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ART AND MYTH: ADORNO AND HEIDEGGER

David Roberts

ABSTRACT The article examines Adorno and Heidegger’s contrasting conceptions of art and myth in relation to their reading of western history since the Greeks and to German thinking on the relation between nature and history since Kant. In Part I Adorno’s lecture ‘The Idea of Natural History’ (1932), which draws on Lukács’s Theory of the Novel and Benjamin’s The Origin of German Tragic Drama and is conceived as a response to Heidegger’s fundamental ontology in Being and Time, serves as focus for the interrelation between myth, origin and repetition in western history, construed as the forgetting of nature (Adorno) or the forgetting of Being (Heidegger). In Part II, the question of the remythologization or the demythologization of art in Benjamin, Heidegger and Adorno is examined in the context of aesthetic modernism. KEYWORDS ticism enlightenment • history • modernism • myth • nature • roman-

I. THE IDEA OF NATURAL HISTORY The entwinement of myth and enlightenment is the theme of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. Myth, viewed through the perspective of enlightenment, is transformed into allegory. Dialectic of Enlightenment accordingly presents the melancholy allegory of human history given in the interpretation of The Odyssey as the ‘original history of subjectivity’: the journey of the prototypical subject through the world of myth towards self-consciousness and identity. The Odyssey tells the mythical story of the exit from myth, and at its centre is Odysseus’ encounter with the Sirens, which Horkheimer and Adorno call the ‘anticipatory (ahnungsvoll) allegory of the dialectic of enlightenment’. Odysseus, the prototype of modern man has no unified, harmonious relationship to past, present and future. He is cut off from the past – the song of the Sirens – by the fear of regression. The sacrifice of the past to the future sets in train, however, a
Thesis Eleven, Number 58, August 1999: 19–34 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) Copyright © 1999 SAGE Publications and Thesis Eleven Pty Ltd [0725-5136(199908)58;19–34;009145]

has already been divided into the object and repressed subject of history. present and future.e. our future possibility. From this division springs time as temporal succession. present and future. Origin is the goal. i. Human being is future-oriented because it is being unto death. the historicity of Dasein. which defines Dasein. prototypical subjectivity. as its true ground and origin. present and future. Individual fate (Schicksal) coexists with the general or collective fate (Geschick) of its ‘generation’. however. as the future past. divided between past. Its disclosure of the original temporality and historicity of Dasein points the way. is disclosed by decision. driving us ever further from the origin. This formal structure of decision in Being and Time is filled with historical content in 1933 by Heidegger’s decision for National Socialism and the German Revolution. We cannot understand Heidegger’s fateful leap. The future. Mimesis is bound to self-preservation. into authentic fate. however.20 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) progression which will reveal itself as blind progression without progress. the moment of present experience which will reconnect past. this moment of fate is the moment of repetition. Like nature. which is that of the community. the taking upon itself of our past. defined by Heidegger in his ‘Rectoral Address’ as the challenge of the German repetition of the Greek origin of the history of the Occident. lived and living time. without reference to the formal structure elucidated in Being and Time. The analysis of Dasein uncovers the transcendental horizon of temporality. The essence of Dasein’s temporality is repetition. driven by the separation from nature – the forgetting of nature in the self – whose trace is preserved solely in art’s echo of the song of the Sirens. which in setting us outside of chronological time reveal the fundamental unity of past. of the people (Heidegger. we could say. somewhat facetiously. the anticipatory allegory of the fulfilled moment. is divided: he hears and at the same time does not hear the Sirens. the resoluteness in the face of death which accepts and assumes the fallenness. to the presence of the here and now. the empty. This is the time of Historie (the history of historiography) to which he opposes. The resoluteness of decision is conceived purely formally. Heidegger reverses the vulgar perspective of progress. only ‘future past’ Dasein can accede to presence. that is. 1977: [1996] §74). The unity of the three dimensions of temporality. comes to meet us as the coming back. i. Odysseus’ present. Second. which divide life-time into past. First. the thrownness of human being into finitude. our past possibilities. Resoluteness unto death transforms inauthentic existence. Let us say. scientific and vulgar conception of time as a temporal succession of present instances.e. that Heidegger . Art thus functions as the impotent promise. however. 1977: [1996]: §74). Benjamin’s Angel of History looks backwards. Odysseus. since he has had himself bound to the mast. present and future. homogeneous time of progress. But what we think of as progress is only the wind blowing from paradise. the Da of the authentic moment (Augenblick). through which Dasein becomes present for ‘its time’ (Heidegger. to a deeper conception of history. Heidegger’s Being and Time sets out to destroy – destructure and unground – the metaphysical. This time strikes for Heidegger and for the German people in 1933. Two points need to be stressed. made up of the three temporal ecstasies.

