Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Martin Hielscher on Adorno's Aesthetics Day (3)

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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.

[END OF CLASS]

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