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MICHELLE HOLMES

Post-aesthetic ethics: a critical discussion of Theodor Adornos theory of artistic non-identity


Introduction
Theodor Adornos demand for and attempt to inaugurate a nonsubsumptive form of metaphysical philosophy is to be understood as a critique of Hegels affirmative dialectical system (identity thinking). Auschwitz both instantiates the most compelling indictment against the continuation of identity-thinking and substantiates the claim for the release of sensuous particularity (the object) from under the jack-boot of conceptual universality (the subject). I intend to deal with the problem of identity-thinking through an elaboration of Adornos aesthetic theory as philosophy which indirectly attempts to deconstruct Hegels system through a direct confrontation with Kantian rationality. Modernitys Kantian landscape of categorical separations of truth, ethics and beauty both condemn art to failure and give it potential for a critical force which philosophy alone cannot provide. This constitutes the ultimate paradox of the autonomous modern artwork. Within this, I shall explore Adornos conceptions of mimesis and sublimity as providing the keys both to a reinscription of the Kantian category of the aesthetic within a post-aesthetic theory, and an alternative critical notion of experiential truth capable of transcending the closure of metaphysical idealism. I shall be raiding the Lacanian cupboard to assist in drawing out Adornos own notions of impossibility, lack and excess as they circulate through and beyond the aesthetic into relations with the reified empirical real and its attendant logic of commodification through exchange. The primary aims of the paper will be the presentation of an adequate exposition of some of Adornos major themes and critical concepts, together with an analysis of how his specifically modernist aesthetics become transformed when read against the grain of contemporary debates

48 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 concerning the collapse of autonomous/heteronomous distinctions in a postmodern cultural context. Within the limited scope of the paper, my examination of aesthetic and post-aesthetic praxis will be necessarily limited to an exposition of major theoretical themes and points of contention, as opposed to an analysis of their application to any specific artworks or movements.

Aesthetics as philosophy

1 Negative dialectics
Adornos dialectical theory constitutes a critique of Hegels system, which produces dogmatic truth, and method, which dissolves dogmatism, evacuating the former and retaining elements of the latter in the interests of the production of historically conditioned truth: Dialectical theory [. . .] insist[s], in opposition to Hegels practice and yet in accordance with his thought on negativity.1 Adornos form of dialectical critique proceeds by way of employing a strategy of antinomical thought in the form of fragments and aphorisms, for instance in Minima Moralia, and a dialectical method in the form of a theory of negativity. In this way, Adornian negative dialectics may be understood as a kind of proto-deconstructivism, rehearsing the identification of aporias and antinomies through engagement with the texts of his philosophical predecessors. His intertextual production of a metaphysics capable of doing justice to the suffering of Auschwitz, may be loosely understood here in terms of a confrontation with Hegelian subjectivism through the extension and reformulation of Kantian categorialism. Within this, the critique of idealism entails its own overcoming, an overcoming of the standpoint of the devouring rage of the subject at all differences from itself: Our aim is total self-relinquishment.2 Adornos theory indicates two possible routes to this overcoming: negative dialectics and philosophical aesthetics. Unlike Hegels system, in which heterogeneous elements would be reclaimed dialectically through the principle of the negation of the negation, Adorno announces the principle of negative dialectics which refuses any affirmation or positivity. Negative dialectics is the principle of non-identity. Adorno uses Hegels materials, particularly the matrix of subject, object and mediation, but in a thoroughly negative and de-systematic manner, giving conceptuality a turn towards non-identity. Adornos theory of identity deconstructs the absolute positivity of identity by posing non-identity as its antithesis. Within this, the goal is to

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 49 use concepts to unseal the non-conceptual with concepts, without making it their equal (ND 12). That is, to reverse traditional metaphysical philosophys instrumental use of objects (sensuous particulars), which turns them into finite non-things (universals) for its own philosophical ends; rather, negative dialectical philosophy gives itself to objects, thereby opening up an infinity of metaphysical reflection and critique. This incorporation of the infinite in relation to finite knowledge situates his project on the grounds of a post-Hegelian Kantianism. As such, his theory retains an indecisive speculative moment of transcendence in the utopian concept of rational identity3 as a futural possibility based, not upon a progressive developmental synthesis of actualisation, but rather upon a historical conjectural affinity. However, this transcendent promise of utopian reconciliation, although presently enigmatic and, as such, marked by impossibility, is mediated by the concrete social fact that even concepts, as the apotheosis of identity thinking, relate to a non-conceptual social reality which required their formation. In other words, consciousness is not self-grounded, identical to itself, but is split (mediated) internally, and therefore originally, by the historical constitution of social facts and social process. Consequently, subject and object should not be treated neutrally as equal but different. Given the historical context of enlightenment rationality, actualised in Auschwitz as confirmation of [. . .] the philosopheme of pure identity as death [. . .] genocide as [. . .] the absolute integration (ND 362), Adornos philosophy is compelled to grant the position of a corrective to common sense (ND 364). Specifically, if thought is not measured by the extremity of the concept, it is from the outset in the nature of the musical accompaniment with which the SS liked to drown out the screams of its victims (ND 365). In short, damage compensation must prioritise the sensuous particularity of the object over the conceptual scheme of the subsumptive subject as a matter or moral urgency. Methodologically, the weaving together of immanence and transcendence in mutual antinomical constellation,4 whereby neither pole is permitted the satiation of either reconciliation or subsumption, forms the basis for a negative dialectical critique capable of prioritising the object without either falling into vengeful reversal or denying its continued participation in the violent history of rationalisation, as its affinity to barbarism. Substantively, Adornos metaphysics are experientially grounded in the performance of non-identity in autonomous modern artworks. It necessarily follows that his aesthetic discourse enables another discourse, that is, another metaphysics capable of transforming the Hegelian metaphysics of affirmative synthesis. Assimilated to philosophical metaphysics, in

50 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 Adornos hands, Kantian aesthetics becomes an impure aesthetics, a postaesthetic praxis which self-reflexively stands both inside and outside modernity as its object. This inside/outside (immanent/transcendent) relation of contradiction, however, is no accidental theoretical by-product; rather, it is the matrix of guilt and its irreconcilability with living [. . .] which [. . .] compels us to philosophise (ND 3645).