Human history is to be understood as the history of this original repression. Heidegger therefore insists that the authentic greatness of historical knowledge lies in the understanding of the mystery of the beginning. The eschatological Second Coming (of the third and final kingdom) must take the form of the repetition of the first beginning. and on the other hand. but whose essence can be defined as the allegory of the relation between myth and enlightenment. which unconsciously perpetuates the mythical power of nature. fall. inscribed in the repressive blindness and violence of enlightenment. Hölderlin and Schelling. called by Horkheimer and Adorno the forgetting of nature in the subject and by Heidegger the forgetting of Being. In the other. by liberating ourselves through reflexion from the forgetting of nature in the subject. Above I suggested that allegory reflects myth through the perspective of enlightenment and that the allegory of allegory is summed up in the mythical story of the exit from myth. unfolded in Horkheimer . 1983: 164–5). By this I mean that the decision which has found its historical hour. Origin is the goal. that is to say. the fragment called ‘The Oldest System Programme of German Idealism’ (1797) written by Hegel but the coproduct of Hegel. Adorno and Horkheimer’s origin of history is inaccessible. reopens mythical time. repetition and fate. which is equally that of the origin of myth and the myth of origin. redemption – returns as the originary myth of romanticism through an exchange of terms: the fall from nature into history points to the redeeming reunion of nature and history. the mystery of the origin. inaccessible origin operates behind our backs to turn enlightenment into ever-repeated mythical fate. the mythical time of repetition. origin is the future past which comes to meet us as fate. which of course has many variants. end and beginning. The negative counterpart to their mythology of reason is the dialectic of enlightenment. This exit is the original sin. History does not develop from inconspicuous beginnings. repressed. On the contrary. Heidegger’s origin inaugurates by contrast the space-time of history. signifies Heidegger’s entry into the essential time of history. present and future are reunited. This gives us two opposed versions of origin. The more original repetition. Origin thus corresponds with origin. Thus for all their differences they are repeating the same romantic story. We can escape the compulsion to repetition – the eternal return of the repressed – only by remembering the origin. nature and history. This time comprises on the one hand the eschatological time of decision. The original myth – paradise. In the one. of the first and the last things. The founding text of German romanticism. and that the knowledge of original history (Ur-Geschichte) is the province not of science but of mythology (Heidegger. the decision through which past. The Greek beginning remains incomparable because it constitutes the original opening of Being. the ‘birth to presence’ (Nancy) which manifests the mystery of creation. which brings back the past as our future possibility.Roberts: Art and Myth 21 has heard the song of the Sirens. all greatness belongs to the beginning and all that follows is decline. the destiny we assume in repetition. the new religion which will be the last and greatest deed of mankind. envisages the coming synthesis of nature and history in the form of a mythology of reason.

Adorno’s and Heidegger’s histories of the west end in the quietism of negative theology. In both accounts nature/Being appears in divided and double form as the hidden subject (i. The idea of natural history developed there is expressly conceived as a response to Heidegger’s idea of historicity in Sein und Zeit. fallen and resurrected nature. Adorno rests his case with Beckett’s endgame.22 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) and Adorno’s history of the west and in Heidegger’s history of Being – two mythical histories. which recount the catastrophic consequences of the forgetting of the origin in terms that are well known: the domination of nature. In each case the vanishing point of judgment is provided by what Adorno in his Lecture of 1932 calls ‘The Idea of Natural History’ (Adorno. which Adorno develops from Lukács’ Theory of the Novel and . whose other side is the new mythology. as object of the natural sciences and the raw material and standing reserve of technology). The price. Ontology alone is insufficient. history as nature and as the synthesis of both. which expresses in the most concentrated form the question of history – the relation between nature and history – central to German thought since Herder and Kant. just as each of its terms. which vitiates Heidegger’s solution to the reconciliation of nature and history and makes it merely an apparent solution. mirrored in original. The romantic critique of the enlightenment culminates in Horkheimer and Adorno but also of course in Heidegger. but it conveys none of the resonances and complexities of the original. fallen and redeemed history. is the reduction of history to the structure of Heidegger’s ontology. it is a matter of indifference whether we speak with Horkheimer and Adorno of the destruction of history by nature or with Heidegger of the destruction of nature by history. Waiting for Godot. What is required is a further step: the ontological reorientation of philosophy of history. the devastation of the earth. 1973a [1984]). The light of the origin casts a fading glow over the ever-receding horizon of the end of fallen history. otherwise known as the philosophical discourse of modernity (Habermas). In the symmetry of its coequivalence Naturgeschichte can be read in three ways: nature as history. The germ of Dialectic of Enlightenment and the defining theme of Critical Theory are formulated in Adorno’s 1932 lecture. The resurrection of nature and the redemption of history – Naturgeschichte in its full meaning – constitute the mythical other to the allegory of the dialectic of enlightenment. suspended endlessly between origin and goal. Here we observe close. Accordingly. He welcomes Heidegger’s ontological turn in Sein und Zeit: the bringing together of ontology and historicity in a fundamental ontology of Dasein which reveals the basic ontological structure of history. the dialectic of enlightenment is the one allegorical side of the German mythical history of the west. which contains its own dialectic – the dialectic of romanticism. in and by virtue of their division. parallels. the will to power and nihilism. The parallels are even closer after 1945. however. If Heidegger declares that only a god can save us. In ‘The Idea of Natural History’ Adorno defines the task of philosophy as the overcoming of subjective idealism’s division of the world into nature and history (spirit). if antagonistic. Or to put it another way. is open to a triadic reading: original.e. repressed nature/the withdrawal of Being) and the overt object of history (i.e. ‘Natural history’ certainly translates as ‘Naturgeschichte’.

