Tuesday, August 29, 2006

what I'm thinkin' on these days....

From Astradur Eysteinsson's The Concept of Modernism:

"Adorno has sought a solution to a paradox mentioned earlier in this chapter; he has gone far toward reconciling the oppositional conceptions of modernism as, on the one hand, an autonomous aesthetic practice and, on the other, a historical-cultural force. But on at least one level, it seems to me, this solution may have been bought at too high a price. While Adorno's outright rejection of intentionality and the validity of authorial-subjective expression may be justified, he goes too far in erasing the notion of any kind of social consciousness behind the creation of the work. Artists and writers, according to Adorno, should not think of themselves as critical agents, they should concentrate on formal matters, for what is socially determinant in works of art 'is content that articulates itself in formal structures'. Through the socially unconscious wielding of form, history would find its way into works of art, since it is an inherent part of them, whereby the works constitute themselves as an unconscious historiography of their age. There is a sense in which this certainly holds true, but as a general rule it borders on an essentialist reflection theory, and even though we may agree that form, in one way or another, is always historical, we do not have to share Adorno's rejection of artists and writers, such as Brecht, who self-consciously use their formal constructions as vehicles of more 'obtrusively' foregrounded social issues" (44).

I think he (Eysteinsson) doesn't quite get right how the dialectical relationship between the artist and the work, according to Adorno, does in fact include a socially conscious intentionality even as it inscribes this relationship formally. That is, Adorno is concerned with the relations of production, and the construction of works of art takes place within and outside these relations. Adorno's description of the modern artwork's evolution puts dialectical materialism at the service of Kantian aesthetics (or vice versa). There is a critical dynamic at work in the construction of the aesthetic object that includes both its maker and the objective reality of its form:

and here's Adorno in Aesthetic Theory:

"In emphatic opposition to the illusion of the organic nature of art, the material concept of the modern implies a conscious control over its means. Even here material production and artistic production converge"( 35).


"[T]he artists's metier never originates wholly out of a single work. No artist approaches his work with nothing but the eyes, ears, or linguistic capacity for just it. The realization of a specific work always presupposes qualities gained beyond the spell of the work's specification; only dilettantes confuse orginality with tabula rasa. Although it appears to be merely subjective, the totum of forces invested in the work is the potential presence of the collective according to the level of available productive forces: Windowless, it contains the monad. This is most strikingly evident in the critical corrections made by artists. In every improvement to which he is compelled, often enough in conflict with what he considers his primary impulse, the artist works as social agent, indifferent to society's own consciousness. He embodies the social forces of production without necessarily being bound by the censorship dictated by the relations of production, which he continually criticizes by following the rigors of his metier. In the many particular situations with which the work confronts its author there are always many available suultions, but the multiplicity of solutions is finite and surveyable as a whole. Metier sets boundaries against the bad infinity in works. It makes concrete what, in the language of Hegel's Logic, might be called the abstract possibility of artworks. Therefore every authentic artist is obsessed with technical procedures; the fetishism of means also has a legitimate aspect" (44-45).

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