2 Auschwitz as event and fulfilment


It is Auschwitz as event which stands as a breach in the progression of universal history, unravelling the Hegelian system, the dying of human death dislocating the narration and meaning of progress. As such, Auschwitz should not be understood in terms of an anomaly; rather, the structural logic between Auschwitz and the reification of individuals in labour power which fulfils itself in the destruction of metaphysical meaning and of individuality itself, reveals the continuous logical fulfilment of instrumental rationality as the actualisation of capitalist commodification. Auschwitz as the ultimate rationalisation and disenchantment of the human subject and the world stands as a moral indictment against both the metaphysics of the Hegelian possessing subject of history which would be unchanged in its positive affirmation of events as achieved progress, and against the continuation of dominant processes of desocialisation of society. Adornos negative dialectical critique of Hegelian metaphysics, which incorporates both the philosophical and sociological grounds for reconstituting the object of particularity in freedom from the subjects possessing concepts (non-identity), finds its analogue in Marxs theory of value, whereby the underlying social process is revealed as one of inherent contradiction. Adorno interprets the demand issuing from the post-historical landscape of Auschwitz as a moral demand for the materialist transformation of culture which must be based, not upon protest or denial, but upon active engagement derived from critical understanding; a rearrangement [. . .] of our thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself (ND 365). In Kantian vein, this amounts to the demand for a new categorical imperative5 based upon the critique of reason. As such, Adornos critique, situated within the socio-historical terrain of enlightenment rationality as the modern form of reason, must engage in a critical reformulation of Kantian cognitive morality. In order to perform this enlightenment of enlightenment, admission must be granted to the somatic experience of suffering.6 The mediation of cognitive reason must internally extend the bounds of modern rationality, from the immutable rational concept as the

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 51 sole arbiter of truth and morality to the contingency and ephemerality of empirical life as the basis for a new kind of cognitive morality.

3 Critique of Kants third Critique


Adornos reflections on aesthetics continue the post-Kantian German philosophical tradition of treating the domain of art and aesthetics as a political domain and thereby the means through which modernity, as the separation of truth, morality and judgement,7 may be overcome.8 As distinct from Hegels diagnosis of the death of art after its aestheticisation and alienation from understanding and reason and therefore the end of its ethical reach, Adornos critique of Kants third Critique (1790)9 theorises the autonomy of art in terms of its unmatched potential for dialectical critique of modernitys categorial divisions.10 Indeed, it is precisely the fact of modern artworks paradoxical autonomy which uniquely positions art both inside (as commodity subject to exchange value) and outside (as useless artefacts retaining the traces of use-value) modernity and, consequently, establishes its basis as potential for negative critique. Artworks themselves provide concrete intimation of the possibility of nonidentity. Although, as we have seen, Adornos dialectical critique involves a moment of transcendence, this moment never assumes a Hegelian Archimedean position imposing concepts from above in the interests of totality; rather, it is inherently mediated by the anti-subjectivism of immanence which refers concepts back to the existent reality of objects themselves. Consequently, dialectical critique takes its cue from the artworks themselves, seeking failure in the work; that is, the irreconcilibility between sensuous particularity and universal form. In other words, to succeed in terms of the achievement of non-identity is to fail utterly. This negative expression of harmony, for instance in the fragmented montages of cubist painting, the absurdity and the refusal of reconciliation in Beckett and Kafka, constitutes the embodiment of social contradiction in artistically mediated form. This performative expression of the relations between universal concepts and particular objects allows a thinking through of these relations otherwise than through the dominant lens of identity. Adopted from Benjamins notion of configuration11 as a subjectless form of expression found in the medium of art, the relational constellation between content and form in the work demonstrates a permanent friction between subject and object which implicates the exteriority of each within the interiority of the other. That is, their constellation indicates a non-oppressive totality within which emancipated particulars are opened to their own mediation, non-identical otherness as the constitutive condition of self-identity.

52 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 Nevertheless:


Due to the inequality inherent in the concept of mediation the subject enters into the object altogether differently from the way that the object enters into the subject. An object can be conceived only by a subject but always remains something other than the subject, whereas a subject by its very nature is from the outset an object as well. (ND 183)

It is modern arts ability to resist subsumption and unification of particulars (Kantian intuitions) under the oppressive totality of concepts (Kantian cognition) which provides the grounds for an experiential (somatic) metaphysical alternative to truth-only cognition. As mere things, modern expressive works do not represent meaning, as in realism; rather, they intrinsically express meaning, thereby evading instrumentality and holding out on the exchangeability of commodification through uniqueness. It is their incomprehensibility, their arational reason which stages a critical confrontation with the empirical confinement of irrational rationality (capitalism).12 As Adorno puts it: Aesthetics cannot hope to grasp works of art if it treats them as hermeneutical objects. What [. . .] needs to be grasped is their incomprehensibility.13 Moreover, within this incomprehensibility, modern works hold open the promise of sensuous satisfaction mediating existent social reality obliquely via expressive reference to a presently inconceivable utopian sociability. In this way, autonomous art translates the empirical social world indirectly, refusing the direct undialectical participation of realism and committed art and their ultimately conciliatory gestures of representation and protest. Adorno writes: Cathecting the repressed, art internalises the repressing principle, i.e. the unredeemed condition of the world (Unheil), instead of merely airing futile protests against it. It is this, and not the photographic rendering of the unredeemed state [. . .] that defines the position of authentic modern art towards a gloomy objectivity.14

The paradox of autonomy

1 Kant: purposiveness without purpose


Through this short excursion into the Kantian categorical divisions between cognitive understanding (truth), moral reason (right action) and aesthetics (judgement), we have seen the introduction of the autonomy of art and judgement (aesthetics). The principle of autonomy is fundamental to Adornos project, although not without its own antinomies. In fact, it is precisely the paradoxical nature of autonomy which gives artworks their critical force.

