Adorno notes (1)

Intuitability – The work must be intuitable in order to remain art. With no intuitable component art’s concept is exceeded. Yet intuitability today is so desperately affirmative of the status quo which loops back around in circles and expresses the most commodified and vulgarised of emotions, that art cannot help but force its way into the realm of intellectual reflection. This contradiction is part of the condition of art in the contemporary age – it is not resolvable for the time being.

Whereas long ago art relegated the ideal of pleasingness to musty antiquity, the theory of art has not been able to renounce the concept of intuitability, a monument to old-fashioned aesthetic hedonism, even though every modern artwork—by now even the older works—demands the labor of observation with which the doctrine of intuitability wanted to dispense. (pp. 123-124)

Abstraction – I have not yet read his book ‘Adorno for Revolutionaries’, although it’s high on my list, but Ben Watson’s assertion that you have to start from the commodity form (and not spirit) to really get Adorno, is I think totally correct. Ultimately abstraction in art is a revelation of the material essence of all commodities under capitalism. I.e. Commodities are abstract not because any individual subject gets all Platonic on them, but because exchange value abstracts from their incommensurable qualities, commensurable quantities represented in money (abstract socially necessary labour). The artwork forces us to recon with this abstraction, or let’s say art expresses the essence of social relations.

“New art is as abstract as social relations have in truth become.” (p. 39) “The absolute artwork converges with the absolute commodity.” (p. 28)

One step forward – In a previous post, I said the following:

The problem was that while [my previous thinking had a] general dialectic, these ideas could not take into account the discontinuity of the role and essence of art under different socio-economic systems, in different historical totalities. In short, it could conceive of the general genesis and line of the development of the productive forces of art, not their relations of production (or only very abstractly, all subsumed under the concept of ‘alienation from the social whole’). Practically what this means for a composer is that while there is a general raison d’être for continuing to write music (albeit a humble one), and a general orientation towards not giving up on the refinement of musical creation, despite the fact that this might be charged as ‘elitist’, it does not give you much of an orientation. The ‘development of the productive forces of music’ does not necessarily mean ‘more complexity’, it means ‘more refinement of the human spirit by way of the refinement of the object’. Complexity is absolute, refinement it relative. A simplification of sorts could be a refinement if it is the next step for the musical spirit of humanity.

Adorno says it like this:

As soon as new dimensions emerge in art, they refuse older ones and initially prefer impoverishment and the renunciation of false richness, even of highly developed forms of reaction. The process of spiritualisation is never linear progress. Its criterion of success is the ability of art to appropriate into its language of form what bourgeois society has ostracized, thereby revealing in what has been stigmatized that nature whose suppression is what is truly evil. (p. 122)

Spirit converges with intuitability in its negativity – “Spiritualization takes place not through ideas announced by art but by the force with which it penetrates layers that are intentionless and hostile to the conceptual.” (p. 122). This puts art in the position where the progress of spirit is potentially indiscernible from the progress of its reduction to the culture industry – is this a variant of “the absolute artwork converges with the absolute commodity.”

Dialectics against compromise – The constructive and expressive (mimetic) sides of music do not for Adorno ‘balance out’, but one is concretely realised through the unswerving realisation of the other. The big question is, this extremity, does art have the capacity to realise it anymore. How much further can you go than Beckett, than early Boulez, than John Cage? Artworks that today do often end up replicating a commodified and kitch version of these earlier ones. Do we not, by necessity imposed by history, have to break away from Adorno here? The challenge then, however, is to not lapse back into a pre-modern conception of harmony and balance between musical antinomies – that might produce pleasing art, but not great art… and is pleasing art possible as art today anyway? Of course, the inverse question arises, is great great art possible today?

Art is not to be reduced to the unquestionable polarity of the mimetic and the constructive, as if this were an invariant formulam, for otherwise works of high quality would be obliged to strike a balance between the two principles. But what was fruitful in modern art was what gravitated towards one of the extremes, not what sought to mediate between them; those works that strove after both, in search of synthesis, were rewarded with a dubious consensus. The dialectic of these elements is similar to dialectical logic, in that each pole realizes itself only in the other, and not in some middle ground. Construction is not the corrective of expression, nor does it serve as its guarantor by fulfilling the need for objectivation; … what survives of expressionism as something objective are those works that abstained from constructive organisation. (p. 55)

The Badiouian-Nicolasian resolution is to say that truth is found in neither of the two poles but in a supplementary principle whose effects on the whole must be tested out. Thing is, though, you can’t just say that and then move on, the Adornian problematic will always return with a vengeance.