Nov 7, 2007

Remediality and Adorno

Tonight we relaunched Remediality, a critical theory reading group I run. It's the first New York session since 2005 (we ran several sessions at Goldsmiths earlier this year, they proved quite popular).

Present were: Spiros, Ryan, Emanuel, Tom, Friedrich and myself.

We read from chapter 1 of Horkheimer & Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment, first published in 1944.

As Ryan succinctly put it, H+A argue that the Enlightenment is baaad. Linked with this, they offer a somewhat romantic view of the primitive pluralism that came before the Enlightenment. A few of their passing shots against Enlightenment and logos:

"Enlightenment is totalitarian."

"Only thought which does violence to itself is hard enough to shatter myths."

"Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence. It makes dissimilar things comparable by reducing them to abstract quantities. For the Enlightenment, anything which cannot be resolved into numbers, and ultimately into one, is illusion; modern positivism consigns it to poetry."

Horkheimer and Adorno make a connection between art, magic and mana (life force) - suggesting that art is a form of magic.

"Just as the sorcerer begins the ceremony by marking out from all its its surroundings the place in which the sacred forces are to come into play, each work of art is closed off from reality by its own circumference. The very renunciation of external effects by which art is distinguished from magical sympathy binds art only more deeply to the heritage of magic. This renunciation places the pure image in opposition to corporeal existence, the elements of which the image sublates within itself. It is in the nature of the work of art, of aesthetic illusion, to be what was experienced as a new and terrible event in the magic of primitives: the appearance of the whole in the particular. The work of art constantly reenacts the duplication by which the thing appeared as something spiritual, a manifestation of mana. That constitutes its aura."

Art as transcendental, as pure image, as aesthetic illusion, aura - is it just me, or is this the groundwork for the modernist Greenbergian world order that was to follow?

If people want the full text, I have it as a PDF file...

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