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 53 Kants formulation of the paradox was in his famous description of art as purposiveness without purpose and it is this original relation which Adorno engages in dialectical critique. If artworks are, on the one hand, external to truth and morality that is, without purpose in cognitive and moral terms on the other, they gain an internal objectivity that is, purposefulness in themselves and, therefore, a claim to universal aesthetic judgement. Thus, Kant not only inaugurates the autonomy of art through its aestheticisation, but also instantiates the disarticulation of beauty as an objective criterion for the judgement of taste. Consequently, truth becomes secured as the guarantor of theoretical and practical reason.15 Within Adornos post-aesthetic theory, it is precisely modern arts disinterested aestheticisation (its exclusion from categorial truth and morality) which constitutes its ability to immanently critique cognitive and moral truth claims. However, in a further twist of the paradoxical autonomy of modern works, if artworks themselves are both meaningful and purposeful in their internal composition of non-identity, these qualities are, nevertheless neither true nor practical within the bounds of modern rationality and, therefore, remain excluded. In other words, without an adequately receptive consciousness, the sublimated messages of artistic expression will remain as repressed particularities subsumed under universal concepts. Within the confines of empirical reality, The object of aesthetics determines itself as indeterminable, negative. That is why art needs philosophy to interpret it. Philosophy says what art cannot say, although it is art alone which is able to say it, by not saying it (AT 107). The autonomous character of art also strikes it mute, requiring that it enlist philosophys ability to articulate its purposeful meaning. The joining together of these two halves of a torn whole that does not add up within post-aesthetic theory places art in the position of simultaneous critical selfreflection on the one hand, and an acknowledgement of its participation in the continuation of modern (Kantian) aesthetic art on the other.

2 The social and aesthetic contents of autonomy


For Adorno, although the Kantian categories remain determining and regulative of reality, they themselves are determined socio-historically.16 Consequently, the predicament of modern art, its condemnation to failure, is tied specifically to the reification and commodification of society under the particular historical conditions of monopoly capitalism. In this way, aesthetic autonomy translates socio-historical autonomy. Arts loss of social purpose, through exclusion from the empirical structures of rationalized means-ends relations as actualised exchange-value, creates the illusion that some things are not for exchange. Additionally, arts refusal

54 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 to submit to purposiveness by establishing its own status as useless object constitutes its resistance to exchangeability, thereby bringing social exchange value dominance to critical awareness. The non-identity of its inner dynamic, its retaining the primacy of particularity in the face of conceptual domination, rather than its conscious political engagement, constitute arts sociality: The unresolved antagonisms of reality reappear in art in the guise of immanent problems of artistic form. This, and not the deliberate injection of objective moments of social content, defines arts relation to society.17 However, as has been intimated, the position and internal dynamics of autonomous art engenders contradiction all the way down. As a pure form of autonomy, art would take on the form of a purely empirical object, a sheer existence which [. . .] thought would [. . .] fail to come to grips with and thus abandon the moment of freedom and spontaneity.18 That is, arts relative autonomy and dependency provides the critical matrix which enables it to mediate what Brecht has called and Adorno reiterated, the mansion built [. . .] of dogshit that is culture and thereby retain that crucial gap between things as they are and things as they may one day appear in the messianic light (ND 366).19 Like all objects within modernity, art is also subject to the laws of objectification and therefore takes on the figure of a fetish even while it seeks internally to transcend the confines of empirical reality to reconfigure objects in freedom; moreover, even this reconfiguration itself is a form of reification: Art kills what it objectifies (AT 193). Secondly, arts refusal to recognise its own dependence on material conditions, while a form of false-consciousness, is yet also that which enables it to deny the reality principle (existing social conditions of exchange).20 The self-conscious exposure of itself as illusion also exposes the contingent, illusory character of the realm of commodities. In this way, the social and aesthetic characters of autonomy constitute a double movement of construal and denial of the status quo through immanent critique

Mimesis

1 Kant: relations between intuitions and cognition reformulated


As we have seen, Adornos privileging of autonomous art is on the basis of its inherent ability to reformulate the Kantian relations between intuitive sense-perceptions (particularity) and cognitive concepts (universality) in the interests of extending the limits of admissible truth content. Adorno sketches the problem: Experiences, which were the first to determine the noema at all, are trivialized into accidents, which play into

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 55 the content as its sheer quality and, so to speak, recur contingently while, as in scholasticism, the quiddity of the object, the sheer form of predication, is granted autonomy (AT 168). Within autonomous works, however, this order of priority is not reversed; rather it is dislocated and reformulated through the key concept of mimetic affinity. The synthesising form of works, although approximate to conceptual synthesis, nevertheless restrains the totalising impulse of conceptual selfidentity, and in this way preserves the relative autonomy of sensuous particularity of the material content. This is not the free-play of signifiers released from subsumption under signifieds as much of poststructural deconstruction would have it; rather, form and content are deeply implicated in one another, their mutual mediation barring the possibility of pure freedom. Such freedom would simply reconstitute an absolute selfidentity as non-identity and thus reinstate complicity with the equivalences wrought by capital through a failure to dialectically critique negatively. Framed alternatively, the deconstruction of identity may follow one of two routes: either towards a bad infinity21 of particulars preserved in their immediacy; or towards a principled infinity of particulars which submit themselves to their own alterity. The achievement of non-identical synthesis substantiates modern arts rejection of tradition (i.e., art of the past) and its subsumption and domestication within the canon of conceptual subjectivism. This rejection takes the form of a critical battle with cognition for the sake of cognitionotherwise: a non-subsumptive form of knowing which incorporates the exclusions of cognitive and practical rationalised synthesis into an internal constellatory relation with an experiential synthesis. The metaphysics of the work are an historically constituted metaphysics which would embody the moral demand for a new categorical imperative in the wake of Auschwitz as the apotheosis of cognition in its instrumentalist form as an inability to love. In this way, art becomes protest, a generalised Brechtian alienation effect (Verfremdungseffekt) played out in the coldness22 of the modern social landscape.

2 Form and content 5 non-identity


Modern autonomous art, then, comes to stand in for the futural possibility of a presently impossible task that is, thought working through its own reification and thereby takes on the role of social mediation. Adorno sketches the impossibility of overcoming this task through the identity of concepts: That a something could stand in for the infinity of its possibilities,

56 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 may be valid for mathematical manifolds, but is hardly so for anything material whose participation in a totem and its qualityless permutability is not defined beforehand.23 Yet the non-identity of particulars in the materiality of works is testament to this infinity of possibilities, a refusal of closure and an insistence upon the aporia or gap in an otherwise synthetic unity.24 The form of the work, as medium, is the attempt towards unity and, therefore, analogous to conceptuality in terms of its transcendence of sensuous material content. However, as we have seen, the dialectics of form and content is a negative dialectic which reconfigures conceptuality in mimetic affinity with objects, thereby dislocating the instrumentality of possessing concepts. Form itself, mediated by the metaphysics of experience, acknowledges exteriority as constitutive of its immediacy, configures itself as the sedimentation of content. This becoming of form is what Adorno calls the spiritualisation at work in the work which refers to rationalisation itself as that which drives the work towards autonomous identity. As rationality-otherwise, that is as aesthetic rationality, the achievement of autonomy is that which enables the work to immanently critique cognitive rationality from within its own extended form of rationality.25

