Art:
reified,
made a museurn p i e c e ,
a l e i s u r e time
piece:
o c c u p a t i o n , . . . no l i v i n g r e l a t i o n t o t h e work i n q u e s t i o n ,
no
d i r e c t , spontaneous u n d e r s t a n d i ng o f it s f u n c t i on, e x p r e s s i on, no
This
e x p e r i e n c e o f i t s t o t a l i t y as an image o f t r u t h , i s l e f t .
r e i f i c a t i o n is t y p i c a l o f t h e s u b j e c t i v i z a t i o n and forma1 i z a t i o n o f
reasons . . . t r a n s f o r r n s works o f a r t i n t o comrnodities and t h e i r
consurnpti on in t 0 a s e r i es o f haphazard emot ions d i vorced f rom o u r
A r t has been severed from t r u t h
r e a l i n t e n t i o n s and a s p i r a t i o n s .
as well as p o f i t i c s o r r e l i g i o n . I 1 [Max Horkheimer, Ec7ipse o f
Reason (New Y o r k : Oxford U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1 9 4 7 ) , 40. ]

698 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c Thheory, 337.


Brger g i v e s t h e example o f a b s t r a c t a r t ; once c o n s i d e r e d
a v a n t garde and w r i t t e n o f f as h e r m e t i c , works o f a b s t r a c t a r t have
n o w become "i
d e a i 1y s u i t e d t o d e c o r a t e manageri a1 o f f ic e s . . . [ T l hey
d i s t u r b n o t h i ng. " [Brger, "The Decl ine o f t h e Modern A g e , " 1 2 2 . ]
S a y l a u d s A d o r n o ' s courage t o admit t h i s " b i t t e r t r u t h even i n
. t h e v e r y realm i n which h i s hopes f o r redernption were most
t e n a c i o u s l y grounded. "
[ J a y , Adorno, 160. ]

..

699 Adorno and Horkheimer,

D i a lectic o f E n l i g h t e n m e n t ,

126.

ii. Irony of capitalism: fine line of art's autonomy and exchange


There is, however. a great irony in the relationship of t h e

capitalist system and art's autonomy.

Although the capitalist

system is the perpetrator of the culture industry. only under the


capitalist system can art achieve autonomy.'O0

In the patronage

system. the production of art was restricted to "religious and/or


private usage.

Early on in his Aethetic Theory, Adorno makes

specific reference to art's


religion, noting

the

emancipation

significance

and

from

the bonds

difficulty

of

of

art's

achievement of autonomy:
Having dissociated itself from religion and its redemptive
truths, art was able to flourish. Once secularized, however,
art was condemned, for lack of any hope for a real
alternative, to offer to the existing world a kind of solace
that reinforced the fetters autonomous art had wanted to shake
off. There is a sense in which the principle of autonomy is
itself solace of this k i n d , for in claiming to be able to
posit a we11-rounded totality entirely on its own, the
principle of artistic autonomy willy-nilly creates the false
impression that the world outside is such a rounded whole,
too.
By rejecting reality - and this is not a form of
escapismOQut an inherent quality of art - art vindicates
reality.
When freed from integration by the bonds of patronage, the autonomy

700 Rose,
'O1

Held,

The M e l a n c h o l y S c i e n c e ,

116ff.

I n t r o d u c t i o n t a C r i t i c a l Theory,

84.

'O2 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c Theory, 2.


Where t h e Engl ish t r a n s l a t i on u s e s t h e t e r m " r e l ig i o n " in t h i s
passage, A d o r n o ' s German o r i g i na1 uses " t h e o l o g y . " Both v e r s i o n s
speak o f t h e t r u t h o f r e d e m p t i o n , o r as t h e Engl i s h v e r s i o n p u t s
it : "redernptive t r u t h s . " M y usage o f t h e t e r m s
signs
o r symbols w h i c h i n f o r m t h e c o n c e p t i o n o f t h e order o f e x i s t e n c e
f o r t h e b e l i e v e r - and V h e o J o g y f l - t h e e x p r e s s i o n o f a w o r l d v i e w
g u i d e d by t h e airns and v a l u e s o f a r e l i g i o u s cornmunity
would
a l l o w f o r e i t h e r usage.

of art became possible, but not easy. Once autonomous, art could
no longer offer the "hope for a real alternativen - the theological
hope for redemption - and yet art found itself in a position where
it still had to offer a kind of solace; as a fait social, art
cannot escape its ties to its social-historical moment.

However,

the very fact that art achieved autonomy is in itself a solace. By


claiming to be autonomous through its rejection of reality - for
this is i n h e r e n t l y what autonomous art is - art vindicates reality.
The "constellation of moments 3O'"
(Adorno's term

in German)

of what art i in its "empiricaln

context, offers a glimpse

of

the

possibility that reality could be otherwise. This hope may not be

"a real alternative" as that which theology promises and nor is


this a secure hope, nevertheless there is the yearning.
claim of autonomy. there is a possibility of hope.

In art's
Art keeps

"alive that human yearning which cannot find gratification in the

exiting societywio4
and especially in a society, for whom (as we
will discuss in Chapter 5), for the most part, reality is no longer

shaped by a religious worldview.


Although autonomous, art's inescapable link to its socialhistorical moment also means that works of art are "commodities
just the same, indeed pure commodities since they are valuable only

703 I b i d . , 3 .
70c Leo L o w e n t h a l , Das B i 7 d des Menschen i n der L i t e r a t u r e
( N e u w i ed: L u c h t e r h a n d , l966), 1 4 f , c i t e d in Marcuse, The A e s t h e t i c
D i m e n s i o n , 75-6, n . # 6.

to the extent that they can be exchanged-"705 yet

to

insist

that the price tag determines all. is to misunderstand the true


value of a work of art as art and to prove Adorno's argument that
in a capitalist society, even the use-value of cultural products is
replaced by pure exchange-value. Thus, in contrast to Bernstein's
suggestion that "the art market is pure because unconstrained by
need ,6O'"

one ought to recognize the inherent - al though perhaps

unarticulated

need present in the mind-set which emphasises the

" ersatz satisfaction" of exchange-value.'O7

On the one hand it may

be the case that one might buy a work of art purely because one
finds it beautiful. On the other hand, Bernstein's suggestion may
be naive, ignoring such hidden motives as attaining the prestige
that cornes with owning a certain piece of art, as well as with the
recognition of being wealthy enough to have been able to spend a
great deal of money t o make it one's own "property."

The dominant

reason for which the work of art is acquired may not be

to

appreciate i t for its being-for-self, but rather for the prestige

one can garner as the owner of that work of art.

705 B e r n s t e i n , " I n t r o d u c t i o n , " in Adorno,

Adorno gives

The Culture Indutry,

9.
Marcuse a l so acknowl edges t h a t t h e economi c s t r u c t u r e s o f t h e
c a p i t a l i s t systern a s s e r t t h e m s e l v e s even i n t h e realrn o f a r t .
V h e y d e t e r m i n e t h e use v a l u e (and w i t h it t h e exchange v a l u e ) of
t h e works b u t not what t h e y are and what they say." [Marcuse, The
A e s t h e t i c Dimension, 31 ( i t a 7 iC S m i n e ) . ]

'O6 B e r n s t e i n , " I n t r o d u c t i o n , " i n Adorno, The Cu 7 t u r e Industry,


9.
'O7
Adorno,
"On t h e F e t i s h
R e g r e s s i on in L i s t e n i ng, " 279.

Character

in

Music

and

the

another example:
The consumer is really worshipping the money that he himself
has paid for the ticket to the Toscanini concert. He has
literally 'made* the success which he reifies and accepts as
an objective criterion, without recognizing himself in it .
But he has not 'rnadfi' it by liking the concert. but rather by
buying the ticket.

The emphasis in this case is clearly on the money spent - perhaps


an astronomical amount for a good seat - and the prestige it brings
for the consumer.
In the principle of being-for-other is
the principle of exchange, and therein lies concealed real
domination. . . .Works of art are plenipotentiaries of things
beyond the mutilating sway of exchange. profit and false human
Against the background of an illusory, social
needs .
totaliM. art's illusory being-in-itself 1s like a mask of
truth.
Autonomous art distinguishes itself from the characteristics of the
culture industry's products.

However. it must work at remaining

separate, reject what the market requires and concentrate on


"autonomy and

originality.

Autonomous art

must

work

at

I b i d . , 278-9.
O r as Adorno s t a t e s l a t e r i n t h e same essay: "The woman who
has money w i t h w h i c h t o buy i s i n t o x i c a t e d by t h e a c t of b u y i n g . "
[ I b i d . , 279.1
'O9

Adorno,

A e s t h e t ic Theory, 323.

710 Sauerl and, E i n f h r u n g i n d i e Aethetik Adornos, 2 7 .


Sauerland, c o n t i nues, emphasisi ng t h a t it is t h e qua1 i t y o f a "nonr e p r o d u c i bl e n uniqueness whi ch e n s u r e s t h a t " t h e work o f a r t stands
i n o p p o s i t i o n t o t h e [ c u l t u r a l ] ware.
T h e o r i g i n a l i t y i s however
no l o n g e r t o be achieved t h r o u g h a ' s o - c a l l e d i n d i v i d u a l s t y l e , '
r a t h e r o n l y t h r o u g h a s t r i c t t h o r o u g h i n n e r f o r m a t i o n and
d i s a s s o c i a t i o n f r o m t h a t which i s e x t e r n a l f t o i t ]
[Ibid.]
It i s i n t e r e s t i n g t o n o t e , however, t h e p a r a d o x i c a l i n h e r e n t
" g u i l t o f modern a r t u because o f i t s own freedom. A u t h e n t i c modern
a r t is autonomous from t h e a d m i n i s t r a t e d c u l t u r e o f s o c i e t y and
p r o v i des an image o f possi b l e emanci p a t i on f o r s o c i ety . However,
s o c i e t y it s e l f i s n o t f r e e ; hence, t h e g u i 1t o f t h e freedom of a r t

."

retaining "Zweckmassigkeit ohne Zweck."

iii. Politically committed art


Art "ohne Zweckl< resists being a "tool for social change" and
Adorno's Asthetische Theorie, in fact , argues "that art exposed the
delusory presupposi t ions of engagement. " 711 Adorno ' s colleague ,
Herbert Marcuse also wrote extensively on the topic of politically
committed art. Reference will be made in the following discussion
to his The Aesthetic Dimension, written as a critique of Marxist
aesthetics.

Many similarities and mutual

influences

in the

arguments of Marcuse and those of Adorno will become evident.


One would

be remiss if during a discussion of Adorno's

position regarding politically committed art, one were to neglect


the undeniable influence on Adorno of National Socialism's ef fects
on art. Auschwitz, as we have seen, was not only a powerful symbol
for the horrors of domination of humanity, but for Adorno, a very
real influence on what he wrote in the post-hW11 period -

v i s - - v i s an u n f r e e s o c i e t y .
o f A r t , " 112.J
Harding,

"Hi s t o r i c a l

[ c f . Wolin,

In his

"The D e - A e s t h e t i c i z a t i o n

D i a l e c t i c s and t h e Autonomy o f A r t ,

184.

B a r z u n e x p l a i n s some o f t h e m i s f o r t u n e s o f a t t e m p t s t o make
a r t a t o o l o f engagement: I f U n f o r t u n a t e l y r e v o l u t i o n a r y a r t t e n d s t o
be s t r o n g i n message and weak i n a r t .
A l 1 the great revolutions
s i n c e 1789 have g i v e n a r t encouragement, b u t e v i d e n t l y n o t o f t h e
r i g h t k i nd o r n o t t o t h e r i g h t a r t i sts. Propaganda a r t has proved
i n e f f e c t u a l as a r t , and t h e e x c e p t i o n s have c o n f i r m e d t h e r u l e by
b e i n g i n e f f e c t u a l as propaganda, t h e message b e i n g l o s t i n t h e
[ B a r z u n , The Use and Abuse o f A r t , 9 4 . J
excitement o f the a r t .

word. the effect on art was nothing les than "murder."'12

In

fact, Adorno blames the Fascist regime in Gerrnany for "some of the
most terrifying anti-cultural phenornena of our tirne.

He refers

to one of these terrifying phenomena as a

process of decultivation [which] is not simply lack of


knowledge or erudition, although the processes in question
tend also to lower al1 acquaintance with the manifestations of
Nor is it the everculture in a most elementary sense.
increasing aloofness of artistic products from the empirical
life of society, a process that can be dated back to the time
when art lost its locus within the order of the all-embracing
Catholic Church. I refer to something much more specific. It
may be called the neutr?f?zation of culture in general and of
the arts in particular.
This process is also tied in with the notion that the works of a r t
can be viewed as consumer goods.

Art "on exhibition," becomes

"pure embellishment," merely a thing "to look at, maybe to admire,


maybe to enjoy, perhaps even [as] emotional stimuli;" as such,
however, works of art are "more or less deprived of any intrinsic

712 Theodor W. ~ d o r n o , "What N a t i o n a l S o c i a l isrn Has Done t o t h e


A r t s , " Gesammelte S c h r i f t e n , Band 2 0 . 2 ,
H r s g . R o l f Tiedemann
( F r a n k f u r t a m Main: Suhrkamp, 1 9 . . )
413.
A r e c e n t e x h i b i t i on, A r t and Power: E u r o p e Under the D i c t a t o r s
1930-1945 ( o r g a n i z e d by t h e 3 6 - n a t i o n Counci 1 o f Europe based i n
S t r a s b o u r g and p r e s e n t e d in England, S p a i n and Gerrnany) shows "what
.The e x h i b i t i o n
d e s p o t i sm d i d t o a r t i n Germany, R u s s i a and I t a l y .
. r e c a l l s h o w some a r t i s t s e n t h u s i a s t i c a l l y s u p p o r t e d t h e
r e g i mes, whi 1 e o t h e r s k n u c k l ed under t o p r o d u c e o f f ic i a l 1y approved
w o r k s . I f t h e y d i d n r t do what t h e y w e r e told, t h e y f l e d i n t o e x i l e
o r kept s i l e n t , w o r k i n g i n s e c r e t o r n o t a t a l l . "
[Graham
H e a t h c o t e , "The a r t o f d i c t a t o r s h i p, " The G7obe and M a i 7 ( 6 January
l996), C(12). ] A n t i c i p a t i ng p o s s i b l e o p p o s i t i o n t o t h e e x h i b i t i o n ,
t h e c o u n c i 1 ' s s e c r e t a r y - g e n e r a l , D a n i e l Tarschys, stated: " I t ' s
i m p o r t a n t that w e u n d e r s t a n d more a b o u t o u r common h i s t o r y and how
a r t can be m a n i p u l a t e d by p o l i t i c a l f o r c e s . " [ I b i d . ]

..

. .

713 Adorno,

"What

41 4 .

Ibid.,

417.

N a t i o n a l S o c i a l i s m has done t o t h e a r t s , "

and compelling meaning of their own.


gradually lost .

. . .Their

own essence [is]

This paved the way for Fascism's manipulation

of art, for when the idea of compelling and objective truth in art,
"the idea of humanism," was lost sight of a vacuum was created,
"ready to

absorb

totalitarianism.

the arbitrarily

superimposed

doctrines

of

Adorno give an impaioned e x a m p l e of how

the youth who has lost touch with the importance of the tradition
of German music is easily swept away with Hitler:
The German boy of our age who has no longer heard, as his
father rnight have, the Kreutzersonata played by friends of his
parents, and
who
never
listened
passionately
and
surreptitiously when he was supposed to go to bed, does not
merely miss a piece of information or something which might be
recognized as being educational. The fact that he has never
been swept away emotionally by the tragic forces of this music
bereaves him somehow of the very life phenomenon of the
humane. It is this lack of experience of the imagery of real
art, partly substituted and parodied by the ready-made
stereotypes of the amusement industry, which is at least one
of the formative elements of that cynicism that has finally
transformed,t,.he Germans, Beethoven's own people, into Hitler's
own people./ i l
Adorno is quick to clarify that this by no means indicates that the
musical culture of Germany died, rather, under Hitler, it became a

museum piece. The crucial aspect remains that the "tie between the
idea of humanism, of music as an art, and the actual outward and
inward life of the people, was definitely broken. This is the most
essential characteristic of the musical climate for Fascisrn in pre-

I b i d . , 418-9.

I b i d . , 419.
717 I b i d .

Hitler Germany. n718


Because art was not appreciated for its own truth, it easily
became

a propagandistic means to the ends of Fascism. Fortunately,

attempts to create an intrinsically National Socialist music "were


limited to the most fanatic of groups of the Nazi movement and
never got hold of any responsible artist, nor of the bulk of the
population. just as officia1 Nazi poetry never became really
popular . "jl'

Nevertheless

laments Adorno.

the

propaganditic

aspect of art which the Nazis emphasised has almost completely


destroyed artistic autonomy and is unlikely to just disappear. He
suggests that art in post-WWII Europe will probably not be allowed
to once again serve as propaganda of a Fascist agenda and one will
witness at least the forma1 restoration of the freedom of artistic
creation.

But, "the prevailing idea that art is essentially a

force of manipulation, something that is to be directed this or the


other way. that has to follow a set ideological pattern," will most
likely remain.720

Each authentic work

of

art does have

"a

manipulative element about itself," explains Adorno, for through


its law of form, the content is moulded and manipulated into the
aesthetic form of the work of art.
difference between

However, there is a great

this manipulative element as a "means of

realizing the essence of the work, or whether it is put into the

Ibid.,

420.

I b i d . , 424.

720 I b i d . , 4 2 6 - 7 .

service of moulding public opinion."721

Adorno insits that "art

does not fulfil its function in society by acting as a social


functionary - . . .Everything will depend on whether there will be
loopholes enough left to the artists in order to dodge this
evermore threatening danger."722
C'nfortunately, "nowadays" it is " fashionable" to suggest that
art "state something;" but for Adorno, such a suggestion is totally
"irrelevant to art. " i 2 3
propositions.

For art i a "synthesis which utter no

In fact. no matter how sublime. Adorno inist

that "thoughts can never be much more than one of the materials for
art. "725

A work of art only become knowledge when grasped as a

totality.

Adorno

criticises those who

would

deny al1

the

mediations of a work of art and focus only on its individual


intentions. These intentions should not be extracted from a work

721 I b i d .

R2 I b i d . , 426-7.
I n h i s A e s t h e t i c Theory Adorno m a i n t a i n s t h a t p h i l o s o p h y i s t o
blame f o r t h e tendency t o make a r t i n t o a s o c i a l f u n c t i o n a r y : "Ever
s i n c e a r t began t o corne w i t h i n t h e p u r v i e w o f p h i l o s o p h i c a l
t h o u g h t , p h i losophy has tended t o s i nk below a r t by t r y i n g t o r i s e
above i t , s p e c i f i c a l l y by handing a r t o v e r t o t h e powers t h a t be.
Ifone seeks t o d e f i n e t h e p l a c e o f a r t t o d a y , one must o f c o u r s e
I t i s however o n l y too
l e a v e t h e c o n f i n e s o f a e s t h e t i c s p e r se.
easy t o a s s i g n t o a r t a s o c i a l f u n c t i o n f r o m an i m p e r i o u s and
t h e r e f o r e f a c i l e vantage p o i n t . Those who engage i n t h i s e x e r c i s e
t e n d t o d i smiss a r t ' s immanence o f f o r m as b e i n g n a i v e and selfd e c e p t i v e . They a r e c o n t e n t w i t h ' s o c i a l f u n c t i o n ' , as though t h i s
were a l 1 t h e r e i s t o a r t
[Adorno, A e s t h e t i c Theory, 338. ]

."

723 Adorno,

"Reconci 1 ia t i on Under Duress, " 168.

724 I b i d .

725 Adorno,

"Cornmi tment

,"

305.

of art. nor should that work "be judged in the light of them."i26

Those who demand works of art Say something -

the "cultural

conservatives" - ironically " j o i n forces with their political


opponents against atelic, hermetic works of art. ,,727
In the essay "Cornmitment," Adorno refers to the Marxist art of

Brecht and the Existentialism of Sartre's art as examples of art


which is made to

Say

something.

express views critical

of

Although both Brecht and Sartre

the c u l t u r e

around

them

and

its

alienating effects on individuals. their a r t form i s l o s t i n the


ideology which they have adopted.

The problem with Sartre's art.

according to Adorno. is that its content "becomes philosophy": the


" f l a t objectivity." which Sartre seeks. is "subtracted f rom any

dialectic of

form and

expression." i 2 8

The plays

are rnerely

vehicles for Sartre's ideas, left behind in the "race of esthetic


forms."

In addition. the theses illustrated misuse the expressed

ernotions in the drama "by making them examples. "729

AS

a result.

R6 Adorno, "Reconci 1 ia t i o n Under Duress, '' 168.


Lukacs, u n f o r t u n a t e l y , does t h i s v e r y t h i n g .
Zn A d o r n o ' s
e s t i m a t i o n , Lukacs o f t e n t o t a l l y m i sses t h e " a e s t h e t i c p o i n t f 1 o f a
work o f a r t i n h i s ''partis p r i s f o r c o n t e n t and f o r t h e message" of
a work.
[ I b i d . 172.1
727 Adorno, "Cornmi t m e n t , " 302.
" E u l o g i s t s o f ' r e l e v a n c e ' a r e more 1 ik e l y t o f i nd S a r t r e ' s
Huis C l o s p r o f o u n d , t h a n t o l i s t e n p a t i e n t l y t o a t e x t whose
language j o l t s s i g n i f i c a t i o n and by i t s v e r y d i s t a n c e f r o m
' meani ng '
r e v o l t s i n advance agai n s t p o s i t i v i s t s u b o r d i n a t i on o f
meaning." [ f b i d . ]

728 I b i d . , 305.
1 w i l l examine A d o r n o ' s response t o B r e c h t ' s a r t i n t h e n e x t
s e c t i o n o f t h i s in v e s t i g a t i o n .
729 I b i d .

both the emotion and the thesis are disavowed. Sartre's plays do,
nevertheless, have a solid plot.

And,

indeed, the solid plot

combined with an "equally solid, extractable idean brought success


for Sartre, This made him, "without doubt against his honest will,
acceptable to the culture industry." i 3 0

Adorno alo indicate how,

whether Sartre liked it or not, the clear ideas in many of his


"phrases could be parroted by his mortal enernies- "i3i

The danger

inherent in committed art, which has an extractable moral, is that


it easily "slithers into the abyss of its opposite., 732
The notion of committed art remains complex in Adorno's
theory.

While on the one hand, he speaks of committed art as

aiming "at changing the conditions underlying social ills, on the


"

other hand, he also admits that "cornmitment sometimes does not r i s e


above" the level of "tendentious art, which only wants to mitigate

730 I b i d .
" [ T l h e h i s t o r y o f attempted u n i o n between a r t and p o l i t i c a l
regeneration
is
that
of
total
m i s u n d e r s t a n d i ng,
radical
i ncompati b i 1it y , and t r a g i c f a i l u r e . From Bloc and Mayakovsky down
t o P a s t e r n a c k a n d Anna Akhmatov ( t o Say n o t h i n g o f t h e meanderings
o f Gide, S a r t r e and o t h e r w e s t e r n e r s ) , t h e s t o r y o f r e v o l u t i o n a r y
a r t is one o f s h a t t e r e d i 1l u s i o n s . " [Barzun, The Use and Abuse o f
A r t , 143.1

731 Adorno,

"Cornmi tment ,

306.

732 I b i d . , 313.
M a r t i n L u t h e r King,
Jr.
was aware o f t h i s p o s s i b i l i t y
happening i n t h e C i v i 1 R i g h t s Movernent. I n a r e c e n t documentary o f
h i s 1 i f e , he was quoted as s a y i n g t h e f o l fowing remarks t o e n s u r e
h i s rnovement d i d n o t " s l i t h e r [ ] i n t o t h e abyss o f i t s o p p o s i t e " :
" T h i s is where o u r p o s i t i o n o f n o n - v i o l e n c e w i 7 1 h e l p us n o t
t o seek t o r i se from a p o s i t i o n o f d i sadvantage t o a p o s i t i o n o f
advantage, t h u s s u b v e r t i n g - j u s t i c e . "
" W e w i l l n o t s u b s t i t u t e one t y r a n n y f o r a n o t h e r . "
" B l a c k supremacy i s as dangerous as w h i t e suprernacy."
[ M a r t i n L u t h e r King, Jr. (Xenon V i deo I n c . , 1994) 1

irksome social
explains

ills .wi33

Adorno,

"is

not

Committed

art

intended

to

in

the

generate

proper

ameliorative

masures. legislative act or practical institutions. t1i34

propagandist art.

sense

That is

Rather, committed art works at "the level of

fundamental attitudesn and " renders the content to which the artist
commits himself inherently ambiguous. " i 3 5

In fact. when art tries

to reach for something beyond the realm of subjective experience,

"for the sake of a higher social truth, " i t f a i l s miserably, for it


"end[sj up with less, and the higher objective truth it falsely
takes for a standard evaporates before its eyes.

In order to

maintain a clear understanding, one must keep in mind Adorno's


733 Adorno,

A e s t h e t i c Theory,

734 Adorno,

tlCommi tment , " 3 0 4 .

349.

735 I b i d.
C l e a r l y , f o r Adorno t h e r e i s a d i f f e r e n c e between p o l i t i c a l l y
committed a r t and a r t which i s propaganda.
"Even i f p o l i t i c a l l y
m o t i vated, " he concedes, "cornmi t m e n t in it s e l f remai ns po1 i t ic a l 1y
p o l y v a l e n t so l o n g a s i t is n o t reduced t o propaganda, whose
p l iancy
mocks
any
commi trnents
by
the
s u b j e c t . l1 [Adorno,
"Cornmi tment , 301 -2.1 It appears h e r e t h a t Adorno means p o l it i c a l
commi tment can rernai n indetermi n a t e in it s p o l y v a l ency
When
reduced t o propaganda, however, p o l y v a l e n c y i s exchanged f o r a
determi n a t e f u n c t i o n and v i ew p o i n t . B u t can one 1o g i c a l 1y have a
work o f a r t which i s p o l i t i c a l l y commi t t e d and y e t a l s o i n s i s t on
it s indetermi n a t e - p o l y v a l e n t - c h a r a c t e r ? Autonomy i s presupposed
i n a r t ' s a b i l i t y t o i n d i c t i t s c o n t e x t and i t s a b i l i t y t o remain
i n d e t e r m i n a t e , t h u s s c o r n i ng t h o s e who would w i s h t o use i t . T h a t
much we have heard b e f o r e .
But h e r e Adorno p r o p o s e s t h a t a r t can
be indetermi n a t e , o r p o l y v a l e n t , and a l so p o l it ic a l 1 y c o m m i tted.
If,
as
Adorno
states,
committed
art
slides
towards
the
" p r o c l iv i t i es o f t h e a u t h o r , " [Adorno, "Commi t m e n t , " 3 0 4 . ] t h e
p o l y v a l e n t n a t u r e w i 11 a l s o s l i d e t o w a r d t h e p o l i t i c a l l e a n i n g o f
t h e a u t h o r ; p o l y v a l e n c y w i 11 be reduced t o t h e o p i n i o n o f t h e one,
t h e author.
O t h e r t h a n t h e need t o o f f e r a d i s t i n c t i o n between
p o l it i c a l 1y c o m m i t t e d and propagandi s t a r t , t h e r e appears t o b e a
c o n t r a d i c t i o n h e r e in Aaornot s t h e o r y .

736 Adorno,

A e s t h e t ic Theory,

368.

emphasis on a r t ' s dif ferentiation of itself from its context

through its aesthetic form alone.

Only in this way can art o f f e r

a critique; when the differentiation is reduced or flattened, a


standpoint of critique is no longer possible. Art which remains in
fundamental opposition to society. according to Adorno's theory,
can be said to be committed to reflecting the hope for change of
the present conditions.

Crucial, however, in order to avoid

"slither[ing] into the abyss of its opposite" is art's relentless


insistence on - indeed, one might Say. its commitment to - its
irreconcilability wi th i ts context .
commitment

For when reconciled , even a

to emancipation could slide into the abyss of its

opposite: domination.737
737 L e g i s l a t i o n which, f o r example, d e r i v e s from a d e s i r e f o r
emancipation, a l s o q u i c k l y t u r n s i n t o t h e t o o l o f domination.
For
example, t h e Employment E q u i t y A c t w h i c h became 7aw i n O n t a r i o i n
September 1994 a r o s e o u t o f a d e s i r e t o ensure equal employment
o p p o r t u n i t i e s f o r women and m i n o r i t i e s , i n an a t t e m p t t o r e d r e s s
p a s t i n j u s t i c e s . However, what r e s u l t e d was a c o n t i n u a t i o n o f t h e
c o e r c i v e p a t r i a r c h a l system o f t h o u g h t which assumes t h e " w h i t e
m a l e M as t h e s t a n d a r d and anyone e l s e as " o t h e r . "
I d e n t it y
t h i n k i ng becarne rampant: d i f f e r e n c e s were n e u t r a l ized i n s i m i 1 a r i t y
and f l a t t e n e d i n t o t h e c a t e g o r i e s o f Mwoman,M "person w i t h a
d i s a b i 1 it y , '' " r a c i a l m i n o r i t y ,
and " a b o r i g i na1 person. "
Thi s
" t y r a n n y o f c a t e g o r i es, " [Adorno,
P r i s m s , 6 1 . ] 1i q u i d a t e d t h e
d i f f e r e n c e s between in d i v i d u a l s and t h e i r c a t e g o r i e s . Whi 1e by no
means a homogenous movement, common t o t h e many streams o f femi n i sm
i s t h e d e s i r e t o work t o w a r d t h e ernancipation o f t h e oppressed.
When w o r k i n g towards t h i s g o a l , however, i t i s c r u c i a l n o t t o
f o r g e t t h e p a r t i c u l a r in d i v i dual s u f f e r i ng under t h a t o p p r e s s i on.
I n d e e d , t h e r a d i c a l s u b v e r s i v e p o t e n t i a l o f feminisrn i s undermi ned
when t h e sol u t i on o f f e r e d on1 y p e r p e t u a t e s t h e p a t t e r n o f subsumi n g
t h e in d i v i d u a l under a dominant way o f t h i n k i n g . What was proposed
as a s o l u t i o n " t o r i g h t t h e wrong o f u n j u s t i c e s [ s i c ] o f t h e p a s t ,
becomes i t s e l f a r i g i d dogma w i t h no c o n s i d e r a t i o n o f t h e
c o n t i ngenci es o f in d i v i d u a l s .
A n d once a person has been
c a t e g o r i z e d , t h e t a s k o f t r a n s f o r m i ng [ t h a t p e r s o n ] i n t o a t h i ng i s
imrnensely s i m p l i f i e d . " [ R i c h a r d L. Rubenstein,
The C u n n i n g o f
H i s t o r y : Mass Death and t h e A m e r i c a n Future (New York: H a r p e r and
Row, W i S ) , 5 4 . ] T h e t a s k s o f d o m i n a t i o n and f u r t h e r o p p r e s s i o n by

Adorno also warns that as soon as conimitted works of art


attempt to instigate decisions " a t their own level, the decisions
Like the idea of Sartre's

themselves become interchangeable. "i38

plays, the decisions can be extracted and used for any p u r p o s e even those of the mortal enemy.

And as if to remind the reader,

Adorno states that art does not provide knowledge of reality "from
a particular perspective.

Rather art reveal knowledge of that

fli39

which is veiled by empirical reality.


Autonornous works of art are not guided by some effect to b e
achieved, but by the forma1 principle inherent in the dialectic of
their content and form. Committed works, on the other hand, "al1
too readily c r e d i t themselves with every noble value, and then
manipulate them at their ease.

But external meaning. is in

f a c t , the nonartistic irreducible element in art.

In the dialectic

of its content and form a work of art transforms the "meanings

t h e s t a t u s quo a r e made e a s i e r when it i s n o t p e o p l e w i t h whom t h e


system must d e a l , b u t t h i ngs. The t a s k is e a s i er when people a r e
col 1apsed in t o an id e n t it y
I n s t e a d o f changi ng a n y t h i n g ,
Ontario's
Emp7oyment
Equity
Act
a u t o m a t i c a l 1y
f a c i 1i t a t e d
e n t r e n c h e d bureaucratie domi n a t i o n . The commi t m e n t t o emanci p a t i on
sl it h e r s i n t o t h e abyss o f i t s o p p o s i t e as t h e establ i s h e d p a t t e r n
o f i n j u s t i c e c o n t i nues; t o t u r n persons into numeri cal t a r g e t s and
deny equi t y t o t h o s e who do n o t f i t any c a t e g o r y , is t o implement
a system as o p p r e s s i v e and e x c l u s i v e as t h e m a r g i n a l i t y s t r u c t u r e s
t h e Empoyment Equity A c t seeks t o o v e r t h r o w .
(The a c t w a s
r e p e a l e d by t h e n e x t O n t a r i o government, who worked from a r i g h t
w i ng agenda. One o u g h t t o remai n c a u t i ous r e g a r d i ng any ide01 ogy. )

738 Adorno,

"Commi tment ," 3 0 4 .

739 Theodor W.
"O

Adorno,

Adorno,

"Reconci 1 ia t i on Under D u r e s s ,

"Commi t m e n t ,

"

31 7 .

"

162.

within it. " 141

In this sense, Adorno finds it highly doubtful

whether a work of art can intervene politically.

And where "it

does so intervene, the kind of impact that results is peripheral


or. worse, detrimental to the quality of art.

lvid2

If a work of art

has any impact, it operates only at "the level of remembrance;


impact has nothing to do with translating their latent praxis into
rnanifest praxis, the growth of autonorny having gone too f a r to
permit any kind of immediate correspondence.,,743
Marcuse agrees: "The political potential of art lies only in
its own aesthetic dimension.

""' The relation of a work of art

to

praxis, maintains Marcuse, remains "inexorably indirect, mediated,


and frustrating." In fact, the ability of art to make the familiar
unfamiliar and indicate the possibility for an other reality is
reduced the "more immediately political the work of art" is.745
In support of Adorno, Marcuse also concludes that "in this sense,

there may be more subversive potential in the poetry of Baudelaire

and Rimbaud than in the didactic plays of Brecht. 746


1,

As Marcuse indicates, Brecht was "not exactly a partisan of

the autonorny of art.


741 I b i d . ,

"'" Adorno is more direct: "Brecht. in

302.

Aesthet ic Theory, 343.

742 Adorno,

743 I b i d .

7A4 Marcuse,

The Aesthet i c Dimension, xi i - x i i i .

745 I b i d .
746

Ibid.

767 I b i d . ,

32.

ome

... bluntly glorifies the Party.

of his p l a y s .

AS

we will

discuss. Brecht was committed to Marxism and Marxist aesthetics,


which recognized a d e f init ive connection between art and the
material base, and between art and social class. Accordingly. the
"only authentic. true. progressive art is the art of an ascending
class.n749

.An

artit is thus obligated by the Harxit aesthetic

to express the v i e w s of that class rather than of a declining


class, which produces decadent art.

