Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Victor Burgin Evening Lecture

NOTE: As with all my notes from the EGS, there will likely be mistakes because I did not record the lectures, I made notes as they spoke, so I am perhaps interpreting what they are saying as I am writing.

The students are required to attend evening lectures given by the faculty each evening as part of our curriculum. Victor Burgin was the first person to give such a talk during the August sessions.

He is a professor emeritus in the History of Consciousness program at UCSC and taught at Goldsmiths in London.

Burgin prefaced his remarks by clarifying that he'd be giving an artist's talk and then would discuss the specificity of the genre in which he is working tonight.

How is it possible that we can remember, involuntarily, moments from films - even films that we don't like? But not the films as such. This isn't isolated to only the film medium, it happens with all sorts of media. It's in excess of the movie theater, isn't it? We feel like we know a film even when we haven't seen that film.

When I start work on/in a city I learn its history. I try to find parts of a city that remind me of a film as well.
We watch the last 7 minutes of Antonioni's L'Eclisse (Eclipse):

The film is chronologically linear at first but then it ends with no clear narrative structure. Antonioni described it as leaving only objects. The world of objects is shown as contingently, indifferently, arranged. Traces of modern life; footnotes to our social order.

To make Burgin's film that would be shown in Milan and Venice he looked back to L'Eclisse and made Solito Posto (still from the film):

Burgin feels his work is uncinematic because the cinematic experience in galleries assumes a subject of knowledge. He, rather, makes it these works for a subject of signification.

When we visit a theater it is very unusual to leave before the story is done. In the gallery, cinematic works are those of repetition: we presume that the viewer will walk in and out at odd times. "Visual ritornelli."

The visual/audio work of the gallery space is recursive and non-hierarchical and as such may be more akin to the psychoanalytic situation where any response may be a jumping-off point for a chain of associations. Meaning is construed in the dream through the associative ordering but this is not a sequencing, rather it is an unfolding. A Möbius band just like the audio/visual work in a gallery setting.

The uncinematic work is a paratactical organization [....] Cinematic heterotopia [....]

Kristeva saw the work of art as a matrix that made its subject.

How do we make subjects when the images of subjects [....]

We could look to the feminists of the late 60s and early 70s, they spoke well to the politics of representation and the representation of politics. [....]

Martin Hielscher on Adorno's Aesthetics Day (3)

NOTE TO FACEBOOK VIEWERS: to view any of the clips you'll need to visit the actual blog. Scroll to the bottom and click "View Original Post"

Martin Hielscher is the Fiction Editor at one of Germany's oldest publishing house, C.H. Beck.

NOTE: As with all my notes from the European Graduate School, there will likely be mistakes because I did not record the lectures, I made notes as they spoke, so I am perhaps interpreting what they are saying as I am writing.

Art has already become a hermetic activity. Communication is already utilized.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 73-4:
In its uncertainty, natural beauty inherits the ambiguity of myth, while at the same time its echo— [74]consolation—distances itself from myth in appearing nature. Contrary to that philosopher of identity, Hegel, natural beauty is close to the truth but veils itself at the moment of greatest proximity. This, too, art learned from natural beauty. [...] The dignity of nature is that of the not-yet-existing; by its expression it repels intentional humanization. This dignity has been transformed into the hermetic character of art, into—as Holderlin taught—art's renunciation of any usefulness whatever, even if it were sublimated by the addition of human meaning. For communication is the adaptation of spirit to utility, with the result that spirit is made one commodity among the rest; and what today is called meaning participates in this disaster. What in artworks is structured, gapless, resting in itself, is an afterimage of the silence that is the single medium through which nature speaks. Vis-a-vis a ruling principle, vis-a-vis a merely diffuse juxtaposition, the beauty of nature is an other; what is reconciled would resemble it. [... 75] Throughout, Hegel's aesthetics lacks receptivity for the speech of what is not significicative; the same is true of his theory of language.
ME: pure ideology is fetishistic

There is a musical character to how this book is written with refrains and phrases that are revisited. In this composition we get a sense of Nietzsche's influence.

Art is rational as well because it is discussed in terms of techniques and each artistic form participates in the general technological...

[We are given several poems by Paul Celan]
Todesfuge (Death Fugue here is an English translation)
The question of metaphorical language in Celan is due to his concern with the euphemistic language that is so prominent in the age of mass communication, whether it be in the form of advertising or political rhetoric.

In the original Romanian, this poem's name was "Death Tango" referring to the forced playing of music by the Jews in the concentration camps. The Nazis required the Jews to perform for them. There exists a recording of this "Death Tango" being performed in the camps. Celan changed the name to "Death Fugue" when he translated it into German.

It's important to understand that this was written in 1944, not after, and it shows that many people in the world knew what was happening in the concentration camps.