by means of a materialist concept of spirit as self-alienated nature (Noerr. 1973a: 365 [1984: 124]). the archaic-mythical reveals its inherent dynamic. the fateful predetermined being underlying history. just as history is constructed in the light of this double image. The allegorical resurrection of the petrified world declares that ‘second nature. which awaits resurrection. the last stage of the search for a dialectical synthesis of nature and history in response to the ratification of their division by Kant. Natural history signifies the interweaving of natural and historical being in the second nature of the social. in which nature and history converge.Roberts: Art and Myth 23 Benjamin’s Origin of German Tragic Drama. which lays bare the identity of first and second nature. and is renewed in Ernst Bloch’s . It must demonstrate that concrete history partakes of nature and that nature is historical by deconstructing the antithesis between nature and history. Natural or original history overcomes the idealist division of the world. in which nature is understood as self-alienated spirit (Hegel). Benjamin conversely grasps nature as history: ‘ “History” is writ across the countenance of nature in the sign language of transience’. whose ‘death’s head’ is the emblem of allegory. the work of art in its double form of historical semblance and mythical reconciliation can be thought of as both the allegory and the myth of natural history. is the language of allegory. first nature’ (Adorno. Philosophy’s task can now be understood as allegorical: the awakening and resurrection of the petrified world through allegorical interpretation. is in truth. And since the nature of art is semblance. First nature comprises both the historicity and facticity of transience and the promise of reconciliation. The sign language of transience. Adorno’s dialectical nature suspends the dialectic of history in the constellations of the ‘dialectical image’ (Benjamin). Lukács grasps history as nature: the reified world of social convention is a frozen second nature. Philosophy’s task is thus dialectical. and of history as the qualitatively new. Read dialectically. a search which runs from Schiller and Schelling to Hegel and Marx. which Adorno elucidates through the strife of the old and the new gods in (Greek) tragedy: ‘tragic myths contain at one and the same time subjectation to guilt and nature and the element of reconciliation that transcends the realm of nature’ (Adorno. 1990: 25). Adorno’s ontological transformation of philosophy of history into the idea of dialectical nature substitutes for idealism’s division of the world a materialism which appeals to concrete history against the tautologies of Heidegger’s ontology. the historically new belongs inescapably to the mythical. the constellations which revolve without resolution around the idea of history and the idea of nature. In the archaic-mythical and the historically new we recognize the two key terms of Dialectic of Enlightenment: myth and enlightenment. since the second nature of the social as illusion or semblance (Schein) conveys the ideological illusion of a meaning beyond the allegorical. 1973a: 363 [1984: 123]). Conversely. is echoed in the young Marx’s programme of humanizing nature and naturalizing man. rooted in original history. Adorno’s starting point is the definition of nature as mythical. and whose characteristic tendency – the historization of nature and the naturalization of history – appears most clearly in Schelling. but this first nature is in fact already a double nature. Adorno’s ‘Idea of Natural History’ thus represents the vanishing point of philosophy of history.

on the other. which will redeem history from the mythical cycle of the compulsion to repetition. romantic nature is the aesthetic nature of romanticism’s project of undoing the enlightenment’s denaturalization of man and disenchantment of nature.e. the natural beauty of living form. lie and bestiality. Each . 1984: 292 [1973: 254]). and (4) sublime. sums up enlightenment thought and defines the problem and the challenge to post-Kantian philosophy. On the one hand. like reason. developed in the Critique of Judgment. as the new romanticism believes. When Horkheimer and Adorno state: nature is ‘neither good. i. in seeking to bridge the gap between nature and freedom. history appears in the light of nature – a nature that is divided. the natural history uncovered by the death of god in the modern period. In the Preface to Capital Marx defines his standpoint as that which views the evolution of the economic formation of society as a process of natural history. nor noble. that is to say. to which we must add nature in its two aesthetic manifestations. of prehistory and history. The outcome of Kant’s dual legacy is a fourfold conception of nature: (1) nature as the object of possible experience. (2) teleological nature. Marquard proposes an illuminating distinction between three conceptions of nature central to modernity: control nature is nature as understood by the new science. drive nature stands for the Hobbesian civil war of all against all. (3) beautiful nature. replaces the Kantian division by a ‘dialectical’ doubling of nature and history. it is not least because of Kant’s dual legacy. from Schiller’s Naive and Sentimental Poetry and the Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man through to Marcuse’s Essay on Liberation and Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory nature must function in this double guise. we have the romantic utopian project of the young Marx. his division between pure and practical reason. Now the key point of Marquard’s argument is that both control nature and romantic nature have the primary function of defending us from the threat of drive nature. the scientific-materialist insistence on the economic laws of motion of modern society. Marx’s distinction brings out clearly the doubled dialectical concept of Naturgeschichte. From the beginning to the end of the tradition of a dialectical philosophy of history in German thought. meet in the idea of beauty to give what Otto Marquard calls ‘romantic nature’. As model and goal. it signifies anti-spirit. destructive nature. nature and freedom. becomes the bridge between the enlightenment and romanticism. prefigured in the English Revolution and fully manifested in the French Revolution (Marquard. The ‘resurrection of nature’. the object of science. It is here that we can locate the origin of the ‘performative contradiction’ (Habermas) of Dialectic of Enlightenment. in such a fashion that nature is called upon to rescue us from nature. If the idea of natural history is central to the German idea of history. the organism which exceeds the capacity of the understanding. 1987: 54–7). especially after 1848.24 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) philosophy and eschatology of nature. underpinned by Marx’s distinction between the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom. On the one hand. as the old. The philosophy of nature and the philosophy of art. only as recognized does it become the impulse of existence to peace’ (Adorno and Horkheimer. his third Critique. On the other hand.