According to Marcuse, the

dialectical formulations of Marx and Engels have been made into a


"rigid schema" of a Marxist aesthetic - for example. this r i g i d
schema allows only for realism. which it proposes is the correct
art f r o m -

In Marcuse's opinion, this Marxist aesthetic "has had

devastating consequences for aesthetics. 750


If

Considered the only class in capitalist society with no

748 Adorno,
749 Marcuse,

"Cornmi t m e n t , " 306.


The Aethetic D i m e n s i o n , 2.

750 I b i d . ,

3.
Under such c i r c u m s t a n c e s , works o f a r t , l i k e p e o p l e , must be
made " t o bend, t o conform, i n o r d e r t o s u r v i ve. " [Kager, H e r r s c h a f t
und Versohnung, 9 9 . ]
U n f o r t u n a t e l y, a c c o r d i n g to Barzun, " [ w ] hen
. . t h e a r t i s t is t o l d t h a t o n l y c e r t a i n forms o r t e c h n i q u e s match
t h e p h i l o s o p h y o f t h e regime, t h e end o f a r t is i n s i g h t . "
[Barzun, The Use and Abuse o f A r t , 95.1
B r e c h t h i m s e l f n o t e s t h e extreme t o w h i c h t h e P a r t y i n t h e
S o v i e t U n i o n t o o k t h e i r c o n t r o l o f a r t : "It i s t a k e n as d e l i b e r a t e
i f t h e name S t a l i n does n o t appear i n a poem. " [ W a l t e r Benjamin,
T o n v e r s a t i ons w i t h B r e c h t , " in R e f 7ections: Essays, Aphorisms,
A u t o b i o g r a p h i c a 7 W r i t i n g s , ed. , P e t e r Dernetz,
t r a n s . , Edrnund
J e p h c o t t ( N e w York: H a r c o r t Brace J o v a n o v i c h , 1978; Schocken Book
e d i t i o n , W 8 6 ) , 213. ]
I n a l a t e r c o n v e r s a t i o n , Benjamin r e v e a l s
t h a t B r e c h t himsel f w r o t e a " S t a l i n poem, e n t i t l e d 'The Farmer t o
H i s Oxen' , . . [ w h i c h ] d i d indeed pay t r i b u t e t o S t a l i n
who i n h i s
[ B r e c h t ' s ] v i ew had immense meri ts. " [ I b i d . , 21 5. ]

interest in the preservation of t h e s t a t u s quo, Marxist philosophy


contends that the proletariat is free from society's values and
"thus free for the liberation of al1 mankind.

According to this

conception, the consciousness of the proletariat would also be the


consciousness that validates

the truth

of art."'''

Marcuse

counters with the argument, however, that "[ilf art 'is' for any
collective consciousness at all, it is that of individuals united
in their awareness

of

the universal

regardless of their class position. "j2

need

for liberation -

And to tate that a w o r k

of art truly represents the interests of the proletariat does not


guarantee that it is an authentic work of art. "The universality of
art," argues Marcuse, "cannot be grounded in the world and world
outlook of a particular class, for art envisions a concrete
universal, humanity (Menschlichkeit) , which no particular class can
incorporate,

not

even

the

proletariat,

Marx's

'universal

class ' . "jS3 One cannot masure art's progressive character by the
ideological horizon of the artist's class. Rather, t h e "criteria
for the progressive character of art are given only in the work
In
itself as a whole: in what it says and how it says i t . ,,754
fact, Marxist aesthetics, "has yet to ask: What are the qualities
of art which transcend the specific social content and form and

'"

Marcuse,

The A e s t h e t i c Dimension, 30.

752 I b i d . , 3 1 .

753 I b i d . ,

16.

754 I b i d . ,

19.

"CC

give art its uni~ersality?"~~~ Marcuse

recognizes

thesis of Marxist aesthetics. that "art must

tht

the

be a factor in

changing the world," easily becomes its opposite "if the tension
between art and radical praxis is flattened out so that art loses
its own dimension

for change."i56

Conflict

between art and

political praxis is ctually inevitable because of "the essential


t ranscendence of art . " i 5 i Although art is created out of its given

context, at the same time it transcends that context as it defines


itself as other.

As essentially autonomous and negating, art

contradicts the very notion which "sees art as performing an


essentially dependent, affirmative-ideological function, that is to
Say,

glorifying

and

absolving

the

existing

society.1,758

Characteristic of autonomous art, therefore, is the

inherent

contradiction against art as a tool of ideology.


Adorno concludes, however, that art is never completely
"coterminous with ideology. Nor does being ideological prevent art
from being t rue.

And in his Aesthetic

Theory, Adorno alo

questions the feasibility of "completely non-ideological art-" He


States: "Art surely does not become non-ideological just by being

I b i d . , 15.
756 I b i d . ,

35.

757 I b i d . ,

37.

Ibid.,

11.

759 Adorno,

A e t h e t i c Theory, 1 95.

272

antithetical to empirical reality."j6'

As an object created out

of the reality of its social-historical moment, a work of art


cannot help but contain elements of the untruth of the ideology
dominant in that context.

"To understand an art work is to

understand its truth, which necessarily implies understanding i ts


untruth, both in itself and in relation to the untruth of the
external world.

To understand a work of art is not o n l y to

understand the logic of its form, but also the opposite: the
discontinuities and ruptures, the rifts and crevices manifes t in
that form, to grasp the contradictions and to understand what they
mean.

At issue, then, is how the work of art responds to that

external world, including its dominant ideology.

Just as i t was

Adorno's goal to rescue the truth from Hegel's untruth, likewise he


recognizes that art which displays elements of commitrnent to an
ideology still contains its own truth. The very fact that it is a
work of art distinguishes it from empirical reality.

In its

differentiation of itself from that reality through its aesthetic


form, as art, it transcends that reality.

Thus. even when made a

tool of an ideology, a work of art inherently resists what it has

become and exposes the untruth of the presuppositions of those who


would wish to dominate it.

Hope may still be glimpsed in the very

existence of art, for it subversively declares its own being-forself.

Nevertheless, "[wlhen al1 is s a i d and done," concludes

Adorno, "it is still better for art to fa11 silent and stop in its
"O

I b i d . , 336.
Ibid.,

371.

tracks than to run over to the enemy, promoting the trend towards
assimilation to the all-powerful

s t a t u s quo. ,, 762

In Adorno's opinion, there is, however, a central weaknesses


to the whole debate on cornmitment and art.

Because

it

is

characteristic of debate participants to "ignore[] the ef fect


produced by works whose own formal iaws pay no heed to coherent
effects," they also "fail[] to understand what the shock of the
unintelligible can communicate.wi63

Because of the perceived need

for art to Say something and cause a determinate effect, art which
is subversive in its refusal to communicate, is written off as
esoteric and elitist .

As a result, a great deal of art is

rnisunderstood, at best ; more often, it is ignored. With reference


to Benjamin's description of Baudelaire as "an agent of the secret
discontent of his class , * Marcuse fortifies Adorno's argument. The
"'secret' protest of this [Baudelaire's] esoteric literature,"
proposes Marcuse, "lies in the ingression of the primary eroticdestructive

forces

which

explode

the

normal

universe

of

762 I b i d . , 442.
Barzun d i s c u s s e s what happened t o a r t i s t s who abandoned t h e i r
p o s i t i o n and adopted a M a r x i s t a e s t h e t i c i n R u s s i a . "Between 1914
and 1920 u n t o l d nurnbers o f g i f t e d a r t i sts and t h i n k e r s p e r i shed o r
1 o s t t h e i r w i 11 t o c r e a t e .
The s u r v i v o r s who f l o c k e d t o t h e
Communist P a r t y were seeking a cause w i t h which t o r e a n i m a t e t h a t
w i 11 and r e s t o r e a b e l i e v a b l e f u n c t i o n t o a r t . T h i s p l a u s i b l e s t e p
was t h e b e g i n n i n g a g r e a t c o n f u s i o n .
The r e v o l u t i o n a r y a r t i s t ,
f o r m e r l y a l o n e f i g h t e r w i t h a self-made program, n o w obeyed a
d o c t r i ne, a n d k e p t h i s eye on h i s f o l l o w e r s and m a s t e r s as well a s
h i s d i s t a n t Mecca. The s t u f f and style o f r e v o l u t i o n a r y a r t c o u l d
no l o n g e r be advanced and d i f f i c u l t , b u t rnust s u i t t h e rnind and
c o n d i t i o n s o f t h e masses. " [ 8 a r z u n , The Use and Abuse o f A r t , " 70. ]

763 Adorno,

"Cornmi trnent

303.

communication and behaviour.

They are asocial in their very


nature, a subterrnean rebellion against the social order."764 To
recognize their inherent asocial nature, is to understand the
significance of art's achievement of autonomy. There is no need to
insist art bear a message for i t to be considered subversive. The

whole debate, retorts Adorno, "resembles shadow-boxing. 765


11

Not

only is there something wrong with the debate itself, but

there is also something unsettling about those who criticise avant


garde art which to them seems not only hermetic but also too
focused upon "distorted forms. distords."

The w i s h for art to

"return to the realm of beauty and harmony , " is "highly indicative


of the perseverance of the Nazi frame of mind. "'66

Al though such

764 Marcuse, The A e s t h e t i c Dimension, 20.


A l 1kemper woul d agree: "even t h e most a b s t r a c t o f works o f art
remains, [even i f t h i s a l s o means] s t r a i n i n g t o t h e outermost,
v i v i d l y rneaningfuf , . and t h e s h r i 1 l e s t d i ssonance is n o t w i t h o u t
coherence and u n i t y ; b l ack is a l s o a c o l o u r . " [ A l 1kemper, R e t t u n g
und U t o p i e , 1 8 2 . ]

..

Adorno, "Comrni tment,


303.
Marcuse g i v e s an in c r e d i b1e example o f L e n i n f s response t o t h e
musi c o f Beethoven whi ch uphol ds Adornot s argument t h a t a r t need
bear no message i n o r d e r t o be s u b v e r s i v e .
Marcuse s t a t e s t h a t
a1 though Leni n g r e a t l y adrni r e d Beethoven * s music, he w a s incapabl e
o f I i s t e n i n g t o it .
He c i t e s l e n i n: II. .a1 1 t o o o f t e n I cannot
1 i s t e n t o music.
It works on one's n e r v e s .
One would r a t h e r
babbl e nonsense, and c a r e s s t h e heads o f people who l i v e in a d i r t y
h e l l and who n e v e r t h e l e s s can c r e a t e such beauty.
B u t today one
shoul d n o t caress anyone' s heads
one1s hand woul d be b i t t e n o f f .
One must beat heads, b e a t u n r n e r c i f u l l y
a l though i d e a l l y we a r e
agai n s t a l 1 v i 01 ence. " [ G o r k i ' s " E r i nnerungen an Zei tgenossen, " in
Hans-Di e t r i c h
Sander,
M a r x i s t ische
Ideo7ogie u n d a 7 7gemeine
K u n s t t h e o r i e ( T b i ngen: Mohr, I W O ) , 86, in Marcuse, The A e s t h e t i c
Dimension, 56. ]
T h i s, mai n t a i n s Marcuse, " t e s t i f i e s t o t h e t r u t h
of art.
Lenin h i r n s e l f knew i t
and r e j e c t e d t h i s knowledge."
[Ibid.]

766 Adorno,

422.

"What

N a t i o n a l S o c i a l isrn Has Done t o t h e A r t s ,

'l

persons in fact argue that art should show its opposition to "the
world of destruction, terror and sadism

..
,
by going

back to its traditional ideals," their very argument

"sounds Hitlerian.
"and

. . . [of] the world of Hitler

The argument is "infantile," states Adorno,

expresses a general

reversion of

thinking

which

goes

infini tely beyond the sphere of the arts - and hatred of thinking."
This "hostility against the development of independent thought is
what makes for Fascism. "i68

The flip side is that independent

thought and independent art inherently subvert the untruth of any


atternpts - fascist or other - to manipulate them.

iv. Spotlighting alternatives: negation neutralized

The essay "Resignation" opens with Adorno's acknowledgment of


the

accusation of

"resignationn lodged against him

Frankfurt School colleagues .

and

his

They were accused of "not [ being ]

prepared to draw the practical consequencesn from their critical


theory.

Adorno explains: "We neither designed programmes for

action nor did we support the actions of those who felt themselves
inspired by critical theory. w'69

He has only disdain for political

activism, especially when violent, since "[plolitical acts of


violence can also sink to the level of pseudo-activity, resulting

767 I b i d .
Ibid.

769 Theodor W .
I n d u s t r y , 173.

Adorno,

"Reignati on,

"

chap.

in

The

Cu7ture

in mere theatre. v i i o

Hope for change lies in theory: "It is the

responsibility of thought not to accept the situation as finite.


I f there is any chance of changing the situation, it is only

through undiminished

insight. ""l

And

as

for

the charge

of

resignation, Adorno insists that when the individual capi t u l a t e s to


the collective with which he identifies, as one among many, he is
"spared the cognition of his impotence.. . . I t is this act - not
unconfused thinking - which is resignation. "772

Such persons may

gain a new sense of security, but they do so with the "sacrifice of


autonomous thinking. " 773
The Critical Theorists did not see it as their task to design
programmes for action: indeed

" thinking, employed only as the

instrument of action, is blunted


instrumental reason.

in the same rnanner as

al1

Likewie, it is not the tak of art "to

spotlight alternatives, but to resist by its form alone the course

770 I b i d . ,

174.

771 I b i d . ,

173.

772 I b i d .
Adorno ends t h i s essay w i t h t h e f o l l o w i n g : "Whoever t h i nks i s
w i t h o u t anger i n a l 1 c r i t i c i sm: t h i n k i ng s u b l irnates a n g e r . Because
t h e t h i n k i n g person does n o t have t o i n f l i c t anger upon h i m s e l f , he
This
f u r t h e m o r e has no d e s i r e t o i n f l i c t i t upon o t h e r s .
happiness v i s i b l e t o t h e eye o f a t h i n k e r i s t h e happiness of
The u n i v e r s a l tendency t o w a r d s u p p r e s s i o n goes a g a i n s t
manki nd.
t h o u g h t as such. Such t h o u g h t is h a p p i ness, even where unhappi ness
t h o u g h t achi e v e s
h a p p i ness
in
the
expression
of
p r e v a i 1 s;
unhappiness.
Whoever r e f u s e s t o p e r m i t t h i s t h o u g h t t o be t a k e n
[Ibid., 175.1
f r o m h i m has n o t r e s i g n e d . "

773 I b i d . ,
77f I b i d .

174.

of the world. which permanently puts a pistol to men's heads. "775


[Flor Adorno, aesthetic negation could never meet the
demands of activists: aesthetic negation is not the direct
articulation of criticism nor is it the positing of
formulated goals or hypothetical alternatives - al1 of which
sustain prevailing, delimiting discourse by appealing to
tolerated and defusing avenues of dissent. Negation would be
neutralized if subordinated to protest or if constricted to
preconceived reified concepts of autonomy. Aesthetic negation
. . .occurs when art r e s i s t s the temptation to oppose the
portray
'unredeemed' state with formulated or implicit
ideals - Ef?
Art does not establish its non-identity with the dominant ideology

through directly articulating its criticism. On the contrary, art

" indicts by refraining from express indictment .

Thaidigsmann

775 Adorno, "Cornmi tment , If 304%.


Marcuse s u p p o r t s Adornot s i n s i s t e n c e on t h e importance o f t h e
a e s t h e t i c f o r m i t s e l f f o r c r i t i q u e o f t h e s t a t u s quo. D e f i n i n g h i s
p o s i t i o n of c r i t i q u e o f M a r x i s t a e s t h e t i c s , Marcuse e x p i a i ns t h a t :
" . . i n c o n t r a s t t o orthodox M a r x i s t a e s t h e t i c s 1 see t h e p o l it i c a l
p o t e n t i a l o f a r t i n a r t i t s e l f , i n t h e a e s t h e t i c form, a r t i s
l a r g e l y autonomous v i s v i s t h e g i v e n s o c i a l r e l a t i o n s .
In its
autonomy a r t b o t h p r o t e s t s t h e s e r e l a t i o n s , and a t t h e same t i m e
t r a n s c e n d s them. Thereby a r t s u b v e r t s t h e dominant consciousness,
t h e o r d i n a r y e x p e r i ence. [Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension, ix . f

776 H a r d i ng, I f H i t o r i c a l D i a 1 e c t i c s and t h e Autonomy o f A r t , "


187.

777 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 1 8 1 .
Adorno r e f e r s t o K a f k a as one a r t i s t who c r i t i c i s e d t h e
monopol y
domi n a n t ide01 ogy o f h i s s o c i o - h i s t o r i c a l moment
capitalism
without d i r e c t l y a r t i c u l a t i n g protest.
" Y e t by
z e r o i n g i n on t h e dregs o f t h e a d m i n i s t e r e d w o r l d , he l a i d b a r e t h e
i n h u m n i t y o f a r e p r e s s i v e s o c i a l t o t a l i t y , and he d i d so more
p o w e r f u l ly and uncornpromi s i n g l y t h a n i f he had w r i t t e n n o v e l s about
c o r r u p t i o n in mu1 t i n a t i o n a l c o r p o r a t i o n s . "
The key, d e t e r m i nes
Adorno, i s t o b e found i n t h e f o r m o f K a f k a ' s a r t : '*The exposure
[ o f t h e u n i v e r s a 1 b l i n d n e s s o f s o c i e t y ] is b r o u g h t a b o u t by Kafkat s
language.
I n h i s n a r r a t i v e t h e b i z a r r e i s as normal as i t i s i n
s o c i a l r e a l it y . If [ I b i d . , 327-8.1
"Sirni l a r l y ,
a
non-tendentious
work
1ike G o e t h e ' s
The
S u f f e r i n g s o f Young Werther p r o b a b l y had a c o n s i d e r a b l e i m p a c t on
t h e emanci p a t ion o f bourgeoi s c o n s c i ousness in Germany. The n o v e l
focuses on t h e problem o f t h e c o l l i s i o n between s o c i e t y and t h e
i n d i v i d u a l who i s d r i v e n to s u i c i d e out o f a f e e l i n g o f u n r e q u i t e d

likens art's refraining from direct indictment in order to awaken


the aesthetic sensibility and break the spell of the dominant
ideology to the effects of one who looks directly upon evil while
"still on the way and not yet saved.w i i 8

For example. Lot's wife

looked backed to see the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and was
turned into a pillar of salt.

In contrast , there is the tale of

Perseus who battles Medusa. Realising that looking directly at the


horrid figure turns al1 to stone, Perseus is victorious when he
uses his shield in the indirect method of a mirror.

reflection the spell is broken.

"In such a

Although Adorno does not

entertain the illusion of victory, he trusts nevertheless in so far


as "the power of reflection" is able to engage in the battle with
the spell via its own negation and make possible, "if not totally,
at least partially, for the spell to be broken. ,,780

Art does not indict directly nor does it propose definitive


alternatives.
"who need not

Rather, autonomous art is like a "free man," one


bow

to any

alternatives, and

under

existing

circumstances there is a touch of freedom in refusing to accept the


alternatives.

Freedom means to criticize and change situations,

love.
I n t h i s work Goethe p r o t e s t e d e f f e c t i v e l y a g a i n s t p e t t y
b o u r g e o i s r i g i d i t y , w i t h o u t e x p r e s s l y naming i t . " [ I b i d . , 3 5 1 . ]
778 T h a i d i gmann, "Der B l ick der Er1 osung, " 51 1
i79 I b i d .
780 I b i d .

not

to

confirm

"'*'

structure.

them

by

Alternatives

deciding

within

their

coercive

offered from within the coercive

structure of an ideology neutralize determinate negation and


"extinguish

..,intimations of utopia

. . .because

they

harbour

demands for unity and general assent, demands that in turn generate
regulatory practices that must be adhered to for a defined way of
life to be realized.rv 782
And to manipulate a work of art as an instrument of protest
neutralizes any critical stance that the work of art might have
taken.

"To instrumentalize art," insists Adorno, "is to undercut

the opposition art mounts against instrumentalism."i83

When art

forms its content from within its own being-for-self it becomes


authentic art, but when some heteronomous r u l e of ideological
protest dictates that formation, the law of instrumentality and
identity thinking has taken over the work of art. In submitting to
their "own unreality which is their law of form." works of art
781 Adorno, N e g a t i v e D i a l e c t i c s , 226 ( I t a l i c s m i ne).
As Hewi t t i s c a r e f u l t o note, " t h e r e can be no p r e c o n c e i v e d
p l a n s , no s o c i a l b l u e p r i n t s o r programs t h a t can 1 a y o u t t h e
s p e c i f i c moves and a c t i o n s and t e l l us how t o journey f r o m t h e
p r e s e n t t o t h e f u t u r e we must a c h i e v e i f humanity and t h e p l a n e t
s u p p o r t i ng us a r e t o s u r v i v e . To do o t h e r w i s e is t o r e i n s c r i be and
r e i n f o r c e t h e compulsive l o g i c o f i d e n t i t y t h a t enslaves and
devours it s o b j e c t s , t h e r e b y f l a t t e n i n g and f o r e s h o r t e n i n g t h e
m y s t e r y and i n t e g r i t y o f t h e o t h e r ' s b e i n g i n v i o l e n t a c t s of
conceptual
digestion w i t h i n the
sel f-encl osed parameters o f
s u b j e c t i v e t h o u g h t . lr Wewi tt, C r i t i c a l Theory o f R e l i g i o n , 2 2 7 . 1

782 H e w i t t ,

C r i t i c a 7 Theory o f R e l i g i o n ,

221.

783 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c Theory, 442.


With
reference t o Adorno's
disapproval
o f Stravinsky' s
H i s t o i r e du So7dat and l a t e r d i s p u t e w i t h Hindemith,
Brger
e x p l a i n s how Adorno " i n t e r p r e t s t h e element o f p r o t e s t i n t h e
H i s t o i r e as r e g r e s s i v e , as t h e e x p r e s s i o n o f t h e ambivalent s t a n c e
o f a man who remains a t t a c h e d t o t h e a u t h o r i t y a g a i n s t which he
r e b e l s . " f B r g e r , "The Decl i n e @$Othe Modern Age, " 1 1 9 . 1

"partake of enlightenment," states Adorno,

whereas any form of direct artistic commitment to ideological


or educational values regresses behind enlightenment. Unaware
of the reality of aesthetic images. the notion of commitment
levels d o m the antithesis between art and reality by
integrating art lock, stock and barre1 in reality. Only those
works of art are enlightened which mani f est t rue consciousness
while q ~ g e d l y keeping their distance from empirical
reali ty .
Rather than pattern itself after an ideological protest, Adorno
calls for an emphasis on the negativity of art which is "the
epitome of al1 that has been repressed by the established culture

. . . .By

cathecting the repressed, art internalizes the repressing

principle, i l. , the unredeemed condition of the world

L ~ h e i l ,)

instead of merely airing futile protests against it..?85


In addition, there is an inherent mistaken presumption in

protest, in that subjects falsely presume that they "can detach


themselves enough from the mediations of repression so as to offer
an alternative that does not subscribe to the same repressive

forces.

But detachment

not possible.

One responds to and

within one's social-historical context. Even when in the "Finale"


of ?finima Moralia Adorno calls for the need "to contemplate al1

things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of


redemption," as well as fashioning perspectives "that displace and
estrange the world, reveal it to b e , with its rifts and crevices,
as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the

784 Adorno,

A e t h e t i c T h e o r y , 27.

785 I b i d .
Ibid.,

188.

messianic light," he also admits the impossibility of doing so.


Although this is precisely what must be done. this
is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes
a standpoint removed, even though by a har's breadth. from
the scope of existence. whereas we we11 know that any
possible knowledge must not only be first wrested from what
is. if it shall hold good. but is also rnarked, for this very
reason,i9fy the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to
escape.
Art insists on a most difficult thing: its autonomy.

"No work of

art should be given over to another."788

The sensuous moment is

of great significance for this argument.

For although a work of

art is "riveted to the transitory here and now, it also points to


the status of independence that every particular work has.,.789

It

is through "total purposelessness" that art


gives the lie to the totality of purposefulness in the world
of domination. and only by virtue of this negation, which
consummates the established order by drawing the conclusion
up to
from its own principle of reason. has exi~tin~~society
now become aware of another that is possible.
Although art may foreshadow another possibility. "art cannot
be a form of reconciliatory praxisni91as those on the l e f t who

criticised Adorno had hoped. Only when art "holds fast to what it
is in itself

. . . [can it]

be the articulation of consciousness" that

a purported reconciliation is not: and especially in a world.

"where the mere thought of reconciliation would already be a


--

787 A d o r n o ,

M i n i m a Mora7ia, 2 4 7 .

788 A d o r n o , A e s t h e t i c Theory, 1 9 5 .
Ibid.

Adorno,

M i n i m a Mora 7 i a , 2 2 4 - 5 .

791 Rohrmoer , H e r r s c h a f t und Versohnung, 2 0 .

282

betrayal of Tt. art can only be the mute voice of the longing for
the other. "jg2
Adorno

states:

Once again with reference to a ban on images.


"In the

right

condition. as

in

the

Jewish

theologoumenon. al1 things would differ only a little from the way

they are; but not even the least can be conceived now as it would
be then.

Adorno retricts even art to an extreme asceticism.

Instead of articulating protest and spotlighting alternatives


to the dominant ideology, art is like a puzzle. containing the

solution yet not articulating it. However, the enigmatic character


of art is not a mere imitation of the meaninglessness of the world.
Rather, art's

enigmatic character

"deals a

blow

. . . to the

communication" of the administered world which it renounces.791

To articulate alternatives in protest, is merely to fa11 in line


with the established mode of conununication; this is to adopt "the
ambivalent stance of a man who remains attached to the authority

792 I b i d .

793 Adorno, N e g a t i v e D i a T e c t i c , 299.


What t h a t " r i g h t c o n d i t i o n , II o r " r i g h t k i nd o f s o c i e t y , ' rnight
l o o k 1ike "ought n o t t o be c o n s t r u e d o r p r e j u d g e d because o f t h e
r i s k o f irnposing new r e g u l a t o r y s t r i c t u r e s t h a t r e q u i r e t h e i r own
c o n f o r m i t y t o p t e c o n c e i ved ideas.
A11 e f f o r t s t o t h e o r i z e
a l t e r n a t i v e s t o 'what i s ' can o n l y r e p r o d u c e 'what i s ' i n a
r e a r r a n g e d form, un1ess s o c i e t y and in d i v i dual s a r e t r a n s f o r m e d
s u f f i c i e n t l y t o make a r e a l a l t e r n a t i v e f u t u r e p o s s i b l e . " [Hewi t t ,
C r i t i c a 7 Theory of Re7igion, 1 1 4 . 1
794 Cahn, "Subversive Mirnesis,
48.
A r t as e n i gma cannot Frandersein
(have) b e i n g - f o r - a n o t h e r
b u t on1y F r s i c h s e i n
(have) b e i n g - f o r - i t s e l f .
[Grohotolsky,
A e s t h e t i k der Negat i o n
Tendenzen des deutschen Gegenwartsdramas,

24.1

against which he rebels.

Since this etablished mode

is

understood by the dominant ideology. what is communicated can be


manipulated for other purposes - as with the extractable ideas of
Sartre's plays.

Modern art's enigmatic quality is thus essential

in its defence against being used for the purposes of ideology.


Adorno recognizes, nevertheless. that works of art which refuse to
be a vehicle for the communication of ideological propaganda and
construct the ideological alternatives lack social impact because
they forego "the use of those communicative means that would make
them palatable to a larger public.

[But] [i]f they do not, the

become pawns in the all-encompassing system of communication.1,796

As we have discovered, for Adorno attempts to create religious


art today is blasphemous.
and protest art.

The situation is similar for political

Acknowledging that "an emphasis on autonomous

works is itself sociopolitical in nature." Adorno also recognizes


that "paradoxically . . .it is to works of art that has fallen the
burden of wordlessly asserting what is barred to politics ,...This

is not a time for political art," he concludes, "but politics has


migrated into autonomous art. and nowhere more s o than where it

seems to be politically dead. J g 7

With this. one is rerninded of

795 B r g e r , "The Decl ine o f t h e Modern A g e , l' 119 [ c f . n o t e 128


f o r e x p l a n a t i o n o f t h e c o n t e x t of t h i s q u o t a t i o n ] .
796 Adorno,

A e t h e t i c Theory, 344.

797 Adorno, "Cornmi trnent, " 318.


Hewi t t
woul d
caution
us
agai n s t
"abandoning
p o l it i c s
a l t o g e t h e r , t h e r e b y l e a v i n g t h e wretched ones o f t h e e a r t h t o t h e i r
own d e v i c e s .
R a t h e r t h a n f o r m u l a t i n g c o n s t r u c t i v i s t p o l it i c a l
programs t h a t i n e v i t a b l y d i c t a t e what t h e new s o c i e t y w i l l be and
how it w i ? 1 be a c h i eved, w e need t o reconcei v e p o l it iC S in terrns o f

Adorno's final statement in his "Theses Upon Art and Religion


Today," where he refers the reader to Proust.
upon the utterly mortal" Proust's art

By "concentrating

is converted

"into a

hieroglyph of 'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, w h e r e

i s thy

victory? , 798

v. The theatre of Brecht

Unlike Proust are artists "who think that the content of their

works is what they consciously p u t into them.

"

These artists, in

Adorno's opinion, "are naive and rationalistic in the worst sense


of the word. Brecht is one of them.

Although it is unfair to

say that Adorno expresses only disdain f o r the works of Brecht, the
majority of what he has to Say about the man and his art is
undeniably pe jorative.

T h e r e are many instances where Adorno ' s

theory of autonomous art cornes into conflict with Brecht, who was
open about the influence of his political commitment on his art and
theory of art. As we will note, conflicts also aross in Adorno's
relat ionship wi th Benjamin because of the influence Benjamin's
friendship with B r e c h t

had on h i s

thought.

This triangular

relationship became complex and often disagreeable.8O6


s u s t a i n e d c r i t i c a l n ~ g a t i v i t y t h a t dwells on r e a l i t y and t h e
c o n d i t i o n s t h a t render i t i n t o l e r a b l y p a i n f u l f o r t h e v a s t m a j o r i t y
o f human beings." [ H e w i t t , C r i t i c a 7 Theory o f Religion, 227.1

798 Adorno, "Theses Upon A r t and R e 1 ig i o n Today,

"

682.

Adorno, A e s t h e t i c Theory, 4 0 .

800 Dernetz t e f e r s t o Benjamin a s " t h e f i r s t p h i l o s o p h i c a l


d e f e n d e r o f B r e c h t ' s r e v o l u t i o n a r y e x p e r i ments i n t h e a r t s . " [ P e t e r
Dernetz, " I n t r o d u c t i o n , " in W a l t e r Ben j a m i n , R e f 7ect ions: Essays,

The attempts by "the politically committed Brechtw to give


a r t i s t i c expression to h i s political orientation, back-fired in

Adorno's opinion, for Brecht found he had to move "farther and


farther away from social reality, although reality is what his
plays are all about."'O1

This unavoidable problem occurs whenever

art attempts to copy social reality.

In the end, the copy "is al1

the more certain to become an as-if."802

Another dilemma Adorno

highlights in Brecht's work includes historical inaccuracies. For


exarnple, one finds "Londoners [who] have no telephones, but their
police already

have

tanks. "*O3

While

Adorno criticises

the

inaccuracies in Brecht, Benjamin views Brecht 's "displacernentswas


"part of the optics of satire."'O4

Brecht, who would prefer to

Aphorism, A u t o b i o g r a p h i c a 7 W r i t i n g s , ed.
P e t e r Demetz, t r a n s .
Edrnund J e p h c o t t ( N e w Y o r k :
H a r c o u r t B r a c e Jovanovich,
1978;
Schocken Book e d i t i o n , l986), x i v. ]
The arguments between Adorno and B e n j a m i n , as well as the
i n f l u e n c e s o f Benjamin on Adorno go beyond t h e scope o f t h i s
p r e s e n t d i s c u s s i o n ; t h e y w i 7 1 o n l y be r e f e r r e d t o here i n so f a r a s
t h e y r e l a t e t o t h e work o f B r e c h t .
( C f . Buck-Morss' The O r i g i n o f
N e g a t i v e D i a 7 e c t i c s , an e x c e l lent s t u d y o f t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p between
t h e t h o u g h t o f Adorno and B e n j a m i n . )
'O1

Adorno,

A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 322.

'O2 For exarnple, t h e p o r t r a y a l of Chi na in B r e c h t r s Good Woman


o f S e t t u a n , t u r n s o u t t o be "no less s t y l i z e d t h a n S c h i 7 1 e r r s
Messina i n The B r i d e o f Messina." [ I b i d . ]

'O3
Ben j a m i n ,
R e f 7ect i o n s , 193.

'O4

"Brechtt s

Threepenny

Nove7,"

chap.

in

I b i d . , 194.

It i s no s u r p r i s e t o n o t e t h a t Adorno a l s o urges Benjamin


towards " g r e a t e r h i s t o r i c a l p r e c i s i on and m a t e r i a1 i s t o b j e c t i v i t y "
in h i s w r i t i ng. [Jarneson, " P r e s e n t a t i on 1 II,
" in A e s t h e t i c s and
Poiitics, 103.1

think in terms "of an age without history,"'O5

clash with Adorno,

for whom

an

age

cannot h e l p but

without

history

is

an

impossibility; for such a concept completely denies the social and


historical mediation of al1 moments.
The satire which Benjamin praises, actually lacks spice. in
Adorno's opinion, because it "fails to stay on the level of its
subject."'O6

As

a prime example of satire's failure, Adorno refers

to Brecht's transformation of a fascist dictator into the head of


some small band of criminals in his play " D e r aufhal tsame A u f s t e i g
des Arturo Oin ("Arturo Uiw).

Brecht devises " a kind of childish

shorthand to try and crystallize out the essence of Fascism in


terms of a sort of gangsterism. w80

But instead of revealing the

terrible truths of life under a fascist regime, Brecht creates a


"'resistible' dictator."

named

Arturo

Ci, who

heads

up

an

"imaginary and apocryphal Cauliflower Trust, instead of the most


powerful economic organizations."

Fascism, portrayed

as

an

enterprise of a band of criminals, has "no real place in the social


system and who can therefore be

'resisted' at will."

This

neutralizes the terror of Fascism, strips it of the true horror and


diminishes its actual powerful social significance. The caricature
is invalid and "idiotic even in i t s own terms."

And even the

despotic rise of a minor criminal ends up losing al1 "plausibility

*O5 Benjarni n, " C o n v e r s a t i o n s w i t h B r e c h t , " i n RefTections, 2 1 8 .

806 Adorno,

"Reconci 1 ia t i o n under Dures,

807 I b i d .

287

157.

in the course of the play itself. w 808


Brecht admits ihat he writes with didactic intentions; Adorno
argues that the educational aspects could be taught in a more
convincing manner by theory - that is, if they need to be taught at
all, since Brecht's audiences were
not exactly unfamiliar with insights like these: that the rich
are better off than the poor; that the world is full of
injustice; that repression continues a m i d forma1 equality;
that private goodness turns into its opposite in a public
context of objective evil; that c g a dubious wisdom at best goodness needs the mask of evil.
Not only does Brecht provide his audience with already familiar
insights. but according to Benjamin, Brecht also gives his audience
clear answers to the questions which his art proposes.

