Aesthetics as Critique: Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory
C221 | CCN: 78117
Instructor: Rob Kaufman
Date / Time: Tu 2-5P, 4104 DWINELLE
This seminar (which is cross-listed as Rhetoric 221 and Critical Theory 205) is not an introduction to Theodor W. Adorno’s work; rather, it will involve sustained reading and discussion of Adorno’s last major text, which he was still finishing at the time of his 1969 death: Aesthetic Theory (1970). We will be reading Robert Hullot-Kentor’s English translation ofÄsthetische Theorie; though we will sometimes briefly consider the original German text, knowledge of German is not required (though it would of course prove very helpful).
What makes possible such sustained reading of a dense, famously difficult work, is at least some familiarity with figures, texts, and artistic, aesthetic, and political movements that Aestheic Theory assumes its readers to have had some acquaintance with, including –among many others–Kant, Hegel, Marx and Engels, Lukács, the French Revolutions of 1789, 1830, 1848, and 1871, Lenin, the Bolshevik Revolution, Marxism-Leninism, Romanticism, Realism, Symbolism, Naturalism, Modernism, Dada, Surrealism, Avant-Gardism, Social and Socialist Realism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Postmoderrnism!!!
It’s worth knowing that Adorno’s final text is written with the expectation–though it won’t be our expectiation or prerequisite–that its readers will have previously encountered, for example: Kant’s Critique of Judgment; Hegel’s Lectures on the Fine Arts and Phenomenology of Spirit; Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, andDas Kapital (esp. the chapter-section “The Secret of Commodity Fetishism”); Marx and Engels’ The German Ideology andThe Communist Manifesto; Walter Benjamin’s “One-Way Street,” “The Storyteller,” “Surrealism,” “The Author as Producer,” “Conversations with Brecht,” “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility [Mechanical Reproduction],” “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” “On the Concept of History [Theses on the Philosophy of History],” The Origins of the German Play of Mourning, and The Arcades Project; as well as Adorno and/or Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, “On Lyric Poetry and Society,” “Cultural Criticism and Society,” “Commitment [Engagement],” “The Essay as Form,” “Parataxis”, Minima Moralia, and Negative Dialectics. (Take a deep breath–and then realize that, depending on how you feel at any given moment, it gets better–or worse: that is, what you’ve just read has been, incredibly enough, a very minimal listing!)
Meanwhile, Aesthetic Theory offers sustained and repeated yet often extraordinarily compressed responses to some celebrated political and aesthetic/critical-theory debates, and does so on yet another assumption: that Aesthetic Theory’s readers are aware not only of these debates, but of the histories of key concepts and phenomena at issue within them, such as: the status of objectivist conceptuality vs. aesthetic quasi- or extra-conceptuality; the notions, in art and critical theory, of the constellation and force-field; the concepts of use-value, exchange value, and reflective-judgment value; mechanical/technical/technological reproduction’s value, over/against aesthetic value; art’s political commitment (or engagement) vs. its aesthetic/artistic autonomy; mass, popular, and conceptually undetermined culture; relations among subjectivity, critical agency, and class consciousness.
And finally, Aesthetic Theory presumes that among the artists we as readers will know include Cervantes, Shakespeare,Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Hölderlin, Shelley, Byron, Dickens, Robert Browning, Swinburne, Mörike, Rilke, Stefan George, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Zola, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Ibsen, Strindberg, Eliot, Pound, William Carlos Williams, the Surrealists,Brecht, Lorca, Sartre, Joyce, Beckett, Celan, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Berg, Webern, Schönberg, Weill, Eisler, Boulez, Cage, Stockhausen, Goya, David, Ingres, Delacroix, Gericault, Courbet, Manet, Cezanne, Monet, Picasso, Braque, Grosz, Gris, Léger, Pollock, Kline, Rothko, Guston….
Our first one or two class sessions will be devoted to an extremely brisk sketching of the earlier texts, figures, political/artistic/critical movements, and concepts mentioned above (starting with the Kant and continuing through writings by Adorno and his Frankfurt School colleagues). The major part of the semester’s undertakings–-our close, careful reading of Aesthetic Theory–-will then seek, starting in the second or third session, to understand, interpret, and respond to the text’s treatments of modern art’s development on its own terms, and in relation to mostly Kantian, Hegelian, Marxian,and earlier Frankfurt Critical-Theory traditions of aesthetics and critique. We’ll pay ongoing attention to how and why the imaginative, potentially intersubjective activity traditionally understood to be at the heart of aesthetic experience turns out, with various twists, to be crucial too to Adorno’s overall analyses of modernity, mechanical/technical/technological reproduction and reproducibility (in both the economic and artistic-aesthetic spheres), and critical agency. We’ll also consider how Aesthetic Theory’s concerns and legacies might engage the changed sociopolitical circumstances–-and the changed artistic-aesthetic, critical-theoretical tendencies¬—-of the last four decades. Among the seminar’s emphases will be an ongoing inquiry into how attention to artworks’ formal, stylistic, and philosophical-theoretical dynamics (the relation of artistic technique to aesthetic form and aesthetic experience) may offer stimulus toward, and insight into, historical, sociopolitical, and ethical understanding and engagement.
–Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (University of Minnesota Press, 1997); paper; ISBN: 0-8166-18003
–Robert Hullot-Kentor, Things Beyond Resemblance: Collected Essays on Theodor W. Adorno (New York: Colubmia UP, 2006), Paper, ISBN: 978-0-231-13659-4
–Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia (Verso, 1974); paper; ISBN: 0-86091-704-5
–Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature volume one(Columbia University Press; 1991); paper; ISBN: 0-231-06333-4
–Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature volume two(Columbia University Press; 1992); paper; ISBN: 0-231-06913-8
–Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms (MIT Press, 1967), latest paper edition, ISBN: 0-262-51025-1
–Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Continuum; 1987); paper; ISBN: 0-8264-0093-0; or latest edition
–Theodor W. Adorno and Walter Benjamin, The Complete Correspondence: 1928-1940 (translation copyright Polity Press, 1999; first Harvard UP paper edition, 2001); paper; ISBN: 0-674-00689-5
–Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (Shocken, 1968); paper; latest edition; ISBN: 0-8052-0241-2
–Walter Benjamin, Reflections (Schocken, 1978); paper; latest edition; ISBN: 0-8052-0802-X
–Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Harvard UP; 1999; 1st Harvard UP paper edition, 2002); paper; ISBN: 0-674-00802-2
Suggested Reading (also to be ordered by the bookstore for the course):
–Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination, Rev’d edition (University of California Press, 1996); paper
–Martin Jay, Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of A Concept from Lukács to Habermas (University of California Press, 1984)
–Martin Jay, Adorno (Harvard University Press, 1984)
–Rolf Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories, and Political Significance (German edition, 1986; English: MIT Press, 1994)
–Fredric Jameson, Late Marxism; Adorno, or the Persistence of the Dialectic (Verso, 1990; 2007)
–Susan Buck-Morss, The Origins of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt Institute(The Free Press, 1977)
–Thomas Wheatland, The Frankfurt School in Exile (U Minnesota Press, 2009)