it represents the positive short-circuit of nature and history in the Absolute. against destructive nature. What is Schiller’s answer to the terrifying nature of man revealed by the French Revolution? Beautiful nature. The romantic synthesis embodies not only the synthesis of nature and history. Romantic nature is entrusted with the mythical image of the identity of origin and goal. Heidegger’s repetition reverses the telos of dialectical history. objectified. the relation between nature and history in the paradoxical terms of nature against nature: control nature. civilized nature. Heidegger’s more original repetition of the origin also envisages the completion of history – but now as the ‘decline of the west’. It is clear that control nature and romantic nature. sensuous manifestation of the infinite in the finite and aesthetic pledge of the synthesis of nature and history. and romantic nature.e. and history its philosophical fulfilment in the union of Greek nature and Christian history. i. Origin is the goal. to bring back an original revelation of Being. the inescapable theme of the 1920s. Looking back in the light of the sun setting over the Abendland. which clears the way for the new beginning.e. in which poetry. which leaves romantic nature – the song of the Sirens preserved in art – the impotent witness of the always already completed negative short-circuit of nature and history. but equally of philosophy and history. The new mythology stands as the symbol – not the allegory – of the dialectical completion of history. in which a self-alienated modernity comes to fulfilment and redemption. to be sealed by the new mythology. The driving force of this history springs from the imperative to repeat the beginning. The task of Heidegger’s history of philosophy is to undo dialectics’ philosophy of history. for Germany’s ‘Greek–German mission’. Heidegger’s own philosophy of history is thus accomplished by the ungrounding of metaphysics in order to lay bare its abyssal ground in original history. The ‘romantic nature’ of romantic Idealism is conceived as this identity of origin and goal. Modernity can be neither completed nor rescued. contain a dialectic. philosophy and myth are once again one (Schelling). precisely by virtue of their defensive function. In Horkheimer and Adorno’s naturalhistorical deduction: the control nature of self-preservation and instrumental reason is only the other face of drive nature. The new mythology thus symbolizes the completion of the allegorical odyssey through which philosophy returns to the ‘ocean of poetry’.Roberts: Art and Myth 25 defines. Heidegger constructs his allegory of the west as the story of the forgetting of Being. The new mythology of Friedrich Schlegel or of Schelling is carried by the idea of the reconciliation of modernity. i. the evening which conceals the coming dawn. the land of evening. creative nature. the mythology of reason which will be the last and greatest deed of mankind. Art advances with Schelling to the organon of philosophy because it is living form. but it is attained in the dialectical version through the unfolding of human history. against threatening nature. it must be overcome and this demands the liberating of the greatness and power of the origin – the Greek conception of physis – from its denaturalization in the ‘second nature’ of its Roman. tamed. Christian and modern scientific translations. Philosophy finds its historical fulfilment. in opposite ways. in which philosophy and poetry will be reunited .

The German people thus incorporate the site of the destiny of the Occident. which holds concealed a world fate. the people of the poets and thinkers has already conquered because it is invincible (Heidegger. Hegel and Nietzsche. 1982: 113–14). [such] a child is master [over Being]’. that is. ‘the hidden essential history of the Occident’. he declares. Heidegger is speaking in the shadow of Stalingrad. and to the degree that a people reaches down into it. its earth and possesses home’ (Heidegger. The genealogy of Germany’s more original repetition. the event and advent (Ereignis) which can occur only in an occidental-historical people of poets and thinkers. 1980: 105–6). In the beginning is Heraclitus’ World Time (Fragment 52): ‘World Time – it is a child. The god of this eschatology is the god of time: Kronos. whose prophets are Heidegger. Reframed in Nietzschean terms. is that of the eschatology of Being. moving the pieces here and there. thereby inaugurating the history of metaphysics. The originary leap (Ursprung) of the work of art holds fast this strife of the earth and the world. Heidegger comments: original history is the great game that the gods play with peoples and with a people. in which logos becomes ratio. history into nature and nature into history.26 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) in a new mythology. of its new/old mythology. given in the winter semester 1942–3. that is to say. As the primordial ground of the world. The great times of World Time are the great times of world-historical turning. the transience which transmutes. Being and time. which is transformed by Plato and Aristotle into logos. In the Greek beginning Being reveals itself through the mythopoietic word. Even if ‘victory’ is denied us. Heidegger’s conception of history. nature and history meet in the Ereignis. The most concise presentation of the history of Being. is to be found in Heidegger’s lectures on Parmenides. The most familiar expression of this essential opposition is that symbolized by Apollo and Dionysus. a playing child. And just as Adorno’s allegory of fallen nature and fallen history is framed by mythical remembrance. Occidental history can be summed up under the three titles: Being and Word. and Hölderlin. his version of Naturgeschichte. the advent in which the earth becomes home and opens itself to the power of the gods. Hölderlin’s .’ ‘The great times of turning of peoples come from the abyss. the origin of the Greek origin. of nature and history. the poetic thinker. Being and Time. Heraclitus’ World Time and Hölderlin’s Lord of Time (Herr der Zeit. It runs from Heraclitus via Meister Eckhart to Hölderlin. and it is the thinking of this original strife which Hölderlin has bequeathed to the Germans as the essential opposition within and between Greek and German Dasein. of the old and the new gods. so Heidegger’s allegory of Seinsvergessenheit is framed by the myth of origin. as in Adorno’s ‘Idea of Natural History’. ‘Both are the same and include in themselves the third: that the earth stands in the storm of the divine and is torn open in its foundations and abysses [Gründe und Abgründe]. the philosophical poet. Empedokles). Time reveals Being as the temporality. In the beginning the divine lightning strikes and opens the earth to history. Being and Ratio. is traced by Heidegger in his Hölderlin lectures of 1934–5. The break with this history is announced in Being and Time: time points to the more original origin. destined for the Occident. time announces the more original beginning.