With

reference to Brecht ' s Threepenny Novel, Benjamin explains : " 'Does

Mr. Macheath have Mary Sawyer on his conscience?' people ask.


Brecht rubs their noses

in the answer.. . .

Benjamin finds

Brecht's clear didacticism laudable. Adorno, in contrast , rebukes


Brecht for his apparent intolerance for ambiguity, "the sort of
ambiguity that touches off thought and reflection.

In this,"

concludes Adorno. "Brecht is authoritarianw811and suggets that

Brecht's authoritarianism is a response to a perceived lack of


impact of his plays.

Brechi was intent on his work effecting

change, but in Adorno's view it "was probably politically impotent ;

'OB

Ibid.

'O9

Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 3 4 9 - 5 0 .

Ben j ami n , " B r e c h t ' s Threepenny Nove 7 ,


Adorno,

Aesthet i c T h e o r y , 344.

288

199.

and Brecht was certainly too astute not to have noticed that. His
impact might

be characterized as a form of preaching

converted.w812

Nevertheless,

because

Brecht

"wanted

to the
to

be

influential at a l 1 costs," it is not surprising that he resorts to


"techniques of domination (at which he was a virtuoso) , just as
earlier on he had set in motion a plan to gain fame.n813

Brecht, who uses his own art for political purposes, also
approaches the works of others in a utilitarian manner,

For

example, in his reading of the literature by Kafka, Brecht searches


for elements that

may

be "useful (Brauchbares)" for his own work.

"Brecht thinks above al1 of grist for his theatrical mill-"814

He

is not able tu appreciate Kafka's works of art as art with beingfor-self, but only in so far as they can be a means for his ends.

However, in spite of willingly using elements of Kafka's works,


Brecht admits his hatred of Kafka. t r s i n g a parable of the trees in
a forest, he explains why (Benjamin relates the parable and then
follows it with Brecht's reference to Kafka) :

812 I b i d .

813 I b i d .
F u r t h e r p r o o f f o r Adorno ' s argument r e g a r d i ng B r e c h t ' s
a u t h o r i t a r i an t e n d e n c i es and techniques o f domi n a t i o n is the f a c t
t h a t B r e c h t can a c c e p t t h e d i c t a t o r s h i p w h i c h he r e c o g n i zes a s
b e i ng " i n power o v e r t h e p r o 1 e t a r i a t " i n Russia.
" W e must a v o i d
d i s o w n i n g i t , " s t a t e s B r e c h t , " f o r a s l o n g as t h i s d i c t a t o r s h i p
sti 1 1 does p r a c t i c a l w o r k f o r t h e p r o l e t a r i a t
t h a t i s , as l o n g as
it c o n t r i b u t e s t o a b a l a n c e between p r o l e t a r i a t and p e a s a n t r y w i t h
a preponderant regard f o r p r o l e t a r i a n i n t e r e s t s .
[Benjamin,
Adorno,
i n contrast,
is
" C o n v e r s a t i o n s w i t h B r e c h t , " 219. ]
vehementl y a g a i n s t any s o r t o f d i c t a t o r s h i p ; even a benevol e n t
d i c t a t o r cou1 d e a s i ly " s l i t h e r [ ] i n t o t h e abyss o f i t s o p p o s i t e . "

Demetz,

"Introduction,

"

i n R e f lections, x x x i i

I n t h e f o r e s t t h e r e a r e v a r i o u s kinds o f tree t r u n k s . From


t h e t h i c k e s t , beams f o r s h i p s a r e c u t ; from less t h i c k b u t
s t i l l r e s p e c t a b l e t r u n k s , box l i d s and c o f f i n s i d e s are made;
t h e very t h i n o n e s a r e used f o r r o d s ; b u t n o t h i n g cornes of t h e
s t u n t e d ones - t h e y escape t h e p a i n s o f u s e f u l n e s s . "In what
Kafka w r o t e , ( s t a t e s B r e c h t t o Benjamin] you have t o look
around as i n s u c h a f o r e s t . You w i l l t h e n f i n d a nwaber o f
But t h e rest i2
v e r y u s e f u l t h i n g s . The images are good.
o b s c u r a n t i s m . I t i s s h e e r m i s c h i e f . You h a v e t o i g n o r e i t .

Adorno. i n c o n t r a s t , had g r e a t r e s p e c t f o r K a f k a ' s a r t . and would


h i g h l i g h t t h e i n h e r e n t s u b v e r s i o n i n " t h e s t u n t e d ~ n e s ; 'the
~ very
p r e s e n c e of t h e s t u n t e d ones d e f i e s t h e u t i l i t a r i a n a t t i t u d e of a
p e r s o n l i k e B r e c h t , who would wish t o make a l 1 t r e e t r u n k s i n t o
something useful.

Adorno would a p p r e c i a t e t h e s t u n t e d o n e s .

For

as something which d o e s n o t f i t i n t o t h e w o o d c u t t e r ' s schema and


t h u s i s denied

importance and i g n o r e d ,

the stunted

tree trunk

o f f e r s a glimmer of hope f o r a n o t h e r s t a t e o f b e i n g i n which tree


t r u n k s and people w i l l n o t b e v a l u e d f o r t h e i r u s e f u l n e s s .
I n Benjamin's

acknowledged, "was

e s s a y "The Author as P r o d u c e r "


formulated,

under

the

s t rong

(which i t i s
influence

of

~ r e c h t " * Benjamin
~~)
e c h o e s t h e B r e c h t i a n d e n i a l of t h e l i b e r a t i o n

of things - a r t i n p a r t i c u l a r - from b e i n g u s e f u l .

Benjamin speaks

o f t h e p o e t , whose a c t i v i t y i s t o b e " d e c i d e d by what is useful t o

815 B e n jami

n, V o n v e r s a t i on w i t h B r e c h t , fl 207.

816 Edi t o r t s i n t r o d u c t c r y remarks t o "The A u t h o r as Producer,


W a l t e r Ben j ami n, i n The Essent i a 7 F r a n k f u r t Schoo 7 Reader, 2 5 4 .
One c o u f d a t t h i s p o i n t r e f e r more s p e c i f i c a l l y t o t h e
t e n s i o n s caused between Adorno
a n d Ben jami n
by
Adorno ' s
" d i squi e t i ngn d i s c o v e r y of a " s u b l imated remnant of
certai n
B r e c h t i an motifs1' i n Benjami n 's w o r k .
[Adorno, " L e t t e r s t o
Benjamin," 18 M a r c h 1936, i n Aesthetics a n d Politics, 1 2 1 . 1
However, such an examination l i e s beyond t h e scope o f t h e p r e s e n t
d i s c u s s i o n , t h e f o c u s o f which i s A d o r n o ' s r e s p o n s e t o t h e a r t o f
Brecht.

the proletariat in the class struggle.

"*"

As

well. when Brecht

worries whether "in view of all his previous work, but especially
its satirical art and above al1 threepenny Novel - he would find
acceptance with the public for this work [a philosophical, didactic
poeml ,

Benjamin reassures him: "If this didactic poem is able

to mobilize for itself the authority of Marxism . . . the fact of your


earlier work will hardly hake it. 91'"
find such an attitude outrageous

Adorno. in contrast. would

Brecht makes his art conform to

what the public would brand acceptable!

In his political

fury,

Brecht

unashamedly exploits

the

characters of his plays to make his point.

He views them one-

dimensionally and has no

they might

regard

individuah ; they are simply

for what

be

as

the gangster, the soldier, the

'17 Benj ami n, "The A u t h o r as Producer,


255.
I r o n i c a l l y , a l though Benjami n defends Brecht i n c o n v e r s a t i o n
w i t h Adorno, a t o t h e r t i m e s Benjamin emphasi t e s t h e i m p o r t a n c e of
t h e ernancipation o f t h i n g s f r o m t h e c h a i n s o f p r a g m a t i c v a l u e .
Adorno, i n f a c t , p r a i s e s Benjamin f o r t h i s v e r y p o i n t i n a l e t t e r
. I should l i k e t o emphasize o n l y t h e r n a g n i f i c e n t
t o him:
passage about l i v i n g as a l e a v i n g o f t r a c e s ,
the conclusive
s e n t e n c e s about t h e c o l l e c t o r , and t h e l i b e r a t i o n o f t h i n g s f r o m
[Theodor W. Adorno, " L e t t e r s t o W a l t e r
t h e c u r s e o f b e i ng u s e f u l
Benjamin, ' 2 August 1935, i n A e s t h e t i c s and P o i t i c s , 1 1 0 . ]

". .

Benjarni n,

T o n v e r s a t i o n s w i t h Brecht,

"

21 1

819 I b i d .
"[W] e cannot e n t i r e l y u n d e r s t a n d Benjami n t s p a r t i c u l a r b r a n d
o f M a r x i sm w i t h o u t l o o k i ng more c l o s e l y a t h i s c r e a t i v e f r i e n d s h i p
w i t h t h e playwright B e r t o l t Brecht, a r e l a t i o n s h i p very 1i t t l e
a p p r e c i a t e d by e i t h e r Schol e m o r Adorno. " [Demetz, " I n t r o d u c t i o n , "
i n R e f iections, v i ii - i x . ] Gershorn Schol em, f o r exampl e, " c o n t i n u e s
t o s u g g e s t i n h i s memoirs t h a t h i s r e s t l e s s f r i e n d [ B e n j a m i n ] was
a r e l i g i o u s i f n o t a m y s t i c a l t h i n k e r who rnay have been tempted,
a g a i n s t t h e g r a i n o f h i s sensi b i 1 i t i e s , t o superimpose t h e t e r m s o f
Marxi s t d i scourse upon h i s metaphysi c a l v i s i o n o f God, 1anguage,
and a s o c i e t y o n t o l o g i c a l l y i n need o f s a l v a t i o n . "
[Ibid., v i i i . ]

fascist. etc.

For Brecht the character is only a re-presentation

of a type: al1 individual aspects which mfght ignite any sense of


persona1 identity are st rictly secondary .820

By ubsuming under

a category the characters populating his drama. Brecht begins from


a prernise of identity thinking.

And in an attempt to push his

Marxist perspective on his audience. he s l i p s into the capitalist


trap of exchange-value: Mac the Knife equals gangster. no more. no
less. Brecht peoples his stage with types who provide examples to
prove his ideological bent. M i l e reducing the characters to types
may effectively show how al1 individuality and subjectivity is
nullified in the administrated world in which we live, Brecht's
characters are really only secondary to the easily distilled clear
set of ideas which are the main focus of his literature.
Benjamin agrees with Brecht's choice to make his easily
extractable ideas obvious to his audience.

He explains, f o r

example. how in the Threepenny Novel "Brecht had Macheath' s program


and numerous other reflections printed in italics, so that they

820 Although a staunch defender o f Brecht, Benjamin treads


dangerously close to being un-Brechtian when speaking o f t h e main
characters in Brecht ' s Threepenny O p e r a and Threepenny Nove 7 ,
wri tten eight years apart. Describing how t h e novel grew out of
t h e opera, Benjami n says, "[oJnly the main characters are the same.
For it was they who began b e f o r e our eyes to grow i n t o these years,
and to make such bloodstained room for thei r growing." [Benjamin,
"Brecht ' s Threepenny Nove 7, 193.] Al t h o u g h Ben jami n refers at
first to these characters as types in a true Brechtian sense, a
page later h e names them and speaks of t h e m in a particular rnanner
- even ti tl ing this latter section "01d Acquai ntances. [Ibi d.,
1 9 4 . 1 To refer to a character as an "old acquai ntancew impl i e s a
persona1 c o n n e c t i o n on some level with that character. Such an
irnplied connection, however, disregards Brecht's insistence on
alienation between the audience and t h e character.
If

stand out from the narrative text.n821

Whereas Adorno cri t icizes

such direct articulation of ideological ideas in art, Benjamin


showers it with praise: "In this way [Brecht] has produced a
collection of speeches and maxims, confessions and pleas that rnay
be called unique . . . .These passages interrupt t h e

text; they are -

comparable in this to illustrations - an invitation to the reader


now and again to dispense with illusion. ,t 822
B r e c h t hopes to achieve this dispensation of illusion through

his "process of aesthetic reduction."

However, the aesthetic

reduction pursued "for the sake of political truth in fact gets in


Truth undeniably involves innumerable mediat ions -

its way. w823

"which Brecht disdains." Although obligated to ensure that " w h a t

he intended to make unequivocally clear was theoretically correct."


Adorno p o i n t s o u t that B r e c h t ' s art "refused to accept this q u i d

pro quo: it both presents itself as didactic, and claims esthetic


dispensation from responsibility for the accuracy o f what
t eaches . "824

Such a combination

it

untenable and. as we have een.

results in gross historical inadequacies. What rnay be artistically


legitimate a s "alienating infantilism, " argues Adorno, "becornes
merely infantile when it starts to claim theoretical or social

02' I b i d . ,

199.

822 I b i d .
823 Adorno,
824 I b i d . ,

"Cornmi t m e n t ,

" 306.

306.
293

validity. 1,825
Nevertheless, Adorno does recognize that Brecht is a good
poet.626and that he has contributed significant new techniques to

the art of theatre.

In fact i t was Brecht's didact ic approach

which prompted his dramatic innovations "designed to oust the old


intrigue and

theatre of
developed

the

effect) as

pychology.

Speci f ically ,

" Verfremdungseffekt" (estrangement or

the forma1 principle of his art.

Brecht

alienation

This alienation

permits viewers to think at one remove, rather than lose themselves


in the story of the characters through psychological identification
with them. 828

Adorno c a n whole-heartedly support t h e demand for

Ibid.
826 Adorno,
827 I b i d . ,

A e s t h e t i c Theory,

117.

349-50.

828 A c c o r d i n g t o B r e c h t i a n a c t i n g t e c h n i q u e , even t h e a c t o r i s
t o a v o i d i d e n t i f y i ng w i t h t h e c h a r a c t e r , p r e s e n t i ng t h e emotions o f
t h e c h a r a c t e r as i f s t a n d i n g b e s i d e t h a t c h a r a c t e r ,
always
c o n s c i o u s o f him or herse1 f as t h e a c t o r . The a c t o r t h u s p r e s e n t s
t h e c h a r a c t e r t o t h e audience, c o n s c i o u s l y mai n t a i n i ng an a e s t h e t i c
d i stance; t h e a c t o r does n o t become t h e c h a r a c t e r .
U n f o r t u n a t e l y, even B r e c h t i an t e c h n i q u e s have been overused
t h e o r i es
present
certain
and
become
familiar:
"Brecht ' s
d r a m a t u r g i c a l c h a l 1 enges, perhaps most s i g n i f i c a n t 1y t h e f a c t t h a t
h i s ideas may have been t o o s u c c e s s f u l 1 y i n t e g r a t e d i n t o Western
t h e a t r e p r a c t i ce: many o f t h e t e c h n i q u e s ( e p i s o d i c s t r u c t u r e ,
fragmented s c e n e r y , 1ack o f a f r o n t c u r t a f n, v i s i b l e 1 i g h t i n g
e q u i pment , d i r e c t address) d e v e l oped by Brecht f o r a c h i e v i ng
d i s t a n c i a t i o n i n h i s e p i c t h e a t r e have become such f a m i 1i a r p a r t s
o f Our t h e a t r i c a l t r a d i t i o n t h a t w e do n o t even see them anyrnore.
Most Western t h e a t r e s p e c t a t o r s have accepted t h e s e c o n v e n t i o n s and
a r e s t i 11 ab1 e t o c l i n g doggedly t o an e m p a t h e t i c a t t a c h r n e n t t o t h e
c h a r a c t e r s . " [ L i nda M i 1 es, 5 p l it S u b j e c t Techni que f o r a Femi n i s t
Good Person: A Dramaturgi c a l Study, " Theatre T o p i c s : Dramaturgy,
Performance Studies, Pedagogy 5 . 2 (September 1995), 153.1
As we
w i 11 note i n Chapter 5 , t h i s ernphasises t h e need f o r a r t t o
c o n t i n u a l l y r e c r e a t e it s e l f , c o n t i n u a l l y c r i t i q u i n g t h e t r a d i t i o n

a reflective attitude on the part of the viewer, for i t "converges


with the valid idea that art works need to be known objectively a stance which major autonomous works invariably presuppose on the
part of the viewer,"829
for not trying

In thi ene. Brecht is to be commended

" t o dispense

words of wisdorn and pithy slogans, but

to activate thought processes in the audience. ,, 830


A s well, it is Brecht, concedes Adorno, "to whom we owe the

growth in the self-consciousness of the art work, for when it is


viewed as an element of political praxis
ideological mystification becomes that much

its

resistance to

stronger."831

We

recognize that the inherent being-for-self of art maintains i t s


stance of differentiation f rom its context, remaining a work of art
even when made a tool of praxis.

We have no illusion that what

Brecht presents on stage is definitely art not life: even though a


medium for his political commitrnent, his plays still remain plays.
Interestingly, it is the presence of "theses" which "constitute the
ant i-illusory nature of Brecht ian drama."

Adorno recognizes the

theses as "important not for what they say but for what they do:

. . . [they] contributle] to the decomposition of a unified complex of


meaning . "832
This contribution of the form accounts for the
quality

of

Brecht's plays; commitment, insists Adorno, especially

w h i c h has corne b e f o r e i t .

829 Adorno, A e t h e t ic T h e o r y , 3 4 4 .
830 I b i d . , 4 7 .

831 I b i d . , 3 4 4 .
832 I b i d . , 349-50.

in contrast to Brecht's intention, 'bas nothing to do with it..833


The fact remains, nevertheless, that Adorno and Brecht greatly
differ in their views of art.

Whereas for Adorno the hermetic

characteristic of much of modern art is crucial to art's insistence


on its autonomy, Brecht could never be open to an art form which is
Art as autonomous, in Adorno's view, differentiates

obscure.
itself

from

the

framework

of

its

differentiation, indicts the context.

context

and

in

that

Brecht, in contrast, would

have art protest by adopting the mode of communication established


by the dominant ideology.

According to Adorno, art which adopts

the established mode of communication no

longer maintains

position from which to critique the structure of the ideology i t


wishes

to

critique, for

in

its

adoption of

that

mode

of

communication, art affirms the very lines of communication of the


world it is protesting.

LI. An Adornian Response t o Contemporary F e m i n i s t Theatre

In light of Adorno's position regarding politically committed


art and especially his response to the theatre of Brecht, in this
section of the investigation

will propose a response from an

Adornian perspective to the theatre arts of late twentieth century


feminists.

For many feminists in theatre the "primary aim is

action, not art," according to Patti Gillespie, and each feminist


theatre "group is using theatre to promote the identities of women,

to increase awareness of the issues of feminism, or to advocate


833 I b i d .

"The dilemma

corrective change.
one feminist

theatre participant.

politics .... n835

i.

of course." as tated by

"how to

integrate art

and

I will briefly address the extent to which the

art of feminist theatre, including its development from the 1960s


to the present. can be autonomous as well as politically committed
from the perspective of Adorno's Aesthetic Theory. or whether he
would perhaps consider this art to be "directly political."

conclude with

I will

brief discussion of areas where Adorno and

feminists might agree or disagree regarding how the issue of


autonomy and

cornmitment

pertains

to

the

art

of

theatre.

Feminist theatre, like feminisrn in general. is by no means a


homogeneous movement.

Nevertheless. among the many streams there

is a common aim: to subvert the male-dominated tradition o f theatre

and c u l t u r e .

1 purposely use the term

lf

tradition of theatretf

rather than "art" because the issues with which feminists deal in

theatre encompass more than just

the art

form itself.

The

established theatre tradition has followed the patterns of maledominated culture. where funding for theatre is male-dominated.
most theatre directors are male, and even the assumption that the
spectator perspective is male.

Feminists have found themselves

834 P a t t i
P.
G i 1 l e s p i e l Verni n i st Theatre: A
Rhetorical
Phenomenon, " Q u a r t e r 7y Journa 7 f o r Speech 6 4 . 3 ( 1 W 8 ) , 2 8 6 , ci t e d
in
"The
Rhetorical
and
Political
Foundations
of
Women's
C o l l a b o r a t i v e T h e a t r e , " J u d i t h Z i v a n o v i c , i n Themes i n Drama I I :
Women i n T h e a t r e , S e r i e s ed. James Redmond, (Cambridge: Cambridge
Uni v e r s i t y P r e s s , l989), 21 0 .

835 Lucy R. L i p p a r d , Get the Message? A Decade o f A r t


S o c i a l Change ( N e w Y o r k : E . P . D u t t o n , 1 9 8 4 ) , 2.

for

confronted with much more than merely that which is on stage.

i. Feminist theatre: subverting the male tradition

At the base of feminist theatre is the desire to bring about


a change of attitude.

For, "[tjheatre, as

the staging of

possibility, at least offers hope for change - a dream that is the


first step toward the transformation of feminine - and masculine self and context."836

Theatre is e e n as an appropriate medium

through which to criticize the forces which o p p r e s s women and work


for change. for as a cultural institution, theatre, too, "enable[sj
the

forces

of

oppression.w83i

While there

may

be

as

many

definitions of feminist theatre as t h e r e are practitioners, in


general feminist theatre can be described as theatre produced by
women with feminist concerns, which "privileges the experiences of

women, illustrates their oppression or shows opportunities for


liberation.w838

In its attempt to highlight the oppression of

836 C y n t h i a
Runni ng-Johnson,
"Femi n i ne W r i t i ng
Theatrical other,"
i n Redmond,
Themes i n D r a m a I I :
Theatre, 183.

and
it
Women i n

837 E s t h e r B e t h S u l l i v a n , flWomen, Waman, and t h e S u b j e c t o f


Feminism: Femi n i s t D i r e c t i o n s , " i n Donkin and Clement,
eds.,
Upstaging B i g Daddy: D i r e c t i n g T h e a t e r as i f Gender and Race M a t t e r
(Ann A r b o r : The U n i v e r s i t y o f M i c h i g a n Press, 1 9 9 3 ) , 1 1 .

838 Sue-Ellen Case quoted i n Karen L a u g h l i n , " B r e c h t i a n t h e o r y


i n R e - i n t e r p r e t i n g Brecht: H i s
and A m e r i c a n F e m i n i s t Theatre,"
I n f 7uence on Contemporary Drama and F i 7m, eds P i a K I eber and Col in
V i s s e r (Cambri dge: Cambridge U n i v e r s i t y Press, I W O ) , 1 4 7 .
One a u t h o r n o t e s that "one o f t h e most i m p o r t a n t aspects o f
ferninist t h e a t r e i s t h e ambiguity o f the very term 'ferninist
theatre'.
I t seems t o mean something d i f f e r e n t t o n e a r l y e v e r y
p r a c t i t i oner, c r i t i c, academi c and s p e c t a t o r ( o r a u d i ence member) .
. .The p o i n t i s s i m p l e : t h e r e i s n o t one feminism, n o r one f e m i n i s t

women, feminist theatre appropriates certain dramatic conventions


and methods and subverts their traditional usage. Lizbeth Goodman
suggests a motto which may be deemed appropriate for ferninists in
theatre: "if your politics are not being represented on stage, make
your o m theatre, or write and speak about the need for your kind
of feminism, your kind of staged representation; don't e x p e c t

anyone to do it for you: make it yourself. 839

In the history of theatre, the stage has been assumed to


represent a mirror which reflects cultural and social organization,
However, avant-garde theatre began

to question not only

the

accuracy of the reflection in the mirror, b u t a l s o the nature of


the mirror itself.

Feminists in theatre have taken this one step

further, "tracing the mirror's images through theatre history and


defining more specifically just what kind of mirror reflected what
k i n d of image. "840

According to Ji11 Dolan. the assumption of

"theatre as mirror evolved from certain kinds of cultures for very

theatre.
Each f o r m o f feminism and o f t h e a t r e c a n b e s t u d i e d i n
r e l a t i o n t o the i d e a t h a t ' f e m i n i s t t h e a t r e f i s i t s e l f a f o r m o f
c u l t u r a l r e p r e s e n t a t i on in f 1 uenced by changes in t h e geographies o f
feminism,
women's
studies,
economics,
politics,
and c u l t u r a l
studies. "
[ L i z b e t h Goodman, Contemporary F e m i n i s t t h e a t r e s : To
Each Her Own (London and New Y o r k : Routledge, l993), 2-3. ) As w e
wi11 n o t e , one o f t h e f a c t o r s o f t h e i n s t a b i l i t y o f t h e term
" f e m i n i s t t h e a t r e " i s t h e e v o l u t i o n o f ferninism i t s e l f .
839 Goodman,

Conternporary Fernin i s t T h e a t r e s , 4 .

d40 J i 11 Do1an, %ender I r n p e r o n a t i on Onstage: C e s t r o y i ng o r


Mai n t a i n i ng t h e M i r r o r o f Gender Roi es, " in Gender i n Performance:
The P r e s e n t a t i o n o f D i f f e r e n c e i n the P e r f o r m i n g A r t s , ed. Laurence
Senel i c k (Hanover and London: Uni v e r s i t y P r e s s o f New England,
1992), 3 .

speci f ic reasons .

She proposes, for example, that the notions

of hubris and catharsis in Greek drama were techniques that were


incorporated in order to maintain the s t a t u s quo of that particular
society.

And since the Greek mode1 continues to influence our

tradition of theatre, Dolan concludes that "theatre continues to


reflect a polarized gender system, one in which Western society has

"*"

a vested interet in leaving undisturbed.

Dolan explain that

i n s t e a d of assuming the stage is a place where society can be

cathartically purged of gender , feminists have approached the stage


as a place to explore gender ambiguity.

"If we stop considering

the stage as a mirror of reality, we can use it as a laboratory in


which to reconstruct new, nongenderized identities.

And in the

process. we can change the nature of theatre itself.n843


An important aspect of feminist theatre is consciousness-

raising.

Feminist theatre has as one of its goals to make the

audience aware that " [tlhere have never really been women in
theatre. . . . [Rather,] women are only projections of male desire.
Women

have

never

participated

""' In f a c t .

representation.

841 I b i d . ,

actively

in

theatrical

some feminist theorists suggest that

4.

842 I b i d .

843 I b i d . , 8 .
D o l a n , " F e m i n i s t s , Lesbians, and Other Women i n
T h e a t r e : Thoughts on t h e P o l i tics o f Performance," i n Redmond,
Themes i n D r a m a I I : Women i n T h e a t r e , 199.
The e d i t o r s o f t h e book U p s t a g i n g B i g Daddy c l e a r l y s p e l 1 o u t
t h e i r p o s i t i o n on t h i s i s s u e i n t h e o p e n i n g paragraph o f t h e i r
I n t r o d u c t i o n : "The canon [ o f cl a s s i c a l drama] as it now s t a n d s was
844

Ji11

the

entire

exchange

between

performers

"fundamentally privileges the male

and

spectators

perspective and

makes

impossible for women to be represented on stage at ail. ,,845

it
The

performer-spectator relationship is informed by a tradition which


shapes spectators' expectations and allows no alternative except to
see

women

" through

the

his torically

male

This

gaze. 846

representation of women as an idealized notion created to serve the


dominant (male) ideological order has buil t " the enforced passivi ty

of women" into the "performer/spectator/stage apparatus. and

...

nothing short of a radical restructuring will allow women's active


subjectivity to be represented in theatre.,,847
Because

of

this misrepresentation of women

in

theatre,

feminists question whether theatre really is universal. I f theatre


were really the art which is the "melting pot of aesthetic and

n o t w r i t t e n f o r women, and c l e a r l y it w a s n o t w r i t t e n by them. The


roles w r i t t e n f o r men outnumber t h e r o l e s w r i t t e n f o r women about
seven t o one, dependi ng on t h e a n t h o l o g y ; t h e p1ays w r i t t e n by men
outnumber t h o s e w r i t t e n by women about t e n t o one.
For t h e most
p a r t , t h e r o l e s t h a t do e x i s t f o r women have been imagined,
d e v e i o p e d , and c r e a t e d by men.
It i s n o t t h a t t h e c l a s s i c s don't
have ( a f e w ) m a j o r r o l e s f o r ( w h i t e ) women.
But f o r a feminist,
d i r e c t i n g and p e r f o r m i n g i n t h e s e p l a y s i s o f t e n an o u t - o f - b o d y
e x p e r i e n c e , 1ike b e i ng i n a room i n w h i c h p e o p l e a r e t a 1 i c i ng about
her b u t n o t t o her o r w i t h her.
Even when t h e p l a y s o s t e n s i b l y
answer quest ions about women ' s 1iv e s , t h e quest ions have been posed
by men and a r e b e i n g answered by men.
The woman, even when she
speaks, f e a t u r e s as a t o p i c o f someone e l s e ' s c o n v e r s a t i o n r a t h e r
than as an a u t h o r i z i n g presence i n h e r own."
[Donki n and Clement,
eds., Upstaging Big Daddy 1 . 1

84 Dolan, "Femi n i t s ,
199.

8d6 I b i d .
847 I b i d .

Lesbians,

and Other Women in T h e a t r e ,

Ir

social tradition that it purports to be." there would be no need,


claim feminists, for terms such as women in theatre, Blacks in
theatre, or Asians in theatre.

The very need for such terms is

insidious proof that politics and ideology pump through the


heart of what we cal1 the theatre. To distinguish women in
theatre at al1 is to reveal the lie of universality framed by
the proscenium arch. The theatre has always specially been
addressed to the privileged, visible, speaking 'majority'
widely known as white mi le-class, and male: they are the
'universal* spectators."fif
Wi th the male perspective as the assumed privileged perspective, to

even propose "a feminist perspective on performance is subversive


enough to crack the theatrical rnirror held up to nature.w 849
The traditional privileging of the male perspective is not
limited to what occurs on the stage.

Feminists also reveal the

inherent systemic powerlessness of the acting profession itself,


especially in the case of women. In this profession, where "people
are the commodities exchanged," the actors have little if any
control over productions. In the case of women, this powerlessness
is especially acute "since, if they want to work, they must please

someone, usually a man, who is in a position to hire them. n 850

Ibid.,

202.

849 I b i d . ,

199.

Kate L u s h i n g t o n ,

l'Notes t o w a r d t h e d i a g n o s i s o f a c u r a b l e
Canadian T h e a t r e R e v i e w 43 (Surnmer

malai se: Fear o f Femi n i sm, "


1985), 6.

P r o o f o f t h e d i s a d v a n t a g e d s i t u a t i o n o f female a c t o r s i s fcund
i n a study o f t h e s i t u a t i o n o f p r o f e s s i o n a l t h e a t r e i n Canada
between 1978-81. T h i s s t u d y found t h a t 83% o f t h e a t r e d i rectors
were male and o n l y 13% were femal e. [Ri n a F r a t i c e l l i , The S t a t u s o f
Women i n C a n a d i a n T h e a t r e , a r e p o r t prepared f o r t h e S t a t u s o f
Women Canada, J u n e 1 9 8 2 , i n I b i d . , 9.1

In response to this inequity, many women formed women's


collaboratives as is suggested by the philosophy of feminism
itself. with its encouragement of collaboration and the merging of
forms.

Collaborative theatre stands in direct contrast to the

traditional

(read: male) philosophy

of

theatre's

"notion of

individual genius and the compartmentalization of the tasks or


professions or arts-

Wany

tasks of creating a show.


extends beyond

feminits argue for a haring of the


The collaborative atmosphere also

the boundary of the

troupe itself, involving

audience participation in the creative process, subverting the


traditional

performer-spectator

roles-852

Of ten

spectator-

performer dialogue is encouraged in the form of audience response


after the performance or during "open scenesw where the audience
suggests possibilities for the action during the performance.853
Feminists also go against the grain of the traditional theatre
culture in their questioning of the use of traditional performance
space .

In an "attempt to demystify and popularize what

has

A r l e n e Raven, C r o s s i n g O v e r : F e m i n i s r n and A r t o f Socia7


Concern, s e r i es: Contemporary Ameri can A r t C r i t i C S , no. 10, s e r i e s
e d . , D o n a l d Kuspi t (Ann A r b o r : U M I R e s e a r c h P r e s s , l 9 8 8 ) , 1 1 6 .

