Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Fiction writer Lewis Robinson, an old friend of Emily's (they used to work together at Random House) is coming up to Ithaca for a short visit—his book of pungent, cinematically precise narratives about life in small-town Maine is called Officer Friendly and Other Stories. Just back from Wegmans with the materials for burgers and beer. He's our first houseguest and the house isn't quite finished, but oh well. This morning I was reading in Adorno's Aesthetic Theory, which is kind of like getting the wide end of the telescope of aesthetics—the narrow end being Kant's Critique of Judgment, which I'm also reading. Last night our little group took up the Analytic of the Beautiful and got kind of bogged down on what exactly Kant means by "simple colors" (einfache Farben) and why he describes the so-called "ideal of beauty" as being some kind of groundless ground for impure aesthetic judgments... oh, don't get me started. The Adorno is a surprisingly rich reading experience, crammed full of aphorisms, and not so different in tone and form from the other great aphoristic text of his that I'm familiar with, Minima Moralia. It's a little bit like reading an endless version of one of Emerson's essays: almost every sentence is like a flash of lightning, with comparatively little in the way of rhetorical connection between the sentences. Infamously, the book lacks chapters or even indented paragraph breaks, which certainly contributes to a sense of its difficulty, or at least monolithicness (monolithicity?). It's not actually all that difficult, just dense as hell—it took me two hours to read about fifteen pages. Here are some of the sentences I find most provocative:
Artworks are alive in that they speak in a fashion that is denied to natural objects and the subjects who make them (5).

If it is more than mere indifference, the Kantian "without interest" must be shadowed by the wildest interest, and there is much to be said for the idea that the dignity of artworks depends on the intensity of the interest from which they are wrested (11).

Art's promesse due bonheur means not only that hitherto praxis has blocked happiness but that happiness is beyond praxis (12).

The bourgeois want art voluptuous and life ascetic: the reverse would be better (13).

The humiliating difference between art and the life people lead, and in which they do not want to be bothered because they could not bear it otherwise, must be made to disappear: This is the subjective basis for classifying art among the consumer goods under the control of vested interests (16-17).

The new wants nonidentity, yet intention reduces it to identity; modern art constantly works at the Munchhausean trick of carrying out the identification of the nonidentical (23).

If art were to free itself from the once perceived illusion of duration, were to internalize its own transience in sympathy with the ephemeral life, it would approximate an idea of truth conceived not as something abstractly enduring but in consciousness of its temporal essence (28-9).

Among the dangers faced by new art, the worst is the absence of danger (29).

New art is as abstract as social relations have become (31).

Art is no more able than theory to concretize utopia, not even negatively (32).

The idea of a moderate modernism is self-contradictory because it restrains aesthetic rationality (35).

For the most part, experimentation takes shape as the testing of possibilities, usually of types and species; it therefore tends to degrade the concrete work to a mere example: This is one of the reasons for the aging of new art. Certainly aesthetic means and ends cannot be separated, yet almost by its concept experimentation is primarily concerned with means and content to leave the world waiting in vain for the ends (37).

To survive reality at its most extreme and grim, artworks that do not want to sell themselves as consolation must equate themselves with that reality. Radical art today is synonymous with dark art; its primary color is black (39).

The share of subjectivity in the artwork is itself a piece of objectivity (41). [Pure Kant!]

By virtue of its mimetic preindividual elements, every idiosyncrasy lives from collective forces of which it is unconscious (42).

Art brings to light what is infantile in the ideal of being grown up. (43).

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 métier.... Métier sets boundaries against the bad infinity in works. It makes concrete what, int he 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 (43-4).

The fragment is that part of the totality of the work that opposes totality (45).
Invigorating stuff. That last remark, plus the description of the Barbara Guest event on CorpsePoetics, makes me want to go sit in the backyard with the dog and her Selected Poems right now. I'ma gonna do it.

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