3 An ethics of love
Adornos concept of mimetic affinity, then, is an attempt to concretely demonstrate the dialectical process through which art attempts to disalienate the alienation of subject and object negatively. This process enacts a materialisation of consciousness whereby consciousness objectifies itself in the work through productive labour on artistic materials, depending upon the material unconscious of sensation, mimetic impulses and spontaneity in order to transform itself into a productive force.26 Within this, the materialisation of consciousness is tied to the material non-identity continually suppressed in the progress of civilisation.27 As suppression increases within the expansion of capital, so too must the instrumentality of rationality as the drive for self-preservation within an increasingly claustrophobic Weberian iron cage of reification. In the absence of the possibility of political engagement, it is to works of art that has fallen the burden of wordlessly asserting what is barred to politics . . . politics has migrated into autonomous works, and nowhere more so than where these seem politically dead.28 Adornos famous statement about the migration of politics raises two significant points: firstly, as suppression increases, modern works are required to increase their own form of rationality in

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 57 order to maintain effective critique of increased instrumental rationality and, consequently, appear more politically dead; and, secondly, as the coldness of self-preservation through instrumental rationality also increases, modern works become an ethical representative for an impossible politics. In contrast to instrumental rationalitys narcissistic desire for control of the other through a devouring conceptual cognition as truth, modern works inscribe an ethical desire as mimetic affinity with the other through the extension of cognitive truth. The experiential truth of the work forms the basis for Adornos ethical commitment to a futural utopian non-identity as the reverse of the coldness of bourgeois subjectivism. Adornos ethics constitute a commitment to the ability to love.

4 The Lacanian dialectics of desire


While many of Jacques Lacans abiding concerns spanning the five decades of his work bear close resemblance to Adornos the deconstruction of all identity, including individual subjectivity, and the totalisation of society as a closed object; capitalism (which Lacan refers to as the service of goods) and its amputation of human desire as the truth of the impossibility of totalising knowledge; the designed misconstrual of existence and the mystification of the social process through the manipulative products of the Culture Industry (which Lacan refers to as profuse culture29), to name just a few it is his Hegelian-inspired use of particular concepts and logics pertaining to the understanding of subjects and objects in the relations of split identity which find their closest analogue in Adornos negative dialectical and aesthetic theories. Given this, a short detour into the Lacanian dialectics of desire will provide further illumination of the contours of Adornos ethical project. While Freud formulated his theories of the psyche in terms of concepts heavily overlain with biological and mechanistic frames of reference constitutive of his time and cultural milieu, Lacans access particularly to structuralist and poststructuralist thought enabled a return to Freud which succeeded in evacuating the pervasive constitutionalism from psychoanalysis and reinterpreting the relations between the unconscious and human society in cultural terms. In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Freud first conceived of desire in metaphysical terms as the relationship between an object and the focusing of the libidinal desire to have (object cathexis). Objectival desire, as the desire for an object, presupposes the subject as an ontological entity capable of representing this object to itself; hence, the subject of desire.30

58 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 However, in later formulations, Freud conceived of a subjectival desire as the narcissistic desire to be (identification) which presupposes the absence of individualistic subjectivity and, therefore, avoids the reinscription of the metaphysical subject.31 Narcissistic desire, then, is the desire to be an I which, because I am not it, is the desire to be an Other who I would like to be. This other is none other than the alter-ego in whom I love myself that is, the Other to myself which I am. Within this formulation, the Kantian distinction between object and subject is dissolved as it becomes incorporated into the ego, and the finite conditions of possibility of knowledge extended to the infinite conditions of impossibility of self-knowledge through the originary split between the unconscious and the conscious. It is here that Lacan engages Freud in the critique of human subjectivity, proposing the mirror phase, and specifically the mechanisms by which the narcissistic ego emerges as an alienated form of self-consciousness, in response to Freuds unresolved questions concerning the psychic conditions necessary to the emergence of narcissism.32 At the time of his 1936 thesis on the mirror phase Lacan was deeply influenced by the French Surrealist movement which rejected the hegemony of Cartesian positivist notions of the subject as the seat of rationality. Particularly influenced by Cailloiss early-1930s studies of mimicry33 and building on Freuds observations of the compulsion of the ego to make false connections when true causation is unavailable to consciousness, Lacan formulated the notion of subjectivity as dialectically emergent within the relations between unconscious knowledge of the self and its distorted representations within external visual structures. Within this dialectical distortion, the ego emerges as an alienated form of subjective knowledge; a necessary formation of illusory identity within psychic processes of identification based upon the literal misrecognition of the fragmented body in its totalising imago of unity. In terms of the relations between self and other in the concept of desire, the mirror phase is constituted by the dyadic ties between infant and mother, an Oedipal drama in which the infant seeks to be the imaginary lost object of the mothers desire. The prohibition of the infants incestuous desires through the injunction of a third term, the Name of the Father marks both the infants entry into the cultural sphere of intersubjectivity and the impossibility of this primal desire which must be subsequently repressed.34 Desire itself, therefore, is signified by a lack, an impossibility which differentiates it from both need, which may be satisfied by an object, and demand, which may be responded to via the offering of an object to satisfy need. Desire, alternatively, is constituted in the Lacanian Symbolic register as that which cannot be satiated, as it refers to the repression of the

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 59 original impossible wish for a return to unified being with the mOther in the Imaginary register; in short, desire comes into being through the experience of absence and, therefore, can never be satiated by the presence of an object or by a response to demand. Lacans early work drew heavily on the neo-Hegelian dialectics of recognition in formulating his concept of desire and its role within the relations between self and other. Desire here appears as the Hegelian third term in a dialectical reworking of Freuds biologically derived concept of libido. Biologically driven needs are reformulated as a dialectical scheme of progressive transformation through negation needdemanddesire which, however, cannot be unified within a synthesis of objective truth. Desire, marked by an impossible lack, unlike Hegels Weltgeist, cannot be completed or enact closure and therefore corresponds to Adornos constellation of subject and object in non-identity. Indeed, Lacans abiding distrust and critique of what he called ego-psychology as the guarantor of the bourgeois dream shares a functional correspondence with Adornos distrust and critique of phenomenology and its existential and hermeneutical offshoots on the basis of their mutual complicity with and reinscription of the illusion of individual subjectivism. Lacan writes: The movement that the world we live in is caught up in, of wanting to establish the universal spread of the service of goods as far as conceivably possible, implies an amputation, sacrifice, indeed a kind of puritanism in the relationship to desire that has occurred historically.35 Similarly, Lacan refuses the simplicity of pure denial or protest: since in denouncing it I reinforce it by normalizing it, that is, perfecting it, sharing with Adorno the view on the impossibility of politics within the context of the capitalist logic of recuperation.36 Within psychoanalysis, this logic is materialised in the repressing logic of the superego which recuperates desire, transforming it into a pseudo-desire of injunction: The superego is fucking articulated as an imperative: Fuck!37 The barring of the metaphysical signified subject shares with Adorno the notion of the impossibility of rational identity in the context of Symbolic social law, and the priority of the object over the subject. Although Lacans subject in his middle (structuralist) period work is the speaking subject whose desire is constituted in the Symbolic not as a primal desire for the mother, but as a desire to control language as the source of Being, and is therefore set apart from Adornos critique of rationality itself, language and rationality here share the same structural logic. Lacans speaking subject and Adornos rational subject both constitute desire in commodified society as the desire to devour the object through conceptual domination.