852 F o r example, T o r o n t o ' s Ground Z e r o and Company o f S i r e n s


t r o u p e s n o t on1 y CO-produced W o r k i n g Peop 7 e r s P i c t u r e ShowJ
commi s s i o n e d by Organi zed Working Women f o r a c o n v e n t i o n , b u t al so
i n v i ted t h e a u d i e n c e t o p r o v i d e t h e i n i t i a l c o n c e p t , i d e a s and
s u g g e s t i o n s f o r t h e show. [Susan B e n n e t t , " P o l i t i c s o f t h e Gaze:
Chal 1 enges i n Canadi an Women's T h e a t r e , " C a n a d i a n T h e a t r e R e v i e w 5 9
(Summer 1 9 8 9 ) , 1 3 . 1
Ibid.

traditionally been an elitist art f ~ r r n "feminists


~~~
have foregone
the traditional theatre venues and taken their shows into community
centres, schools and streets. Taking theatre "to the people" has

been part of the attempt to "dismantle the last bastion of male


hegemony in the literary arts."855

ii. Trends in feminist theatre


Feminists in theatre agree that aligning feminist politics to
theatre practice is "like putting on a pair of spectacles.

Once

you've got them on, you can't take them off and the whole world
looks dif ferent.n856

Despite this agreement, from the beginning

feminist theatre bas not been a homogeneous movement.

Rather,

there has been a noticeable trend which has stretched across the
continuum from the very radical to the more moderate.

The move by women to form their own troupes and highlight the
experiences of women in the mid to late twentieth century was
preceded by other women, who in the early part of this century,
were also involved in performances influenced by women's issues.

There were, for example, the amateur civic theatre and pageant
performances for explicit political purposes.

In 1914 NeIlie

Amanda H a l e , ''A D i a l e c t i c a l Drama o f F a c t and F i c t i o n on


t h e Feminist Fringe,"
i n W o r k i n Progress:
Buiding F e m i n i s t
C u 7 t u r e , ed. , Rhea Tregebov ( T o r o n t o : The Women ' s Press, l987), 83.

855 Lynda H a r t , V n t r o d u c t i on: P e r f o r m i ng Femi n i m, " i n M a k i n g


a Spectac 7e: F e m i n i s t Essays on Contemporary Wornenls T h e a t r e , ed.
Lynda H a r t (Ann A r b o r : U n i v e r s i t y o f M i c h i g a n P r e s s , l989), 1

856 G i 11 ian Hanna, in t e r v i e w e d by L i z b e t h Goodman, "Wai t i ng f o r


S p r i n g t o Corne Agai n : Femi n i s t T h e a t r e , 1978 and 1989," New Theatre
Quarter7y 6 . 2 1 ( F e b r u a r y 1 9 9 0 ) , 52.

McClung, for example, wrote and produced Votes for Men, a satire of

sexual reversal, with other members of the Women's Equality League


at the Walker Theatre in Winnipeg, Then after a period of several
decades "of relative silence. the women's movement gained momentum"
again.857
Like McClungTs Votes f o r Men, feminist theatre of the l a t e
1960s stressed the importance of a political agenda, Much feminist

theatre of this first wave was didactic and fuelled by anger and
protest.

Indeed

these plays

"were like waviog

banners ,,,858

Theatre was recognised as and named "a political agent.

[For]

relationships created on stage reinforce social relationship ."*j9

In this early period a radical fernale aesthetic evolved as a


"strict anti-aesthetic,"involving a politicization of the elements
of theatre, where "whatever was acceptable to patriarchal culture
was unacceptable to the new women's counter-culture.,,860

As a

result, much of early feminist theatre rejected the proscenium


stage in favour of alternative performance spaces, including
performing in the streets.

The formalist function of set and

characters was also rejected, as was the traditional theatre

Sul 1 i v a n , ltWornen, Wornan, and t h e S u b j e c t o f Ferni n i rn, " 1 3 .


i n t e r v i ewed by L i z b e t h Goodman, " A r t
Form o r Platform? On Women and P l a y w r i t i n g , " New T h e a t r e Q u a r t e r 7 y
6 . 2 2 (May 1990), 1 2 9 .

858 C h a r l o t t e Keatl e y ,

859 Z i v a n o v i c, "The R h e t o r i c a l and Pol it i cal F o u n d a t i o n r o f


Women's C o l l a b o r a t i v e T h e a t r e , " 2 1 0 .
860 D o l a n , "Femi n i s t s ,
203.

L e s b i a n s and o t h e r women i n t h e a t r e ,

''

hierarchy and a single playwright.

Linear well-made plays were

replaced with happenings and " fusing the conventions of art with
those of real l i f e ~ ' in
~ ~ the form of docurnentary art.

There was

a "fusion of political activisrn with theatricalityn862with an


ernphasis on political action and education.

Many admitted that

theatre performances "provided a way of talking to women who


wouldn't corne to meetings, but might go to an art event.,,863
Later feminists in theatre have broken off in many different
directions.

lYhile some, like Joan Lipkin, still argue that

"feminist theatre, like other forrns of political theatre, must be


directly and uncompromisingly political in order to effect social
change,n864 others have criticized the consciou political aspects
of the early stage. Pam G e m s , a British playwright, contends that
although she "has always written from a feminist perspective.

861 Sue-Elten Case and J e a n i e K. F o r t e ,


Feminism," T h e a t e r XVI.2 ( S p r i n g 1 9 8 5 ) , 62.

"Frorn

Forrnalisrn t o

862 I b i d .
Many o f t h e p r a c t i t i o n e r s o f f e m i n i s t t h e a t r e i n t h e 1960s and
1970s g o t t h e i r s t a r t i n a v a n t - g a r d e and l e f t i s t t h e a t r e companies
"Whi 1e t h e s e o r g a n i z a t i ons p r o v i ded mode1s o f how
o f t h e p e r i od.
t h e a t e r m i g h t in f 1 uence and speak t o ' p o l it i cal
purposes, t h e y
'persona1 '
issues
evidenced a s t r i k i n g in d i f f e r e n c e t o t h e
s u r r o u n d i ng p a t r i a r c h a l o p p r e s s i o n . Consequently, femi n i sts o f t e n
found themsefves a t odds w i t h t h e s e groups when i t came t o e a r n i n g
r e c o g n i t i o n f o r t h e i r c o n t r i b u t i o n s and p r o d u c i n g p l a y s t h a t would
d e a l w i t h women's e x p e r i e n c e s . " [ S u l l i v a n , "Women, Woman, and t h e
A s a r e s u l t , many female d r a m a t i s t s ,
S u b j e c t o f Feminisrn," 1 3 . 1
commi t t e d t o t h e women ' s movernent m i g r a t e d f rom t h e avant-garde
t r o u p e s t o t r o u p e s s p e c i f t c a l 1 y dedi c a t e d t o t h e femi n i s t cause.

863 Lucy L i p p a r d q u o t e d i n " P o l i t i c a l Performance A r t : A


D i s c u s s i o n by Suzanne Lacy and Lucy R . L i p p a r d , " H e r e s i e s 17
( 1 9 8 4 ) , 23.
864 C i t e d in Goodman,

Contemporary F e r n i n i s t Theatres, 17.

. . .she also wants to 'steer w o u l d - b e dramatic writers away from the


preaching-to-the-converted, straight explicatory, exhortative, law

laying

down

theatre.

work

""'Paddy

that

has

been

so

prevalent

in

committed

Campbell, a playwright from Calgary. echoes

this sentiment, maintaining that feminist theatre of this type "is


'narrow,

earnest

theatre' . "866

and

humourless* -

in

a word.

'propaganda

The propagandistic elernents of the early stage are.

however, to be expected.

Indeed. " [ w ] hen you start making plays

about your own experiences and in your own language, there is so


much to Say that the temptation is to Say it al1 quickly and
After this initial
crudely and so you throw up b i g signs. "867

expression, one becomes "more sophisticated and more subtle in the


way [one] say[s] things.

"'" The shift in

feminit theatre away

from the "big signs" becanie apparent in the later 1970s.869


Shifts in political and cultural climates have caused some

practitioners in feminist theatre of t h i s l a t t e r p e r i o d t o focus


Pam Gems, f rom p e r s a n a l correspondence t o Goodman, in r e p l y
t o an e a r l i e r d r a f t o f Goodman's book, 22 J a n u a r y 1992, c i t e d i n
Goodman, Contemporary Feminist Theatres, 17.
Theatre,

D i ane Bessai , "A urvey R e p o r t : Women, Ferni n i sm and P r a i r i e


" Canadian T h e a t r e R e v i e w 43 (Summer f 9 8 5 ) , 31

Keatley, " A r t Form o r P i a t f o r r n ? O n Women and P l a y w r i t i ng, l 1


129.
868 I b i d .

A l t h o u g h t h e f o c u s has s h i f t e d from an ernphai on


e d u c a t i o n and p o l i t i c a l i s s u e s t o an emphasis on f o r m , t h e r e a r e
s t i 1 1 t h o s e , 1 ik e T o r o n t o s Company o f Si rens, whose m a i n ob j e c t i ve
c o n t i n u e s t o be "to . h e a l t h e i r audiences t h r o u g h humour' and
e d u c a t e them w i t h r e s p e c t t o s o c i a l and p o l i t i c a l i s s u e s , h i s t o r y ,
and ide01 ogy. " [Kym B i r d , "The Company o f S i r e n s : Popul a r Ferni n i s t
T h e a t r e in Canada, " C a n a d i a n T h e a t r e Review 59 (Summer l989), 35. ]

thefr

criticism

more

on

the

power

structures

underlying

representation. No longer is the express desire to show the s t a t u s


quo, in

other words, to show the domination of women, but rather,

to show women in active, positive roles. Earlier feminist theatre,


influenced
reference

by

deconstructionism, had

. . . the dominant

as

its

"only possible

ideology it deconstructs.

reproduces things as they are. w8i0

In effect, it

The argument of later feminit

has been that while the staging of oppression might initially seem
to "raise consciousnessw about the oppression of women, in fact it

only serves "to keep the oppressors on t h e stage and continues to


banish

the

oppressed.n 811

The

status

quo

may

deconstructed : it was not , however "dethroned " 8 i 2


has

now become:

deconstruction?

"why

does

the

have

The question

feminist community need

What about a practice

been

the

that provides precise

alternatives rather than precise deconstructions? r i 873


Since the laie 1970s the traditional view of woman-as-object

has been subverted by portraying women-as-subject.

To portray

women as the desiring subject. contrasts directly with the passive


role traditionally granted woman as the object of male desire.

This

reversal

"frustrates

870 Case and F o r t e ,

the

mystifications

ftFrorn Forma1 isrn t o Ferni n i srn,

of

"

morality,

64.

871 I b i d .

872 I b i d .
873 Sue-El1 en Case,
"Introduction, "
P e r f o r m i n g Feminism:
Feminist
Critical
Theory
and
Theatre,
ed. Sue-EIlen
Case
( B a l t i m o r e : The Johns H o p k i n s U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1990), 1 0 .

challenges the colonization of her body, and denies the use of her

sexuality as

commodity

pornography , n 874

To

have

in

the

markets

marriage

and

questions

the

of

woman-as-subject

traditional assumption of women as objects. Historical identities


for women have been created or re-created as a direct challenge to
the male hegemony that had so long controlled theatre history - on
and off the stage.

"Women theatre practitioriers created theatre

pieces about historical women .,.and about mythical women

...to

re-

write the received mythic heritage that women believed had been
corrupted and distorted by patriarchal culture."875
A further shift bas occurred beyond the discovery and creation
o f positive

images of women as active.

This s h i f t

involves

analysis and disruption of "the ideological codes embedded in the


inherited structures of dramatic representation.

t1876

Feminists

have appropriated traditional structures of theatre and subverted


them.

The subversion of traditional forms is crucial, for if "you

try to squash women's experience into traditional male structures

you silence the voice. You have to search for the appropriate form

874 Case and F o r t e ,

''Frorn Forma1 i srn t o Femi n i sm,

"

65.

875 "The Rhode I s l a n d F e m i n i s t Theatre


p r e e n t e d Anne
Hutchinson: American Jezebe7 i n 1976 and L i 1 it h o f S a n F r a n c i s c o
c r e a t e d and produced The Daughters o f A r a n i n 1983. P l ays a b o u t
m y t h i c women i n c l u d e d A n t i g o n e Prism c r e a t e d by t h e Women's
E x p e r i m e n t a l T h e a t r e i n new Y o r k , and a n o t h e r p r o d u c t i o n o f t h e
Rhode is i and Femi n i s t T h e a t r e ,
Persephone's R e t u r n
(1974). "
[ C h a r l o t t e Canni n t , " C o n s t r u c t i n g E x p e r i e n c e : T h e o r i z i ng a F e m i n i s t
T h e a t r e H i s t o r y , " T h e a t r e Journa 7 4 5 . 4 (December 1993), 533 * ]
Hart,

"Introducti on: Perforrni ng Femi n i sm, " 4 .

..

* .

"873

drama.

One form which has been subverted is the family/dornestic


Instead of focusing on the action of men, many feminists

focus on the i m e r , private experiences of women.

Traditional

drama is " a b o u t action, not introspection, and traditionally in our


society, those who get to participate in action have been men. The

women are there, but they tend to be the supporters or the blockers
of some male action.

The focus by ferninist on the tight links

between women's public and private lives underlines the rubric that
"the personal is political."

However, in using the form of the

family/domestic drama, one needs to be cautious of a mere "'mom and


pop mimesis'

one that simply trades the Mother for the Father."

Subversion of this form must go deeper than merely "the mimetic


play that re-presents Woman instead of Man.

"*"

Rather. b y putting

the focus on "the family, marriage, and the traditional work of


women as a basic part of any political structure," feminist theatre
works to redefine and expand "the parameters of the environment
that should be of interest to the . . . p laywright."880

877 Hale, " A D i a l e c t i c a l


Femi n i s t F r i nge, " 97.

Drarna o f

F a c t s and

F i c t i o n on t h e

878 Bonni e W o r t h i n g t o n quoted i n W a t t 1 i n g A r i s t o t l e :


A
Conversation Between Pl a y w r i g h t B e t t y Lambert and D i r e c t o r Bonni e
W o r t h i n g t o n , " Room o f One's Own 8 . 2 ( J u l y 1983), 57.
879 E l in Diamond,
"Mimesi s, M i m i c r y and t h e -Truc-Real ' ,"
Modern Drama 32: 1 (1989): 58-72, quoted i n Case, " I n t r o d u c t i o n , "
10.
As e x p l a i ned i n Case, t h e t e r m "mom and pop m i m e s i s " was c u t
[Case,
f r o m t h e m a n u s c r i p t by t h e e d i t o r s o f Modern Drama.
" I n t r o d u c t i o n , " P e r f o r m i n g Feminisms, 10.

Laughl i n , " B r e c h t i a n t h e o r y and A r n e r i can Femi n i s t T h e a t r e ,


160.

"

Feminist theatre since the l a t e 1970s has also shifted its


position regarding the role of the playwright . bkereas earlier the
singular playwright was eliminated in protest against traditional
theatre hierarchy, some feminists now recognise that the very
presence of the female playwright is subversive of that tradition.
Just as woman-as-subject on stage subverts the notion o f woman-aso b j e c t , so also woman-as-playwright works against the assurnption

that women have no voice.

In fact. a woman playwright may be even

more subversive for in this role she not only speaks, she also

. . .provides a text and


. . .She .-.controlsthe

meanings which others must follow.


voices of others . . . .Such control of a
multiple set of voices, and the pubic control of an
imaginative world (the action on a public stage) makes the
woman playwright a far greater threat than the female novelist
to the carefully maintained d inance o f men as the custodians
of public cultural creation.

Even with the mildest of messages, the woman playwright "is bound
to be seen as an anomaly, if not an actual threat . Who knows what
she will s a y once she gives voice?~~'~
At

the same time, however, not al1 feminist theatre even uses

texts or written scripts.

"Sorne rely on movement and gesture,

while some use scripts in alternative ways. and others combine


scripts with body language, multilingual performance and dance to

create multi-media and rnulti-cultural performance work. d83

Many

feminist performers prefer performance art to the t radi tional


881 Mi c h e l ene Wandor, "The Impact o f Ferni n i srn on the T h e a t r e , "
Feminist R e v i e w 18 (November 1 9 8 4 1 , 8 6 .

Mi c h e l e n e Wandor quoted i n Hart, " I n t r o d u c t i o n : P e r f o r r n i ng


F e r n i n i ~ m , ~1' .
883 Goodman, Contemporary F e m i n i t T h e a t r e s , 1 8 2 .

staged play, arguing that performance art "allows for a direct


politicization which is difficult to infuse intow a staged play.
. . . [ And] [bjecause performance art has not

been accepted fully by

the cultural apparatus which values high art and 'drama' the form
is particularly accessible to women.fl 884
Feminist theatre is, however. not beyond criticism. Those who
have been "successful"have been criticised for mainly working with
"established pieces. "

These groups

in contrast to their radical

counterparts. have not ventured beyond what is "safe." They have


been the groups who "rethought 'the classics*. whose explorations

and innovations were in style rather than in content.n883

There

is

often

also

still

the

criticism

"belabour[s] its points'.

that

. . .defendhg

feminist

theatre

its right to be what it is.

rather than using the same energy to create something new. .886
Reflecting on feminist theatre, Suzanne Lacy claims that "one of
the lessons of the last 10 years is that raising consciousness
doesn't necessarily bring political change. so it behooves artists

""'Indeed.

to look more closely at our d a i m s to be 'educators*.

the question remains, to what extent can or should an art such as


feminist theatre be autonomous and at the same time committed to
educating or making the audience want

to engage in political

884 Ibid., 184.


885 Hanna, " W a i t i n g f o r S p r i ng to Corne A g a i n,"

47.

886 Goodrnann , Contemporary F e r n i n i s t T h e a t r e s , 21 8 .


887 Suzanne Lacy, i n l'Pol it i cal Performance A r t : A D i s c u s s i o n
by Suzanne Lacy and Lucy R . L i p p a r d , l' 25

action.

i i i . Adorno's Aesthetic Theory and feminist theatre

While both Adorno and feminists in theatre agree that art is


to subvert the dominant ideology in which it is created. points of
disagreement arise regarding how this subversion is to be carried
The following is an indication of some of the areas which

out.

have become apparent in this discussion.

For example. whereas

Adorno calls for the enigmatic in art, which, like a puzzle. cannot
easily be figured out. feminist theatre. especially in its earlier
phase, attempts clear communication.

Adorno has been accused in

this respect of encouraging an elitist art - only the few will

understand. In contrast, much of feminist theatre is committed to


taking its clear message "to the people."
Another point of contention between feminists in theatre and
Adorno centres around the theatre of Brecht.

Although Adorno

recognises Brecht's genius as an artist, Adorno often refers to


Brecht as an example not to follow.

In contrast, feminists in

theatre cite Brecht as one of the greatest influences on their


work

stating, for example, how

" . . .Brechtian theory provides

feminist dramaturges and directors with a mode1 for political


subversion within the theatrical c o n t e x t .

positive reference

is made to Brecht. who "like the feminist theatre groups.

888
Person,"

Miles,
152.

''Split

Subject

Technique

for

. . .used

Feminit

Good

the stage to advocate a point of view. f1809

Or in the word of one

feminist theorist , "both Brecht and feminist theatre foreground


political agendas in what rnight be called 'platforrn theatres

'

and . . . ' the task of Brecht and also of feminist theatre is to


interrupt and deconstruct the habi tua1 performance codes of the
majority (male) culture' .

One finds "repeated reonances of

Brecht in the languagev of many feminist dramaturges.891


While Adorno complained of the submersion of Brecht 's art form
in his political agenda and would probably rnake similar statements
about some feminist theatre, both would agree that Brecht made
significant innovative contributions to the art form of theatre.
One could conclude that Adorno would probably praise the new forms
and subverting techniques of feminist theatre which establish a

Laughl in , W r e c h t i an t h e o r y and Ameri can Ferni n i s t T h e a t r e ,

lt

207, n . 2 .
A r i a n e Mnouchkine, d i r e c t o r o f t h e T h t r e du S o f e i 7 in P a r i s ,
c l a r i f i e s h e r r e g a r d f o r B r e c h t ' s i n f l u e n c e on h e r t e c h n i q u e s . She
" d e s c r i b e s B r e c h t as a master w i t h whom one must be c a r e f u l , and
a c c o r d i n g l y d i s a s s o c i a t e s herse1 f f r o m h i s a u t h o r i t a r i an a s p e c t s :
'1 l i k e him w h e n he searches, b u t 1 d o n 7 l i k e h i m when he
1e g i sl a t e s .
[ A r i ane Mnouchki ne in t e r v i ew w i t h A d r i an K i e r n a n d e r ,
i n Kiernander,
A r i a n e Mnouchkine a n d t h e T h t r e du So7ei7
(Cambridge: Cambridge U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1993), 142, c i t e d i n Sarah
B r y a n t - B e r t a i 1 , "Gender, Empi r e and Body P o l i t i c a s m i se en Scne:
Mnouchki n e t s Les A t r i d e s ,
Theatre Journa7 46.1 (March 1 9 9 4 ) , 3. ]
Janel 1 e
Rei ne1t , "Rethi n k i n g
Brecht:
D e c o n s t r u c t i on,
Feminism and t h e P o l i t i c s o f Form," u n p u b l i s h e d paper, 1990, c i t e d
in Goodman, Contemporary F e m i n i s t Theatres, 20.

'"

Miles,
" S p l i t S u b j e c t Technique f o r a F e r n i n i s t Good
Person,
154.
A l t h o u g h acknowledging t h e same i n h e r s e l f , M i l e s is a l s o
c r i t i c a l o f " t h e gender p o l i t i c s i m p i c i t " i n B r e c h t . M i l e s r e f e r s
s p e c i f i c a l l y t o B r e c h t ' s p l a y "The Good Person o f Sichuan," where
B r e c h t a s s o c i a t e s "goodness w i t h femi n i n i t y a n d s t r e n g t h w i t h
mascul i n i t y .
[ I b i d . , 156.1

non-identity with the tradition of theatre, but the use of these


new forrns in order to create directly political art and relay an
ideological message - in this case, of feminism - would remain
problematic for Adorno. Both Adorno and feminists in theatre have

affirmed Brecht ' s innovative Verfremdungseffekt, b u t their reasons


for doing so greatly differ.

Whereas Adorno applauds the demand

for a reflective attitude on the part of the audience, feminists in

theatre emphasise it as a technique which facilitates "objective


political analysis . . . .The epic structure and political content of
Brecht's work is intended to provide a historical overview and to
open audience awareness to the possibility of social change.,892
Feminists praise Brechtian theatre as anti-Aristotelian (read:
anti-male theatre), in that it is "characterized by incitement to
action rather than emotional catharsis.

Following Brecht * s

example, feminists have found innovations in form which subvert the


tradition of theatre and encourage consciousness-raising, if not.
action. With this statement. they would part Company with Adorno.
Adorno nevertheless does claim that " a l 1 art is cri tical,
simply as art.

He might, therefore. agree with feminists who

cite the very presence of the female perspective as inherently


subversive.

He may even agree with the basic task of a feminist

aesthetic: "to take up a position v i s - - v i s what is established in

892 I b i d .
893 H a l e , " A Dialectical
Feminist Fringe," 8 2 .

Drama o f

F a c t s and F i c t i o n on t h e

89' Osborne, "Adorno and t h e Metaphysi C S o f Moderni m , " 3 3 .

the field, challenging many of the field' s background assumptions


governing methodologies, and theoretical conclusions.n895

However

although the motivation for a feminist aesthetic is critical,

Adorno would not condone the fact that it is also

"directly

political" and follows the lines of an ideological framework of


thought - even one in contrast to the dominant mode of thought.
From an Adornian perspective, one could support the v i e w of JO
Ann Schmidman, founder of The Omaha Magic Theatre (Nebraska), who
suggests

that both the audience and the characters on stage get

"insights from constantly looking at the garbage of the world. w 896


Schmidman's suggestion seems to echo Adorno's emphasis on the
negative, his insistence on revealing the cracks.

One

could

perhaps also go so far as to build a case for Adorno's support of


the argument put forth by one feminist theatre practitioner that
even

the human

physical element

in

theatre

is a

potential

inherently subversive element, for "with the involvement of 'live'


bodies goes the risk of true action and of consequent change in the
Deborah
Knight,
review
of
Aethetic
in
Ferninist
P e r s p e c t i v e , by H i lde Hei n and Carol yn Korsmeyer, in The Journa 7 of
A e s t h e t i c s and A r t Criticism 5 3 . 1 ( W i n t e r W M ) , 93.
I f u l l y r e c o g n i z e t h a t 1 m i g h t be c h a l l e n g e d by t h o s e who
ernphasise A d o r n o ' s c o n s e r v a t i v e a t t i t u d e towards i n n o v a t i o n s i n ,
However, as 1 w i l i argue
f o r example, music i n t h e form o f j a z z .
i n Chapter 5, because Adorno i n s i s t s t h a t t h e o n l y way f o r a r t t o
g a i n and m a i n t a i n autonomy i s t o c o n s t a n t l y r e - c r e a t e it s e l f i n
response t o it s s o c i a l - h i s t o r i c a l moment, one can b u i 1d a case for
A d o r n o ' s s u p p o r t f o r in n o v a t i v e a r t forms whi ch d i f f e r e n t i a t e
themselves f r o m t h e t r a d i t i o n o f a r t and r e l e n t l e s s l y m a i n t a i n t h e
t e n s i o n between t h e i r form as a r t and t h e c o n t e x t o f t h e i r o r i g i n .
A d o r n o ' s t h e o r y remains in s i g h t f u l and i n f o r m a t i v e even decades
a f t e r h i s death.

896 Megan T e r r y , J O Ann Schmi dman, and Sora K i mberl a i n , "Gender

1s A t t i t u d e ,

i n Gender i n Performance, 300.

real world.

'l8"

In light of these positions. Adorno, along with

later feminists. would question the need for "banner waving.,898


Nevertheless, the fact remains that Adorno would have a lot of
difficulty with feminist theatre which is "directly political art"
in its articulation of alternatives of protest.

In an attempt to

manipulate a work of art as an instrument of protest, Adorno would


argue that feminists in fact neutralize any critical stance that
their theatre might have taken; they have allowed the law of
instrumentality and identity thinking to take over their art. As
such, much of feminist theatre would be considered by Adorno to
have "regresse[d] behind Enlightenment."

The notion of "direct

artistic commitment to ideological or educational values" annuls


the dialectical tension between art and

its context, for it

integrates art "lock, stock and barre1 in reality.

1f

Adorno

believes that "[olnly those works of art are enlightened which


manifest true consciousness while doggedly keeping their distance
from empirical reality,

there would probably be many examples

of feminist theatre which he would not consider to be enlightened .

Instead of merely airing futile protests against pat riarchy , one

Other,

l1

Runni ng-Johnson,
180.

"Femi n i s t

W r iting

and

1
reponse t o a p e r f o r m a n c e w h i c h A r i a n e Mnouchkine
d i r e c t e d , L i nda W i n t e r w r i t e s , " t h e performance succeeds in s p i t e
o f Mnouchkine's femi n i s t out1 ook because good t h e a t r e overcomes
f e m i n i s t dogma. " [ L i nda W i nter, "The S p l e n d i d Pageantry o f Greek
T r a g e d y , " New York Newsday ( 6 O c t o b e r 1 9 9 1 ) , 1 1 , c i t e d i n B r y a n t B e r t a i l , "Gender, E m p i r e and Body P o l i t i c as M i s e en Scne," 28.1
899 Adorno, Aesthetic T h e o r y , 2 7 .
Ibid.

could argue that Adorno would encourage feminists in theatre to


relentlessly emphasise the negativity of art which is "the epitome
of al1 that has been repressed by the established culture" and
caused unnecessary suffering.901

In 13ght of the protest nature of much of feminist theatre,


Adorno would underscore the inherent mistaken presumptions of
subjects who engage in protest.

To use art as a form of protest

*for the sake of a higher social truth," is to make art reach for
something which it cannot, for something beyond the realm of
subjective experience.

Such art "end[s] up with less, and the

higher objective truth it falsely takes for a standard evaporates


before its eyes. "'O2

Feminis t theatre productions which c r e d i t

themselves with creating according to some noble value, manipulate

the art form to fit an external meaning. missing the fact that the
external meaning is the nonartistic irreducible element in art and
falling into the trap of the domination they so mucb want to
subvert - art becomes a means to their ends rather than a being-

for-self. From an Adornian perspective, one could also point out


the inherent assumption which presumes one is able to detach
oneself "enough from the mediations of repression so as to offer an
alternative
forces.3O'"
'O1

that does not

subscribe to

the same

repressive

Detachment is not possible since one can only repond


Ibi d .
Ibid.

Ibid., 188.
In s u p p o r t of A d o r n o f s position, one could also highl ight t h e

'O3

fact t h a t presumed detachment falls s h o r t o f w h a t Hewitt r e f e r s to

within one's

context and any alternatives one offers are as

distorted as the context in which they originate,

The act of

offering alternatives which foreground feminist values follows the


pattern of domination in that, as Hewitt notes, "feminist views
that elevate femininity as a repository of values superior to those
associated with masculinity risk ending in a dualistic reversalism
and therefore impoverished mimesis of the s t a t u s quo,
intact

the

conditions

domination.

that

produce

leaving

dualism, hierarchy, and

Baed on Adorno's arguments, one could point out

that the risk of becorning its opposite may be too great.


The very articulation of direct protest itself also carries
the risk that one will find oneself merely adopting the mode of
communication established by the dominant ideology

in this case

patriarchal - and therefore, no longer maintaining a position from


which to critique the structure of that ideology.

To accept the

order of communication of the dominant ideology, is to merely argue


from within the established order. According to Adorno, this would
indicate that the feminist protest has not differentiated itself
from the patriarchy it seeks to subvert, but actually adopted "the
ambivalent stance of a man [sic] who remains attached to the

as a "ferninist c r i t i c a f
theory [which] also begins w i t h t h e
assumption t h a t w e have no s t a n d p o i n t o u t s i d e o f d o m i n a t i o n and
a l i e n a t i o n f r o m w h i c h t o t h e o r i z e . W e o u r s e l v e s speak from w i t h i n
conditions o f a l i e n a t i o n already given t o us, mediating n o t o n l y
our c r i t i c a l knowledge b u t o u r v e r y mode of b e i n g i n t h e world."
[ H e w i t t , Critical Theory o f Reiigion, 114. ]
'O4

Hewitt,

C r i t i c a 7 Theory o f Religion, 201-2.

authority

against

which

he

[sic]

rebels. 905

Since

this

established mode is understood by the dominant ideology, what is


communicated can, as with Sartre's phrases, be easily manipulated
for opposing purposes.

Zn this sense, Adorno would also point out to feminists that


it is highly doubtful whether a work of art can directly intervene

politically. And where "it does so intervene," he would tell them,


"the kind of

impact

that results

detrimental to the quality of art. "'O6

is peripheral

or, worse,

Just as he chastised those

on the left who wanted him to write a theory of art f o r praxis,


Adorno would claim that the impact of a work of art 'has nothing to
do with translating their latent praxis into manifest praxis, the
growth of autonomy having gone too far to permit any kind of
immediate correspondence.

The most important task for feminit

theatre then, from the perspective of Adorno's theory, would be for


it to establish and fulfil its role in opposition to its socio-

historical moment

al1 aspects of that moment

- through

the

constant renewing o f its artistic form.


Some feminis t theorists have recently charted a new course,
suggesting that rather than "taking the position that one might
change the world - a position that assumes an authority to know
what's best for the world" it would be better to focus on a

'O5

B r g e r , "The Decl i n e o f t h e Modern Age,

119 [ c f .

for e x p l a n a t i on o f t h e c o n t e x t o f t h i s q u o t a t i o n ] .

'O6

Adorno,

'O7

Ibid.

A e s t h e t i c Theory, 343.

320

n o t e 128

radicalization of agency on the level of micropolitics. In


that differences between women are realized in specific
contexts, or in the 'micropolitical practices of daily l i f e , '
. . A t is a t this level that resistance must occur . . . .There is
a space created at the point at which we recognize that we are
not what ideology would have us b e . Such awareness exists in
margins that provide a vantage f rom which to understand our
differences - that is, our difference from ideological
constructs and imperatives as well as the differences that
constitute community and individual identities,,..This new
feminist direction serves to provide both a 'critical
negativity,' in that it foregrounds the influence of ideology,
as well as an 'affirmative positivity of i t s politics,' in
that it offers a cours of action rather than a conscious
submission to ideology.58
Adorno would no doubt affirm the critical negativity of this new
feminist direction in its attempt to foreground the influence of
ideology .

As

we11, in

light of

his own

emphasis

on

the

significance of even the minutest of fragments which dispels


ideology's supposed totality, Adorno could agree with the above
stated importance of the awareness of the possibility of resistance
at the micropolitical level of the margins of e x i s t e n c e .

Bowever,

the phrase "an 'affirmative positivity of its politics,' in that it

offers a course of action rather than a conscious submission to


ideology," would prove problematic for Adorno on several fronts.
Although he would agree w i t h the importance o f making conscious
one's submission to ideology, resorting to an immanent critique
Adorno might indicate that to " o f f e r [ ] a course of action" still
implies the position of authority where one believes one knows what

is best for others. To spotlight an alternative course - even one

'O8
Teresa de L a u r e t i s ,
<'The Technology
of G e n d e r , " i n
Techno7ogies o f Gender ( B I oomi n g t o n : I n d i ana U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s ,
19875, 2 6 , c i t e d i n S u l l i v a n , "Wornen, Wornan, and t h e Subject o f
Femi n i sm,

"

i n Donki n and Clentent, e d s .

U p s t a g i n g B i g Daddy, 2 8 .

directly opposed to the patriarchal course in this case

still

implies domination and authority and, therefore, an accommodation


to the established patriarchal system which feminists want to
subvert .

An "affirmative positivityf' would also indicate that

although one has become aware of the oppressive ideology under


which one lives, one has been hoodwinked into adopting another in
order to avoid submitting to the original spell.

Adorno would

emphasise the necessity of relentless critical thinking in order to


avoid immediate adoption of another "established" course of action.
One thing remains clear to ferninists in theatre such as
Goodman: unlike much of the alternative theatre in the late 1960s

and 1970s. feminist theatre has not become mainstream.


Only a major structural change in al1 theatre could transfer
feminist theatre as genre into the rnainstream, for the
emphasis on collective and non-hierarchical ways of working
which are intrinsic to feminist theatre mitigate against
'mainstreaming' . Indeed , most schools of feminism are opposed
in theory, and most feminist theatres in practice, to the
concept of 'mainst reaming ' . In any case, canonization a
mainstream production of feminist theatre are both rare.!kg
In light of Adorno's own cal1 for art to constantly subvert the
tradition of art and be the most modern possible, one could make a

case for Adorno's support in principle of Goodman's hope that it


will also continue to be the case that ferninist theatre will not be
easily defined and that women will continue to find new ways of
creating theatre. However, whereas Goodman argues that this will
keep the term feminist theatre, itself, "flexible, and in need of

'O9

Goodman, Contemporary Fernin ist T h e a t r e s , 27.

322

c o n t inual re-vision,"91(1 from an Adornian perspective, one would

question

whether

flexibility

and

ideology

are

not

indeed

Although further f racturing of feminist

incommensurate terms.

theatre might result, Goodman views this possibility as a "positive

process - a breaking-off regrouping and refocusing of the feminist


Although o n e could argue t h a t this could be

theatre project-

recognized by Adorno as the possibility that art will continue to


re-create itself as art, the dif ficulty remains that feminist
theatre by its very nature sets up for itself an ideology as an
alternative to the dominant ideology of patriarchy.
One might wonder if, in this sense, one could turn to Adorno's
theory for the argument that feminist theatre must maintain its
commitment to critiquing the dominant ideology which undergirds
both the tradition of theatre and the reality of the socialOne would need to

historical context in which women live today.


keep

Adorno's

in mind

opposition

to

the

insistence
dominant

that

ideology

even

an

ideology

already

in

indicates

accommodation. It is essential that any commitment must remain on


the level of the aesthetic form alone, "the content to which the
artist commits hirnself [sic] [is] inherently ambiguous.
in this way

is

it

possible

ta offer a critique; when

Only
the

differentiation is reduced or flattened. a standpoint of critique


is no longer possible.
''O

And if feminists in theatre insist on the

I b i d . , 212.

I b i d . , 237.

''*

Adorno,

"Cornmi t m e n t , " 3 0 4 .
323

"notion of a 'message' in art. even when poli tically r a d i c a l , " they


prove only that their art "already c o n t a i n s an accommodat ionngi3
t o the dominant patriarchal order which they are trying to subvert.

remains in fundamental opposition

Only art

which

according

to Adorno's

to

society.

theory, can b e s a i d to b e committed t o

reflecting the hope for change o f the present conditions.


other risks llslither[ing] into the abyss o f its opposite.!'

'13

I b i d . , 317.

411

ART

AND

liELIG1ON

- - -ILPTEZR

AUSCHWITZ

" [ T l h e Frankfurt School a l ways insisted,


i t was o n l y by the r e f u s a 1 t o celebrate the present
tha t the possi b i 1 i ty migh t be preserved
of a f u t u r e in which writing p o e t
would no longer be an act of barbarism. "f8

' l r Jay, D i a lect ica 7 Imagination, 2 9 9 .

325

Adorno recognizes an emancipatory potential in the aesthetic


experience and maintains that it is o n l y through the medium of art
that suffering and terror can find their voice.

And yet, Adorno

insists, the artist "best servels] society by ignoring politics and


concentrating on his material.

As w e

noted. according to

Adorno art is political in its very existence, for it defies


affirmation of the condition of present reality. But art must also
"refuse to heed

any demands for practical utility, no matter

whether these demands are enhanced by sorne higher human purpose or

not . "'16

Artits are not to create in light of sorne ideological

ideal of what should be, falling into established formulae that


"work," but

rather create new

forms "in the shadow of

the

existent. 11 911

From the examination of art in its relationships to the


culture industry and political agendas such as Fascism, Marxism and
Feminism, it became evident that works of art relentlessly insist

on their autonomous existence qua art.

Examinat ion of those

relationships were essential in order to corne to an understanding


of the response of art in those relationships from Adorno's

915 Buck-Morss,

916 Adorno.
917

The Origin o f Negative Dia7ectics, 79.

A e s t h e t i c Theory,

109.

Persona1 conversat i on w i t h Marsha H e w i tt

by perrni s s i o n . )

J u n e 1993. (Used

perspective. The conclusions reached provide a background against

which to discuss art in relationship to the Christian church in its


conternporary institutional forms.
Prior to investigation of this last topic. however, 1 would

like to discuss the work of a particular artist, Samuel Beckett,


whose art Adorno considers to be the "paradigm of modern art in
general .

Reference has been made to examples of art which

Adorno condemns; now the focus will be on the flip side of his
Aesthetic Theory, examining art which, concentrating on being art,

models the autonomy Adorno claims is essential to art's critique of


its context.

Such art is created in response to its social-

historical moment and maintains a critical dialectical tension with


that moment and with the tradition of art. Samuel Beckett's art in particular, for this study, his theatre - is for Adorno a mode1
of modern art, an art which, Adorno claims, evokes hope for "the
chance of another world that is not yet.

Adorno praies

Beckett for mercilessly unveiling reality to show it for what it


is.

I will explore how, in its refusal to affirm an identity with

even an idedogy in radical opposition to the world as is,


Beckett's art negates the pattern of identity thinking rampant in
reality.

There is no intention here to make Beckett's art into

918 W . M a r t i n Ldke, "Der K r o n z e u g e : E i n i g e Anrnerkungen zum


V e r h a l t n i s T h . W . Adornos z u S . B e c k e t t , " i n Theodor W. Adorno, ed.
H e i n z Ludwig A r n o l d ( M u n i c h : t e x t + k r i t i k , 1 9 7 7 ) , 1 4 2 .

Adorno, N e g a t i v e Dialectics, 381


I n f a c t , Adorno had p l a n n e d t o d e d i c a t e h i s A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y
to B e c k e t t . [ J a y , Adorno, 17.1

religious art or specifically Christian art, and no hidden agenda


to prove there are religious themes in his art.
and

agendas

have

investigation.

nothing

to

do

with

the

Such intentions

purpose

of

this

1 do maintain, however, that Beckett's art makes

manifest that impulse which is the voice of suffering, the c r y

which insists that the world as it i s , is not as it should b e .

And

if the world is revealed to be cracked and distorted and oppressive


in its present form, t h e n there is also the glimmer of hope

however f a i n t - that an other, more humane "world that is not yet"


might be possible.

The second and third parts of this l a s t chapter will focus on


the relationship o f art and the Christian church.

Beginning w i t b

a brief overview of the patronage of art by official institutions


o f the Christian religion, I will then turn t o twentieth century

examples of what 1 would consider a distorted relationship with a


particular focus on theatre arts. This will be followed by a look
at this relationship of religion and art as exemplified in the work
of the Institut fr Kirchenbau und kirchliche K u n s t der Gegenwart

at Philipps University in Marburg, Germany.920

For more than

twenty-five years , members of the Inst i tut have been researching in


the area of autonomous art in the context of religion and the
o f f i c i a 1 institutions of the Christian church.

920
Intitute
Conternporary A r t .

for

Contemporary

Church

Their research,

Architecture

and

greatly influenced by the theorie of ~dorno, ha been mainly


in relation to the v i s u a l arts of painting, sculpture, architecture
and stained glass. Nevertheless, application of their work to this

investigation, focused on the art of theatre. will prove a testing


ground for m y thesis regarding the nature of the relationship
be tween art, religion and ideology in the contemporary context .

The questions to be asked will be of a similar nature to the


questions asked throughout this investigation, for at issue still
and once again is the basic relationship of art and ideology.

1. Adorno and the Theatre of&amuel Beckett


"the paradigm of modern artn

Adorno praises the playwright and author Samuel Beckett for


developing an authentic art form which confronts the audience with
s h o c k i n g truths and fears only half-consciously experienced or

cornpletely ignored in daily living.

Before proceeding, however.

with an examination of how and why the dramatic works of Beckett


exemplify the characteristics deemed b y Adorno a s necessary for a
successful work of modern art, it is important

to note

that

Adorno's interpretation of Beckett is heavily influenced by three

'*'

F o r exarnpl e , t h e c u r r e n t D i r e c t o r o f t h e I n s t i t u t , P r o f .
D r . H o r s t Schwebel , was a student o f Adornor s at t h e U n i v e r s i t y of
F r a n k f u r t i n t h e 1960s.
Schwebel ' s w r i t i ngs o f t e n e i t h e r r e f e r
d i r e c t l y t o Adorno o r o t h e r s i n t h e F r a n k f u r t S c h o o l , such as
B e n j a m i n , o r i n d i r e c t l y i n t h e arguments w h i c h he p u t s f o r t h .
1
w o u l d 1i ke t o e x p r e s s my a p p r e c i a t i o n t o P r o f . D r . Schwebel f o r
g r a n t i n g me p e r m i s s i o n t o c a r r y out research i n t h e research
l i b r a r y a t t h e Institut d u r i n g t h e f a 1 1 o f 1 9 9 5 , as well a s f o r h i s
encouragement o f my work.
922 Ldke,

" D e r Kronzeuqe,

"

142.

factors: the Fascism he experienced in Germany, Stalinism, and the


world of advanced capitalism which he e x p e r i e n c e d in the United
S t a t e s , especially as manifested in the Culture Lndustry.923

one

must also b e aware that Adorno's understanding of Beckett's art


differs from that of many of his contempocary drama critics who
base

their analysis of Beckett on an assumed existentialist

philosophy; the critic Martin Esslin is one example.

As well,

German critics tended to focus on the Master-Servant motif in


Beckett's plays - in particular, Waiting for Godot, and Endgrne -

and draw connections to Hegel's Master-Servant narrative in the


fourth chapter of his Phenomenology. Gvhile Adorno did not discount

such analysis, and certainly r e f e r r e d to the domination of human

beings over other human beings, for him more central was the root
of this domination in the Enlightenment: the domination of nature

which led to the domination o f one human being over another, the
irrationality of modern rationality and the return of enlightenment
to myth. Adorno frequently made reference to the arguments he and
Horkheimer had made in t h e i r Dialectic of Enlightenment in his
discussion of Beckett.

The question to keep in mind pertains to

how Adorno's understanding of Beckett's work influences his choice


of Beckett as a mode1 modern artist.
By maintaining the tension of the "Great ~ e f u s a l "against
~~~