Being called a fugue is not only a reference to the musical form (and so, speaks to the role and use of repetition), but it also references Bach - "Death is a master form Germany" is the oft-quoted line in the poem.

Celan highlights that there were many supposed to be the best of society: the well-educated and musicians, such as Höss, that both managed and personally participated in the killings at the camps.

What if the "Black milk of daybreak" is not metaphorical? The milk is black from the ashes falling into your milk that you drink. As Höss stated, there was no way the surrounding villagers could not know that there were exterminations happening at Auschwitz because of the intense stink of burning bodies.

"Golden hair Margarete" = Faust character; Faust, the Renaissance man, seduces Margarete who then dies after her pregnancy is terminated. Shulamith is a Hebrew name from the Song of Songs. These names both refer to Celan's mother who was killed in a death camp.

Celan was disappointed with this poem because it was quite popular - even being taught in German high schools. He would often receive letters form these students stating their enjoyment of the poem and that they were grateful that Celan had made peace with Germany.

Clearly the poem was too accessible and beautiful. It was received by a public that assumed that this was a gesture of both peace-making and healthy processing of the events. He refused to read the poem in public because of this misconception.

There is only one rhyme in the poem:
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
so there is a need for precision in this moment of the poem.

There are no graves, only ashes and bones; so Celan asks where is his home? Where is the grave of his family, the place(s) to mourn? The poem becomes the cemetery. He asks if he is capable to arrive at a language that is adequate to discuss this problem and this historical situation.

Adorno's Aesthetic Theory is also asking this question.

Given this frustration, Celan wrote another poem,  Engführung (The Straitening in English)
Engführung is an open grave, perhaps. Eng- is employed frequently in Death Fugue and eng- is the root of the word "angst" which means to feel a tightened chest.

With this poem Celan tries to close the gap between the words and the subject of the poem:
Do not read anymore -- look!
Do not look anymore -- go!
The terrain is not the death camps of "Death Fugue" which is so musical, this poem is more concrete -- we are at the very stones of the camps. This is another attempt at tackling the inadequacy of language.

He is alone in this world: those that should hear him won't because they live in America or in Israel and then those that do read him are from the other side of the trenches. He was fluent in maybe six languages and studied medicine as well as botany in addition to literature from around the world which he then translated. Yet, he must write; it is not an option not to write. An aporia.

In Death Fugue there was the repetition of whole lines but here it is the repetition of single words or even letters; again, the problem of finding an adequate language to be true to the subject-object relationship.

MY NOTE: In a fugue the stretto (in German this Italian word is Engführungis the imitation of the subject in close succession, so that the answer enters before the subject is completed.

The poem uses "I" to refer to both the author and also the poem itself as an "I." When it speaks of a finger palpating, the poem approaches being an action, that the poem is touching the bones under the grass.

What the form of Death Fugue does is introduce distance by referring to those ideas but with Engführung there is the closing of this distance through the stammer and confusion of who or what is speaking or referred to.

Spasmen (Spasms) from Fadensonnen (Fathomsuns), 1963.
This, unlike Death Fugue or Straitening is written in an unfamiliar German. There is a logic but it has to be endured and unfolded over time. It is a poem about sex; the words themselves intermingle sometimes in a sing-song.

It's a grounding for a spiritual, ecstatic experience in language. It's not "about" but in it. It also has a Medieval German Court Poetry sensibility in it as well, this "hei," hearkens back to when these songs were sung.

Adorno defined happiness as being a state where we could show weakness without having to fear being taken advantage of by another.

The task for us is not to comprehend artworks but their incomprehensibility in our contemporary situation.
From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 118: 

The task of aesthetics is not to comprehend artworks as hermeneutical objects; in the contemporary situation, it is their incomprehensibility that needs to be comprehended. What is so resistlessly absorbed as a cliche by the watchword—the absurd—could only be recuperated by a theory that thinks its truth.
FROM ME: The Daily Show's John Stewart rests his case in simply offering the absurd theater that is being alive in America today.