and the coming god. the Great War is experienced as the sublime Dionysian return of history to nature from which the new man. the German mission is to transform history – the exhausted history of the first beginning – back into nature in order to inaugurate the new beginning. He returns to Hölderlin and Germany’s Greek–German mission and presents his version of the aesthetic state in The Origin of the Work of Art. will give birth to Germany. in the tradition of the new mythology. which because it lacks a national culture is neither classical nor modern but romantic. the great time of the world-historical turning of the Occident. confirming its genetic continuity: Hölderlin remains Germany’s most future poet because Germany has still not been born. which reaches from the French Revolution to the German Revolution. And this mythical refoundation of history in nature. 1980: 290–92). Heidegger’s return to Hölderlin resumes the whole tradition of the new mythology. Germany will give birth to the coming god. it is seized by Being (Heidegger. the total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk) which will redeem modernity through the union of nature and history. the mythical figure of the Worker. is born. when as Heidegger puts it. of Wagner to 1848–9 (Art and Revolution). which Ernst Bloch at this same historical moment defined as Germany’s non-contemporaneity (Bloch. underwrites the fateful dialectic of this tradition. 1989): the coming god of the new mythology is also the god of the aesthetic state. Storms of Steel. At the same time. This is the response of Schiller. Heidegger’s repetition of Germany’s ‘future past’. indicates. Dionysus. Germany. imbued with the spirit of Nietzsche’s ‘great style’. Heidegger thus situates himself in the hour of Germany’s destiny. the west. To put this opposition in the sharpest form: if the Greek mission was to transform nature into history. Romantic Germany in search of . and dedicated to the cult of power and death – a vision which finds its appropriate cultic representation in Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. We can read Bloch’s famous formula of non-synchronicity as the formula of the non-identity of a Germany. As the title of Jünger’s most famous book. of Heine to the July 1830 revolution in Paris. and in which Germany’s birth. will be one with Germany’s nativity. Thus at each stage of Franco-German history between 1789 and 1933 the coming birth of Germany is announced. in the abyss of the native earth. Jünger’s The Worker projects the coming military state as a total work of art. of Nietzsche to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–1 (Birth of Tragedy). predicated on his conception of an original history and an original temporality. identity and mission are conceptualized in terms of a twofold struggle with antiquity and modernity. Hölderlin. After 1934 Heidegger draws back from his fascination with Nietzsche and Jünger and his own proclamation of the triumph of the will in his Rectoral Address. of Jünger to the First World War. 1962). Schelling and Friedrich Schlegel to the French Revolution. Out of this twofold struggle between Greek nature and art and modern history springs the quest for the aesthetic state (Chytry.Roberts: Art and Myth 27 thinking of the essential opposition within and between Greece and Germany can be formulated in the following way: Greece achieved its identity through the Apollonian mastering of the Dionysian. the seizure by Being. will attain its identity when its occidental Apollonian endowment of order and organization is infused with Dionysian power.

the great time of history. disclosed by decision. and thus his conception of history. however. in which the very possibility of the sublation of the dialectic of enlightenment. Adorno and Heidegger. The fateful break occurs after the failure of the 1848 revolution to emancipate and to unify Germany. Heidegger’s whole conception of the temporal structure of repetition. the transformation of the romantic mythology of reason into the founding onto-poetic powers of myth against a nihilistic enlightenment. history. mediated through Nietzsche. Heidegger’s origin responds to Nietzsche’s birth of tragedy. Benjamin. This entwinement of myth and enlightenment forbids the temptation of any simple postmythical opposition of myth and enlightenment. Rather.28 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) its identity must define itself against the enlightenment and against the French Revolution. From Nietzsche on. myth and enlightenment are divided ‘dialectically’: they bear witness in their fallen state to the lost origin and goal. is summed up in Nietzsche’s radical opposition in The Birth of Tragedy of myth and enlightenment. is expressly linked in Being and Time to the second of Nietzsche’s ‘untimely meditations’ on the uses and abuses of history. In this sense we can speak in relation to Heidegger and Adorno of a second romanticism. the new mythology becomes the ‘untimely’ refusal of the vulgar time of modernity’s progress. as we have seen. that is to say. Each announces the return of myth. The ‘mythology of reason’ of ‘The Oldest System Programme’ reverses into the will to myth. THE ORIGIN OF THE WORK OF ART Heidegger’s Origin of the Work of Art is a last emphatic assertion of the idea of a new mythology. collapses and brings to the fore the dialectic of romanticism contained in latent form in the new mythology. Heidegger’s repetition of Hölderlin is also the repetition of Nietzsche. Equally. historicity. to which Heidegger opposes the eschatological time of decision. Its anti-dialectical formula. The idea of a new mythology. II. Integral to this second romanticism. nature. Nietzsche can thus be seen as the prophetic turning point. and up to 1848 we can say – to simplify – that it does this dialectically. of a mythology of reason. The idea of the dialectical completion of modernity gives way to the will to overcome modernity. The dialectical response. we can grasp Adorno’s ‘Idea of Natural History’ as a negative completion of the romantic vision of a synthesis of nature and history. myth and reason. which responds like the first to the perceived crisis of modernity but is separated from it by Nietzsche and his diagnosis of nihilism and the death of god. which embraces Lukács. is negated. the completion of the west’s trajectory from myth to logos to myth. Dialectical synthesis ends in the intractable entwinement of a nature which is historical and a human history entrapped in nature. and with it modernity. directed to making Germany the contemporary of the west. answers the crisis of the French Revolution with the vision of the aesthetic reconciliation of modernity. the negation of the dialectic of enlightenment. transience and the thrownness of Dasein: the comprehension of the present as the world of . is the whole complex of natural history.