that which is, artists and their art, such as that of Samuel

923 Cf. especiall y f o r t h i argument, t h e t e x t o f Ldke,


Kronzeuge,

'*'

136-149.

Marcuse,

One-Dimensions 7 Man, 257.

"Der

Beckett, remain loyal to those who are without hope. Beckett's art
manifests

the

unbearable

contradictions

that ,

in

estimation, "everyone knows but no one will admit. "925

Adorno ' s

The plays

and novels of Beckett grow out of and "deal wth a highly concrete
historical reality: the abdication of the subject. Beckett's Ecce

Homo, in Adorno's view, is what human beings have become. ,,926

Adorno praises Beckett for not protesting the ideology of the


present condition by making his art a means of an opposing
ideology.

Instead of u s i n g art for the direct expression of

whatever his political commitments might be, Beckett "speaks out of


the artefact rather t h a n out of the subject.
seem,

heeds Adorno's

Beckett

. it would

advice; he concentrates on the material

particular out of which his art is created, rather than on the


Adorno appreciates the art of Beckett

political'views around him.

because he believes it critiques reality by simply laying bare the


truth which reality represses. In a discussion of committed art as
opposed to art which shuns commitment to a heteronomous subject
matter, Adorno lauds both the art of Beckett and Franz Kafka:
By dismantling appearance, they [Beckett and Kafka] explode
from within the art which committed proclamation subjugates
from without, and hence only in appearance. The
inescapabflity of their work compels f
&
e
change of attitude
which committed works rnerely demand.

925 Adorno, Tommi tment," 31 4 .


926

Ibid.

927 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 163.


928 Adorno,

"Cornmi t r n e n t

31 4 .

As

one example, Adorno considers Beckett's art to

be

"more

realistic" than the art of the socialist realists, "who distort


reality by bringing their aesthetic principle to bear on it..929
In addition to refraining from distorting reality to fit an
aesthetic principle or a committed slogan. Beckett's art also gives
no alternatives or solutions. .And it is precisely because of this
that Beckett's drama "compels" a change of attitude.

In the

unveiling of the cracks in the present appearance of reality's


unity, Beckett's work articulates "inaudible cries that things
should be different . "930

Working from wi thin and rearranging the

elements of present reality. Beckett's art negates reality by


r e f u s i n g an identity with the world as it i s .

"To Beckett, as to

the Gnostics. the created world is radically evil. and its negation
is the chance of another world that is not yet. w931 In its refusal

to affirm an identity, Beckett's art maintains its autonomy as art


and as such, negates identity thinking which has become the
dominant pattern of thought.
Beckett's absurd theatre, d a i m s Adorno. is "the paradigm of
modern art in general ; t'932 for through innovative drarnatic forrn.
Beckett's draina questions the assumptions of traditional drama. In

a defence of literature like Beckett's. Adorno strongly argues that


"traditional dramaturgy

leading

with

929 Adorno, A e s t h e t i c Theory,

444.

930 Adorno, N e g a t i v e D i a 7 e c t i c s , 381 .

"'

Ibid.

932 Ldke, " D e r Ktonzeuge, " 142.

332

roles"

is

no

longer

appropriate, f o r the "absurdity o f reality forces us to a form that

shatters the realistic facade. w933

Adorno refers to the many

aspects of B e c k e t t 's work which s e l f - c o n s c i o u s l y destroy or c a l 1


into question assumptions of traditional drama. Present discussion
will be limited to three o f Beckett's dramas: Endgame; Happy Days;
and Waiting f o r ~odot.'~~ Becaue the characters, (non)-settings

and l a c k of plots i n these plays a r e typical o f Beckett, brief


reference to them will lend t o an understanding of his work from
Adorno's perspective: but first, a brief look a t Beckett's art.

i. The autonomous art of Samuel Beckett


Although Samuel Beckett (1906-89) was born in Ireland, he is
best known a s a French playwright.935

He first went to Paris in

1928 on a two-year contract as a lecteur d'anglais.

War II he supported his new-found home by joining


Resistance Movement.

During World
the French

Beckett spent most of the remainder of his

933 Theodor W. Adorno, "An Open l e t t e r t o R o l f Hochhuth, " i n


Notes t o L i t e r a t u r e , Vol , 1 , ed. Rol f T i edemann, t r a n s . Shi e r r y
Weber N i ch01 sen (New York: Columbia U n i v e r s i t y Press, I W Z ) , 244.
934 En A t t e n d a n t Godot ( W a i t i n g f o r Godot) was f i r s t perforrned
i n 1953 a t the T h t r e Babylone, P a r i S . Fin de Partie ( E n d g r n e ) was
al so f i r s t p e r f o r m e d i n F r e n c h i n 1959 a t t h e Royal C o u r t Theatre,
London.
The f i r s t p e r f o r m a n c e o f Happy Days (O, L e s Beaux Jours)
however, was i n E n g l i s h i n 1961 at t h e Cherry Lane T h e a t e r , New
York.

935 B e c k e t t was d e s c r i bed as t h e f o l l o w i n g i n h i s o b i t u a r y : ' ' H e


was
just as much a l i v i n g c o n t r a d i c t i o n as
a

[Beckett]

p h i l o s o p h i c a l one. H i s b i r t h d a t e i n A p r i l 1906 was Good F r i d a y ,


b u t a l s o F r i d a y t h e 1 3 t h . The son of an I r i s h q u a n t i t y s u r v e y o r , he
produced some o f t h e most remarkable French prose o f t h e 2 0 t h
c e n t u r y " [ A s s o c i a t e d French Press, " B e c k e t t b e s t known f o r Godot, "
K i t c h e n e r - W a t e r 7 o o Record ( 2 6 December 1989), A ( A l ) . ]

l i r e in Paris and wrote mainly in his newly adopted language:

French. I n an interview, Beckett reveals why he chose to write in


French instead of English.

An

acquired language, he claims,

imposes a certain discipline on one's writing.

He adds: "Parce

qu'en f r a n c a i s c ' e s t p l u s f a c i l e d'crire sans s t y l e . "936

Beckett

wanted to write in a manner which would allow the revelation of


thoughts that were unsayable.

In another interview, he explains

the difficulty of achieving the desired effect:

[One] who speaks is carried along by the logic of the language


and its articulation. Thus the writer who pits himself against
the unsayable must use al1 his cunning so as not to Say what
the words make him Say against his will, but to express
instead what by their very nature they are designed t ~ ~ ~ o v e
up: the uncertain, the contradictory, the unthinkable.
Beckett's drama has been classified as " a b s u d . * While many
audiences would agree because of the degree of incomprehensibi1ity

of much of his work, the term "absurd" refers to a style of theatre


developed in the mid- twentieth century.

Theatre critic, Martin

Esslin coined the term in 1961 in his b o o k , The Theatre of the


Absurd.

features

Esslin claims he uses the term to describe particular


of

certain

dramas

in

order

to

highlight

their

similarities. He insists the term is a "working hypothesis. . . .That

936 '%ecause i n French i t l e a s i e r t o w r i t e without style."


[ N i klaus Gessner, D i e Untu7ang7 i c h k e i t d e r Sprache, (Zrich: J u r i s,
1957), 32, i n Martin E s s l i n , The T h e a t r e o f t h e Absurd (New Y o r k :
Anchor Books, Doubl eday and Company,
r e v i sed updated e d i t i o n ,

1969), 19.1
Beckett wrote most o f h i s works i n F r e n c h and t h e n l a t e r
t r a n s f a t e d them to Engl i s h .
In t h e l a t t e r years o f h i s l i f e h e
wrote i n German as wel 1 .

93i Cl aude M a u r i ac, La l i t t r a t u r e Contemporaine ( P a r i s : A l b i n


Michel

, l958), 8 3 ,

q u o t e d i n E s s l in ,

The T h e a t r e o f t h e Absurd, 2 0 .

and no more. n938

The term has now corne into accepted usage.

Esslin outlines a number of traits found in absurd theatre:


If a good play must have a cleverly constructed story, these
have no story or plot to speak of: if a good play is judged
by subtlety of characterization and motivation, these are
often without recognizable characters and present the audience
with almost mechanical puppets: ... if a good play relies on
wi t ty repartee and po&ted
dialogue. these often consist of
incoherent babblings.
Absurd theatre has developed its own standards- The new standards

are "out of harmonyn - the original musical meaning of "absurd" wi th what theat re audiences expect .940
t raditional

Having done away with

techniques of theatre and rational dialogue, the

Theatre of the Absurd represents an example of what Adorno calls


"anti-art." Absurd theatre has de-aestheticized the art of drama
in its refusal to conform to the accepted standards of the dramatic

tradition,

The result: an innovative autonomous dramatic form-

Esslin believes this new form of drama better represents the


generally held attitude of the mid-twentieth century. Inherent in
this attitude is the feeling that assumptions of the past regarding
art and the purpose of humanity are no longer valid. In fact, the
basic human condition has become meaningless and senseless: At the
heart of the Theatre of the Absurd, claims Esslin, lies the search

for a way to corne to terms with the meaninglessness of this

disjointed world. Absurd theatre's form exemplif ies how the means

938 E s s l i n , r t I n t r o d u c t ion to t h e r e v i s e d updated e d i t i o n ,


Ibid., x.
939 I b i d . ,
Ibid.,

3-4.

5.

in

of expression from the past no longer have meaning.

However, the

role of absurd theatre, States Esslin, is

paradoxical in light of the loss of "ultimate certainties."

Esslin

believes that the Theatre of the Absurd "cornes nearest to being a


genuine religious quest in our age: an effort, however timid and
tentative ..-in search of a dimension of the Ineffable. . . -,941
This dramatic form strives to awaken humanity to " t h e ultirnate
realitiesw of the human condition and to instil a "sense of cosmic
wonder and primeval anguish" which has been lost.

Absurd theatre

attempts to shock humanity out of an existence which "bas become


trite, mechanical, cornplacent, and deprived of the d i g n i t y that
cornes

of awareness."942

abandonment

of

dialogue, in

The drama of Beckett exemplifies the

traditional dramatic

an attempt to awaken

techniques
the

and

audience.

rational
Beckett's

language, for example, attacks the rational role of language "as a


vehicle for conceptual thought or as

an instrument

for

the

communication of ready-made answers to the problems of the human


condition.

In particular, there are time when devaluation of

language becomes evident when the words spoken are contrasted with
the actions. For example. at the end of

Act 1

of Waiting for Godot

the characters agree that they ought to leave, but a c t u a l l y remain


exactly where they are:

941 I b i d . ,

351.

942 I b i d .
9C3 I b i d . ,

64.

Estragon: So, shall we go?


Vladimir: Let's go.
(

~ h e ydo no t move.

'''

Yet the great irony is that Beckett must use language.

In h i s

attempt to communicate the incommunicable, Beckett "attacks the


cheap and facile complacency of those who believe that . . . the world
can be

mastered

by

neat classification and

formulations.,945

Beckett's language mocks the rationality of what Adorno would term


administrated language.
In addition to the style of language employed b y Beckett , his
plays lack traditional setting and plot.

In fact, Esslin claims

Beckett's plays lack plot more than any other absurd plays.946

His

plots follow patterns, exemplifying the importance of form in


Beckett's art.

Waiting for Godot and Happy Days are cyclical,

while Endgame is patterned after a game of chess.

The action of

Act 1 of Waiting for Godot is basically repeated in Act

II

Likewise in Happy Days we see two days in the life of Winnie which

are really very much the same, except that the second ends with an
ambiguou confrontat ion.94i How many more time will the cycle

944 Samuel B e c k e t t ,
M i n u i t , 1952), 7 5 .

En A t t e n d a n t Godot ( P a r i s : L e s Pdi t i o n s de

945 E s l in , The T h e a t r e o f t h e Abord,

64.

946 I b i d . , 25.
947 Rosemary P o u t n e y suggests t h a t t h e appearance o f W i I l i e
( W i n n i e t s husband) a t the end o f Act I I parallels his I r v e r b a l
p r e s e n t a t i o n o f h i m s e l f a t t h e end o f A c t 1 .
A l though h e f i n a l 1 y
a p p e a r s , s t i l 1 t h e y can only l o o k a t each o t h e r ; t o t o u c h i s
impossi b l e .
The d i s t a n c e between them cannot be crossed.
"The
f i n a l c o n f r o n t a t i o n between husband and w i fe produces a d r a m a t i c
c l i m a x , a 1 i near movernent, that closes an o t h e r w i se cycl i c p l a y . "

recur?

The moves made in Endgame follow a steady decline along

with the dwindling of the supplies in the cupboard. The play can
only end with Hamm and Clov frozen in a stalemate.

Will Clov ever

leave, or will the action just repeat i t s e l f ?

Also evident in Beckett's plays is the frailty of the subject.


As

Esslin explains, the traditional development of character

assumes

world

in which

"human nature,

the

diversity

personality and individuality, is real and matters. "948


dramatic works question this assumption.

of

Beckett ' s

His characters are not

characters, but merely "embodiments o f basic human attitudes."949


In Wai ting for Godot, for example, t h e r e are two c l o w n - l i k e figures
waiting for some mysterious Godot, about whom they know next to
nothing; they are not even sure he will show.

In both acts they

"don't actually do anything and they are agreed r i g h t from the


beginning that there's nothing they can

do.

They rnerely

interact with each other and with two other figures who appear on

their way

to

somewhere they never get. These interactions do not

advance any sort of story-line, nor do they contribute to character


development through character relationships.
characters are not characters in this sense.

In fact, "[tlhe
There are many

[Rosemary P o u t n e y , T h e a t e r o f Shadows: Samue 7 B e c k e t t 's Drama 195676 (Totawa, N . J . : B a r n e s and N o b l e , 1 9 8 8 ) , 6 1 . 1


948 E s s l i n ,

The T h e a t r e o f t h e Absurd, 53.

949 I b i d .

Ronald Hayman, Samue 7 Beckett (London : H e i nernann, 19681, 4 .

passages where it couldn't matter less who says which line..951


Nor does the setting matter: by a tree on a country road. It could
be anywhere and anytime . How long this waiting has gone on and how
long it will continue. we do not know. Vladimir and Estragon are
not even sure how many days they have already waited for Godot.
The situation of Endgame is likewise a b s u r d and unclear. The

same question remains a question from beginning to end: will Clov


leave Hamm?

The room in which we find them could be any room.

anywhere. any time after some unnamed catastrophe. This particular


room, however, barely resembles a room in which one could live . It
has only a chair and two garbage cans. There are two windows, but
they are so high one can only see out of them by climbing a ladder.
Outside, there is nothing to see. Al1 is dead and the time and the
weather are "the same as usual.
we do not know.

How long they have been there.

How long they will remain. we also do not know.

We are also unaware of how long Winnie has been buried in the
earth in Happy Days. And the only thing that changes i s that she
s i n k s further into the ground in Act II.

We do not know why she

came to b e in her present situation, nor do we know if it will ever


end.

Winnie passes her days by talking to her husband. when he

l i s t e n s ; when he does not, she keeps talking

- to herself. The

"bourgeoisw routine which she follows is in bitter contrast to her


sorry situation. But the mound of earth could be anywhere, anytime

951 I b i d . ,

6.

952 I b i d . , 2 8 .

and a lot of what Winnie says could


makes very little sense.

be

said by anybody because it

Al1 that matters is that Winnie, like

Vladimir and Estragon, keeps talking.

Silence cannot be endured,

because one might hear voices " that explore the mysteries of being
and the self to the limits of anguish and s u f fering. ,,953
Coupied with the need to keep talking, is also the need for

habit,

In Winnie's case, she becomes upset and even filled with

" a n g u i s h t l when her routine is broken:


My

hair! (Pause.) Did 1 brush and comb y hair? ( P a u s e *)


Normally I do.9591

may have done . ( Pause.)

Esslin believes Vladimir and Estragon have also fallen into a


habit: waiting f o r Godot.

This h a b i t of waiting prevents them

"from reaching the painful b u t fruitful awareness of the f u l l


reality of being. w955

Habits are worn l i k e a " s h e l i

... to

defend

themselves against full awareness of the 'suffering of being'. n 956

In Esslin's opinion, human beings are no longer aware that


they are avoiding the truth of the state of reality. Nor are they

aware of its disintegrating effect upon them.

However, when

illusions of reality are stripped away by " a grotesquely heightened


and distorted p i c t u r e of a world that has gone mad, " repressed
f e a r s and anxieties surface.'j7

953 Essl i n ,
954 S a m u e l

955 Essl in ,
956 Samuel

957 Essl in ,

The T h e a t r e

Beckett,

o f the A b s ~ r d ,3 9 .

Happy

The T h e a t r e

Fears can then be consciouly

Days ( N e w Y o r k : G r o v e , 1961 ) , 22.

o f t h e Absurd, 3 8 .

B e c k e t t , q u o t e d i n Hayman,
The T h e a t r e o f t h e Absurd,
340

Samue7 B e c k e t t , 5 9 .
360.

faced. instead of vaguely sensed below the surface.

Seeing one's

anxieties formulated, explains Esslin, allows for the possibility


of liberating oneself from them.

The need to confront humanity

with the truth about reality is especially essential now when


life is threatened with being smothered in the mass
consumption of hypnotic mechanized vulgarity ....For the
dignity of [humanity] lies in [its] ability to face reality
in al1 its senselessness: to accept it b;geel. without fear.
without illusions - and to laugh at it.
Beckett's art strips away the protective illusions to reveal what
al1 know but try to ignore.

ii. Beckett's art in Adorno's eyes


I n Adorno's extensive discussions of modern art, he refers to

Samuel Beckett as a Kronzeuge of modern art.959


expresses

strong

affirmation

for

Beckett's

Many times he
art,

especially

regarding its ability to give voice to terror and suffering


voice that the culture industry represses.

the

Clearly. in Adorno's

estimation, Beckett cannot be ignored. Others have also noted that


"Adorno regarded Beckett as one of the most realistic and vital

958 I b i d . , 3 7 7 .
e v i d e n c e f f [ Ldke, " D e r K r o n z e u g e , I f 1 3 6 . ]
F r a n z Kafka i s a n o t h e r o f A d o r n o ' s 1 i t e r a r y Kronzeuge.

959 " k i ng s/crown

Adorno i n o t a l o n e arnong German i n h i s h i g h e s t i m a t i o n o f


Beckett.
R i a Endres r e f e r s t o B e c k e t t a s " t h e v i s i o n a r y o f t h e
t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y : i n t h e v i s i o n s o f t h e end o f human h i s t o r y . "
[ R i a Endres, " D i e P o e s i e der Stimme: Am Anfang war d i e Stimme,"
s p e c i a l l e c t u r e on t h e o c c a s i o n o f Samuel B e c k e t t ' s e i g h t i e t h
b i r t h d a y ( P h i l i p p s U n i v e r s i t y , Marburg, Gerrnany, 16 A p r i l 1986.) ]

poets of the post-Auschwitzian age. n961

And Ldke admit one can

"hardly overestimaten the importance of Beckett's art for Adorno's


theory.962

Sauerland agrees

stating that Adorno's

aesthetic

theory "peaks in the conviction that the Absurd is the onlg


adequate artistic formn in a world where Auschwitz is possible.963
According to Adorno's definition, Beckett's art is successful
for it does not resolve "objective contradictions in a spurious
harmony, but

. . .expresses the idea of harmony negat ively

embodying

the contradictions pure and uncompromised, in

innermost

structure.,,964

Beckett's

innovative dramatic

questions the assumptions of traditional drama.

by

its
form

Although Beckett

may preserve the three Aristotelian unities, "the drama itself


fights for its l i f e . w965

Key for Adorno

that Beckett's drama

is "deprived of subjectivity, of which Endgame is the epilogue, and

'"

Jack Z i pes , " B e c k e t t

in Gerrnany/Gerrnany in B e c k e t t u New

Gerrnan C r i t i q u e 26 ( S p r i ng/Summer l982), 156.


962 Ldke, "Der Kronzeuge, '' 1 4 2 .
963 S a u e r l and,
96S Adorno,

E i n f h r u n g i n d i e A s t h e t i k Adornos, 109.

P r i s m s , 32.

"Towards and Understandi ng o f Endgame,"


Samuel Weber,
in Twent i e t h Century I n t e r p r e t a t i o n s o f
Endgame: A C o 7 7 e c t i o n o f C r i t i c a l Essays, ed. B e l l Gale Chevigny
(Englewood C l i f f s , N . J . : P r e n t i c e - H a l l , 1969), 99.
The t i t l e g i v e n t o a more r e c e n t t r a n s l a t i o n o f this essay is:
"Trying to Understand Endgame.
[Theodor W. Adorno, Notes t o
L i t e r a t u r e , Vol. 1, trans.,
S h i e r r y Weber N i c h o l s e n , ed. Ro1f
Tiedemann (New Y o r k : Columbia U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1991 ) , 241-275. J
B o t h t r a n s l a t i o n s o f t h i s essay i n c l u d e Adorno's n o t e : "10 S . B . , i n
memory o f P a r i s , Fa11 1958." [ I b i d . , 241 . ]
A l 1 r e f e r e n c e s t o A d o r n o ' s Endgame essay i n t h i s i n v e s t i g a t i o n
w i 1 1 be t o t h e v e r s i o n which appears i n Chevigny's c o l l e c t i o n .

965 Theodor W. Adorno,

trans

with it, of the possibility of a hero."'8

As a result , and in

contrast to existentialist interpretations, in Adorno's opinion,


"al1 that remains of Ereedom is the impotent and ridiculous reflex

of empty

de ci si on^."^^'

Before one can fully appreciate Adorno's

response to the theatre of Beckett, it is essential to note how


Adorno

differs

fundamentally

with

an

assumed

connection of

existentialist philosophy and Beckett's art as expressed by Esslin


and

other

theatre

critics.968

existential anguish that

Esslin

refers

to

"the

deep

the keynote of Beckett's work. "969

Apparent in Beckett's art, explains Esslin, is an "exploration of


the human condition, [a] quest

questions as 'Who am I?'

for the answer to such basic

'What does it mean when I Say - I? ,,370

Adorno would strongly disagree with such an interpretation of


Beckett, for, as will be noted, in his opinion to ask 'Who am Z?'
is irrelevant since the subject is not merely frai1 (as per

Esslin), but has already been liquidated; it is, on the contrary,


the ugly

truth of this very

966 Adorno,

liquidation, which Adorno finds

"Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgame,

99.

967 I b i d . , 99-100.
968 Among t h e o t h e r c r i t i c s who rnake r e f e r e n c e t o expl i c i t
Lyons, who
e x i s t e n t i a l themes i n B e c k e t t ' s w o r k i s C h a r l e s R.
r e f e r s t o t h e c h a r a c t e r s ' s e a r c h f o r a sense o f s e l f . [ C h a r l e s R .
Lyons, "Happy Days and D r a m a t i c C o n v e n t i o n , " i n B r a t e r , Beckett a t
80/Beckett i n Context ( N e w Y o r k : O x f o r d U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1986),
85.1 To Adorno, t h i s e x i s t e n t i a l s e a r c h f o r a sense o f s e l f i s
s u p e r f l u o u s because t h e r e is no s e l f 1e f t f o r whi c h one can search.

969 In f a c t , E s s l i n t c h a p t e r on B e c k e t t i s e n t i t l e d : "Samuel
B e c k e t t : The Search f o r t h e S e l f . " [ E s s l i n , The T h e a t r e o f t h e
Absurd, 12.1
Ibid.,

23.

revealed in Beckett's art.

Both Esslin and Adorno are agreed,

though, that Beckett does not "argu[e] about the absurdity of the
human conditionn as do Camus or Sartre in their "Existentialist
theatre."

Beckett's absurd drama "rnerely presents it as being -

that is,

in terms of concrete stage images.. . . [This is the]

dif ference between the approach of the philosopher and that of the

poet. w971

And it

because Beckett is a poet. claims Adorno, that

he is able to arouse the terror and fear "which Existentialism


merely talks about.,,972
Thus, in contrast to Esslin's proposa1 that inherent in the
Theatre of the Absurd is the existential concern for "the ultimate
realities of the human condition,

Adorno insists Beckett's

theatre is clearly and definitively not existentialist.

As has

become evident throughout this investigation, Adorno argues that a


work of art as art continues to transcend and subvert the illusions
of those who would wish to dorninate it via heteronomous thought.
Thus, in the case of the philosophy of Existentialism, which
according to Adorno, "had sought, first through its concept of
' thrownness , '

and

then

'absurdity,'

of

to

transfigure

meaninglessness into meaning by exploiting the ambiguity inherent


in the notion of meaning." Beckett in response "puts an end to
interminable

971 I b i d . ,

972 Adorno,
973

Esl i n ,

intentionality

which

seeks

6.
"Cornmitment," 3 1 4 .

The T h e a t r e o f t h e Absurd,
344

353.

to

claim

that

meaninglessness itself
process

abandons

is meaningful.

itself

to

absurdity

Beckett's

"poetic

guiding

without

This. argues Adorno. is Beckett's stance towards

principle. n9i5

Existentialism. Beckett does n o t , contends Adorno, corne to terms


with the meaninglessness of this disjointed world - as Esslin would

have him; Beckett simply lays bare that world and in fact magnifies
its

disjointedness, without

certainly without

comment, without

suggestions

for

an

judgement, and

interpretation of

the

meaninglessness. And rather than attempting to instil a "sense of


comic wonder and primeval anguish" as p e r ~ s s l i n Beckett
, ~ ~ ~ make
manifest the loss of both under present conditions. Thus, whereas

Esslin views the role of absurd theatre to be paradoxical in light


of

the

loss

of

"ultirnate certainties w9ii

from

an

Adornian

perspective there is no paradox: in the absurd theatre of Beckett

we simply see reality unfolded in its true and horrible form.


instead

of

replacing

the

And

Existentialist world-view with

an

alternative, as one might be tempted to do, Beckett "simply takes


it at its word.

"'" The result which becomes apparent ir Beckett

's

theatre "once the meaning of existence has been c u t down to size"

is that absurdity, in and of itself. is "no longer a universal that would simply make the absurd into an i d e a . "
97' Adorno,

Instead, what we

"Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgarne," 92.

975 I b i d . , 8 2 .
m

-.,.

Essl in , The T h e a t r e o f The Absurd, 351 .

977 I b i d .
978 Adorno,

"Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgame,

345

" 92.

find are
dismal details which scorn conceptualization, a region filled
with utensils, suggesting emergency quarters, refrigerators,
paralysis, blindness and unappetizing bodily functions.
Everything waits to be carted off - to the dump, or to the
death camps. This region is not symbolic but rather the state
of affairs in which psycho
y is no longer relevant: that of
the aged and the tortured.%RF
In contrast to the Existentialists, for whom "the situation
came to designate temporal existence as such. and the living
individual in its totality was considered to be that which is
absolutely certain," Beckett does not
implied assumption

. in Adorno's view accept the

of persona1 identity.

Rather. Beckett

dissociates the assumed "unity of consciousness into its disparate


elements, [and] reaffirms its nonidentity. w981

This means that the

identity of the subject is no longer taken for granted.

Instead,

"Endgame takes for granted that the claims of the individual to

possess

autonomy

implausible."982

and

ontological

status

have

become

If Exitentialism advocate that human beings.

no longer capable of being anything else "should at least be


themselves," Adorno argues that Endgame postulates the antithesis
in its revelation that the very Self is in fact something e l s e .

"the aping

of

something

979 I b i d .
Ibid.

981 I b i d .
982 I b i d . , 9 0 .
983 I b i d . , 1 0 7 .

nonexistent.

Individuality

means

nothing.

Adorno indicates the f o l l o w i n g passage from Endgame as

Hamm: We' re not beginning to . . .to . . .mean something?


C l o v : Mean something ! You and I , mean SORT thing !
(Brief laugh) Ah that's a good one!
Beckett makes manifest the pitiful state of humanity under the
spell o f the present conditions where the exchange mentality is
dominant and "the individual is as fungible and replaceable as he
will be under the liquidators * boots .

lfg8'

The individual ub ject

is not valued as an individual; when individuals are treated as a


means, the particular person no longer matters.

One becomes

replaceable by the next. Specifically, e x p l a i n s Adorno, Beckett's


Endgaine.

like Auschwitz, "bespeaks the

individual life that


individual subject

has

is

the direction

"disintegrated." 987

indifference o f

of history. w986
Human

beings

declined like the world around them to an inhuman state.

each
The

have

In light

of this, Adorno strongly argues that "Beckett's human stumps are


more realistic than portraits of reality that already soften it

through their pictorial quality.

What is considered

"

typically

human" in Beckett's art "are the deformations inflicted upon human

beings by their form of s o c i e t y ; " in Endgame, for example, we find

984 Samuel B e c k e t t , Endgame: A P7ay i n One A c t ( N e w Y o r k :


P r e s s , 19581, 3 2 - 3 3 .