Adorno points out that it is not enough to rest in the cliche that man is absurd or that society is grotesque; we must understand what conditions contribute to accepting the absurd as a given.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 118:
It ignites on what is opposed to it, on materiality. In no way is spirit most present in the most spiritual artworks. Art is redemptive in the act by which the spirit in it throws itself away. Art holds true to the shudder, but not by regression to it. Rather, art is its legacy. The spirit of artworks produces the shudder by externalizing it in objects. Thus art participates in the actual movement of history in accord with the law of enlightenment: By virtue of the self-reflection of genius, what once seemed to be reality emigrates into imagination, where it survives by becoming conscious of its own unreality.  [...] Form objectivates the particular impulses only when it follows them where they want to go of their own accord. This alone is the methexis of artworks in reconciliation.
"Art holds true to the shudder..." this is a calling back to an enervation of the lived spiritual life, on the other hand, the shudder is pre-ratio, preconceptual, and it leaves one spellbound. We don't have a choice in deciding to have a shudder, they overcome us and leave us in a state of disbelief.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 118-9:
The divergence of the constructive and the mimetic, which no artwork can resolve and which is virtually the original sin of aesthetic spirit, has its correlative in that element of the ridiculous and clownish that even the most significant works bear and that, unconcealed, is inextricable from their significance. [...] Its ridiculousness is, however, also part of a condemnation of empirical rationality; it accuses the rationality of social praxis of having become an end in itself and as such the irrational and mad reversal of means into ends. [...]  Ridiculousness is the residue of the mimetic in art, the price of its self-enclosure. [...] All the same, the ridiculous elements in artworks are most akin to their intentionless levels and therefore, in great works, also closest to their secret. Foolish subjects like those of The Magic Flute and Der Freischiitz have more truth content through the medium of the music than does the Ring, which gravely aims at the ultimate. In its clownishness, art consolingly recollects prehistory in the primordial world of animals. Apes in the zoo together perform what resembles clown routines. The collusion of children with clowns is a collusion with art, which adults drive out of them just as they drive out their collusion with animals. Human beings have not succeeded in so thoroughly repressing their likeness to animals that they are unable in an instant to recapture it and be flooded with joy; the language of little children and animals seems to be the same. In the similarity of clowns to animals the likeness of humans to apes flashes up; the constellation animal/fool/clown is a fundamental layer of art.
As a thing that negates the world of things, every artwork is a priori helpless when
it is called on to legitimate itself to this world....
FROM ME:  "Ridiculousness is the residue of the mimetic in art, the price of its self-enclosure." and my definition of cool, here.

If you gravely aim at the ultimate you fail in achieving the ridiculousness that is required in being art. Adorno has a tenderness in his thinking about Nature always in touch with that child, of his living a kreaturlich (German meaning something like that bridge shared between humans and animals).

FROM ME: we get something approaching a definition of kreatürlich in David S. Ferris' The Cambridge Companion to Walter Benjamin (160):
Human existence as Kreatur and kreatürlich emphasizes the human condition in its physical subjection to death and decay, the human subject as created rather than creator. This is in contrast to both a dominant bourgeois rhetoric of individual creativity and to the communist rhetoric of a promethean collective creativity. These terms belong to a theological vocabulary, in which the human condition is entangled in a nature overshadowed by guilt, expelled form the garden of Eden into the garden of the flowers of evil.
While there may be something similar between Zarathustra's transformations from camel to child, with Adorno there is the opposite of this saintliness; rather there are only these flashes of Natural Beauty.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 121:
Understanding is itself a problematic category in the face of art's enigmaticalness. Whoever seeks to understand artworks exclusively through the immanence of consciousness within them by this very measure fails to understand them and as such understanding grows, so does the feeling of its insufficiency caught blindly in the spell of art, to which art's own truth content is opposed. If one who exits from this immanent context or was never in it registers the enigmaticalness with animosity, the enigmaticalness disappears deceptively into the artistic experience. The better an artwork is understood, the more it is unpuzzled on one level and the more obscure its constitutive enigmaticalness becomes. It only emerges demonstratively in the profoundest experience of art. If a work opens itself completely, it reveals itself as a question and demands reflection; then the work vanishes into the distance, only to return to those who thought they understood it, overwhelming them for a second time with the question "What is it?" Art's enigmaticalness can, however, be recognized as constitutive where it is absent: Artworks that unfold to contemplation and thought without any remainder are not artworks. Enigma here is not a glib synonym for "problem," a concept that is only aesthetically significant in the strict sense of a task posed by the immanent composition of works. In no less strict terms, artworks are enigmas. They contain the potential for the solution; the solution is not objectively given. Every artwork is a picture puzzle, a puzzle to be solved, but this puzzle is constituted in such a fashion that it remains a vexation, the preestablished routing of its observer.
It's not about taking something out of the artwork but stepping into its context. There is the danger of becoming only a connoisseur and not being able to appreciate that is outside of one's range of taste. A real work of art will never fully open to us -- it is an historical process.

This is where there is overlaps between Benjamin, Adorno, Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault -- they came to the same conclusions, they see the same aporias; doesn't this speak to the objectivity, the historical moment we find ourselves in?