the naturalism of atheistic materialism. National Socialism with Heidegger. irony is elevated to the negative mysticism of a godforsaken age. is interesting in two respects.Roberts: Art and Myth 29 fallen nature provided the fertile ground for the reactivation of romanticism’s new mythology. of having really attained. so the novel in the truth of its form remains faithful in its normative incompletion to the epic longing for totality. stands opposed to the real presence manifested in symbolic realism. 1971a: 71). The death of god divides the romantic critique of modernity into negative and positive epiphanies: the god of religious atheism. Lukács’ key witnesses for the ideology of modernism are Heidegger and Benjamin. The world delineated by the sign language of transience is that of allegory. since it expresses ‘the profound certainty. And. 1963: 36). the true substance. the atheos absconditus of allegory. the clockwork universe of mechanics. But just as irony and allegory bear negative witness to the mystical dialectic of past and coming gods. the only transcendence left is that cast on history reduced to nature: ‘The only purpose of transcendence – the intangible nichtendes Nichts – is to reveal the facies hippocritica of the world’ (Lukács. Just as Hölderlin prefigures for . The death of god points to the coming god. in this renunciation and impotence of knowledge. It is only appropriate that Lukács defines modernism in terms of the negative congruence between art and history. If ‘religious atheism shows that the desire for salvation lives on with undiminished force in a world without God’. Thus when Lukács anticipates the birth of a new epic he repeats Schelling’s expectation at the end of his Philosophy of Art of a new Homer as the completion of the modern age and foreshadows Heidegger’s invocation of a more original beginning. since it reveals his own position of realism. as with Friedrich Schlegel. the God present and inexistent’ (Lukács. or Benjamin’s marriage of messianism and historical materialism in the 1930s. for all its own ideology of realism. The new mythology of the romantics already presupposed the disenchantment of the world: the alienation and atomism of competitive society. First. with its assumption of an objective teleology of history. Second. This theological structure. Lukács’ early masterpiece shares with Fichte and Wagner the view of modernity as the age of absolute sinfulness and egoism. whether it be communism with Lukács. Precisely as a new mythology. 1963: 44–5). it is of necessity a religion of the death of God and the coming god. because his own early writing stands silently accused. The Theory of the Novel already articulates the mood of ‘religious atheism’ which he identifies as central to modernism. the ultimately real. as the positive reversal of the negative congruence of the novel form and the ‘age of complete sinfulness’ depicted in The Theory of the Novel. makes The Theory of the Novel an essential link between German romanticism and the second romanticism of Weimar modernism. Lukács’ account of the ideology of modernism. 1963). perceived and grasped. Adorno alone resisted the political leap of faith and remained faithful to what Lukács was later to call the ideology of modernism (Lukács. preserved in Lukács’ critique. and it is this same divided theology and eschatology of history which informs The Theory of the Novel. which destroys history and aesthetics (Lukács. expressible only in artistic creation.

The ‘politicization of aesthetics’. The redemptive other of the fallen world is present in its absence. While Heidegger . Heidegger’s ‘aestheticization of politics’ is blind to the dialectic of romanticism. espoused by Benjamin. indeed in this sense go beyond aesthetics. articulated in very different ways by Lukács. Between origin and goal. the content released by the self-conflagration of the work through which its form attains the full intensity of illumination. in which Dasein is defined and traversed by death in the same fashion as Benjamin’s allegorical landscape of natural history. where truth appears as the content of beauty. so Dostoevsky for Lukács announces the lux ex oriente. Benjamin and Heidegger and yet all springing from the same eschatological ferment of European crisis. If this via negativa signifies for Adorno that modernism in the quest for illumination must renounce the aesthetic ideal.30 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) Heidegger the return of the gods. in the laying bare of its absence’ (Lukács. the harbinger of authentic community beyond alienation. welcomed by Benjamin in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. not its very antithesis in Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art. to the demands of art’s formal immanence and of philosophy’s task as the presentation of ideas. whose essence for Lukács is captured in Benjamin’s The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1926) and Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927). But neither could Adorno accept the destruction of the work of art and its aura. Equally. The Theory of the Novel anticipates in its eschatological structure the ideology of Weimar modernism. the modern antimodern dream of community and myth joined in creation. But of our modernists. remained blind to the dialectic of enlightenment. he is formulating the programme of Benjamin’s baroque allegory. it is Adorno alone who remains faithful to the ideology of modernism. the Schein of the organic work. reformulated. When Lukács writes that the immanence of meaning demanded by form is to be achieved ‘precisely by going to the end ruthlessly. the absence. as we have seen. Neither Benjamin’s faith in the power of enlightenment beyond aesthetics nor Heidegger’s faith in the power of myth prior to aesthetics confronted their own dialectic. in Adorno’s ‘Idea of Natural History’. The genealogy of modernism reaches from Pascal’s deus absconditus and baroque allegory via romantic irony and Kierkegaard to Heidegger’s fundamental ontology. as it is expounded in Benjamin’s ‘Erkenntniskritische Vorrede’ to The Origin of German Tragic Drama. of Adorno’s philosophy of new music and Goldmann’s analysis of Racinian tragedy. the fatal embrace of the circulus vitiosus deus. at the same time it also meant that Adorno set himself against the overcoming of aesthetic modernism. however. It denied the very genealogy of modernism in its illusory proclamation of the restitution of the organic work of art. the semblance. Mechanical reproduction heralded neither the emancipation of art from mythical servitude nor its necessary sacrifice to emancipatory ends but rather the means to its final instrumentalization – the reproduction of the eternally same – in the culture industry. Lukács’ return to Weimar classicism in the 1930s as the answer to the second romanticism of Weimar modernism held of course no attractions for Adorno. 1971: 62). that is to say. which points not only beyond modernism to the return of the epic but also to the completion of the via negativa of modernism.