Adorno, N e g a t i v e DiaTectics, 3 6 2 .
986 I b i d .
987 Adorno,

Aesthet i c Theory, 354.

A d o r n o , "An Open L e t t e r t o Rol f H o c h h u t h , " 2 4 3 .

Grove

the "aberrations and ticks of the 'normal' personality. intensified

. . .beyond al1 expectation.n989 This

especially true in the case

of the older people we find in Endgame.


in trashbins, are treated like trash.

Hamm's parents, who live


Here. explains Adorno, we

see the truth of a s o c i e t y which considers the elderly to be


tlsuperfluousin terms of the socially u s e f u l work that they no
longer perform . . . .Endgame t r a i n s for the time when everyone can
expect

to

find his parents under the lid of the next large

trashcan ...,Beckett's

trashcans

are

emblems

of

culture

reconstructed in the shadow of Auschwitz. mggo The problem is that


most are unaware or feign unawareness of the decline of human
beings because of the culture industry's "semblance of well-being"
to which

they

have

become

accustomed.

"The fear of

such

blindness , " claims Adorno, " is probably the innermost motivation of


Beckett's reduction of [humanity] to animality.il 991
With t h e loss of the subject, one finds that the distinction

between the outer world and inner situations becomes "fluid" in


Beckett

For

condemned, so

Adorno,

this means

that

is idealism, "and thus

if

individuality

is

the idealistic nucleus

conserved in Existentialism- Nonidentity comprises both of these


elements: the historical disintegration of the subject as a unity,
and the emergence of that which is not subject. This alters the

989 Adorno,

Ibid.,

''' I b i d . ,

"Towards and U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgame, " 97.


106.

89.

meaning of situation.

Because

the subject is no

longer

considered stable. the situation does not become meaningful through


its relation to the subject.

And as for the existentialist

interpretation that views scenes in Beckett as equivalent to the


notion of the Grenzsi t u a t i o n , or the Borderline Situation of
struggle and suffering. guilt and death, situations of so-called
"ultimate validity." in Adorno's opinion, "Endgame's construction
responds to this with a dry,

'I

beg your pardon?

In Beckett.

such platitudes are "hauled back d o m from their sublime Apriority


in to the world of appearances. The noble, affirmative veneer with
which philosophy adorns what Hegel once called a 'rotten existence'
is thus stripped away.

t1994

In fact. Adorno contends that in the

realm between life and death where Beckett's plays take place. "not
even suffering is possible any longer."

In Endgame. for example.

the two living in the trashbins pine for sawdust, that "miserable
by product of the world of things."

But in i t s absence it becomes

a luxury and "signifies the intensification of the life-long death-

sentence." 9 9 5

Philoophy ' s domination of the nonconceptual by

subsuming it under the concept and calling it "difference" is


"mercilessly exposed" by Beckett, for the situations out of which
Beckett composes his drama are "the negations of significant

992 I b i d . , 92.

993 I b i d . , 93.

994 I b i d .
995 I b i d . , 1 0 6 .

reality."

His situations are modelled upon those situations of

empirical existence, which, "once isolated, t o m

rom

their

pragrnatic and psychological context through the loss of personal


unity, spontaneously assume a specific, compelling visage: that of
sheer horror.n996

Adorno sum up his interpretation of Beckett's

relationship

Existentialism

to

with

the

following:

"French

Existentialism sought to come to grips with history. With Beckett,


history devours Existentialism.

In Endgame, a historical moment

unfolds : the experience crystallized in the title of a best-seller


of the Culture Industry: Kaputt. ,,997

In ".An Open Letter to Rolf Hochhuth," Adorno explains that his


unders tanding of the individual cornes f rom the Hegelian-Marxian

definition where the individual is not viewed as a natural category


but as a historical category, "that is, something that emerges only
through labour." As a result , "if the individual is something that
has come into being, then there is no fundamental crder of making
sure that the individual does not die out again in the same
way .

""*

New methods of production, in Adorno's opinion, are

causing the latest crisis of the individual, for the qualities


society once demanded of the individual, and even the category of
the qualitative itself, are becoming superfluous. He views it as
nothing less than "revolting that human beings are modeled on

996 I b i d . , 9 3 .
997 I b i d . , 8 5 .

998 Adorno, "An Open 1 e t t e r to R d f Hochhuth, " 2 4 1 .

350

methods of production, b u t that is the way of the world as long as


human beings stand under the spell of social production instead of
being its master. w999

As

for Endgame.

concludes Adorno.

the

"have

the

catastrophes

which

individual.

There is something " inherently cont radictory" and

inspired

it,

exploded

"genuinely absurd, in the decline of individuality" brought about


via the very apparatus of production which was supposed to exist
for the sake of human beings and was to have the liberation of
human beings as i ts g o a l , "namely freedom f rom unnecessary labour."
1 t is out of this situation of the present condition under which we

live that the absurd art of Beckett is produced.

As

a result,

explains Adorno, s u c h art "embodies a n accurate consciousness."


B u t , he reminds the reader, "[ijnsight into the coerciveness of a

process is not the same thing as approval of it. dOOi

Rather, it

is knowledge of these dreaded insights into the conditions under

which we currently live that "is the basis of an artistic stance


denounced as inhuman by those whose humanity has already become
propaganda for the inhuman, even where the propagandist s themselves
are unaware of the change.

f,

1002

Adorno would agree wi t h Esslin's assessinent that the structure

999 I b i d .

0O'

Adorno,

"Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgame,

89.

Adorno, "An Open l e t t e r t o Rol f H o c h h u t h , " 241 .


It a p p e a r s f r o m t h e c o n t e x t t h a t Hochhuth had accused Adorno

'Oo1

o f h a r b o u r i n g p r e c i s e l y such s e n t i m e n t s .
'Oo2

Adorno,

"Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i n g o f Endgame,

"

89.

which Beckett imposes on his absurd theatre lacks plot. setting and
characters, thus discouraging the sense of an harmonious play. But
for Adorno, even the material dimension of Beckett's plays is
affected : the materials

" reduced to the vanishing

themselves

point," he States, "begin to resemble geometric forrns: the most

In thi

limited become the most general. n1003

way,

explains

Adorno, the audience is "teased b y a suggestion of symbolism which


Beckett

... rejects. Because nothing is simply

that which it is,

everything seems to be a sign of something inward; yet the implicit


inward referent no longer exists, and
significance

of

the

sign.w 1004

In

that is precisely the

Beckett's

art,

" [nlon-

significance becomes the only significance..i005


We have noted how Beckett's dialogue subverts the traditional
role of dialogue in

drama.

tightened the development of

Whereas dialogue

tradit ionally

the plot, Adorno describes how

Beckett's dialogue "slackens it now."

The rapid-sequence, often

gasping, barely able to speak, monosyllabic, question-answer like


dialogue is not "able to reach the synthesis of grammatical phrases

and instead stamme~-[s]a kind of shorthand.

In this, Adorno,

contends, silence, or "that which remains: the rest," becomes


significant, for the "words have a makeshift sound because the
silence was not wholly attained; they are the accompaniment to a
'Oo3

I b i d . , 91.

'Oo4

Ibid.

''O5

Ibid.

'Oo6

I b i d . , 100.

stillness they disturb.n 1001


As well, the categories o f drama which one has corne t o expect
are juggled by Beckett.

Categories of comedy and tragedy are

juggled, even parodied, and yet, insists Adorno, t h e y are not


"Parody, in the emphatic sense, " he explains, "is the

scorned.

employment of forms at times when they have become historically


impossible. Parody demonstrates this impossibility and thus alters
With reference to comedy

the forms.

for example. Adorno

notes that "[al11 that remains of cornedy is the fact that the
demise of the punchline is the demise o f comedy itself-,,1009
Adorno considers humour to have become obsolete as an aesthetic

medium for there is no longer " a place of reconciliation from where


one could laugh;" in this post-Auschwitzian world there is no
longer "anything left between heaven and earth that is really
harmless, that would permit itself to be laughed a t . ,1010

The

possibility of comedy is compared to one, who, "having climbed the

last step of the stairs, . . . shudders, climbs on and steps off i n t o


the void.

The most extreme brutality carries out the verdict

condemning laughter. which has long shared in its guilt."1011


the same

At

time, however, tragedy is also no longer possible.

"Tragedy evaporates because the claims of the subjectivity that was


'Oo7

Ibid.,

101.

'Oo8

Ibid.,

99.

'Oo9

Ibid.

'O1'

Ibid.,

'O1'

I b i d . , 99.

98.

to

been

have

tragic

are

so

obviously

inconsequential. 1012

Because the loss of the subject has already occurred, any further
tragedy would merely pale in comparison.
weeping

takes the

place

of

"A

laughter" and.

dried u p , tearless
suggests Adorno,

"[llamentation has become the mourning of hollow,

empty

eyes. 1013

There is no need for Beckett to point out the disharmony and

disintegration of meaning in the world via rat ional. philosophical


dialogue

as both Adorno and Esslin accuse Sartre of doing.

Disharmony and disintegration is inherent in Beckett's aesthetic


form.

"The less tenable the supposition that the events of life

are inherently meaningful , the more illusory becomes the conception


of aesthetic form as an harmonious unity of appearance and meaning.
Beckett rejects this illusion and joins the two precisely in their

disharmony."1014

Whereas art of the culture industry gives the

'Oi2 Theodor W. Adorno,


L i t e r a t u r e , V o l . II, 252-3.

"1s A r t L i g h t h e a r t e d ? " ,

i n Notes

to

Ibid.
loi' Adorno, 'lTowards an U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgame, " 8 3 .
Adorno's p r a i s e s t h e music o f Schonberg i n t h e essay, "The S o c i a l
S i t u a t i o n o f Music,"
f o r e x a c t f y t h e same reasons he p r a i s e s
B e c k e t t ' s t h e a t r e : ' f S c h o n b e r g ' s r e a l l y c e n t r a l achievement
which,
has never been p r o p e r 7 y a p p r e c i a t e d f r o m t h e
by t h e way,
traditional perspective o f observation
i s t h a t he, f r o m h i s
e a r l i e s t works on
f o r example, i n t h e songs o f h i s Opus 6
never
behaved ' e x p r e s s i o n i s t i c a l l y , ' s u p e r i m p o s i ng s u b j e c t i v e in t e n t i o n s
upon heterogenous m a t e r i a l in an a u t h o r i t a r i an and i n c o n s i d e r a t e
manner.
Every g e s t u r e w i t h w h i c h he in t e r v e n e s i n t h e r n a t e r i a l
c o n f i g u r a t i o n i s a t t h e same t i m e an answer t o q u e s t i o n s d i r e c t e d
t o him by t h e m a t e r i a l i n t h e f o r m o f i t s own immanent problems.
Every
sub j e c t i ve
expressi ve
a c h i evement
of
Schonberg
is
simultaneously t h e r e s o l u t i o n o f o b j e c t i v e - m a t e r i a l c o n t r a d i c t i o n s
which c o n t i n u e d t o e x i s t i n t h e Wagnerian t e c h n i q u e o f c h r o m a t i c
sequence and i n t h e d i a t o n i c t e c h n i q u e o f v a r i a t i o n empf oyed by
Brahms as w e l 1 . "
[Adorno, "The S o c i a l S i t u a t i o n of Music, " Te7os
35 ( S p r i n g 1 9 7 8 ) , 135.1

impression of harmony and reconciliation, art such as Beckett's is


nunbequem" (uncomfortable) because it shatters that semblance of

well-being and negates reality by calling it by its real name- 1015

Beckett does not smooth over reality's "fracturesw b u t preserves

and even exaggerates them

in the structure of his

art.1016

Adorno acknowledges that audiences do not recognise and even find


it dif f icult to understand art like Beckett's which dest roys

standards

of

beauty,

harmony

and

traditional

aesthetic

symmetry.O' 1'

Esslin spoke of the lack of harmony called for by

traditional aesthetics, but Adorno goes further, contending that


Beckett's art results in fragmentation,

. . .originates

This "fragmentariness

in opposition to the concept of totality and the

false reconciliation that

S a u e r l and,
Adorno,

concept

implies.

For Adorno.

E i n f h r v n g i n d i e A s t h e t i k Adornos, 4 .

A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 9-1 0 .

I n h i s esay , "Presupposi t i on, " Adorno argues t h a t t h e


'%O-cal 1ed u n i n t e l l i g i b i 1it y o f l e g i t i m a t e contemporary a r t is t h e
p e c u l ia r
to
art
it s e l f
Xts
consequence
of
somethi ng
p r o v o c a t i v e n e s s c a r r i e s out t h e h i s t o r i c a l
judgement on an
in t e l 1 igi b i lit y t h a t has degenerated
in t o m i sunderstandi n g . "
[Theodor W. Adorno, " P r e s u p p o s i t i o n s : O n t h e Occasion o f a Reading
by Hans G. Helms, '' i n Notes t o L i t e r a t u r e , V o l . II,98.1

'O1'
W o l i n , "The D e - A e s t h e t i c i z a t i o n o f A r t , " 112.
W o l i n p o i n t s o u t an i n t e r e s t i n g comparison made by W a l t e r
Ben j ami n ( U r s p r u n g des Deutschen T r a u e r s p i e 7s) between a r t o f t h e
Baroque and modern p e r i o d s . r t [ T l he g r e a t a r t i s t i c achievements o f
both epochs c o n s i s t o f fragments r a t h e r t h a n p e r f e c t works. . b o t h
periods
are
eras
of
historical
decline
and
therefore
temperamental 1 y u n s u i t e d t o t h e ' nobl e s i mpl i c i t y ' o f c l a s s i c a l
w o r k s o f a r t ; y e t , n e v e r t h e l e s s , t h e y a r e b o t h c h a r a c t e r i z e d by a
relentless
'will
t o art, '
a
fact
which accounts
for
the
The f r a g m e n t a r y
u n c o n v e n t i o n a l f o r m assumed by t h e i r c r e a t i o n s .
w o r k s o f moderni srn r e p r e s e n t t h e contemporary c o u n t e r p a r t t o t h e
r u i n s o f t h e Baroque era."
[Ibid.,
112-3.1
One c o u l d do a

..

...

totality is "pure postulation of the subject . n1019

AS

a result

the revelation of the truth of the fragmentary state of ruin of


modern civilisation "exposes the illusion of an anthropocentrically
dominated world. "'O2*

Adorno describes the state of our preent

ruin in the following manner:


After the Second World War, everything, including a
resurrected culture, was destroyed, al though wi thout i ts
knowledge. In the wake of events which even the survivors
cannot survive. mankind vegetates , crawling forward onl0$ pile
of rubble, denied even the awareness of its own ruin.

In the discussion of Dialectic of Enlightenment, it became


evident that for Adorno and Horkheimer the curse of unstoppable
progress is unstoppable regression.
human beings with

the power

of

The necessary conformity of


progress and

the

continual

domination of nature, implies at the same time the subjugation of


human beings under the progress of power and control.

f Plure

domination over nature becomes the essence it always concealed,"


claims Adorno, "the duty to exterminate.

In this manner, as

Ldke explains it, the world historical identity of both processes,

comparison o f t h e drama o f B e c k e t t and o f t h e E n g l i s h Baroque


p l a y w r i g h t , John Dryden, f o r exarnple, t o s e e how t h e s e s i m i l a r i ti es
a r e manifested i n t h e drarnatic a r t f o r m .
Adorno, "Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgame, " 1 1 2 .

'O2'

Ibid.

'O2'

I b i d . , 85.

I b i d . , 112.
C l o v exempl i f i e s t h i s argument i n h i s w i 11 i ngness i n Endgame
t o g e t t h e g a f f t o deal w i t h t h e small boy he says he s p o t s ; t h e r e
i s no more n a t u r e and t h e r e must be no more 1 if e , a l 1 i s i n a state
o f d e t e r i o r a t i on.

that of advancement (as seen in humanity's domination of nature),


and that of regression (as seen in the continual domination of
human beings over fellow human beings], have brought about the

following result : that the '' Verdinglichung der Subjekte" - making

the subject, L e . human beings, into a thing - has progressed to


the same point as it has with nature.

Adorno ' s phrase "where

the revolution has been successful, its failures are easiest to


seew

illustrates

this

principle.

Accordingl

then,

for

Adorno, the horrific present condition of society is not only due


to the capitalistic class structure, but also and perhaps, suggests
Ldke, more due to the compulsive identity thinking which has
strengthened the principle of self-preservation resulting from the

dialectic of nature and the domination of nature. A s we have seen,


critical for Adorno in response, is a philosophy of the particular.
the non-identical, the repressed and the forgotten, the oppressed
nature around us and in ourselves; "an identity that could be
identical

with

itself

only

without

force

and

free

of

domination.,,1025

In Adorno's theory, in nature is found the trace of the nonidentical in a world where the spell of identity is universal, and
the beauty of nature ( das Naturschone) is the historical appearance

of that which nature could be paradigmatically for art. Art on the

Ldke, "Der Kronzeuge, " 139.


'O2'

Ibid.,

Ibid.

140.

other hand "intends that which nature only promisesw.

1 t i

with the domination of nature that the catastrophe of historical


progress steadily advances with regression as its sure partner,
Adorno concludes that the "irrationality of bourgeois society in
its advanced phase resists comprehension . . . . [ Slociety has thrown
its

ratio

into

control,"102i

the

dustbin

and

replaced

it

with

direct

Reason, which was to free humanity from myth and

bring about a modern civilization, has turned into instrumental


reason. trapping humanity under further and more insidious forms of
barbarism and domination. It is from this perspective that Adorno
can Say Beckett's absurd theatre is more realistic than the art of

realism.

"Lt is not as a world-view that the absurd replaces the

rational. but as its inner-most truth. 1028


The inhumane domination of human beings over their fellow
human beings is unquest ionably revealed in Beckett ' s art. Bowever

in response to those who would make the central theme of works such

as Endgame the motif of Hegel's Master-Servant. Adorno argues that


because the servant, Clov, is no longer a subject. he is also "no
longer

capable

domination. "1029

of

seizing

the

reins

and

abolishing

In this sense. remarks Adorno, the Master-

Ibid.
'O2?

Adorno, "Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i n g o f Endgame,

"

85.

I b i d . , 105.
'O2'
I b i d . , 109.
Ludke argues t h a t f o r Adorno t h i s M a s t e r - S e r v a n t
h i g h l i g h t s o n l y one aspect o f B e c k e t t ' s a r t .

motif

Servant motif is

" ridiculed."'O3'

The master. Hamm. is also

without power and even totally dependent on his servant.

The

master cannot move himself; al1 he can do is bark out orders


telling the servant where to move him.

The only power Hamm has is

a manipulative power: he knows how to open the supply cupboard.


Clov does not.

In spite of the physical limits of his master,

garnering enough energy for self-emancipation is beyond Clov's


capability and spontaneous action is beyond his comprehension.
"There is nothing left for Clov to do except to emigrate to a world
which no longer exists for the dearly departed, and thus to have
the small chance of dying on the way. "'O3'

Although Clov does

decide to leave and appears ready to do so, we do not see him


actually exit, He remains motionless, with his eyes fixed on Hamm
until the end.

Like Waiting for G o d o t , the end is identical with

the beginning,

"Neither spectator nor philosopher could say with

any assurance whether or not the whole thing will begin again from
the beginning.

For Adorno, then, the issue of Mater-Servant


Whether Clov is able to leave, thus

does not stand on its own.

emancipating himself from his master, must be viewed within the


general history of the one great catastrophe which we cal1 the
development of civilization.
over another human being

'O3'

Ibid.

'O3'

Ibid.
Ibid.

The domination of one human being

manifested in its extreme form in the

Master-Servant relationship

is through this manifestation also

connected to the domination of human beings over nature. and also


with the domination of human beings over themselves.

For Adorno

the very means of humanity's initial self-freeing from the preEnlightenment phase by learning to dominate nature is the "seed of
" ~ have
~
corne to know.
al1 the e ~ i l " we

Adorno devotes particular attention to Beckett's Endgame in


his essay "Towards an Understanding of Endgame."

He lauds this

play as a mode1 of modernity, for its "enigmatic character def[ies]


al1 rationalising

. . .and

[ i t exemplifies how] it is the negative

function of contemporary art which is obliged to preserve its

autonomy . w1034

The conclusion which

Adorno

reaches

is

that

"[ulnderstanding Endgame can only be understanding why it cannot be


understood . "1035

(Likewise, Beckett admitted "not understanding

much" of Adorno's essay.)

Ldke,

"Der Kronzeuge,

Adorno

"

defend

the

enigmatic

145.

P i e r r e Chabert, " F i n de p a r t i e ou l e s p o u b e l les du sens, "


i n Revue d ' E s t h t i q u e : Adorno, n o u v e l l e s r i e , no. 8 ( 1 9 8 5 ) : 1 7 3 .
Adorno, "Towards and U n d e r s t a n d i n g o f Endgame," 84.
Many d i r e c t o r s o f B e c k e t t ' s p l ays a l so have n o t u n d e r s t o o d
them.
M a r t i n E s s l i n tel 1 s t h e s t o r y o f how A l a n S c h n e i d e r , t h e
f i r s t American d i r e c t o r o f W a i t i n g f o r Godot asked B e c k e t t who o r
what Godot was.
Beckett responded: "If 1 knew, I w o u l d have s a i d
[ A l an Schneider, "Wai t i ng f o r Beckett, " Che i s e a
so i n t h e p l a y .
R e v i e w (Autumn l958), q u o t e d in E s s l i n, The T h e a t r e o f t h e Absurd,
24.1
L e t t h i s be a warning, n o t e s E s s l i n , t o t h o s e w h o would t r y
t o f i n d a s i m p l e meaning f o r B e c k e t t ' s p l a y s . [ I b i d . ]
Chabert, "Fin de P a r t i e ou les poubel les du sens, " 173.
Chabert p o i n t s o u t t h a t f o r Adorno s t h e o r y , B e c k e t t ' s Endgame
i s " l i k e a dream corne t r u e " f o r i t so p e r f e c t l y i l l u s t r a t e s
and of t h e ideas of
Adorno's " a e s t h e t i c o f t h e fragment
decline." [Ibid.]

...

character of Beckett's work, for "art's failure to express,"

in

fact, "turns out to be its last truth - a paradoxical form of


expression.w103i

Indeed. art after Auschwitz is n o t capable by

any direct means of expressing the horror of modern life. Without


at ternpting to express that which canno t be expressed anyway, art
like that of Beckett, lays bare the horrible truth no one is able.
much less willing, to articulate.
The inability to express, is indicative of the "loss of
meaning, [which] undermines the dramatic form down to the innermost
structure of its language,'3O"

But drama cannot simply react

negatively and try to grasp the remnants of meaning or even make


meaninglessness into its new substance, as Adorno accuses Sartre of
doing, Indeed, were drama
to do so, the effect would be to transform the essence of
drama into its opposite .... If the drama seeks to outlive the
demise of this meaning by defining itself as a purely
aesthetic form, it necessarily becomes inadequate to its
substance and degrades itself to a rattling mechanism for the
production of ideological demonst rations, thus becoming the
vehicle of abstract 1 0 ~ o t i ~ n sas
, is largely the case of
Existentialist drama.
If the rneaninglessness is organized then the constellations of

language also become rationally significant. The end result will


be that "they will inevitably synthesize into just that coherent

Lee Brown, r e v i e w o f Quasi una F a n t a s i a : Essays on Modern


Music, by Theodor W . Adorno, and A d o r n o ' s A e s t h e t i c o f M u s i c , by
Max P a d d i s o n , i n The Journa7 o f A e s t h e t i c s and A r t Crit i c i s m 53.2
( S p r i n g l995), 215.
Adorno,

'O3'

Ibid.

t'Towards a n d U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgarne, " 83.

meaning

which

the whole denies."1040

Instead of making

the

meaninglessness a mechanism for a heteronomous thought. Beckett


emphasizes the fragmentation ofmeaning; the result is anything but
rational or harmonious conversation.

Adorno

recognizes that

Beckett's ncharacters" corne "no closer through conversing than do


the two old cripples in the garbage cans, "'O4'

in

fact. the

meaning merely further disintegrates and one questions what there


is "left to blather about?n1042This i an insight. which Adorno
contends. is never betrayed in Endgame. for at the root of this
play "is a taboo on language. which it articulates through its very

'O4'

i b i d . , 84.

'O4' I b i d . , 1 0 3 .
I n Beckett's Endgame, Hamm's p a r e n t s l i v e i n t h e t w o garbage
cans i n t h e room.
Adorno in d i c a t e s t h a t Hamm s a y t h i s 1 i ne i n Endgame ( p .
23 i n t h e t e x t Adorno was r e f e r e n c i ng)
However, as t h e t r a n s l a t o r
o f A d o r n o ' s Endgame n o t e s , t h i s l i n e was o m i t t e d i n t h e E n g l i s h
t r a n s l a t i o n , which i s as fol!ows:
Hamm (exaspera t e d ) : Have you n o t f i n i shed? W i 17 you n e v e r
finish?
( W i t h sudden f u r y . )
W i l l t h i s never f i n i s h ?
(Nagg d i s a p p e a r s i n t o h i s b i n , c l o s e s t h e 7 i d b e h i n d
him.
Ne7 7 does not move.
Frenzied7y.
My kingdom f o r
a nightman!
(He whist7es.
Enter C7ov.)
C l e a r away
t h i s muck!
Chuck i t i n t h e sea!
(C7ov goes t o b i n s ,
ha 7 t s . )
Ne77: So w h i t e .
Hamm: What?
W h a t ' s she b l a t h e r i n g about?
( C l o v stoops,
takes N e 7 7 ' s hand f e e 7 s h e r p u i s e . )
Ne7 7 ( t o C i o v ) : D e s e r t ! (C7ov l e t s go h e r hand, pushes h e r
back i n the b i n , c l o s e s t h e 7 i d . )
C7ov ( r e t u r n i n g t o h i s p7ace b e s i d e t h e c h a i r ) :
S h e has no
pulse.
Hamm: What was she d r i v e l l i n g a b o u t ?
C7ov: She told m e t o go away, i n t o t h e d e s e r t .
[ B e c k e t t , Endgame, 23.1

structure.

Adorno does not

intend by this, however. that

language, even when reduced to pure sound can divest i t s e l f of its


semantic element . Rather. once "definitely separated from meaning,
mimetic values succwnb to the arbit rary and contingent. finally
forming a

second

convention,

He

describes

how

Beckett

transforms language into "an instrument of its own absurdity." and


patterns it after the "ritual of the clown, whose b a b b l e becomes
nonsense through its pretence at being meaningful."

Adorno

characterises the language in Beckett as "decornposed,"i046 and in


another essay,

as

"protocol sentences, empty of meaning. n 1047

Beckett uses single words of a "Basic English, or French, or


German," the words often merely "the sum of its empty forms,

. . .a

grammar which has abandoned al1 relation to its content, and thus
has lost its syntnetic function.

The interjections are joined by

exercise-phrases, God knows to what end-"'O4*

~ n dyet. as

if

somehow twisted, the "drama listens attentively to each word, as


though wondering what will

come next."1049

This

" involuntary

questioning" merely reveals the absurdity of the question itself

"Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgaine,"

'O4

Adorno,

'O4'

Ibid.

'OC5

Ibid.

'OA6

I b i d . , 104.

102.

'Oe7 Theodor W . A d o r n o , " P a r a t a x i s: On Holderl i n ts L a t e P o e t r y , I t


i n Notes to L i t e r a t u r e , Vol. II, 137.

'O4'

Adorno,

Ibid.

"Towards and U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgame,

"

104.

and is analogous to "the people who wait in the zoo to see what the

crocodile or chimpanzee will do next.w 1050

There are several aspects of Endgame in addition to the


language which make this play a mode1 of modernity.

Adorno

underscores, for example, the fact that nothing escapes the process
of deterioration: the health of the characters, the supplies in the
cupboacds, and "there is no more nature. "'O5'
t o t a l l y mastered, " totally reified.

Nature has been

However. the catastrophe

which caused the present situation is too dreadful to mention.


"The violence of
mentioning it.

the unutterable is mimed

by

the dread

of

Beckett keeps it nebulous.,,1US3

Beckett models his drama on empirical existence, explains

Adorno, then he imposes a form which magnifies the disharmony.


in Beckett's art one finds a dialectic of mimesis and

Thus,

rationality, a key element of Adorno's aesthetic theory.

Beckett's art

does

not

give

the

illusion

Because

of unity -

but

acknowledges the ultimate irreconciliation of its basic moments his art can be a medium of truth. Through the dialectic caused by

'Os0

Ibid.

'O5'

Beckett,

'Os2

Adorno,

Endgame, 1 1 .

T o w a r d s and U n d e r s t a n d i n g o f Endgarne," 8 6 .

'Os3 I b i d .
I n a n o t h e r e s s a y , Adorno r e f e r s t o t h e t i t l e o f one o f
B e c k e t t ' s n o v e l s : L 'innommable, ( The Unnameab7e). H e suggests t h a t
t h e t i t l e chosen " n o t o n l y f i t s i t s s u b j e c t m a t t e r b u t a l s o
truth
about t h e name7essness o f c o n t e m p o r a r y
embodies t h e
1 i t e r a t u r e . Not a word i n it h a s any v a l u e now i f i t does n o t Say
t h e u n s a y a b l e , t h e f a c t that i t cannot be s a i d . "
[Adorno,
" T i tl e s , " i n N o t e s t o L i t e r a t u r e , V o l
II, 4. ]

their irreconcilability, the "configuration of these two moments


[mimesis and rationality] within the work produces an image of
truth.

Endgrne's mimesis of reality

point of no return, enact[ing] what should

"critical to the
not be. .IO55

presents an unforgiving critique of reality.


Inherent in Endgame is also an ugliness as o p p o s e d to beauty;
indeed, as Adorno sees it, Beckett's is the ugliness of that which

should not be. Beckett's drama displays the "sheer h o r r o r n of the


ugly truth it~e1f.l'~~I t is the ugly truth that "everyone know

but

no

one

wi11

admit. "1057

exemplifies Adorno's

argument

In
that

this

sense,

".,.art

may

Beckett's
be

the

art
only

remaining medium of truth in an age of incomprehensible terror and

suffering,

This. clairn Adorno, awakens the audience to the

need for other possibilities .


Beckett 's art also proves the impossibility of progress in
this modern world.

'l

[Slhuffling its feet," his art confesses "the

uselessness of dynamics" in a world where there is merely an


"illusion of progress" and where "[plrogress is being unmasked as
mere repetition.n1059

'Os4

Osborne,

The fact is that since Beckett's plays have

"Adorno and t h e Metaphysi cs o f Moderni srn, " 3 3 .

'Os5 K a r l a L. Schultz, Mimesis on t h e Move: Theodor W . Adorno's


Concept o f Imitation (Berne: P e t e r Lang, 1 9 9 0 ) , 1 3 4 .

'Os6

Adorno,

"Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f

'Osi Adorno, "Cornmitment, " 3 1 4 .


la5' Adorno, A e s t h e t ic T h e o r y , 2 7 .

'O5'

Ibid.,

319.

Endgame, " 93.

no plots, they do not go anywhere.

They are not plays of events.

Nothing really happens; the characters are merely "marking timen


" a u f der S t e l l e

treten."

Adorno lauds Beckett for facing this

"unpleasant truth squarely" as he converts "the plenitude of the


moment into endless repetition merging into nothing. n 1060
Adorno suggests that both Clov and Hamm do not fear death in

Endgame, in actuality, they are plagued by the exact opposite fear:


they fear the chance that death "might miscarry" and they will not
"The fragment of hope, which means everything, is

be able to die.

that perhaps this might change. "106i

The hope i that the l i f e -

long death-sentence they are now experiencing somewhere in the


realm between life and death might corne to an end in death. Clov
longs for a "world where al1 would be silent and still and each
thing in its

last place, under

Endgame, suggests

Adorno,

the last dust. "1062

Beckett

has

translated

But

the

in

"Old

Testament, ' d u s t thou shalt become' . . . into: filth- The excretions


become the substance of a life that is death.

Instead of

casting fear on the living,


the imageless image of death is one of indifference. In it
vanishes the distinction between absolute domination, the
hell in which time in its totality is confined in a space, in
which there is absolutely no more change, and the messianic
state in which everything would be in its proper place. The
final absurdity is that the repose of nothingness and that of

'O6'

Ibid.,

'O6'

Adorno,

'O6'

Beckett,
Adorno,

319, 4 5 .
>'Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgame,

"

108.

Endgame, 57.
"Towards an U n d e r s t a n d i ng o f Endgame, " 1 1 4 .

reconciliation cannot be d i s t i n g u i ~ h e d . ' ~ ~ ~


And i f there i s any chance o f hope. in Adorno's view. t h a t "[hlope

crawls out of a world in which it is no better safeguarded thzn pap


and candy. back to where it started: to d e a t h . ~ ~ ' ~T~h i s gives

the p l a y its s o l e stoic c o n s o l a t i o n :


Clov: There are s o many terrible t h i n g s .
Hamm: No, no, t h e r e are not so many now. 1066
I n a world which lives on after Auschwitz, an event which was " t h e

end that changed everything

- because

n o t enough changed," those

who do live on, c o n t i n u e on as if in an uninterrupted manner; they


are t h e ones who are " l i v i n g on after the end. "106i

1t i as H-

has noticed: "The end is in the beginning and yet you go on. m 1068

iii. Art: the medium of truth in an age of terror


A s w e have

seen,

Adorno's historical understanding of art

Ibid.
Ibid.
B e c e t t , Endgame, 4 4 .
'O6' Geul in, "A M a t t e r o f T r a d i t i on, " 1 6 0 .
Adorno would d e f i n i t e l y u n d e r s t a n d G e u l i n ' s remark f o r as a
Jew, Adorno f e l t he s h o u l d have d i e d i n t h e gas chamber; d u r i n g t h e
p e r i o d of t h e T h i r d Reich, he w e n t i n t o e x i l e i n England and t h e
U n i t e d States.
For him, t h e r e f o r e , " i t i s n o t wrong t o r a i s e t h e
. q u e s t i o n whether a f t e r A u s c h w i t z you can go on 1 i v i n g
e s p e c i a l l y w h e t h e r one w h o escaped by a c c i d e n t , one w h o by r i g h t s
H i s mere s u r v i v a l cal 1s
s h o u l d have been k i 1 l e d rnay go on 1 i v i n g .
f o r t h e coldness, t h e b a s i c p r i n c i p l e o f b o u r g e o i s s u b j e c t i v i t y ,
w i t h o u t which t h e r e could have been no Auschwitz; t h i s i s t h e
d r a s t i c gui 1 t o f him who has been spared. " [Adorno,
Negative
D i a 7ecti c s , 363. ]

..

Beckett,

Endgame, 69.

leads him to make an emphatic cal1 for modernism la Rimbaud: "11

faut tre absolument moderne."

The "newn in art is essential for

the creation of art which is relevant for the "now."

Art like

Beckett's gives shocking responses to its social-historical moment


as it undermines the artistic tradition of theatre audiences have
corne to know.