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 122:
Of all the arts, music is the prototypical example of this: It is at once completely enigmatic and totally evident. It cannot be solved, only its form can be deciphered, and precisely this is requisite for the philosophy of art. He alone would understand music who hears with all the alienness of the unmusical and with all of Siegfried's familiarity with the language of the birds. Understanding, however, does not extinguish the enigmaticalness of art. [...] The solution of the enigma amounts to giving the reason for its insolubility, which is the gaze artworks direct at the viewer. The demand of artworks that they be understood, that their content be grasped, is bound to their specific experience; but it can only be fulfilled by way of the theory that reflects this experience. What the enigmaticalness of artworks refers to can only be thought mediatedly. The objection to the phenomenology of art, as to any phenomenology that imagines it can lay its hands directly on the essence, is not that it is antiempirical but, on the contrary, that it brings thinking experience to a halt. The much derided incomprehensibility of hermetic artworks amounts to the admission of the enigmaticalness of all art. Part of the rage against hermetic works is that they also shatter the comprehensibility of traditional works. [...] No concept that enters an artwork remains what it is; each and every concept is so transformed that its scope can be affected and its meaning refashioned.
Traditional art which has this familiar language needs the historical process; as a contemporary person the work seems familiar but as history unfolds the artwork itself unfolds.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 124:
Works are purposeful in themselves, without having any positive purpose beyond their own arrangement; their purposefulness, however, is legitimated as the figure of the answer to the enigma. Through organization artworks become more than they are. In recent aesthetic debates, especially in the fine arts, the concept of écriture has become relevant, inspired probably by Klee's drawings, which approximate scrawled writing. Like a searchlight, this category of modern art illumines the art of the past; all artworks are writing, not just those that are obviously such; they are hieroglyphs for which the code has been lost, a loss that plays into their content. Artworks are language only as writing.
From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 125:
If enigmaticalness disappears completely from the experience, if experience supposes that it has become completely immanent to the object, the enigma's gaze suddenly appears again; thus is preserved the artworks' seriousness, which stares out of archaic images and is masked in traditional art by their familiar language until strengthened to the point of total alienation.
We are interested in art because it is about existence; it declines a usefulness or of generating any meaning. Enigmaticalness is recognizable as relevant but it requires second reflection. Without this enigmacticalness the artwork is something that empowers the subject and so reifies the subject. This empowering that leads to reification of the subject (discursive knowledge), is an instrumentalization of the relationship shared between the subject and the object.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 126:
Artworks speak like elves in fairy tales: "If you want the absolute, you shall have
it, but you will not recognize it when you see it." The truth of discursive knowledge is unshrouded, and thus discursive knowledge does not have it; the knowledge that is art, has truth, but as something incommensurable with art. Through the freedom of the subject in them, artworks are less subjective than is discursive knowledge. With unerring compass, Kant subordinated art to a concept of teleology whose positive application he did not concede to empirical understanding. However, the block that according to Kant's doctrine obstructs the in-itself to people, shapes that in-itself in artworks—the doctrine's proper domain, in which there is no longer to be any difference between what is in-itself and what is for-itself—as enigmatic figures: Precisely because they are blocked, artworks are im-
ages of being-in-itself. Art becomes an enigma because it appears to have solved what is enigmatical in existence, while the enigma in the merely existing is forgotten as a result of its own overwhelming ossification. The more densely people have spun a categorial web around what is other than subjective spirit, the more fundamentally have they disaccustomed themselves to the wonder of that other and deceived themselves with a growing familiarity with what is foreign. Art hopes to correct this, though feebly and with a quickly exhausted gesture. A priori, art causes people to wonder, just as Plato once demanded that philosophy do, which, however, decided for the opposite.
The enigma of artworks is their fracturedness.
From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 127:
Art's enigmatic image is the configuration of mimesis and rationality. This enigmaticalness emerged out of a historical process. Art is what remains after the loss of what was supposed to exercise a magical, and later a cultic, function.
Philosophy needs art because philosophy needs an Other. Aesthetic Theory is not a theory of aesthetics but the need for theory to be aesthetic. Without an experience of alterity we will not have the necessary materiality.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 131:
Aesthetic experience is not genuine experience unless it becomes philosophy. The condition for the possibility that philosophy and art converge is to be sought in the element of universality that art possesses through its specification as language sui generis. This universality is collective just as philosophical universality, for which the transcendental subject was once the signum, points back to the collective subject. [...] The trace of memory in mimesis, which every artwork seeks, is simultaneously always the anticipation of a condition beyond the diremption of the individual and the collective. [...] This is the locus of the idea of art as the idea of the restoration of nature that has been repressed and drawn into the dynamic of history. Nature, to whose imago art is devoted, does not yet in any way exist; what is true in art is something nonexistent.
Not for-itself but in-itself, what is wants the Other; the artwork is the language of this wanting. The minute displacement of the artwork is perhaps related to Messianic Judaism such that the transcendental world is minutely present in this one and what we do is tend to obscure and cover over this.
From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 131:
Artworks would be powerless if they were no more than longing, though there is no valid artwork without longing. That by which they transcend longing, however, is the neediness inscribed as a figure in the historically existing. By retracing this figure, they are not only more than what simply exists but participate in objective truth to the extent that what is in need summons its fulfillment and change. Not for-itself, with regard to consciousness, but in-itself, what is wants the other; the artwork is the language of this wanting, and the artwork's content [Gehalt] is as substantial as this wanting. The elements of this other are present in reality and they require only the most minute displacement into a new constellation to find their right position. Rather than imitating reality, artworks demonstrate this displacement to reality. Ultimately, the doctrine of imitation should be reversed; in a sublimated sense, reality should imitate the artworks.
Film has the potential to illustrate Natural Beauty because it allows the recollection of the possible in opposition to the actual that suppresses it.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 135:
But because for art, Utopia—the yet-to-exist—is draped in black, it remains in all its mediations recollection; recollection of the possible in opposition to the actual that suppresses it; it is the imaginary reparation of the catastrophe of world history; it is freedom, which under the spell of necessity did not—and may not ever—come to pass. [...] No existing, appearing artwork holds any positive control over the nonexisting. This distinguishes artworks from religious symbols, which in their appearance lay claim to the transcendence of the immediately present. The nonexisting in artworks is a constellation of the existing. By their negativity, even as total negation, artworks make a promise, just as the gesture with which narratives once began or the initial sound struck on a sitar promised what was yet to be heard, yet to be seen, even if it was the most fearsome; and the cover of every book between which the eye loses itself in the text is related to the promise of the camera obscura. The paradox of all modern art is that it seeks to achieve this by casting it away just as the opening of Proust's Recherche ingeniously slips into the book without the whirring of the camera obscura, the peep-show perspective of the omniscient narrator, renouncing the magic of the act and thereby realizing it in the only way possible. Aesthetic experience is that of something that spirit may find neither in the world nor in itself; it is possibility promised by its impossibility. Art is the ever broken promise of happiness.
Look at Adorno's "Meditations on Metaphysics" from Negative Dialectics, especially the last three pages, they are quite beautiful.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Marin Hielscher on Adorno's Aesthetics (Day 2)