in each case origin is the goal. between Being and history (Heidegger) – signifies the totality given form: the Gestalt of the work of art which inaugurates a world with Heidegger. Between the mass art of mass society and the mythical art of the community. which joins through repetition past and future. means keeping faith with the Benjamin of The Origin of German Tragic Drama and not the Benjamin of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Origin presents itself as the restoration of that which remains unaccomplished. It means the demythologization demanded by the process of enlightenment but also the counter-movement of mythic remembrance. finds its parallel in Benjamin’s understanding of the historicity of original phenomena. to be brought to the consciousness of their class unity. Origin for Heidegger and Benjamin is a historical not a logical category. with the remembrance of the lost origin and the goal of reconciled nature. 1991: 227 [1977: 47–8]). that is to say. The Origin of German Tragic Drama and The Origin of the Work of Art present in the sharpest form the two opposed sides of art’s relation to myth. As such it unites uniqueness and repetition (Benjamin. This laying bare of the absence of meaning – the path of disenchantment and demythologization – represents for Adorno the via negativa which alone keeps faith with the mythical promise of art. Adorno’s modernism appears as that of an art created for a non-existent community. which contain within themselves their pre-history and post-history. which is at the same time the origin of the modern work of art without community. as art in exile. comprehend art in relation to the people: the national community united by language in Heidegger’s case. Both. however. between historical goal and historical origin. just as for Heidegger origin springs from Hölderlin’s ‘Werden im Vergehen’ to give form and shape to the flux of natural history. responding to political pressure of the 1930s.Roberts: Art and Myth 31 proposes the remythologization of art. the contradiction embodied in Heidegger’s call for a more original repetition of the Greek origin of western history. a dialectic beyond the dialectic of enlightenment. Thus. revealed in the light of the idea of origin as the natural history which has come to completion and rest (Benjamin. since repetition is the bringing back (Wieder-holung) of an unrealized future past. the exile of religious atheism. which testifies to the entwinement of myth and enlightenment in natural history while yet exceeding it. the Gestalt of the original . condemned in Lukács’ words to laying bare through its form the absence of meaning. Benjamin’s origin springs from and at the same time transmutes the stream of becoming and passing away of natural history. But whether exile from paradise in the disenchanted world of natural history or poetic dwelling in the reborn Greek cosmos. To keep faith with the absent origin. the sign language of allegory as the figure of fall and redemption as against the founding mythical word which makes language the house of Being and the dwelling place of the gods. origin – the encounter between the ideas and phenomena (Benjamin). language and history: the world of fallen nature as against the opening of the space-time of original history. the proletarian masses. Benjamin sees the destruction of aura as the key to the demythologization of art. 1991: 226 [1977: 46]). in Benjamin’s case. Heidegger’s ‘original temporality’.

eschatologically. Adorno. follows the path indicated. This very terminal process. as we have seen. the modernist par excellence. the ruin of a lost meaning and of catastrophic history. the path of demythologization. By contrast. on the other. also points beyond the dialectic to what lies on the other side of the western tradition and the sphere of aesthetics. which derive from a common horizon of eschatological thinking. since the new music of Schönberg and his school enacts and exemplifies the terminal logic of the dialectic of enlightenment. 1974). And what unites these two perspectives is paradoxically the dialectic of enlightenment: in other words. what Adorno calls the natural beauty (das Naturschöne) which can appear only in art. which carries with it its own temporal (eschatological) structure of immemorial past and utopian anticipation (Moses. but in the double meaning of the word ‘end’. in no way diminish the opposed conceptions of origin. with Benjamin it is because the work of art contains the history of origin. it is the sole bearer of the promise of reconciliation. If for both the work of art represents the archetype of truth. the more original repetition of the Greek beginning. This double concept of origin – eschatological and historical – is taken over by Adorno and plays a central role in his Aesthetic Theory. 1966: 111–12) and insists in his counterinterpretation of Hölderlin that Hölderlin’s sacred words are not founding and grounding symbols but ciphers of the other (Adorno.32 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) phenomenon through which the idea attains historical expression with Benjamin. Each historical individuation of the ideas gives a monadic image of the world. which forbids the surrender to the song of the Sirens or Heidegger’s embrace of mythical origin. Lukács rightly speaks of the tragedy of modern art. Nevertheless. which seals the fate of the whole tradition of western music. the authentic work of art for Adorno is open to two readings: on the one hand it is the fragment. The monadic work of art partakes of origin in two respects: historically. of the historical Dasein of a people. remains within the horizon of Hegel’s verdict. as against Heidegger’s remythologization. Origin. Like Benjamin’s original phenomenon. of the tragedy of modern art (Lukács. As the quotation from The Origin of German Tragic Drama at the beginning of the Introduction to Philosophy of the New Music indicates. Adorno accuses Heidegger in Negative Dialektik of succumbing to regression (Adorno. it captures the movement of the epoch in a crystallized image – the ‘dialectic at a standstill’ (Benjamin). by Lukács in The Theory of the Novel. with reference to Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus and Adorno’s Philosophy of the New Music. In his Epilogue to The Origin of the Work of Art Heidegger poses the question of the possibility of great art against the closure of Hegel’s Aesthetics. both confirms and answers Hegel’s verdict on the fate of art in modernity. these correspondences. 1988). But it is also Lukács who points to the conclusion of this path when he speaks. The new music poses in fact the question of the end of art. 1964). Here it is important to remember that Philosophy of the New Music is identified as an excursus to Dialectic of Enlightenment. it evokes the immemorial remembrance of that which is not but which comes to appearance as utopian promise. a fragment of revelation. Adorno’s enquiry . with Heidegger it is because the work of art constitutes the origin of history. driven by the taboo on regression. Adorno’s demythologization of art.