"Just as the prehistoric sorcerer impersonated the

demon to fight the demon ... so Beckett's language unto death means

to jolt the listeners/speakers from their catatonic speech., r i 0 6 9


Adorno allies himself with

the often jolting innovations in

Beckett's theatre, and in this respect. Adorno's aesthetic reflects


the willingness of Critical Theory "to ally itself with a11
'progressive' forces willing to tell the truth.

II

1070

In the twentieth century world, Adorno strongly believes that


the "abundance of real suffering tolerates no forgetting

. . . . .1071

It is in art where terror and suffering find their own voice.

And

in a world which both fears and longs for regression to a s t a t e of


the monstrous, the barbaric and the savage in reaction against the

ever-advancing rationalization process, art such

as

that

of

Beckett, which does not "taboo[], but work[sj out" this savagery

and

barbarity

is

essential; "Bloch's warning

not

to

leave

irrationalisrn to right-wingers has today reacquired an urgency

'O6'

Schultz, Mimesis on t h e Move, 1 3 1 .

'OT0

Jay,

'O7'

Adorno,

The Dialectical Imagination, 8 4 .


"Cornmi trnent,

" 31 2 .
368

which can hardly be overestimated.n10i2

Adorno * s own experience

of Nazism's ability to "channe1 and legitimize the regressive


wishes of the masses "'O3

foregrounds this danger as a reality.

Thus, the ugly in art, which Adorno insists many times over is

essential to modern art "for the sake of the accumulated suffering


that is otherwise glossed over,

subverts the manipulation of

those who would wish to once again use the regressive wishes of the
masses for political purposes.

The shocking truth of the naked

barbarity in Beckett's art reveals the ugliness of the suffering


which everyone knows but tries to forget.
Adorno's argument for the aiitonomy of art must be seen in
connection

with

his

insistence

upon

the

artist's

social

responsibility. This is, of course, best fulfilled in the manner

of Beckett. B.eckett's drama does not put forth committed slogans


and solutions. rather, as Adorno states. it "compels" a change of
To state that art p l a y a role compelling change.
attitude-lo7'
does not mean for Adorno that art has lost its autonomy.

On the

contrary, it emphasises art's autonomy from the reality of the


context out of which it is created and which it now is able to
critique. Adorno's aestbetic of modernism reflects the Frankfurt
School's insistence that " i t was only by the refusal to celebrate
the present that the possibility might be preserved of a future in
'O7'

B r g e r , "The Decl i ne o f t h e Modern A g e , "

125.

Ibid.

Wol i n , "The De-Aesthet ici zat ion o f A r t , " 1 13-4.


'O7'

Adorno,

"Cornmi tment

, " 31 5.
369

which writing poetry would no longer be an act of barbarism. 1076


Adorno points to the art of Beckett as one example which restores
the hope that even after Auschwitz, art has not "lost its social
function and aesthetic potential for providing insight.,, 1077

I I . Religion's Patronage of Art

Religion and art are intimately related. for "religion has

been an inexhaustible spring of artistic expression. 1078

In

fact, the argument is often stated that al1 Western art originated
with religious art.

Examples abound of religiou art in the

form of prehistoric idols carved from stone to early Christian


mosaics and medieval altar triptychs.

Religion has been the

stimulus for the creation of architectural masterpieces such as the

Mayan pyramids and the Chartres cathedral. Religious works of art

Jay,

The D i a 7 e c t i c a 7 I m a g i n a t i o n ,

299.

Z i pes , " B e c k e t t in Gerrnany/Germany i n B e c k e t t , " 156.


'O7'

Weber,

The Sociology o f R e l i g i o n , 242.

Some a r t c r i t i c s and a r t h i s t o r i ans a r e even more speci f i c ,


i n s i s t i n g , as do Hans B e l t l i n g , a t h e o r i s t a t t a c h e d t o t h e school
f o r New Media i n K a r l s r u h e , and John B e n t l e y Mays, a Canadian a r t
c r i t i c , t h a t modern a r t would n o t be w h a t i t i s i f i t were n o t f o r
it s begi n n i ngs in medi e v a l C h r i s t i an imagery.
W i t h reference t o
B e l t l i n g ' s r e c e n t book L i k e n e s s and Presence: A H i s t o r y o f the
Image b e f o r e t h e E r a o f A r t , (Chicago: U n i v e r s i t y o f Chicago Press,
1994). Mays c h a l l e n g e s us t o " [ s l t a r t anywhere
a u s t e r e Minimal
s c u l p t u r e , o r c o n t e m p o r a r y v i d e o in s t a l l a t i o n , F u t u r i s m o r A b s t r a c t
E x p r e s s i o n i s m o r Rembrandt or Andy Warhol
and t h e w i n d i n g t r a i 1
f r o m t h e r e w i 11 1ead remorse1essly back t o medieval C h r i s t i a n
imagery.
No example o f modern a r t can p r e t e n d i t does n o t
o r i g i n a t e h e r e , a c c o r d i n g t o Mays, f o r " a l 1 t h e o f f s p r i n g o f t h e
s p i r i t o f M o d e r n i t y , f o r t h e p a s t 500 years, have s t i l l got t h e
farni l y ' s medi e v a l nose. " [John B e n t l e y Mays, "An E a s t e r medi t a t i o n
on a w o r l d w i t h o u t a r t , l f The G7obe and Mai7 ( 6 A p r i 1 l996), C ( 1 2 ) . ]

were treated with reverence, for they were believed to be sacred


objects, often with rnagic powers.
The Christian church has benefitted from the illustrative and
pedagogical aspects of the arts in spreading the Christian message.
Starting in approxirnately 970 C.E. European peasants, for example,
unable to comprehend the Latin Mass, were taught the theology of

the church through dramatization of biblical s tories .'Oa0

And

even earlier, paintings, carvings, and sculpture portrayed the

message of the Christian faith.

As early as the fourth century

C.E. Christian rhetoricians, schooled in the rhetorical tradition


of antiquity, established a close relationship between art and
literature in their sermons.

In their estimation, reference to a

work of art brought out the point of the literature more clearly,
only the emphasis had now changed to Christian literature and
Christian works of art.
rhetorical

The goal was, via use of this familiar

technique, to win

Christian faith.

"the heathen

listeners to

the

Although Christian rhetoricians did

not

See t h e n e x t s e c t i o n of t h i s c h a p t e r f o r f u r t h e r
e x p l a n a t i o n o f t h e use o f drama i n t h e Medieval C h r i s t i a n c h u r c h .
'O8'
Andreas M e r t i n,
uKunstvol 1 p r e d i gen : Der Umgang m i t
Kunstwerken in homi 1e t i scher P e r s p e k t i ve, " chap. in B i 7der und i h r e
Macht: Zum V e r h a ' l t n i s von K u n s t und c h r i s t 7 i c h e r R e 7 i g i o n , eds.
H o r s t Schwebel and Andreas M e r t i n (Stuttgart: Ver1 ag Kath01 isches
B i b e l w e r k , l 9 8 9 ) , 214-5.
M e r t i n g i v e s s p e c i f i c examples o f t h i s p r a c t i c e i n t h e h i s t o r y
o f C h r i s t i a n homi l e t i c s .
He r e f e r s t o , f o r example, Basi l i u s von
Caeserea w h o preached on mattyrdom w i t h C h r i s t as t h e umpire, as
p o r t r a y e d in a p a i n t i n g by Barlaam, and t o Gregory o f Nyssa, who,
i n a sermon on S t . Theodor, shows a p a i n t i n g a b 0 on t h e theme o f
martyrdom w i t h C h r i s t as t h e u m p i r e i n human form.
[cf. I b i d . ]
As a n o t e , t h e work c i t e d here i s one o f t h e p u b l i s h e d works
o f t h e Marburg I n s t i t u t e t o which 1 w i 11 r e f e r i n t h e n e x t s e c t i o n
o f t h i s chapter.
M e r t i n was a s c h o l a r r e s e a r c h i n g a t t h e Marburg

change the rhetorical techniques. they d i d modify through their

Christian beliefs and the expression thereof. the general approach


to and view of art: the outer forms of art were not changed. but
the social function def initely was. "For c l a s s i c a l antiquity works
of art had above al1 an aesthetic meaning. for Christianity. an

other-than-aesthetic meaning [ausserasthetischen Sinn]..1082


the late Middle Ages

the use of art

for didactic

By

purposes

predominated in the Christian church. The functional usage of art


in the sense of a laicorum littertura (literature of the laityf had
become something which was taken for granted ; the assumption was

that the use of art was for the "instruction of the people. 1083
In fact, in the thirteenth century the b i b l i a pauperum (bible of

the poor) came

into

being.

consisting of

connected to the themes of the Bible.'Oa4

illustrated
Thee

texts

images were

clearly seen as teaching vehicles for the poor and thus. the
unlearned.

The b i b l i a pauperwwas also of great use to priests.

who learned to communicate clearly and understandably to the l a i ty .

I n s t i t u t e from 1983 u n t i l 1994.


H o r s t Schwebel , t h e D i r e c t o r o f t h e Marburg I n s t i tute, s t a t e s :
' ! S i n c e 220 C . E . church a r t h a s been pfaced i n t h e s e r v i c e o f
p r e a c h i ng "
[ H o r s t Schwebel , Autonome Kunst im Raum d e r K i r c h e ,
(Hamburg: Furche, 1968), 9 . 1

'O8*

A.

(Munich,

Hauser,

l983), l 3 3 f . ,

S o c i a T g e s c h i c h t e der Kunst und


i n M e r t i n, "Kunstvoll p r e d i g e n ,

Literatur
216.

From a s t a t e m e n t by Bernard o f C l a i r v a u x , c i t e d in G . Duby,


d e r Zisterzienser ( n o p u b . ,
166, 175, i n I b i d . , 218.

Der heilige B e r n a r d und die Kunst


1981),

'OB4 For t h e concept o f I t b i b 7 i a pauperrrm" c f . A . Weckwerth, A r t ,


i n Ibid.

Gregory 1 , in a letter to the Bishop of Marseille, describes the


b i b l ia pauperum:

What the written t e x t is for the learned, is afforded to the


laity in what they see in images, since in images the
unlearned can also see what they must comply with; through
these images those who cannot r e a d , r e a d fwhat they need to
learn. ] For this reason, above a , for the people [who
cannot read] images are the text.hi5
As

a result of this assumed approach to art, "when everyone had

learned

to

read

and to follow the articulation of abstract

thoughts," art became "totally s u p e r f l u o u s w to the Christian


church; it was admitted that the acceptance of art "was merely a
concessio~made" in order to reach the unlearned, who were much

more easily influenced by a "sensual means. n 1086


Art ists patronized by the off icial church had to produce works
deemed "good and u s e f u l

for the people.

~ o tonly was art

limited to religious themes, b u t church leaders like Girolamo


Savonarola went so far as to dictate that "the representation of
the naked body was unchaste and destructive, part icularly since

M i gne, PL 7 7 , 11Z 8 f ; Ep. X I , 1 3 , i n H o r s t Schwebel , V u n s t


im K o n t e x t K i rche: Posi ti onen
A n t i - P o s i t i onen
P r a k t i sche
Folgerungen, " chap. i n Schwebel and M e r t i n , B i 7der und I h r e Macht,

238.
Ibid.
Andreas M e r t i n "Der a l l g e m e i n e und d e r besondere
B i 1d e r s t r e i t
al s
p a r a d i gma
c h r i s t 1icher
K u n s t e r f a h r u n g , " chap. i n Andreas M e r t i n and H o r s t Schwebel , eds. ,
K i r c h e und Moderne Kunst: E i n e a k t u e 7 l e Dokumentat i o n ( F r a n k f u r t a m
M a i n : Athenaum, 1 9 8 8 ) , 158.
T h i s a t t i t u d e which d i c t a t e d w h a t was a p p r o p r i a t e and
a c c e p t a b l e a r t i s , a c c o r d i n g t o M e r t i n ' s d e f i n i t i o n , a fortn o f
ic o n o c l asm.

1 konok1 asmus :

paintings in churches were the books for children and women. rn 1088
This attitude goes beyond viewing art as an a n c i l l a ecclesiae
(maidservant of the church), to considering art as a "part of the
theology. [even as] identical with it.n1089

And the creation of

a work of art, itself, is not thought of as a creative act by the


artist, but something which originates out of the church; "the
painter does only the technical aspect, t h e material means of
The images are granted no individual

present ing the image."logo

value and are al1 made for one goal only: that of the church.
Works of art remain, according to this attitude, subordinate to
their didactic-pragmatic function as dictated by the officia1
Or, as Adorno argued in h i s essay on art and

church

religion,

such
accidentally . .LU92

religious

works

of

art

are

art

"only

The patronage of visual artists - which includes commissioning


for paintings, carvings, sculptures, stained glass, music, and
weavings - has significantly declined, especially among the wings

'O8'
E r n s t P i p e r , Savonarola:
P u r i t a n e r s im F 7 o r e n z d e r Medici
I b i d . , 157.
'O8'

Ibid.,

'Og0

H. J .

Umtriebe e i n e s Po7 itikers und


( B e r l i n , l979), 9 5 . c i t e d i n

158.
Gei s c h e r ,

D e r byzantinische

Bi T d e r s t r e i t (Leipzig,

1980), 36, c i t e d i n I b i d .
'Og1
M e r t i n n o t e s how t h i s a t t i t u d e d i d not d i e out w i t h
Savonarola, r a t h e r S a v o n a r o l a can be i d e n t i f i e d as one o f t h e
sources f o r t h e same a t t i t u d e s t i1 1 p r e v a l e n t among "bourgeoi s
C h r i s t i a n s o f t h e p r e s e n t . " [ I b i d . , 159.1
'Og2

Adorno,

" T h e s e s Upon A r t and Re1 igi on Today,

Ir

677.

of the Christian church which were established in the sixteenth


century Reformation. The emphasis of some Reformation churches has
been primarily and in some cases, exclusively, on hearing the
biblical text rather than seeing it.

Many in the Reformation

tradition have viewed art as something which distracts one from


true worship.

Others have rejected art because they feared it

would be the work of art which was worshipped and not God, that

Christians would b e "lost in idolatry. n'093

AS

a r e s u l t . many

artists turned to patrons outside the Christian church and many


places of worship were s t r i p p e d of al1 adorment.

But the wrath

towards art was not limited to art within the church building
itself. Rather, art as autonornous was also feared. The fear among
Christians, especially church leaders was that

if no

longer

controlled by the church, art would becorne "infamous sensuality,"


which might lead people astray; thus, if art is no longer under the
domination of the church. then art should not be. 1091
I b i d . , 154.
I n h i s study o f iconoclasm, M e r t i n sets up iconoclasm a s t h e
paradigm o f t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p o f a r t w i t h t h e C h r i s t i a n c h u r c h
t h r o u g h o u t t h e h i s t o r y o f t h e church.
Tt becomes c t e a r f o r M e r t i n
t h a t t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p has n o t , f o r t h e most p a r t , been one which
has honoured a r t as a r t .
'Og3

'Og4 Marcuse c i tes H o r s t Bredekampls a n a l y i s o f t h e n e g a t i v e


response o f p e o p l e t o a r t ' s achievement o f autonomy f r o m t h e
c h u r c h : " H o r s t Bredekarnp has shown t h a t t h e s y s t e m a t i c mobi 7 iz a t i on
o f t h e populace a g a i n s t t h e emancipation o f a r t from r e l i g i o u s
r i t u a l has i t s r o o t s i n t h e a s c e t i c movernents o f t h e High M i d d l e
Ages. Autonornous a r t is condemned as infamous sensual it y . ' Re1ease
o f a e s t h e t i c - s e n s u o u s s t i m u l i , ' ' a r t i s t i c t i c k l i n g o f t h e senses'
a r e p r e s e n t e d as - b a s i c c o n d i t i o n s f o r t h e autonorni z a t i o n o f a r t . '
The b u r n i n g o f p a i n t i n g s and s t a t u e s i s n o t an ' e x p r e s s i o n o f a
b1 in d l y r a g i ng f a n a t i c i sm, ' but r a t h e r a 'consequence o f a p e t t y
b o u r g e o i s , a n t i - i n t e l Iectual is t i c i d e a l o f 1 i f e ; Savonarola [ a s
M e r t i n al so states] is it s uncompromi s i ng r e p r e s e n t a t i v e . ' '' [ H o r s t

This loss of patronage and reaction against art gaining


autonomy has not meant t h e death of art, however. As Adorno notes,
art has in fact

"flourished,111095 f reed from the re t rictions

placed upon it by the authorities of the church who wanted art to


"respect the moral censorship and the aesthetic program of the
church." in short. to proclaim the Christian message.'Og6

Artists

have pushed the boundaries of art in many directions since the


sixteenth century, sometimes relying on patrons, sometimes earning
very little because they refused to have anyone dictate how they

create their art -

would

whether

it was

through religious.

academic, monetary or political power over thern.

Thus. it has not

only been the religious institutions which have pushed the artists
out for not producing the appropriate forms of art, but a l s o the
artists who have turned their back to the church and l l k e p t their
work distant from the realm of the c h u r ~ h l 'in
~ ~order
~~
to guard

the autonomy of art.


Christians in the twentieth century have responded in several
ways to the distance that has developed between the Christian
church and the development of the arts. Later in this chapter. we
will discuss one response as found in the work and research carried

Bredekamp,
"Autonomi e
und Askese, "
in
Autonomie
der Kunst
( F r a n k f u r t : Suhrkamp, 1 9 7 2 ) , 1 2 1 , 1 3 3 , i n Marcuse, The A e s t h e t i c
Dimension, 66-7.]
'Og5

Adorno, A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 2.

'Og6 M e r t i n, "Der a l 1gemei ne und der besondere 1 k o n k l asmus, "


157.

'Og7

Ibid.

out at the I n s t i t u t in Harburg.

Responses of Christians w h o

maintain the notion that art must proclaim the Christian message

are exemplified by the following remarks :


- - - a sfar as the Church is concerned, there is at least a
chance once again that the arts may b e used to express
Christian ideas. instead of being used exclusively - or nearly
so - to present secular humanism in the g u i s e of biblical
charades- But if this chance is not to b e lost, artists must
be employed; and moreover they must be told w
lgs the Christian
faith is if they do not already known [sic].

The art form of drama, in particular, has been cited a s beneficial


to

the Christian church:

c o n v e r s i o n and

. . .the

"the Christian dramatist's

aim

is

spectator of a Christian drama should go away

in the sure and certain hope of the consequences t o h i m s e l f of the

historical Resurrection.rn 1099

But after having gained its autonomy, is this the type of


relationship into which art should once again enter?

These

sentiments expressed merely echo the desire that the church once
again gain control and dictate what art should be produced and for
what purpose.

To

insist that art once again be created and

manipulated as the mouthpiece

of established institutions

of

religion, will make art into a rnere means for something which it is
not: for the ideology of the Christian church- And if, as w e have

seen,

the

Christian

religion

has

itself

taken

on

the

'Og8
A.C.
Bridge,
"Churches,
a t t i s t s and p e o p l e , "
Church
I n f o r m a t i o n Board ( 1 9 5 9 ) , 1 5 , c i t e d i n F . J . Glendenning, "The
Church and t h e A r t s , " i n Frank Glendenni n g , ed. , The Church and t h e
A r t s (London: SCM, 1960), 13.

'Og9 Hugh Ross W i 1 1 iamson,


g i v e n ) , c i t e d i n I b i d . , 77.

C h r i s t i a n Rrama ( J u l y 19501,

(no P .

characteristics of an entrenched and dehumanizing bureaucrcy. will


it treat art any differently than any other bureaucracy which uses
art to proclaim its ideology?

We

learned from Marcuse. for

example, that artists forced to comply with the official Marxist


aesthetic were given strict guidelines regarding what was and was

not considered acceptable art by the Party. Yet if we ask whether


art's affinity to truth can survive if it is produced only as a
means to the ideological end of an established organization. we are
reminded of Adorno's insistence that art is never completely
"coterminous wi th ideology . Nor does being ideological prevent art
from being true. nllOO

A work of art qua art contain it own

t r u t h no matter how veiled by a heteronomous ideology. Through the

differentiation of itself from it social-historical moment, the


work of art transcends its moment.

Even when manipulated into a

tool of an ideology, a work of art inherently resists what it has


become, exposing the delusory presuppositions of those whose goal
is to dominate it -

the key for a critique of art in its

relationship to religion will be to grasp this contradiction.

In

light of art's continued transcendence and defiance of the use i t


is put to, how does one respond to the recent efforts of the
Christian church to reappropriate art for the sake of the ideals of
Christianity? These issues inform the following discussion of the
relationship between the art of theatce and the Christian church in
the twent ieth century .

"Oo

Adorno,

A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 195.

378

i. Twentieth century Christian theatre

As with feminist theatre, there are a plethora of definitions


of Christian theatre. It is important to recognise that most North

American sources which deal with t h i s subject often use the term
"religious" instead of "Christian," with the inherent assumption
that the two are equal.1101

At one end of the continuum one

finds that "religious drama" is not defined as a "kind of drama,


[but] a quality of drama-

In this case. the drama as well as

i ts theatrical performance are recognized as religious not because

the content "cornes from religious books or from Judeo-Christian


[sic] sources in the Bible.

It is not religious because it

dramatizes so-called religious themes."

Rather, this position

advocates that "[dlrama is truly religious when it shows rneanings

and purposes in life that grow from the revelation of the highest
values conceivable. It seeks to relate man to the totality of his
being .

In fact. the definition allows

for a

religiou

approach to any theatre performance, because the assumption is that


"O1 Such is n o t n e c e s s a r i ly the case i n European t e x t s on t h i s
theme.
For example, D i e t e r Gutzen, w r i t i n g i n the f i r s t special
i s s u e o f V e s t i g i a ( t h e annual j o u r n a l o f t h e Gerrnan B i b l e A r c h i v e
i n Hamburg) devoted t o t h e t o p i c o f "Aspects o f r e l i g i o u s drama,"
c a r e f u l l y d e l i n e a t e s between re7 i g i o u s and c h r i s t i a n t h e a t r e :
. .a
g e n e r a l u n d e r s t a n d i ng o f ' r e l ig i on, ' where t h e substance o f t h a t
which i s r e l i g i o u s is n o t n e c e s s a r i ly i d e n t i c a l w i t h C h r i s t i a n i t y
. . . " [ D i e t e r Gutzen, "Aspekte des r e l igiosen Dramas irn 2 0 .
Jahrhundert, " V e s t i g i a 1 ( 1 9 7 9 ) , 117.j

".

Haro1d Ehrensperger,
Re7 i g i o u s Drama: Ends and Means
(Westport, C o n n e c t i c u t : Greenwood Press, 1977; r e p r i n t of Abi ngdon
P r e s s , New York, 1962 e d i t i o n ) , 67.
Ehrensperger ' s t e x t c o n t i n u e s t o be c o n s i d e r e d t h e b e s t s o u r c e
f o r s t u d i e s i n 'Ire1 i g i o u s drama."

Ibid.

"significant drama or religious drama i s characterized by its


possibilities for illuminating the private world of the spectator illumination that allows [the spectator] to corne out of his narrow
self.

Any

drama or theater that can do this will have religious

v a l u e . tq1104

religious

- and in this case. specificaUy.

- bias can lead one

to find much of what one sees on

As such, one's

Christian

stage as religious whether it is, in fact, or not.

And i f one

is directing or acting in the show, one's Christian bias can easily

be a source for shaping the meaning of the text and the actions to
fit one's agenda.
' O4

Ibid.,

This perspective is prevalent among Christians

72.

"Os L i kewise a r e l i g i o u s l y moti v a t e d b i as ha a l so been known


t o f u e l censorship o f t h e a r t s .
Recent examples i n c l u d e t h e
condemnation o f B r i t i s h n o v e l is t Salman Rushdie by I r a n ' s r e l ig i o u s
1eader, t h e A y a t o l 1 ah Khomei n i , f o r Rushdj e ' s The S a t a n i c Verses,
w h i c h was l a b e l l e d o f f e n s i v e t o I s l a m . A s we71, m a i n l y P r o t e s t a n t
c o n s e r v a t i ve C h r i s t i an groups across N o r t h Ameri ca p r o t e s t e d M a r t i n
S c o r s e s e ' s 1988 f i l m The Last Temptation o f C h r i s t . (1 remember rny
e n c o u n t e r w i t h s e v e r a l p r o t e s t o r s when 1 went t o see t h i s f i l m .
When I asked i f t h e y had seen t h e f i l m , t h e y each s a i d : "No.")
As
w e l l , i n "1982, t h e n a t i o n a l C a t h o l i c League f o r R e l i g i o u s and
Ci v i 1 R i g h t s a t t e m p t e d t o have C h r i s t o p h e r Durang ' s 7980 s a t i r i c a l
one-act S i s t e r M a r y I g n a t i u s Exp7ains It A77 f o r You banned i n S t .
L o u i s, Boston, D e t r o i t and o t h e r Ameri can c i t i e s . I n M i s s o u r i , t h e
Chai rman o f t h e Senate A p p r o p r i a t i o n s Commi ttee, a Cath01 ic l
a c t u a l l y t h r e a t e n e d t h e f u n d i n g o f t h e M i s s o u r i A r t s Counci 1 u n l e s s
i t agreed not t o award any more g r a n t s t o t h e a c t i n g company t h a t
had s t a g e d t h e p l a y . " [ c f . C h r i s t o p h e r Durang, " T h r e a t s on S i s t e r
Mary I g n a t i u s Threaten Freedom o f Speech," The D r a m a t i s t s G u i l d
Q u a r t e r l y , X X I ( W i n t e r 1 9 8 5 ) : 36-45, cited i n A l a n N i e l s e n , The
G r e a t V i c t o r i a n S a c r i 7ege: Preachers, Po 7 i t i c s and The Passion,
1879-1884 ( J e f f e r s o n , N . C . : McFarland and Company, 1991), 233.1
"The t h e a t r e i n S t . L o u i s i n which t h e p l a y was o r i g i na1 l y to have
been staged suddenl y became ' unavai 1 ab1 e ' t o t h e a c t ing company;
t w o l o c a l c o l l e g e s t h e n stepped i n t o o f f e r t h e i r f a c i l i t i e s .
. c o l l e g e s (one o f which was p r i v a t e l y funded) were
Later, both
a l so t h r e a t e n e d by t h e aforementioned S e n a t o r . "
[ I b i d. , 278-9, n.
#42.]

..

in theatre who choose to perform "non-Christiann texts.1106

Along the continuum, one also finds the approach of those,


such as E. Martin Browne, who advocate the use of draina "as an

avenue for worship. O"l i'

Browne explains how in England in the

early part of the twentieth century the Christian church re-awoke


to the possibilities of "religious drama," including the custom of
presenting drama as a part of the worship service itself. In order
to support this revival. Browne and others emphasise the religious
origin of modern theatre as a Medieval outgrowth of the theatrical
quality of the Roman Catholic Mass - in f a c t , many of the scripts
first produced by Browne were from the Medieval Mystery Cycle. In

similar

argument

to

Browne's

for

theatre's

religious

'O6
The t h e a t r e t r o u p e ,
" T h e a t r e and Companyrt based i n
K i t c h e n e r , ON, i s one example o f a t r o u p e w h i c h assumes such a
stance.
They a r e an o u t g r o w t h o f t h e Cambridge YWAM a r t s t r a i n i n g
program - which w i 11 be d i s c u s s e d more s p e c i f i c a l l y i n t h e n e x t
section.
T h e a t r e and Companyf s M i s s i on Statement inc1 udes t h e
f o l l o w i ng:
"Fu1 1 - t i r n e
Company
rnembers
are
drawn
from
an
in t e r n a t i onal and r e g i o n a l communi t y o f t h e a t r e a r t is t s who share
a b i b l i c a l w o r l d v i e w and who seek t o s e r v e t h e i r audience t h r o u g h
in n o v a t i ve and engagi ng uses o f t h e d r a m a t i c medi um. "
["Theatre
and Company M i s s i on Staternent, " (June W W ) .]
Thei r c h o i c e of
s c r i p t s i s v a r i e d and i n c l u d e s works by b o t h well-known,
not
n e c e s s a r i l y C h r i s t i an p l a y w r i g h t s ( e g . Ath01 F u g a r d ' s The Road t o
Mecca and Robert Bo1t 's The S i s t e r h o o d , an a d a p t a t i o n o f Mol ie r e l s
Les Femmes Savantes), as w e l l as b y t h o s e who a r e l e s s e r known.
The a c t i n g , however, remai ns f l a t and o b v i o u s l y s u b s e r v i e n t t o t h e
The i m p o r t a n c e o f t h e message becomes apparent i n p o s t message.
performance d i s c u s s i o n s w h i c h u s u a l ly do n o t f o c u s on d r a m a t i c
t e c h n i q u e s , b u t on t h e p o i n t o f t h e p l a y .
"O7
E. M a r t i n Browne,
The P r o d u c t i o n o f Religious P k y s
(London: P h i l i p A l l a n and Company, 1 9 3 2 ) , 1 0 .
Browne uses t h i s c i t a t i o n f r o m t h e Bishop o f C h i c h e s t e r t o
open h i s study of r e l i g i o u s d r a m a t i c p r o d u c t i o n s i n England d u r i n g
Browne was i n s t r u m e n t a l
t h e e a r l y p a r t o f the t w e n t i e t h century.
i n t h e e s t a b l i s h m e n t o f t h e Re1 i g i o u s Drama S o c i e t y i n England
which s t i l l o f f e r s summer workshops - and l a t e r t a u g h t drama and
w o r s h i p courses a t Union T h e o l o g i c a l Seminary i n New Y o r k .

s p e c i f i c a l l y , C h r i s t i a n - r o o t s , Bloor s t a t e s :

And 1 would s p e c i a l l y emphasize one thing, b e c a u s e i t bas n o t


been emphasized s u f f i c i e n t l y . As t h i s drama a r o s e o u t of t h e
Easter r i t u a l , s o i t s c e n t r a l i d e a w a s t h e r i s e n C h r i s t . T h i s
d e t e r m i n e d i t s whole development.
I t was planned t o l e a d up
t o t h i s . T h i s was t h e ecclesiastical c o n v e n t i o n . 1 t may have
proved d r a m a t i c i n resyhg.
But i n intention, it w a s
t h e o l o g i c a l and d i d a c t i c .
T h e p r o d u c t i o n o f drama in the C h r i s t i a n church o f

the t w e n t i e t h

c e n t u r y h a s retained this t h e o l o g i c a l and didactic i n t e n t i o n .

In

f a c t , t h e n o t i o n of producing drama "has been q u i c k l y s e i z e d on as


a means o f e n c o u r a g i n g appreciation o f her [the Church's] message

and w o r s h i p , and a f l o o d o f p l a y s g r e a t and small have been w r i t t e n


for parish

production.

w1109

In contrast

to

the

p r o d u c t i o n s of

p r o f e s s i o n a l q u a l i t y which Browne h i m s e l f d i d i n England, he a d m i t s


that

the m a j o r i t y

naturally,

of

the p l a y s

from a lack o f

written and p r o u c e d

l i t e r a r y d i s t i n c t i o n and

"suffer,

a somewhat

'O8
R . H . U . Bloor, C h r i s t i a n i t y and t h e ReTigious Drama, T h e
E s s e x Ha1 1 L e c t u r e , 1928 (Boston: Beacon P r e s s , 1930; r e p r i nted by
Norwood E d i t i o n s , 1 9 7 7 ) , 15-16.
Bloor o u t 1 i n e s t h e a c c e p t e d v e r s i o n o f t h e o r i g i n o f C h r i s t i a n
drama i n t h e Medieval p e r i o d . ( R e f e r e n c e t o t h e drama o f t h e Greek
c l a s s i c a l p e r i o d i s e i t h e r f o r g o t t e n o r de7 i b e r a t e l y l e f t a s i d e . )
"The drama o f t h e Middf e Ages was a new c r e a t i o n , a most
c h a r a c t e r i s t i c t h i n g , t h a t a r o s e i n t h e v e r y bosom o f t h e Church,
and was e v o l v e d from her 1 it u r g y . . I t was o u t o f the E a s t e r r i t u a 1
t h a t spoken Re1 i g i o u s Drama t o o k i t s a c t u a l r i s e i n t h e n i n t h
c e n t u r y [ c o r r e c t i o n : tenth c e n t u r y ] . it had become customary t o
i nsert addi t i o n a l melodies i n t h e a n t i p h o n a l m u s i c . These melodies
were a t f i r s t sung merely t o vowel s o u n d s . Then words w e r e p u t t o
t h e m . . . F o u r of t h e b r e t h r e n , s u i t a b l y r o b e d , p l a y e d t h e c h i e f
p a r t s . O n e o f t h e m , r e p r e s e n t i n g t h e a n g e l , s a t by t h e s e p u l c h r e
w i t h a palm i n h i s hand. T h e o t h e r t h r e e , r e p r e s e n t i n g t h e women
The b r o t h e r by
coming t o t h e tomb, wal ked s l o w l y up t h e c h u r c h .
t h e s e p u l c h r e c h a n t e d the Quem guaeritis [ w h o m do you seek] . The
t h r e e r e p l i e d i n unison. And when bidden t o go and announce t h a t
C h r i s t had r i s e n , t h e y t u r n e d t o t h e c h o i r u t t e r i n g t h e words
A 7 7 e 7 u i a ! resurrexit Dominus!"
[ I b i d . , 13-15.]

. .

"O9

Browne, The Production of Religious P l a y s , 12-13.

confined angle of view. "

But in spite of his encouragement that

one choose a strong script and

strive for good

performance

technique, both are secondary to the first purpose, which is to


"enshrine the devotion of the living C h u r c h , and therein lies the
strength of their [weak s c r i p t s ' ] appeal . . . .Al1 those who use
religious drama
it.. . .,,1110

can

tell

of

minds

and

hearts

touched

by

Browne wrote these words in the f i r s t half of the twentieth


century. But his ideas have not l o s t their influence in the latter
h a l f ; i f anything, they have gained in popularity as more and more

Christians have corne to recognize the notion that theatre can be a


useful technique for Christian worship.

The performance of drama

is promoted as " a new tool"lll' even in churches which have t h e i r

origins in the Reformation churches of the sixteenth c e n t u r y - the

O'"

Ibid.