60 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 The Lacanian subject is not discretely present to itself as the Kantian knowing subject in its difference from the known object. The Lacanian subject is nothing but the split constituted by its own radical alterity and which produces it as an indissolubly social subjectivity. As Stavrakakis suggests, what is important in Lacanian theory is that it permits a true implication and not a mere application between psychoanalysis and socio-political analysis.38 That is, Lacanian theory becomes cogent neither as addition of a supplement . . . nor as the introduction of a new causal element the unconscious instead of the economy but as a confluence of the two, around the logic of [. . .] dislocation [. . .] the logic which presides over the possibility/impossibility of the construction of any identity.39 However, it is the order of the Real, as the register of pure impossibility and indeterminacy which conditions and interacts with the Imaginary and the Symbolic by disrupting any certainties articulated through them that most fully illuminates Adornos standpoint of redemption. As we have seen, it is the impossible task of retaining a utopian possibility which informs Adornos negative dialectics, and it is the Real which informs this negativity through prohibitions on any acts of overcoming.

5 Imaginary mimicry/symbolic mimetism


As we have seen, Lacans Imaginary register is marked by the narcissistic desire for identity which would subsume/devour the other in the interests of self-preservation. The refusal of mediation within this cult of the ego, when mapped onto Adornos cultural theory, describes the bourgeois myth of individuality whereby the disintegration of the individual into a proliferation of fragments and stereotypes is reflected in the disavowal characteristic of imitation and mimicry. In the concrete terms of artistic production, the standardisation of the means of production which requires an undifferentiated mass of workers, finds expression for Adorno in the syncopated rythms of improvised jazz40 and the exceptional stars of the film industry.41 These narcissistic forms of artistic production and their imitations of individuality are sharply distinguished from the affinitive forms of autonomous works, a distinction figured in terms of the difference between mimicry and mimetism: Mimetic behaviour does not imitate something but assimilates itself to that something. Works of art take it upon themselves to realize this assimilation (AT 162). This difference critically enacts that between Kantian rationality, whereby intuitions are brought under concepts in cognition and Adornian aesthetic rationality, whereby the subject as object likens itself to other particular objects in artistic expression.

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 61

Sublimity

1 From beauty to the sublime


In the context of the implicit lack of freedom in rationalised modernity, all that is left of freedom is self-reflection and all that is left of self-reflection is art. Freedom has become the thought of freedom. However, as art expresses only the illusion of freedom, this thought is but the trace of freedom past. Arts illusion of freedom is nothing but the imagining of freedom in a utopia of reconciliation. This Imaginary utopia, marked by the disavowal of empirical reality as the condition of its being, is not the utopian possibility opened up by modern works aware of their own alienated Symbolic nature. The difference here between Imaginary and Symbolic utopian possibility is figured in the distinction between artistic consistency, which undialectically reconciles form and content and consequently participates in the continuation of their dichotomous alienation, and artistic dissonant expression which critically interrogates the traditional categories of rationalised art and, by extension, rationalisation as a whole. The movement from rationalized art to modernist artworks is enacted in the shift from Kantian aesthetic judgements of taste and beauty to sublimity as their philosophical reinscription within post-aesthetic theory. In other words, within a negative dialectical theory, aesthetic consistency must give way to the truth content of unintelligibility within a post-aesthetic rationality of sublimity. Unintelligibility here is conditioned by the sublime as the experience of alterity irreducible to cognitive and practical reason alone.

2 From reconciliation to determinate irreconcilibility


Unintelligibility, negation of meaning, constitutes the refusal of reconciliation as determinate negation which offers the formal semblance of society free from domination. The autonomy of the work, as the excluded other of modern society, engages the function of social criticism at the level of form through the abstention of meaning at the level of content: If it is still possible, social criticism must be elevated to form, dimming down any manifest content (AT 354). The manifest unintelligibility of the work, however, should not be understood as a movement away from integration; rather, the spiritualisation of the work works toward formal integration through the disintegration of manifest content. Thus, the more purely formal a work is, the more disintegrated and heteronomous its constituent elements become, which nevertheless must be synthesised, making discontinuous elements determinate in their irreconcilability (AT 241).

62 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 Following this, the moment of the aesthetic sublime is the moment when harmony between art and empirical life is realised to be disharmony; that is: Dissonance is the truth about harmony (AT 161). Autonomous works, having become the space of the disallowed through the sacrifice of beauty and taste in the interests of sublime truth, come to participate in the truth of the Lacanian Real as that which resists and yet conditions symbolisation (intelligibility): [Modern art] has taken all the darkness and guilt of the world onto its shoulders. Its entire happiness consists in recognizing unhappiness; all its beauty consists in denying itself the semblance of beauty (ND 126). As a negative dialectical shift, the sacrifice of beauty for the sake of an impossible sublimity, contains the traces of Kantian categorical structures as indictments against the possibility of aesthetic freedom. The price of autonomy is thus tragedy, the hubris of arts autonomy guaranteeing its failure and the perpetual expression of suffering as the burden of its nemesis. In short, Expression cannot be conceived except as expression of suffering (AT 161).