which communicates with the origin. whose goal is the subjection of nature to human purposes and the emancipation of music as spirit from all organic residues. The end of music thus reveals the two faces of natural history. music which no longer strives to imitate fate. meaning and subjectivity. By renouncing aesthetic necessity. The reconciliation of nature and history of which the romantics dreamed ends in the total ambivalence of natural history or the history of Being. The fate of enlightened music is one with the fate of modernity enslaved by the compulsion to domination: musical history reverts to the stasis of the mythical bondage to nature. which reaches its conclusion in Schönberg’s 12-tone system. 1987: 35–7). however. It is this breaking free from the logic of aesthetic necessity and ‘progress’ which Adorno sees as the innermost tendency of the late Schönberg. whose other would be the nature we no longer seek to master. The progress of music.Roberts: Art and Myth 33 stands under the sign of Benjamin’s ‘science of origin’ (Wissenschaft des Ursprungs) through which the epochal configuration of the idea is to be revealed in its totality through the opposed extremes of Schönberg and Stravinsky. and Adorno philosophy of history’s failure to comprehend history (Marquard. the end of what Adorno calls the compulsions of the dialectic. that is. is to be understood as the progress of the domination of nature. as Marquard observes. the imprisonment of history in the realm of intentions. Of the romantic dream there remains only its echo in the . are attempts to escape the vulgar time of progress. that is to say. who has abandoned the prison of aesthetic autonomy by transforming the fragmentary work from appearance (Schein) into knowledge. their denunciations of modernity as nihilism register the end of history. meaning and subjectivity. Heidegger unmasks metaphysics’ failure. But once this resistance is mastered – and this is the case with the 12-tone system – then total enlightenment reverses into the iron cage of total construction. But by the same notion. Their ‘discontent with civilization’ drives them to a critique of civilization which in its totalizing impulse is itself suspiciously totalitarian. a demythologization whose mythical name beyond myth is reconciliation. only as long as it is confronted with the resistance of the musical material. In assuming the ‘darkness and guilt of the world’. Desperate responses to desperate times. a music which finds the way to a demythologization beyond the dialectic of enlightenment. In the closing pages of ‘Schönberg or Progress’ Adorno writes that the origin and end of music reach beyond the realm of intentions. instead of comprehending history. the end of history signifies the end of progress. The rational organization and integration of the material can promise freedom. Historical origin communicates at the same time with eschatology. that is. nature returns untransfigured as suffering and music as lament keeps faith with utopia. into a second blind nature. of a modernity defined by the will to power and by the forgetting of nature/Being. Both Heidegger’s origin of the work of art and Adorno’s end of music. the progressive rationalization and subjectification of the musical material. that is to say. with the first and last things. Or. Schönberg opens music to the negative dialectic beyond the dialectic of enlightenment. In this sense they mark terminal points in the German metadiscourse of modernity.

com] References Adorno. [email: david. Australia. Theodor and Horkheimer. NY: State University of New York. who ‘opened the way’.34 Thesis Eleven (Number 58 1999) convergence of philosophy and art sought by Heidegger and Adorno in their thinking of origin and end. Heidegger. Romantische Naturphilosophie. Joseph (1989) The Aesthetic State. Gesammelte Schriften I. Lukács. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. in Gérard Raulet and Josef Fürnkäs (eds) Weimar. in Philosophische Frühschriften. the philosophical poet. Max (1984) Dialektik der Aufklärung. London: Allen Lane. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Walter (1977) The Origin of German Tragic Drama.roberts@bigpond. Gesammelte Schriften I/1. Adorno. Neuwied: Luchterhand. Clayton. Neuwied: Luchterhand. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann. Martin (1977) Sein und Zeit. Moses. Stéphane (1988) ‘Le paradigme esthétique de l’histoire chez Walter Benjamin’. and the dialectical thinker Adorno. London: Merlin. Heidegger. Cologne: Dinter. Lukács. Heidegger. Gesamtausgabe 54. Martin (1980) Hölderlins Hymnen ‘Germanien’ und ‘Der Rhein’. Georg (1971a) Die Theorie des Romans. Adorno. Chytry. Gunzelin Schmid (1990) Das Eingedenken der Natur im Subjekt. Max (1973b) Dialectic of Enlightenment. Martin (1996) Being and Time. Theodor (1966) Negative Dialektik. Noerr. Victoria 3168. Theodor and Horkheimer. Marquard. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. Gesamtausgabe 39. Georg (1964) ‘Die Tragödie der modernen Kunst’. Paris: Anthropos. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Monash University. Lukács. in Noten zur Literatur. for whom theory became aesthetic. Le tournant esthétique. Psychoanalyse. in Deutsche Literatur in zwei Jahrhunderten. Theodor (1973a) ‘Die Idee der Naturgeschichte’. Address: Department of German Studies. Adorno. Bloch. Georg (1963) ‘The Ideology of Modernism’. Ernst (1962) Erbschaft dieser Zeit. Adornos und Marcuses. Walter (1991) Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels. Adorno. Georg (1971b) Theory of the Novel. Heidegger. Gesammelte Schriften 11. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann. He is currently working on concepts of nature. Odo (1987) Transzendentaler Idealismus. the poetic thinker. who transformed music into knowledge. Benjamin. Heidegger. Albany. Theodor (1974) ‘Parataxis. origin and myth in romanticism. A Quest in Modern German Thought. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. London: Merlin. and Heidegger. find their counterpart in the dialectic composer Schönberg. Gesamtausgabe 2. Lukács. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann. Martin (1983) Einführung in die Metaphysik. Zur späten Lyrik Hölderlins’. London: NLB. in The Meaning of Contemporary Realism. Benjamin. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Zur Dialektik von Vernunft und Natur in der kritischen Theorie Horkheimers. Martin (1982) Parmenides. Gesammelte Schriften 3. . Berkeley: University of California Press. David Roberts is an editor of Thesis Eleven. Hölderlin. Gesamtausgabe 40.