'11' Ken H i 1d e b r a n d t , " C o n f l ic t and c o n n e c t i ons, " Conference o f


Mennonites in Canada Nexus 1 .5, suppl ernent in Mennonite R e p o r t e r
2 4 . 2 4 (December 1 9 9 4 ) , 4.
1 have o f t e n e n c o u n t e r e d t h i s p h r a s e i n workshops which 1 have
been asked t o lead on the t o p i c o f drama and worship.
I n response,
1 have more t h a n once r e s o r t e d t o t a p i ng t o t h e w a l 1 t h e f o l 1 o w i ng:
"DRAMA IS N O 1 A TOOL."
My p u r p o s e f o r l e a d i n g t h e s e workshops was
t o c o u n t e r a c t t h i s a1 1 - t o o - p r e v a l e n t n o t i o n shared so c l e a r l y h e r e
by Hi 1d e b r a n d t
Fortunatefy,
1 e n c o u n t e r e d a f e w who a r e
s y m p a t h e t i c t o rny view o f t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p o f drarna and w o r s h i p :
drarna i s n o t a t o o l of w o r s h i p , i s not an e r s a t z f o r m o f w o r s h i p ,
does n o t become a message b e a r e r ; r a t h e r , i n and o f it s e l f , drama
as an a r t f o r m i s t h o r o u g h i y m a t e r i a l l y mediated i n i t s s o c i a l h i s t o r i c a l c o n t e x t and as such, o f f e r s a c r i t i q u e o f t h a t context.
A s w i ll become e v i d e n t f r o m t h e d i s c u s s i on o f t h e r e s e a r c h a t t h e
Marburg I n s t i t u t e ,
1, t o o ,
recognize t h a t the c r i t i q u e o f
autonomous a r t may cause t e n s i o n i n t h e c o n t e x t o f t h e c h u r c h .
Lt
i s p r e c i sel y t h e d i a l e c t i c w h i c h t h i s t e n s i o n provokes which must
remai n i n t a c t .
When a message is p u t in t o t h e drama, t h e t e n s i o n
is a l l e v i ated and b o t h t h e message and t h e drama f a 1 1 f l at.

very churches which destroyed i c o n s and refused t o i n s t a l l stained

glass windows i n the sanctuary, f o r fear t h a t they would distract


f rom the worship experience.

The important caveat , however ,

is that drama, u n l i k e i c o n s and s t a i n e d glass, i s not regarded as

an art form in and of i t s e l f .

Rather, it has been recognized t h a t

t h e church "turned away from t h i s powerful t o o l " as drama gained

its autonomy from the church, and performances took place more and
I n f a c t , t o c a l 1 drama a "new t o o l " w i t h i n t n e R e f o r m a t i o n
church t r a d i t i o n i s f a l s e , f o r as e a r l y a s t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y ,
members o f t h e R e f o r m a t i o n churches, i n c l u d i n g A n a b a p t i s t s , i n t h e
Low C o u n t r i e s ( t h e N e t h e r l a n d s and B e l g i um) used t h e a t r e f o r t h e
purposes o f communicating t h e i r r e l i g i o u s v i e w s .
A t the core o f
Gary K. Wai t e ' s s t u d y o f s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y " r h e t o r i c i an drama" is
t h e q u e s t i o n : W i d t h e y use t h e i r drama as propaganda, e i t h e r f o r
o r a g a i n s t t h e new [ r e f o r m a t i o n ]
ideas?"
[Gary K.
Wai t e ,
"Reforrners on Stage: R h e t o r i c i an Drama and Ueformat ion propaganda
1519-1556,t1 A r c h i v
fr
i n the
Netherlands o f
C h a r l e s V,
Reformationsgeschichte 83 ( W W ) , 21 1. ] Wai t e examines t h e drama
c o r n p e t i t i o n s h e l d b y t h e r h e t o r i c i a n Chambers i n p l a c e s such as
Ghent and Antwerp.
He n o t e s t h a t t h e Ghent c o r n p e t i t i o n i n
p a r t i cul a r "becarne infamous f o r it s advocacy o f r e l ig i ous r e f o r m
and i m p l i c i t c r i t i c i s m o f t h e a u t h o r i t i e s . " [ I b i d . , 220.1
With
speci f i c r e f e r e n c e t o t h e in f 1uence o f Anabapti s t t h e 0 1 ogy on t h i s
c o m p e t i t i o n , W a i t e g i v e s t h e f o l l o w i n g example: "Perhaps t h e most
t h e o l o g i c a l l y u n o r t h o d o x performance a t t h e Ghent c o m p e t i t i o n w a s
p r o v i d e d by t h e Deinze Chamber.
A l t h o u g h [Jacobus B . ]
Drewes
doubts t h a t any r h e t o r i c i ans would have been b o l d enough pub7 icl y
t o p r e s e n t Anabapti s t c o n v i c t i o n s on t h e Ghent s t a g e , t h e Dei nze
p l a y c o n t a i n s t e n e t s whi ch, when t a k e n t o g e t h e r , s t r o n g l y s u g g e s t
in f 1uence f rom one o f s e v e r a l Anabapti s t q u a r t e r s . "
[ Jacobus B.
Drewes, T n t e r p r e t a t i e van de Genste Spel en van 1539: Grenzen o f
onmacht van de f i l o l ~ g i e ?TNTL
~ ~ 100 ( 1 9 8 4 ) , 251, c i t e d i n I b i d . ,
2 2 6 . ] Wai t e concl udes t h a t a l though "many r h e t o r i c i ans used t h e i r
drama as r e f o r m a t i o n propaganda," t h e elernents o f propaganda may
have even been more p e r v a s i v e and s u b t l e : I r . in 1 ig h t o f r e c e n t
f i n d i ngs on t h e propagandi s t i c f u n c t i o n o f g e s t u r e and r i tual, even
seemingly b e n i g n l i t e r a r y t e x t s , when s t u d i e d i n t h e c o n t e x t o f t h e
p o t e n t i a l l y e x p l o s i v e atmosphere o f the e a r l y R e f o r m a t i o n , c a n t a k e
on r e v o l u t i o n a r y s i g n i f i c a n c e .
I n o t h e r words, it m i g h t n o t have
been n e c e s s a r y f o r a reform-mi nded dramati s t e x p l ic i t l y t o a d v o c a t e
the widescale r e j e c t i o n o f t h e a u t h o r i t y o f the C a t h o l i c h i e r a r c h y
when he c o u l d make t h e same p o i n t b y s u b t l e r - and l e s s dangerous
means, such a s in s i n u a t i on, b i 67 ic a l para1 1 e l s and even f a c i a7
e x p r e s s i o n s . " [ I b i d , , 237.1

..

more in non-church related settings. Many unapologetically admit


that the reason they support this resurgence of the art of theatre
in the contemporary Christian church is because it is "a visual
medium. with [an] amazing ability to attract attention. rv 1112

The twentieth century . - - has seen us revisit the o l d art form


of drama as a way to communicate the gospel effectively... .the
church is beginning to learn to use drama . . . .Herein lies
the power of a church drama: once a connection [on an
emotional level] is made, audience members become more
receptive to the solutions a play may present to very real
problems. Sornetimes the connection may result in a person
coming to know the Lord, or at least becoming aware of a
loving and caring heavenly Father. Drama can be an effective
tool in worship. The audience becornes engaged in the events
portrayed, laughing and perhaps crying. In this way, drama
brings people to a place where they can experience Chri
the Great healer of their n e e d s and persona1 conflicts.fil4 as
The being-for-self of the art is not acknowledged.

Rather, drama

is a tool - but not just any tool, for this is a powerful and
effective tool which can be used to communicate t h e message of t h e
church in a way which affects people on an emotional level.
The goal is that people will "corn[e] to know the Lord."

Whether or

not they appreciate the merits of the art form is irrelevant.


Christians who are recognized as talented in the dramatic a r t s
are encouraged to "to study their art to use it in God's service.
This," according to Browne, "is the ideal way.. . . 1115

coumitment

to developing and using one's art as a service to God is expressed,


1113 H i l d e b r a n d t , " C o n f 1 ic t and c o n n e c t i ons,

4.

Browne, The P r o d u c t i o n o f Re7 i g i o u P l a y s , 37.


A l t h o u g h Browne acknowledges t h a t o n e ' s cornmitment t o o n e ' s
f a i t h and o n e r s p r a y e r s " c a n n o t make b a d a c t i n g good," t h e
i m p o r t a n t t h i n g t o remember i s t h a t " t h e work i s t h e o f f e r i n g which
God w a n t s o f us."
[ I b i d . , 36.1

for example, by a m i m e artist who bases her original reason for


studying mime on her Christian coinmitment: "About I O years ago I
was

involved in a church where a lot of emphasis was put on

ministries.. . . I wanted to find something f could do for God and the


idea came to me almost like a vision that 1 was to be a clown
specializing in the area of mime. 1116
1t

The inherent goal of Christian theatre is to bring the nonChristian to Christ and to strengthen the faith of the Christian,

In Brome's opinion there can be no more potent "an offering of


worship" than drama.

For no other offering can be more effective

"in changing the hearts of those who doubt or waver, nor in


strengthening those who believe.

For 'Whatsoever they see done in

show on the stage they will be presently be doing in earnest in the


world , *

Theatre is a means to the achievement of thi end.

ii. The example of YWAM


At the other end of the continuum are groups which, like
politically-minded feminist theatre troupes, specifically use the
dramatic arts for the purposes of evangelism. The international
Christian organization, "Youth With A Mission," or " Y W A M , " is a
well known example of such groups.

The philosophy undergirding

G e r a l d W r i g h t , ' Q u i e t f l a i r f o r drama: A y r morn pursues


s p i r i t u a 1 d i mensi on of 1 t f e as m i m e , r t Kitchener-Water 700 Record ( 2 7
November 1 9 8 9 ) , C ( 3 ) .
Browne,

The Production o f Religious Plays, 82.

"YWAM" is:

"God wants us to use e v e r y t h i n g c r e a t i v e f o r him.

The mandates of YWAV are s i m p l e .

tq

1118

F i r s t is the notion that YWAM

members are " t o reach the world for Christ."

Secondly, and in

connection with the f i r s t mandate, the goal i s " t o expose everyone


to the Gospel through the arts. "

Specifically, the s t r a t e g y i s "to

reach every other person who won't go t o c h u r c h . "

These mandates,

however, remain c o v e r t .
Al1 who becorne members

of YWAM are

taught and

urged

to

appropriate into t h e i r own lives the five foundational t e a c h i n g s o f


the organization.

The first foundational teaching is to l e a r n and

'Il8 The f o l l o w i n g i n f o r m a t i o n on YWAM i s from a persona1


in t e r v i e w w i t h a woman who had been p l aced in YWAM1s c r e a t i ve a r t s '
program i n Cambridge, ON, by h e r p a r e n t s .
I n her e a r l y t w e n t i e s ,
she chose to l e a v e YWAM.
I g r e a t l y a p p r e c i a t e t h e t i m e she t o o k t o
a l low m e t o i n t e r v i e w h e r i n T o r o n t o on 9 August 1994. I n o r d e r t o
p r o t e c t h e r i d e n t i t y , h e r name w i 11 n o t be r e v e a l e d i n t h i s
investigation.
Repeated atternpts on my p a r t t o connect d i r e c t l y
w i t h t h e l e a d e r s o f YWAM based i n Cambridge, ON proved f r u i t l e s s .
The woman I i n t e r v i e w e d e x p l a i n e d to m e t h a t u n l e s s one knows how
t o " t a 1 k t h e t a 1 k m and i s i n v i t e d i n by a rnernber o f t h e
o r g a n i z a t i o n , i t is n e x t t o i m p o s s i b l e t o f i nd o u t a n y t h i n g about
WAM.
They a r e s u s p i c i o u s o f anyone who asks q u e s t i o n s and even
1
d i s c o u r a g e t h e i r own members from a s k i n g t o o many q u e s t i o n s .
wish t o acknowledge rny a p p r e c i a t i o n t o t h i s woman f o r t h e i n s i g h t s
i n t o t h e o r g a n i z a t i o n which she o f f e r e d f r o m her own e x p e r i e n c e .
Her mernories o f t h e years she spent i n YWAM a r e n o t p l e a s a n t . A l 1
words i n q u o t a t i o n i n t h i s s e c t i o n a r e h e r words; 1 share them w i t h
her p e r m i s s i o n .
Zt i s i m p o r t a n t t o note, n e v e r t h e l e s s , t h a t t h e a t t i t u d e
wherei n drama i s v i ewed as a tool o f evangel ism, i s n o t 1 i m i t e d t o
The attitude is a l so predomi n a n t among
o r g a n i z a t i ons 1ike YWAM.
P r o t e s t a n t churches w i t h a f u n d a m e n t a l i s t bent ( t h e t y p e of
c o n g r e g a t i o n s which would be s y m p a t h e t i c t o Y W A M f s m i s s i o n ) .
In
A p r i 1 o f 1996 1 1earned o f d i m e r t h e a t r e performances sponsored
and performed by t h e W a t e r l o o Mennoni t e B r e t h r e n c o n g r e g a t i on
(Waterloo, O N ) .
Whi l e many members o f t h e c o n g r e g a t i on attend
these performances, t h e main goal i s t o use them as a means o f
"outreach" t o the communi t y " t o w i n p e o p l e f o r C h r i s t . " [ P e r s o n a l
c o n v e r s a t i o n s w i t h members o f t h a t c o n g r e g a t i o n , A p r i 1,
1996,
Waterloo and S t . Jacobs, ON]

acknowledge

need

our

for

openness

because

of.

the

second

foundational teaching , our brokenness . In actuality , foundational


teachings are "very controlling , " for al1 rnembers are taught that
they

"must

tell

each

our secrets."

other all

The

foundational teaching is based on the principle of a

third

"divine

plumbline." When one becomes out of balance, one is "put back into
line by Godw - or by God's helpers.

Fourthly, members learn the

foundational teaching of the "fatherheart of God," where they are


taught to "feel daddy's love." And finally, the fifth foundational
teaching has to do with one's "relation~hips.~One learns to
understand

the

important

for

need

"God

to

sanctify

our

relationships." This becomes especially important when one begins


to think i n terms o f t h e possibility of a life-long partner in
marriage.

In a nutshell: "They tell you what to do."

Members are generally recruited young.

Youth are recruited

from churches which display a sympathy for YWAM's mission. Parents


in theses churches are told that YWAM is "a good place to send your
kids for training." In Canada, many parents send their children to
the Y
W
M facility in Cambridge, Ontario, where there is a "quasi
education-arts-religion program."

Other YWAM facilities include

dance schools in Hong Kong and in Europe; the "Mecca" is in Hawaii.


Parents who do send their c h i l d r e n to YWAM have to pay tuition,
room and board.

Because the organization d e p e n d s heavily on fund-

raising, it becomes a key strategy.

Even the young children are

taught to solicit funds through letters: "society owes them, they


are missionaries and society needs to support them."

C h i l d r e n between the a g e s o f e i g h t and n i n e t e e n a r e p u t i n t o

a prograrn c a l l e d

" K i n g ' s K i d s , " where

in

they are t r a i n e d

the

They t h e n become p a r t o f an i n t e r n a t i o n a l summer

various a r t s .

" T h e k i d s are u s e d

o u t r e a c h which t a r g e t s c e r t a i n p l a c e s .
strategy t o get to

p l a c e s . . . . [The o r g a n i z a t i o n ] e x p l o i t s

as a
their

c u t e s y d r a m a t i c a t t r i b u t e s " t o g e t i n t o places where a n a d u l t g r o u p


never could,

The l i n e c o n s t a n t l y u s e d i s : "hie are an i n t e r n a t i o n a l

children's singing group."

So f a r , YhJAY h a s managed t o o b t a i n

p e r m i s s i o n t o perforrn a t t h e O l y m p i c s around the world and a t the


opening ceremonies of s u c h p l a c e s as t h e Trump T o w e r s i n New York.
"During the performance t h e i d e a i s t h a t c u t e kids g i v e a t e s t i m o n y
and a f t e r t h e performance t h e y go i n t o t h e a u d i e n c e t o pray w i t h
people."

can't

As w i t h a l 1 o f

leave

it

as

t h e p r o d u c t i o n s which YWAY d o e s .

work

of

art.

at

the

end

there

"they
is

an

e x p l a n a t i o n . a t r a n s l a t i o n w t o make s u r e p e o p l e g e t the message.


The u n f o r t u n a t e aspect i s t h a t " c h i l d r e n .

can b e manipulated v e r y e a s i l y . "


"programmed" i n what

i f t h e y l o v e God.

From d a y one t h e c h i l d r e n a r e

i s r e f e r r e d t o as llboot-camp.

Basically.

w i t h i n two t o t h r e e w e e k s t h e c h i l d r e n l e a r n a l 1 the s o n g s o f t h e i r
summer program.

Boot c a p c o n s i s t s o f " t e a c h i n g i n t h e morning t o

p u r g e the k i d s of

their

a f t e r n o o n and e v e n i n g . "

past

s i n s and

then

rehearsal

in

the

The c h i l d r e n are t a u g h t t o think: We a r e

t h e youth t h a t God c a n u s e and i f w e g i v e o u r f u t u r e s t o God. t h i n k


o f what can happen!
When

too

old

W e could t r a v e l t h e world!."
for

King's

"Discipleship Training School."

Kids,

people

enter

"DTS." o r

One quickly l e a r n s t h a t o n e c a n n o t

advance wi thin the organization of WAY wi thout DTS training . Here


one learns the five foundational principles more in-depth, as well
as YWAM's

philosophy and

mission.

After DTS is "LTS," or

"Leadership Training School," where one learns to become a leader


of YWAM's various aspects. For older adults there is "Crossroads,"
a "DTS for older people." There is also Counselling School - after
all, counsellors are essential for dealing with one's brokenness
and with one's relationship choices. As in any large organization,
the idea is to "climb the ropes:" one can " g e t through the system
if you play it right."

Basic

philosophy

to YWAM's

is

the

so-called "Potential

theory": "You've g o t this potential and if you don't g i v e it to God


it will be lost. God has a perfect will and if you step outside of
the parameters which God sets. you have to settle with
permissive will of God.
you do some things."

the

It's not the perfect will. but he'll let

One can never "accelerate" the quality of

one's life on one's own. Rather, one will only have a good life if
one does "good works in order to please God.
'works' oriented.

This is completely

If you do everything right. you'll get the

perfect will and God will allow you to l i v e a blessed life. If you
screw up. you only get a meagre existence.
increased quality of life."

You can't generate an

This belief forms the framework of

one's way of thinking and how one views one's place in the world.
A

key aspect of YCVA.?'s program is the inherent and subtle "de-

individuation. "

This process becomes apparent in the fact that

"al1 have to do the same. learn the same, [even] eat the same lunch

in the cafeteria."

From the time one enters t h e organization,

one's thoughts and one's talents are moulded to f i t the philosophy


and goals of

YWA-Y.

Just as the mandates of the organization

clearly s t a t e that the arts are to be a means

to the ends of

"reach[ing] the world for Christ," so also the individuals who


becorne members of YWAY a r e considered no more than the means to the

ends of the organization.

The domination of art for ideological

purposes is indicative of the same domination by the organization


of the human beings who join.

People are mere bodies which are

taught the songs, the dances and

the plays

- the tools of

evangelism. Subtly but surely one cornes to believe that God is in


control of everything and that it is one's responsibility to use
al1 one's talents - especially artistic

for the glory and will of

Cod. When performing, one does not focus on one's performance as

a work of art, for one has been "programmed" to believe that one's
goal is "to expose everyone to the Gospel through the arts."

iii. Christian theatre today:


"stage charm and a scenery cord. ,1119
While the way in which YWAM uses theatre

and human beings -

as a tool of evangelism may in fact be an extreme, the point is

that this extreme does occur. As we have noted, the attitude which
considers the art of theatre to be a useful and effective tool is
I1l9 Werner ROSS, c i t e d i n W i I l ehad Paul E c k e r t , " E i n Mann f r
j e d e J a h r e s z e i t : Z u r S i t u a t i o n des c h r i s t l ichen T h e a t e r s h e u t e , " i n
Karl R i c h t e r , W i 1 1 ehad Pau7 Eckert and O t t o A . Di 1 schnei d e r , U n t e r
dem 7eeren Himme 7 ? D r e i V o r t r a g e ber C h r i s t 7 i c h e s Theater heute,
K o l n e r B e i t r a g e , H e f t 9 , e d . , Presseamt des E r z b i s t u m s K o l n ( K o l n :
Wienand, I W S ) , 30.

widespread.

In contrast, there

are

those who

cal1

secularization of religious theatre, stating that if it

for

to be

relevant for an audience in the late twentieth century, the words,


the ideas, the expressions of Christianity must be translated into

the "secular

language of everyday" as well as reinterpreted.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while a prisoner in a concentration camp in


WWII, wrote: "The time in which one could Say al1 things to al1

people through words - whether theological or religious words - is


past-.,. I

am

currently

thinking

about

how

the

concepts of

repentance, belief, justification, born again, holiness. . . need to


be reinterpreted.n1120

The argument put forward i one which

states that contemporary Christian theatre must corne to grips with


the fact that "the language of the altar does not belong on the
it must be reinterpreted for the stage.

stage,

Yes, it must even

reinterpret itself for the altar, if even the altar today wants to
reach the ears and hearts of humanity."'''l

Actors and directors

are told that "Christian literature from yesterday can give no

answer for today's situation, I t has in convincing ways done its

. . . its words fa11 into emptiness, [like] a


placard of insolence on to the stony ground. . . .
Christian

duty,

. . .today

however,

11"22

theatre is not understood today as a call to take up the Christian


D i e t r i ch B o n h o e f f e r , W i d e r s t a n d und Ergebung ( n o pub. no
d a t e ) , 178, 1 8 5 , c i t e d i n D i l s c h n e i d e r , " T h e a t e r u n t e r dern l e e r e n
i n R i c h t e r , E c k e r t , and D i l s c h n e i d e r , U n t e r dem 7eeren
Himmel ,

Himme7?, 56.
'12'

D i l schnei d e r ,

'12*
Werner
Ross,
J a h r e s z e i t , " 30.

" T h e a t e r u n t e r dern l e e r e n Himmel

cited

in

Eckert,

"Ein

Mann

, " 56.
fr

jede

life.

Rather, it cornes across as rnere "dec1amationn in its

collision "with the f u l l y armed scepticisrn" we know today.

And

especially after the disasters of two world wars and recent ethnic
cleansing in Europe, wars which shook nations "to the very core,"
for European audiences Christian theatre "now seems 1 ike stage
charm and a scenery cord."1123
take it

seriously.

Nor can North .American audiences

In fact, the criticism

is

lodged

that

"christian literature, christian theatre, a christian press are


wishful notions and they will be cherished by a l 1 who cannot or do

not want to see realityChristian theatre

In his study of the history of

in Germany, Karl Richter poses a

question: "Does Christian theatre encourage the

' desire

stinging
for the

w h o l l y other' (Horkheimer) and in this way silence ~uschwitz?""~'

In response to Christian theatre in the late twentieth c e n t u r y , one


must insist that because suffering deserves a voice even after
Auschwitz, if there is a possibility of Christian theatre, rather
than responding to al1 questions with clichs and promising a crown
of gold and a life of ease in a far-distant heaven, Christian
Ibid.
Curt Hohoff, c i t e d i n I b i d .
E c k e r t wonders i f w e a r e even a b l e t o see such C h r i s t i a n p l a y s
as Paul C l a u d e l ' s
The S a t i n S 7 i p p e r t o d a y .
[Ibid.,
311
In
response, 1 w o u l d i n f o r m E c k e r t t h a t t h e e n t i r e s c r i p t o f The S a t i n
S 7 i p p e r ( w i t h a 6 hour d u r a t i o n ) w a s performed b y a p r o f e s s i o n a l
The r e v i e w s
Company i n B r u s s e l s, B e l g i um i n t h e s p r i n g o f 1988.
were overwhel m i ngl y p o s i t i v e and t h e audi ence r e s p o n s e was v e r y
a p p r e c i a t i v e - t i c k e t s sold q u i c k l y a l r e a d y weeks i n advance.
E c k e r t rnay be c a s t i n g h i s n e t o f c r i t i c i s m t o o w i d e .
K a r l R i c h t e r , "Der H e l d d e r K e i n e r War: Z u r G e s c h i c h t e des
C h r i s t l ichen T h e a t e r s , " in R i c h t e r , E c k e r t and D i 1 s c h n e i d e r , U n t e r
dem 7eeren Himme7?, 1 0 .

theatre must maintain an unrelenting negativity. And if it is to


do so, the forms a n d terms of Christian theatre must be re-visited,
re-evaluated and

evolve into an appropriate form for today.

However, the question goes beyond merely whether there can be


Christian theatre, but as with feminist theatre, theatre of any
ideological stripe - an issue with which this investigation must
continue to deal.

In the very least, Christian theatre cannot continue as


before, using words which have become meaningless and constructing
an alternative in its "desire for the wholly other" which convinces
people that the wholly other reality refers to some heaven created
by some deity and only attainable after death.

In this, I must

agree with Marx, in that if Christian theatre merely paints a

picture of a rosy heaven, then al1 hope for more humane conditions
in the present will be irrelevant.

And yet the construction of

alternatives is also not a possibility, for any constructions can


q u i c k l y , themselves, lead to rnanipulative and oppressive means in

order to achieve the constructed alternative.

But the question

remains: is it even possible to have Christian theatre today?


I t is not , maintains Adorno " through the pronouncement of

moral tenets or by bringing about some moral e f f e c t - that art


partakes of morality, linking it to the i d e a l of a more humane
society .

With

this in rnind,

practitioners of Christian

theatre would do well to foreground art's critical stance, and


refrain

from
Adorno,

pronouncing

moral

tenets,

A e s t h e t i c T h e o r y , 329.
394

the

measures

of

communication common to the society around it.

Revealing the

cracks and rnaking manifest the distortions and oppressions of the


current conditions are more powerful than the articulation of some
moral b y art: in fact, such articulation distracts from the form of
art and in the end everything falls flat. As we saw earlier in the
arguments against Marxist and feminist art, any critical stance art
may have had has been nullified. If it is the case that art is not
to accommodate itself to any ideology, then why even argue for the
term "Christian theatre"?

In this regard. there are many similarities between Christian


theatre and political theatre.

Can one deny that political

theatre, "performed in the spirit of a Piscator or a Brecht, is not


also a moral matter?

1s it not also that one finds preaching if an

ideology is proclairned?"112iIn the foyers and tairway of the


theatres where such performances are held, one finds the walls full
of "political words and images" which are designed to "get the
audience

to

agree

with

what

happens

on

stage.,,1128

Both,

political and Christian theatre preach an ideology to an audience.


The similarity goes further. for even the most seemingly

benign of moral tenets - political or religious - in a script can


become extractable ideas easily co-opted by

the enemy.

The

following is a horrid twentieth century example which underlines


--

- - - -

D i 1 schnei der, " T h e a t e r u n t e r dem 1 eeren H i mmel

If

49.

Ibid.
Zn
response
to
the
p r e v a l ence
of
p o l it i c a l
theatre,
D i l s c h n e i d e r c i t e s S i e g f r i e d Melchi nger who w r o t e : " T h e a t r e i s made
w i t h t a 1 e n t and n o t w i t h H e r b e r t Marcuse.
[ S i e g f r i ed M e 1 c h i n g e r ,
C h r i s t und We7t, 51 (1970), no p . , c i t e d i n I b i d . ]

the closeness of poli tically and religiously mot ivated scripts. for
here we see blatant polit ical manipulation

and specifically.

manipulation by the enemy - of a well-known religious script: The

Passion Play

of

Oberammergau.

In

1932

the

community

of

Oberammergau requested that Leo Weismantel (a professor and writer)


revise their script, which had seen only minor modifications since
the 1860 "Daisenberger-Text"written by Father Otmar Wiess and his
student

the Oberammergau Pastor

Josef Anton Daisenberger .

The

community had already recognized for years that not only was the
text as a whole insufficient, but that its real difficulty lay with
the

hidden

motivation. "11*'

promotion

of

an

"anti-semitism of

Christian

After much work in reponse to the community's

request, Weismantel explained that mere modifications were not


possible, rather, one would have to re-write the entire script. In
1934 the community was ready to have him create an entirely new

text. However, their plan was derailed by the Reichskanzlei. The


community was told they had to use the old text once again.

The

reason: "Hitler welcomed this old text because of its negative


picture of Jews "'13*

With reference to the words of Adorno, a

work of art here used in a destructive way, had "slither[ed] into

the abyss of its opposite."


A

mere eleven years following this event Adorno wrote his

''*'

E c k e r t , " E i n Mann f r j e d e J a h r e s z e i t," 35.

T h i s a c c o r d i n g t o L e o Weimantel, "Das Oberamrnergauer


P a s s i o n s s p i el und die K r i se d e s C h r i s t e n t u m s i n d e r Gegenwart," i n
Das werdende Z e i t a 7 t e r , 6 ( J u n e 1960), c i t e d i n I b i d . , 3 6 .

'l3O

"Theses

pon Art

and Religion Today."

Although

it

may

be

impossible to know whether or not he had any knowledge of the


Oberammergau situation, Adorno's comment that "[rIeIigious art
today is nothing but blasphemytttakes on an eerie tone in light of
its happening.

As

for the possibilities for a Christian theatre

today, it must become


infatuated with its own detached world, its material, its
problerns, its consistency, its way of expression. Only by
reaching the acme of genuine individualization, only b y
obstinately following up the desiderata of its concretio
does the work become truly the bearer of the universal.1Ai
But is it then "Christian theatre?" If it is only wben thoroughly
materially mediated in the concrete context around it that art can
become a voice of the universal, is there any significance in the
Indeed, it may be said that any

label "Christian theatre?"

attempts to make a Christian theatre in the present context risk


being turned into slogans of the enemy.

Dilschneider

argues

that

there

may

continue

to

be

possibilities for Christian theatre s u c h as in churches, where one


has a particular audience with "particular expectations," or even
at Oberammergau, as well as the performance on public stages of

Christian themes in his torical dramas, such as in T.S. Eliot's


But "Christian theatre in a modern-time
piece on a secularized stage, has becorne a problem today.,,1132
+furder in the C a t h e d r a l .

Absurd theatre - such as the theatre of Samuel Beckett -

Adorno,

""

''Theses Upon

A r t and Re1 ig i on Today , " 681

. A 1 1

D i 1schnei d e r ,

" T h e a t e r u n t e r dem 1 e e r e n H i m m e l

397

,"

.
48.

is

considered by Dilschneider to be the type of theatre which can be


created "under an empty heaven. ,,1133

I I I . Contemporary Research in A r t and the Church:


the Marburg Institute

Horst Schwebel, the Director of the Institute for Contemporary


Church Architecture and Art at fhilipps University in Marburg,
Germany, a l s o indicates Beckett as paradigrnatic for art after
Auschwitz, especially in the eyes of Adorno.

Everything from the

nineteenth century, believed Adorno, was destroyed in W H .

"What

comes then is Beckett," states Schwebel.1134


Central to the philosophy of the Marburg Institute is that the
contemporary Christian church cannot remain in its familiar and
cornfortable position with art from the past. nor can the church
continue to insist upon subordinating art to its purposes.

The

scholars at the Institute thus work at combatting the still


predominant attitude which insists that in order for art to be

present in the church building it


service

of

must

preaching.. . . [Institute

prove itself useful "in the

scholars

recognize

that]

Christian content made visible in images was the goal and has

D i l s c h n e i d e r e x p l a i n s that h i s p h r a s e " U n t e r dem l e e r e n


Himrnel"
under an empty heaven
comes f r o m S a r t r e ' s p l a y L e
D i a b l e et 7e bon Dieu. The maxirn a t t h e end o f this p l a y , s t a t e d
by t h e c h a r a c t e r Gotz, i s : "1 wi17 be a l o n e w i t h t h e empty heaven
o v e r me. " Accordi ng t o D i 1s c h n e i d e r , whoever a s k s S a r t r e what t h e
p h r a s e "empty heaven" means, r e c e i v e s from him t h e fo17owing
answer: " 1 r e f e r h e r e t o F r i e d r i ch N i e t z s c h e ' s word :
'Gott i s t
t o d l (God i s d e a d ) . " [ I b i d . , 4 5 . 1

Persona1 c o n v e r a t i on,
(Used by p e r m i s s i o n . )

M a r b u r g , Germany,

October,

1995.

remained so even until the middle of this century. ,1135

The

response to this attitude on the part of later twentieth century


art, which Schwebel highlights, is exemplified by abstract art :

with its "wonderful symphony of colours" abstract art refuses to


abide by any suggestive interpretation. 4bs tract art's images are
images without messages. The biblical story was no longer the
iconagraphical canon. If eager pastors wanted to use these
dynamic colour compositions to demonstrate to their
congregation the 'raising of Lazarus', autonomous art remained
mute, it struggled against this [situation] where one foisted
something upon i ts
, where it in fact represented nothing
other than itself.1fRage

Accordingly, contends Schwebel, abstract art as autonornous art


creates its own "image

cosmos (Bildkosmos)

...[

and] i t obeys no

S c h w e b e l , A u t o n o m e Kunst i m Raum der K i r c h e , 9 .


The t e r m " c h u r c h " i s u s e d by t h e members o f t h e I n s t i t u t e t o
in d i c a t e t h e o f f ic i a l o r g a n i zed church and it s i n s t i t u t i o n s .
The
I n s t i t u t e , it s e l f , r e c e i ves f u n d i ng f rom two s o u r c e s : t h e s t a t e funded u n i v e r s i t y and t h e Hessen L a n d e s k i r c h e
the o f f i c ia l
P r o t e s t a n t c h u r c h i n t h e state o f Hesse. I n p e r s o n a l c o n v e r s a t i o n ,
Schwebel acknowl e d g e d t h a t a l t h o u g h t h e r e a r e no a r t i c u l a t e d
lim i t i n g
restrictions
from
the
Landeskirche r e g a r d i n g
the
a c t i v i t i e s of the Institute, t h e i r latest project
a coffee-table
book o f c o l o u r e d p r i n t s o f w e l l - k n o w n t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y a r t on
C h r i s t i a n thernes (by R o u a l t , C h a g a l l , e t c . )
was a c o n c e s s i o n on
t h e i r p a r t a s a means o f r a i s i n g rnoney f o r t h e I n s t i t u t e and
r a i s i ng t h e i r p r o f i1 e
amongst
non-academi c members o f
the
Landeskirche.
[Personal
c o n v e r s a t i ons,
Marburg,
Germany,
September-October, 1995. (Used b y permi s s i on. ) ]

Schwebel, Autonome Kunst i m Raum der K i r c h e , 9.


L n t h i s , h i s PhD d i s s e r t a t i o n , Schwebel f o c u s e s s o l e l y on
However, as 1 l e a r n e d i n p e r s o n a 1
a b s t r a c t a r t as autonomous a r t .
d i s c u s s i o n w i t h hirn and f r o m h i s l a t e r works, f o r hirn t h e t e r m
"autonomous a r t u in fact "i
s not 1 i m ited t o [abstract a r t ] " [Horst
Schwebel , "of 1 in g e r Thesen z u r V e r t e i d i gung d e r autonomen K u n s t in
d e r K i r c h e , " chap. i n Paul Grab, e d . , Unbequeme Kunst
Unbequeme
Autonomie: E r s t e r B e r i c h t zum "Mode 7 7 o f 7 ingen" ( O f 1 ingen : E d i t ion
D i a k o n i e v e r e i n Wehr-Of1 ingen, l98O), 1 1 . ]
R a t h e r , Schwebel , a
f o r m e r s t u d e n t o f Adorno, uses t h e t e r m i n t h e sense i n w h i c h
Adorno uses i t .

foreign

law. "'13'

What

contemporary church is

this

means

in

the

of

the

that there is a "conflict between a

heteronomous objective and autonomous art. ""38


works themselves do not

context

preach

. . . [and]

~lthough "art

can express nothing

essential about God or Christ," pastors continue to intimate from


autonomous art a message which the work

They

" translate the

does not contain.1139

formative structure of

ideology into the [language] of the