NOTE TO FACEBOOK VIEWERS: to view any of the clips you'll need to visit the actual blog. Scroll to the bottom and click "View Original Post"

Martin Hielscher is the Fiction Editor at one of Germany's oldest publishing house, C.H. Beck.

NOTE: As with all my notes from the European Graduate School, there will likely be mistakes because I did not record the lectures, I made notes as they spoke, so I am perhaps interpreting what they are saying as I am writing.

Theodor Adorno died not far from Saas-Fee (home of EGS), he was hiking in Zermat.

To begin, there are two things to understand:
  1. Why "critical theory"
  2. What is Natural Beauty, or what is the role of Natural Experience?
What is called critical theory is a re-reading of the Western Tradition. This was the work of Benjamin, Horkheimer, Marcuse, etc. Their intent was not to be theoretical; they were searching for a new practical experience.

They were trying to think a new practice in the face of the disaster of so-called Advanced Modernity: what is this rational, industrial mode of mass murder that reduces contact with those murdered?

Critical theory tries to understand this rationality -- our Technological Age where the world is apprehended first through a technological viewpoint and mass communication.

Mass media informs how we relate to our personal (inner) nature and to outer nature; these outbursts of violence such as in Srebenica in the dissolution of Yugoslavia, just as in Rwanda. In both cases the UN witnessed and did nothing.

These outbursts are not alien because they are part of a pattern of thinking.

It's not a personal choice to live in the Technological Age; the world presents itself as such and we have no personal choice. The question becomes: will this come to an end; how does it impact our understanding of ourselves?

People are not free, but trapped in "free societies" -- these open, liberal societies are not as free as they proclaim. The Culture Industry and mass communication acts as another mode of social control because it shapes the horizon of what can be perceived.

Given this, there is a deep distrust of public communicative possibilities because it is all standardized.

Adorno takes a concrete phenomenological approach to understanding mass media. The term "critical theory" itself has a time code within it: There is always a horizon beyond what we can theorize.

There is no direct way to approach the phenomena we encounter because everything is already mediatized, so we must reflect on it and step back into this murky circle. There is no easy way out.

Adorno's critique of Heidegger is that Heidegger creates a false sense of direct contact with Truth or the Other.

Adorno's "the nonidentical" is similar to Derrida's "différance." Concept-making is the process of identity-making. This identification-making is a destructive act in that it has the tendency to ignore the inherent identification of those being described, but even their own self-identification is a self-deceptive act.

Critical Theory is a neo-Marxist thinking with a focus on the material existence of society. A pursuit of happiness is manifest in our corporeality. We are constantly fighting our own misreading of our own bodies.

You cannot ignore your own body, it will always be there communicating to us.

How does différance occur?
How do we experience it?
Love is one mode of access, as is philosophy, or the aesthetic experience.

The aesthetic experience shouldn't be confused with entertainment because entertainment is a standardized product and instrument of social control. The aesthetic experience resists entertainment.