3 Dissonance and the risk of meaning


As the hidden irrationality of a seemingly rational world is brought to light (AT 124) dissonance becomes the equivalent of expression and suffering which inscribes the truth of intuition as the unsubsumable other of the concept (AT 124). Dissonance in the work therefore artistically instantiates the incommensurability of the object with the rational subject which results in the excess of an unknowable enigma in dissonant forms. The distance achieved from subjective knowing permits us to experience knowing differently, to approach the object mimetically, thereby preserving its difference. In this way, aesthetic truth as dissonance allows the expression of the others suffering and calls our attention to this suffering. However, the enigmatic quality of the work, its incorporation of unknowable intuitive elements, entails what Adorno calls the risk of meaning which refers to the risking of aesthetic validity within the terms of rationalised Kantian aesthetic discourse. The risk of meaning is exemplified for Adorno in the work of Samuel Beckett, for whom Aesthetic Theory was to be dedicated. In Beckett, the refusal of meaning functions as determinate negation of contemporary society and gives formal semblance of a society free from domination. This refusal entails the dislocation of the subject from its phenomenological position as the originator of meaning through conceptual domination. In Adornos reading of Endgame, the post-apocalyptic analogue to the

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 63 post-Auschwitz landscape yields those childlike and bloody clowns faces in Beckett, through which the subject disintegrates as [sic] the historical truth about the subject (AT 354). Becketts refusal to transfigure the historical meaninglessness of existence into meaning reverses the absurdist vision of existential idealism that would gather together the fragments of intuitions as grist for the rationality of the cognitive mill. Rather, the absurdity of historically thrown existence is artistically expressed through the form of a dispersal and fragmentation of particulars. It is in this way that Becketts work exemplifies the work of sublimation through the spiritualisation of form by the elaborate extension of rationality into meaningless absurdity, meaninglessness becoming an achievement rather than a fact, meaninglessness becoming the work of Becketts work42 The work itself, its objectification of consciousness, materialises the achievement of meaningless in its production of non-identity as meaning dissociated from subjectivity in heteronomous particularity. In short, aesthetic meaning comes to express real absurdity. In bypassing our cognitive attention and dislodging aesthetic categories of validity through meaningless sublimity, modern art comes to negate traditional modes of cognition, thereby installing a claim to cognition otherwise which constitutes a truth about reality as alienated. In opposition to post-Nietzschian nihilism with its inherent tendency to produce acts of overcoming which [. . .] are always worse than what they overcome, Becketts nihilism constitutes not an affirmation of the Nothing, but rather a redemptive standpoint as the denotation of that which is impossible, yet must be comprehended for the sake of the possible.43

4 The Lacanian Real


As history itself, in Jamesons view, the Lacanian Real conditions the impossibility of fulfilment in pure immediacy of both subject and object, disabling both positivist rationality and any utopian strategies aimed at liberation through overcoming. It is this understanding which informs Adornos negative dialectics as the refusal of any premature suturing of indeterminacy; thrown back on itself, Adornos identity instead preserves the excess of indeterminacy through non-identity as the trace of the Real within representation. In this way, dissonant works hold open the gap in the metonymic44 structure of narcissistic instrumental rationality within the Symbolic sphere of capitalist equivalences. Aware of the ultimate impossibility of Hegelian synthesis, which would gain access to the Real by foreclosing45 on the irreducibility of objects, dissonant works defer the illusions of satiation. Art

64 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 must remain to tell the tale of suffering in the Symbolic while participating in the truth of the Real, refusing the illusions of Imaginary desire for the sake of a tragic liberty.46 However, key to Adornos theory of art as social mediation is the acknowledgement that the achievement of harmony (rational identity) between content and form in dissonant artworks, constitutes an illusion. Illusion, as the substantive characteristic of works of art registers the distance between art and empirical reality; it is only by virtue of arts autonomous distance from empirical reality that it is able to reveal that reality in its historical contingency. As illusion, art moves towards truth. It is not directly identical with truth (AT 394).

Critique

1 From modernity to postmodernity


Having outlined Adornos aesthetic theory and its mediated relation to sociological analysis, and having understood it in terms of its own demands for historical specificity, we might ask after its relevance in a changed historical landscape. If, following Jamesons analysis of the logic of capitalism as one of constant and systematic self-transcendence, we accept the premise of change, and even if we understand change in terms of continuous expansion as opposed to a discontinuous break or rupture accepting all this, what effect might such a change have had on the relations between the economic laws of exchange and the cultural critique of those laws? In other words, does the critical potential to interrupt the reification and commodification of modern consciousness which Adorno ascribes to autonomous artworks still hold in the postmodern context of late capitalism? In keeping with Adornos historicist theory of artistic mediation, Jamesons analysis of the interrelations between culture and economics as a continuous reciprocal feedback loop permits a staging of the relations between multinational late capitalism and postmodernism conducive to an analysis of their modes of articulation.47 Further, the problem of postmodernism how its fundamental characteristics are to be described [. . .] is at one and the same time an aesthetic and a political one; that is, what is at stake in aesthetics is fundamentally political.48 Within this, modernism and postmodernism may usefully be understood in the Lacanian terms of the Symbolic register as the socio-historical background which conditions and is conditioned by the limits of our thinking and being as social subjects. From this de-ontologised and

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 65 somewhat Althusserian49 perspective, we can see differences emerging between the unifying tendencies of modernitys centred subjects within a social totality on the one hand, and the fragmenting tendencies of postmodernitys dislocated subjects within contingent social effects on the other.50 What distinguishes this Adornoesque kind of steadfastly historical analysis from many poststructural analyses is its theoretical separation and, therefore, critical interplay, between the social forms of postmodernity and artistic postmodernism. As Bernstein suggests, whereas artistic modernisms capacity for resistance was grounded in modernitys disavowal of its own non-identity, in the post-war era, late capitalism has begun to display its own non-identity (that is, its own self-transgression). Consequently, in order not to conflate socio-economic and artistic nonidentity and thereby render themselves complicit with the sublimity of capital, theories of the non-identical must be based upon the historical moment of Symbolic categorial truth.51 The celebration of non-identity for its own sake must be tempered by dialectically opposing the social and the aesthetic, proceeding negatively via self-reflexive critique in order to discover the precise moments of consistency and inconsistency, articulation and disarticulation. Jameson identifies a number of major changes related to the sphere of culture in postmodernity, two of which have particular salience here. Firstly, there has been an immense dilation of its sphere (the sphere of commodities) . . . a quantum leap in what Benjamin still called the aestheticization of reality.52 Within this acculturation of reality, representations of things have come to have an effect in their own right apart from things-in-themselves; i.e., culture has become a product in its own right.53 Following this, the critique of commodification has given way to the consumption of commodification as process; unable to transcend a more total commodified social reality, culture loses its ability to act upon nature and being, becoming as second nature with the completion of the modernisation process.54 Secondly, there has been an erosion of the distinction between high/ autonomous and popular/heteronomous art, which Jameson describes as
perhaps the most distressing development of all from a [. . .] standpoint which has traditionally had a vested interest in preserving a realm of high or elite culture against the surrounding environment of philistines, of schlock and kitsch, of TV series and Readers Digest culture.55

I will elucidate the implications for post-aesthetic theory of this latter point before moving on to a discussion of the former.

