Monday, July 9, 2007

forms of vor

In his essay "Comittment," Adorno describes the tension between didactic and non-political art, and labels art that is itself and no other thing "pre-artistic." This designation signals a realm outside of the tension (and perhaps also relationship) between subject and object.

Adorno writes: “The notion of a ‘message’ in art, even when politically radical, already contains an accommodation to the world: the stance of the lecturer conceals a clandestine entente with the listeners, who could only be rescued from deception by refusing it. […] But any literature which therefore concludes that it can be a law unto itself, and exist only for itself, degenerates into ideology no less. Art, which even in its opposition to society remains a part of it, must close its eyes and ears against it: it cannot escape the shadow of irrationality. But when it appeals to this unreason, making it a raison d’etre, it converts its own malediction into theodicy. Even in the most sublimated work of art there is a hidden ‘it should be otherwise’. When a work is merely itself and no other thing, as in a pure pseudo-scientific construction, it becomes bad art—literally pre-artistic.” (Adorno, "Comittment" 193-194)

The equation between bad art and the "pre-artistic" is compared to the non-referentiality of a pseudo-scientific "construction," something that does not have the verifiability of organic replication, perhaps. Adorno's construction of the problem of art in this manner introduces the tension subject and object into the field of artistic creation. I think something like the struggle between the individual, human world and the collective, social world can be sensed here; it is this anxiety that overpowers what for Adorno seems to be the real danger. The real danger seems to also need some signification that the "times" which the artwork opposes are also, in some way, exceptional--perhaps, as Adorno would say, damaged. From this, Adorno can go on to say that the problem of the "message" is its "accomodation" to the world, and can use the force of the tension between the subject and the object to differentiate art that accomodates from art that says "otherwise." The tension between the subject and the object is what Adorno, in other places, describes as "form." Here, he merely says that when this tension is not strong enough, there is no "art," or worse, that there is "bad art"--that this realm of not art is "pre-artistic." Here--when we are talking about what counts as art (vs. what is pre-artistic)--the stakes of judging good and bad are revealed, since form can seem to hinge on something as flippant and finnicky as taste.


RT said...

I missed this one before, somehow.

The "literally" in "literally pre-artistic" (if it's there in the German) is interesting. The literal is pre-artistic, and something that just is itself is literal, so art that is just itself is "literally pre-artistic." Does that mean that there is something that is literally artistic? He does imply that. He knows that "true art" is a paradox (like the liar paradox) and he defines it by that, but I'm not sure that gets him out of it.

etc said...

that's a helpful point. i came across another translation of this passage and it was radically different. i've been meaning to check out the german, but have not, and will try to find it somewhere in "the heart of it all" (which is the pre-artistic definition of ohio).

etc said...

"buchstaeblich vorkuenstlerischen" --