Art is a way of Truth presenting itself.

It has a rationality but not for the sake of reifying a metaphysics but speaks a true language more true than the Truth and acts as a commentary on the social.

It's a form of encounter that changes the subject-object relationship: subjectivity is defined through its use of objects and how we make use of the world through this. True aesthetic experience presents the challenge of the inverse of this relationship -- we must step outside of ourselves.

It's not for the sake of uniqueness of myself to be expressed but for us to better understand the object, to experience the primacy of the object.

How do we get out of the narcotizing tendency of living in contemporary society? How do you have a true self in a false society? As Heidegger pointed-out that metaphysics rejects time (resists time), so Critical Theorists seek a thinking of an authentic living in a time where we are inundated with how to live as a consumable.

Adorno has a utopian residue, for Ernst Bloch and Karl Marx there were these utopian horizons and through this mode of thinking we approach the horizon of the Other, a promise of alterity. Postmodernity abandons the utopian project because it's part of a Grand Narrative.

We cannot escape Reason by being unreasonable or introducing an escapist metaphysics that excuses this world.

What is resistance? What does it mean to resist the Culture Industry?
  • Resistance as direct political action is problematic because the likely result is to impose the exact same violence onto others
  • To resist, for Adorno, is to think and to create these true aesthetic experiences.
  • True art calls for philosophy and vice-versa in order to have this break in the repetition of living.
We must go back in history, we need to reread Schelling.
From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 61:
Since Schelling, whose aesthetics is entitled the Philosophy of Art, aesthetic interest has centered on artworks. Natural beauty, which was still the occasion of the most penetrating insights in the Critique of Judgment, is now scarcely even a topic of theory. The reason for this is not that natural beauty was dialectically transcended, both negated and maintained on a higher plane, as Hegel's theory had propounded, but, rather, that it was repressed. The concept of human nature rubs on a wound, and little is needed to prompt one to associate this wound with the violence that the artwork—a pure artifact—inflicts on nature. Wholly artifactual, the artwork seems to be the opposite of what is not made, nature. As pure antitheses, however, each refers to the other: nature to the experience of a mediated and
objectified world, the artwork to nature as the mediated plenipotentiary of immediacy. Therefore reflection on natural beauty is irrevocably requisite to the theory of art.
Art is not outside the subject-object relationship; it is also a violence. We think of Nature as unmediated, but this is already because we live in a totally mediated world.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 63:
The artwork, through and through δέσει (thesei, convention), something human, is the plenipotentiary of φύσει (physei, nature), of what is not merely for the subject, of what, in Kantian terms,would be the thing itself. The identity of the artwork with the subject is as complete as the identity of nature with itself should some day be. [...] Hegel obviously lacked the sensibility needed to recognize that genuine experience of art is not possible without the experience of that elusive dimension whose name—natural beauty—had faded.
The ideal of the artwork is that it is completely constructed; there is an identity within Nature of what Nature wants to be like.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 65:
Just how bound up natural beauty is with art beauty is confirmed by the experience of the former. For it, nature is exclusively appearance, never the stuff of labor and the reproduction of life, let alone the substratum of science. Like the experience of art, the aesthetic experience of nature is that of images. Nature, as appearing beauty, is not perceived as an object of action. The sloughing off of the aims of self-preservation—which is emphatic in art—is carried out to the same degree in aesthetic experience of nature. To this extent the difference between the two forms of beauty is hardly evident. Mediation is no less to be inferred from the relation of art to nature than from the inverse relation. Art is not nature, a belief that idealism hoped to inculcate, but art does want to keep nature's promise. It is capable of this only by breaking that promise; by taking it back into itself. This much is true in Hegel's theorem that art is inspired by negativity, specifically by the deficiency of natural beauty, in the sense that so long as nature is defined only through its antithesis to society, it is not yet what it appears to be. What nature strives for in vain, artworks fulfill: They open their eyes. Once it no longer serves as an object of action, appearing nature itself imparts expression, whether that of melancholy, peace, or something else. Art stands in for nature through its abolition in effigy; all naturalistic art is only deceptively close to nature because, analogous to industry, it relegates nature to raw material.
Natural Beauty is appearance, the experience of images. The form of self-preservation society we have actually brings the extermination of ourselves. The experience of Natural Beauty frees us of this sense of self-preservation.

Nature needs us as much as we need it, its call requires our response. There is an inherent teleology in Nature. It is a question of how we interact with Nature.

True art has become enigmatic for Adorno and there is this threat coming from the Culture Industry. There is no primitive or naive approach to art or to philosophy for Adorno. You need education and to know the material. The material will tell you, you'll have a gut feeling when it's time to change.