66 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3

2 Philistine pleasures
With the increase in the commodification of the cultural sphere, the frantic economic urgency of producing fresh works of ever more novel-seeming goods has led to the appropriation of the avant-garde itself, not only making autonomy increasingly difficult to achieve, and thereby closing the gap between the dialectical negation of tradition characteristic of autonomous works and the sheer novelty and experimentation of heteronomous, or mass, art. This erasure of distinction here may indicate the need for a loosening of Adornos tight connections between autonomy, truth and social significance. That is, if autonomous and heteronomous art have become less distinct in an historical situation where global capitalism evinces new forms of economic production, organisation, and new forms of technical developments in distribution and reproduction, social significance will also be engendered not only in terms of the criterion of truth, but according to new modes of production and reception.56 Although Adorno doesnt specifically champion high art nor derogate popular art, his trenchant defence of modern autonomous works and vociferous analytic attacks on dependent works within the Culture Industry, together with their oppositional modes of attention, has been widely translated as such. Whether or not such a reading of Adornos aesthetic theory is justified, a number of critical issues have emerged, particularly those regarding the alienated pleasures of the philistine as the supposed subject-effect of exclusionary aesthetic autonomy, are suggestive for any analysis of Adornos continuing relevance for cultural critique. Adornos conception of pleasure as a mode of reception to the productions of the Culture Industry situates the viewing subject as passive and pacified observer emptied of all agency by the monolith of an autonomated, standardized succession of operation[s] bearing down and squeezing dry any potential residue of post-labour energy for the purposes of creative consumption.57 Amusement is manufactured as the prolongation of work, pleasure transformed into boredom as association via the stimuli of signals and fragmented effects which prohibit mental effort. This manufacture of pleasure/boredom as a mode of vacant attention is in sharp contrast to the reflective contemplation required by autonomous works, an experiential mode of attention which compels engagement with and performance of the work as a form of critique. Beech and Robertss critique of these oppositional modes of attention assert that
it is only with the development of modernism as a defence of art as a special autonomous culture that the philistine emerges as a category of cultural brutality per se . . . This is because modernism as a model of arts distance

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 67


from everyday experience and cognition sees aesthetic judgement in fundamental conflict with social transformation.58

Although not levelled specifically at Adorno, the implication is that postaesthetic theory, as an umbrella term for a number of aesthetic theories which they understand as largely taking their cue from Adornos Aesthetic Theory is complicit with the categorical separations between the everyday and the removed experience of high culture. However, as I have demonstrated post-aesthetic theorys starting point is the immanent critique of Kants categorical separations and, far from an uncomplicated acceptance of the distance inherent to them, employs the self-reflexive faculties of autonomous art in the interests of negative critique. Granted, this does little to effect immediate social transformation, but it is the ability of autonomous tre. In works to mediate empirical reality which informs its very raison de this way, seemingly abstract philosophical questions of meaning and validity in the face of modern nihilism are concretely grounded in the materiality of artistic production itself. However, while complicity may be confused with immanent critique, questions of value and pleasure, of artistic and bodily materialisms, remain. Beech and Roberts argue that the exclusive emphasis within postaesthetic theory on artworks themselves keeps questions of cultural value and the epistemology of art and aesthetics inoculated against alienation and suppresses the practical functions of art in contestatory culture.59 The construction of the debate between aesthetic and social alienation is to some extent staged in terms of the competing poles of artistic and bodily materialism. This particular construction has the benefits of opening the analytic of artistic autonomy to issues of reception. One of the main bones of contention for Beech and Roberts is post-aesthetic theorys emphasis on artistic autonomy as an abstract postulate and not as something determined by the prevailing conditions of arts autonomy.60 In other words, in their view, prioritising artistic autonomy leads to the elision of the social content of autonomy and, by extension, to an isolationism which locks the theory of autonomy into an outmoded set of specifically modern criteria. If the original impasse between Benjamins prognosis of mass culture as the potential site of resistance to structures of authority, and Adornos theorization of mass culture as one of the major means by which individuals are alienated from their humanity and their interests is allowed to transcend its own historical position, then, as Roberts elsewhere puts it, the interrelations between autonomy and mass culture are dead in the water unless re-theorized as part of the critical expansion of arts

68 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 normativity.61 In short, we may as well forget about it and go home. As an alternative, Beech and Roberts offer a retheorisation of these interrelations, developing the notion of the philistine as the missing term of the impasse in contemporary disputes over mass culture.62 Following this, artistic materialism and bodily materialism become representative of the differences between the aesthetic and social contents of autonomy, whereby the former refers to the production of complicity with and emancipation from rationalised structures of domination within the artwork itself; and the latter to the production of pleasure without guilt within a non-aesthetic mode of philistine attention to cultural products. As one of the major targets of their critique of post-aesthetic theory, Bernstein counters that this conception of pleasure as an alienated mode of response elides the essential aporetic condition of art itself, and consequently ignores the categorical negation of alienation in favour of the championing of narcissistic pleasures.63 Thus, satiation (Imaginary narcissism) without happiness (Symbolic desire in confrontation with Real impossibility) seeks moments of relatively autonomous response before its ultimate recuperation within the logic of capital reproduction and expansion, instead of seeking to transform the structures of domination through immanent critique. Seemingly the impasse stands: on the one hand, immediate pleasure at the expense of the futural promises of disalienation, and, on the other, the redemptive standpoint which defers gratification indefinitely. However, Jamesons exhortation to Always historicize! reminds us that Adornos post-aesthetic theory was formulated in response to the historical specificity of modernitys modes of domination and, as such, was never meant to be frozen in aspic, delivered up to the future as a fossilised reminder of our essential ontological alienation. The historical interventions of capital mutations have reconfigured the social in terms of a postmodern context of increasingly total commodification and fragmentation, a consumer society in which consumption itself becomes a nodal site of constellatory subjects and objects. From this perspective, the constructed oppositional choice between austere messianism and pleasure as an alienated mode of reception accessible to choice and modification becomes at once more and less acute. More, in terms of the squeeze on available standpoints of redemption in a context where art itself has become overwhelmingly autoreferential and depthless, an endless pastiche of images devoid of irony or any other indication of illusory relation to another impossible reality. Less, because the emptying out of artistic materialism in terms of its ability to immanently critique, together with the rise of consumption as privileged site of alienated subjectivity, points to the necessity for a retheorisation of the relations between art, alienation and modes of reception.