Changes in art happen because there is an inherent force (process) to do that. Historically it was not autonomous and was told to artists in large part by the patrons and authorities that commissioned the work.
  • To focus on the art experience in an aesthetic theory runs the risk of becoming solipsistic and self-focused; Adorno insists on the art object being in the center.
  • Art is not a given anymore, philosophy is not a given anymore, even humanity is not a given anymore given the way humans behaved in the 20th century
History may be a failed experiment, as Beckett said, "fail again, fail better."

How does social change occur? Classical political theory requires an agent doing direct action but this leads to the repetition of violence. But if you change the agent rather than the agent changing society... We must approach each other without instrumentalizing that Other.

Adorno says that we must stay with our conflicts and endure them (similar to Arendt).

His Negative Dialectics is his mode of ontology, it points to the question, "What is the good life?" and seeks to promote a happier world which depends upon recognizing how lost we are, lost even to the message emanating from our own bodies.

It's a melancholic philosophy but for the sake of of discovering happiness; it's vitalistic and in ways like Nietzsche. There is a deep tenderness in his thought, he writes about ways in which others exploit and do violence to them but he does this because he has such tenderness for others.

Critical Theory is an attempt to understand what is happening and in so doing find another way to act in this context. Key to this reevaluation is second reflection. The Holocaust is the symbolic event to which they point as indicative of the need for this mode of thinking.

"There is no poetry possible after Auschwitz." Adorno

There is a deep difference between humanity before and after the Holocaust. It has changed the way we relate to ourselves.

Paul Celan, a key Frankfurt School figure, wrote in German and asked how it is possible to write in the language of the Perpetrators. It is an aporia and we must stay with this problem and endure it. Celan irritated the practices of metaphor and emblematic language in his writing by using the German tendency of building words. In no small way this is in response to the development of euphemism in propaganda (like in the current Gulf crisis and the so-called "top-kill" of the well spewing oil).

What we need is a deep mistrust of language, especially in the case of literature, as Thomas Mann said, "a writer is someone that has a problem with language."

ME:Perhaps Naptha's suicide might be indicative of Adorno's position that we cannot counter Reason by being unreasonable; or maybe it illustrates Habermas' position that communication must happen again and again until we reach accord.

From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 63-4:
[63] The anamnesis of freedom in natural beauty deceives because it seeks freedom in the old unfreedom. Natural beauty is myth transposed into the imagination and thus, perhaps, requited. The song of birds is found beautiful by everyone; no feeling person in whom something of the European tradition survives fails to be moved by the sound of a robin after a rain shower. Yet something frightening lurks in the song of birds precisely because it is not a song but obeys the spell in which it is enmeshed. The fright appears as well in the threat of migratory flocks, which bespeak ancient divinations, forever presaging ill fortune. With regard to its content, the ambiguity of natural beauty has its origin in mythical ambiguity. This is why genius, once it has become aware of itself, is no longer satisfied with natural beauty. As its prose character intensifies, art extricates itself completely from myth and thus from the spell of nature, which nevertheless continues in the subjective domination of nature. [64] Only what had escaped nature as fate would help nature to its restitution. The more that art is thoroughly organized as an object by the subject and divested of the subject's intentions, the more articulately does it speak according to the model of a nonconceptual, nonrigidified significative language; this would perhaps be the same language that is inscribed in what the sentimental age gave the beautiful if threadbare name, "The Book of Nature." [...] For natural beauty as something that appears is itself an image.
Archaic nature is unfreedom because there is no choice, we are at the mercy of Nature. Thus the bird's song is frightening because it is not a choice for the bird to sing but an echo of the hardwiring, they are limited in their repertoire.

Adorno and Horkheimer see modern life as spell-binding, not unlike this robin after the rain, and this shows us that the whole Enlightenment project has failed.

ME: Why is suicide the predominant mode of political action today?

Hegel's dialectic is one that espouses sacrificing the particular for the whole whereas Adorno's negative dialectic is the reverse: in the particular is the whole.

The attempt to dominate Nature was an attempt to get outside of the spell of Nature and yet this pursuit hands us back to that spell-state. The alternative is not an untouched Nature but another relationship to Nature.

A True work of Art is not a result of the artist's intentions but just the opposite: making the object leads to the primacy of the object.

The art object must survive the death of the author and in this sense the art object exists as a transformed subjectivity.

The contemporary art object remains a contemporary art object because it is more than the intentionality of the artist. The mode of art production is dependent upon the development of history as well as the living moment.

Below is Pollini's performance of Webern's Variationen für Piano op. 27; here's another link that allows you to compare four renditions of the same piece, starting with Glenn Gould.

Adorno studied in Vienna with Schönberg and Webern before he became the philosopher we know him as today.

Below is Pollini performing Beethoven's Opus 111 live in 1973:

Artists are able to transform the reception of the tradition to this point.

It is ideological to propose technique as the antithesis of Nature: bourgeois sexuality leads to talk of "unravished Nature." The artwork can be true to the silence of Nature and yet also it speak; in this way Art is a way out, an agent of change.
Natural beauty, such as it is perceived unmediated in appearing nature, is compromised by the Rousseauian retournons. The mistakenness of the crude antithesis of technique and nature is obvious in the fact that precisely nature that has not been pacified by human cultivation, nature over which no human hand has passed— alpine moraines and taluses—resembles those industrial mountains of debris from which the socially lauded aesthetic need for nature flees. Just how industrial it looks in inorganic outer space will someday be clear. Even in its telluric expansion, as the imprint of total technique, the concept of idyllic nature would retain the provincialism of a minuscule island. In schema borrowed from bourgeois sexual morality, technique is said to have ravished nature, yet under transformed relations of production it would just as easily be able to assist nature and on this sad earth help it to attain what perhaps it wants. Consciousness does justice to the experience of nature only when, like impressionist art, it incorporates nature's wounds. The rigid concept of natural beauty thereby becomes dynamic. It is broadened by what is already no longer nature. Otherwise nature is degraded to a deceptive phantasm.
For in every particular aesthetic experience of nature the social whole is lodged.
Experience of nature is coconstituted by the capacity of determinate negation. With the expansion of technique and, even more important, the total expansion of of the exchange principle, natural beauty increasingly fulfills a contrasting function and is thus integrated into the reified world it opposes.
Natural beauty is ideology where it serves to disguise mediatedness as immediacy.
To feel nature, and most of all its silence, has become a rare privilege and has in turn become commercially exploitable.
[...]The "How beautiful!" at the sight of a landscape insults its mute language and reduces its beauty; appearing nature wants silence at the same time that anyone capable of its experience feels compelled to speak in order to find a momentary liberation from monadological confinement. The image of nature survives because its complete negation in the artifact—negation that rescues this image—is necessarily blind to what exists beyond bourgeois society, its labor, and its commodities. Natural beauty remains the allegory of this beyond in spite of its mediation through social immanence. If, however, this allegory were substituted as the achieved state of reconciliation, it would be degraded as an aid for cloaking and legitimating the unreconciled world as one in which—as the claim goes—beauty is indeed possible.
From Adorno's Aesthetic Theory page 70-1:
Although what is beautiful and what is not cannot be categorically distinguished in nature, the consciousness that immerses itself lovingly in something beautiful is compelled to make this distinction. A qualitative distinction in natural beauty can be sought, if at all, in the degree to which something not made by human beings is eloquent: in its expression. What is beautiful in nature is what appears to be more than what is literally there. Without receptivity there would be no such objective expression, but it is not reducible to the subject; natural beauty points to the primacy of the object in subjective experience. Natural beauty is perceived both as authoritatively binding and as something incomprehensible that questioningly awaits its solution. Above all else it is this double character of natural beauty that has been conferred on art. Under its optic, art is not the imitation of nature but the imitation of natural beauty. [...] In natural beauty, natural and historical elements interact in a musical and kaleidoscopically changing fashion.
To insist on the primacy of the art object is to do ethics because it is a shift and deliberated acting in the subject-object relationship. But we mustn't state that the aesthetic relationship is a path to ethics because this is an instrumentalizing of that relationship and necessarily subsumes the object to the desires of the subject.
As indeterminate, as antithetical to definitions, natural beauty is indefinable, and in this it is related to music, which drew the deepest effects in Schubert from such nonobjective similarity with nature. Just as in music what is beautiful flashes up in nature only to disappear in the instant one tries to grasp it. Art does not imitate nature, not even individual instances of natural beauty, but natural beauty as such. This denominates not only the aporia of natural beauty but the aporia of aesthetics as a whole. Its object is determined negatively, as indeterminable. It is for this reason that art requires philosophy, which interprets it in order to say what it is unable to say, whereas art is only able to say it by not saying it. The paradoxes of aesthetics are dictated to it by its object [...]
The origin of this paradox is the character of nature's language.
[A]s in all authentic works, it is, rather, that the subject wants to fall silent by way of the work[....] Natural beauty is the trace of the nonidentical in things under the spell of universal identity. As long as this spell prevails, the nonidentical has no positive existence.
The totality of rationality in modern life is this spell; it's a black magic, so to say.

So, this requirement that philosophy speak of the meaning of the art object is a failure on the part of art.
ME: Does this make art criticism a double failure?
Changes in music or art happen and it doesn't happen ex nihilo, these changes need to happen at the times when they do because of the context from which the changes spring-up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Notes from the European Graduate School Forthcoming

I've just returned from another round of classes at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland and as I did last year, I will be posting the notes I took while there.

Here are the classes I sat:
I also have notes from the evening lectures by the above as well as the following:
These notes will be posted as quickly as I can type them up from my notebooks. I will do my best to embed the videos from the lectures as well as find .pdf's of the referenced materials as I did last year.