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 69

3 Practice and agency


Beech and Robertss criticisms of post-aesthetic theorys exclusion of everyday experiences of commodified bodies in the interests of obtaining the [. . .] transcendent truth of the non-partisan through its exclusive ethical abstraction leads them to reinvigorate the question of an inclusive practical ethics through the development of the notion of the philistine as agent of the partisan.64 In order to avoid the pitfalls of reinstating an ontologically pre-reflexive form of human agency, their theorisation incorporates a genealogy of the philistine as an active agent as well as subject to the machinations of the Culture Industry;65 that is, as an alienated form of subjectivity produced within conflictual social relations. The end result is a philistine not as [. . .] someone who exhibits certain traits but enjoys particular kinds of pleasures [N]ot imprisoned by distraction [. . .] philistine modes of attention become subject to choice, modification, customisation.66 In a series of Foucauldian moves, then, the philistine becomes a genealogical production, a subject-position67 emptied of any self-grounding agency which might perform its distraction; rather, performativity68 becomes the subjectless mode of distracted discourse by which its subjectposition is situated in relation to cultural products. The metaphysical utopianism of post-aesthetic theory may be seen to give way to a politics of the social real which leapfrogs over artistic materialism in such a way as to show the critique of identity to be but a belated reaction to social change. Subjectivisaton, as neither substance nor sign, de-presentifies the metaphysical subject through practice. However, a further look at Beech and Robertss Foucauldian articulation of a discourse on non-discursive practices reveals a certain contradiction. According to de Certeau, Foucaults charting of the historical shift from the authored ideology of Enlightenment punishment to the dispersed effects of a mass of minuscule procedures of discipline which operate without recourse to ideology in Discipline and Punish (here we could substitute Beech and Robertss charting of the historical shift from the implausible account of ideology and popular culture within modernist post-aesthetic theory to the multiple contexts and modes of reception which operate without recourse to ideology in postmodernity69) situates him on the edge of theory. The polytheistic scattering of technologies, as non-discursive elements of bio-power (substitute Beech and Robertss genealogical elements of exclusion) must become articulated through their combination over time in order to form a discursive formation capable of regulating the social space within which a disciplinary society (philistine modes of attention) become produced. In order to make the case for such a

70 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 disciplinary society/postmodern philistine pleasures, therefore, they must first select a privileged character of procedures and trace their elements back through history in order to explain the present through a genealogy of pre-disciplinary society/pre-philistine and aesthetic modes of attention. Heterogeneous elements are thus first isolated from an interwoven whole to subsequently be made visible within an account of inclusive/exclusive modes of postmodern attention capable of illuminating the aporias within post-aesthetic theory.70 In this way, Beech and Roberts themselves speak the social by employing a theoretical formula essential to modernity; that is, the initial isolation of practices somewhere else more primitive in their ethnological character, followed by a logical inversion which assumes their coherence for the purposes of illuminating modes of mass reception.71 De Certeau describes this formula as cut out and turn over, a process which gime in relies heavily on the retrospective isolation of Frances Ancien Re Foucault, and the modern aesthetic subject in Beech and Roberts, which points to the limits of both discourse analyses to account for the nondiscursive material and social effects in the present. Although Beech and Robertss social constructionist theory appears to modify a purely functionalist account of the body as an object of social control with its insistence on the equal pervasiveness of resistance in the operations of power, the mechanisms which may trigger resistance, its objects and causality, remain largely untheorised. There is little interface between psychic formations and socially discursive formations; rather, the social is omnipotent with respect to the individual, leaving a gaping hole in the theory of the relational processes by which identifications are produced. From this perspective, the performativity of philistinism reduces complex processes to a simplistic fetishisation of practice which fails to account for the dialectical interplay between the social and the psychic. The Imaginary desire for the plenitude of Being thus reinserts itself in the figure of a fetish. The pure presence of the ontological imagination circumvents the theoretical openings of self-reflexive critique, the impossible difference of non-identity disavowed as Imaginary desire is grafted onto the representational activities of political practice. This further differentiates Beech and Robertss theory from Adornian post-aesthetic theory, particularly Jamesons, which openly engages with the unconscious, particularly in the work of Freud and Lacan. The constructed oppositions, then, between philosophical abstraction and cultural practice may not be as airtight as Beech and Roberts presume. Indeed, if Adornos aesthetic theory is indirect, this is not as a result of its suppression of practice and the everyday, but rather because it attempts to reunite philosophical and sociological concerns as a form of interventionist

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 71 praxis which approaches the issue of partisanship obliquely in order to avoid complicity through recuperation. This is achieved through a complex web of contradiction and mediation whereby arts structural and categorial autonomy from societal rationality gives it an impotent yet informative critical force which begs philosophical articulation. The first contradiction relates to modern arts lack of independence from processes of commodification and reification, processes which inhere absolutely in artistic practices, giving art its absolute exchange value status which, nevertheless, secures its moment of resistance as the achievement of autonomy through functionlessness. The second contradiction relates to this resistance as [. . .] necessarily reflective, not praxial, which nevertheless, via philosophical articulation, becomes praxial through interventionist critique. Practice and theory circulate around each other within the orbit of artistic self-reflection and philosophical practice as antinomical subjects and objects, defetishising fetishes through constellatory non-identity thinking. The social and aesthetic content of autonomy will not be easily parted, structured as torn halves of an integral freedom, to which, however, they do not add up, the leitmotiv of Adornian negative dialectics and suggestive of the mutual mediation of arts participation in the truth of the Real which must, nevertheless, be articulated through practices in the register of the Symbolic realm of the everyday.

4 Truth, social significance and the Real


If neither pole of this constructed impasse will yield to the other, there may yet be some mileage in exploring their mutual deconstruction, each reinvigorating and modifying the other in a process of struggle over articulated meanings and practices. Upon this hegemonic terrain, the bad infinity of poststructuralisms contingency of social elements is limited by their attempts to hegemonise common sense through articulation.72 Within this, the narcissistic pleasures of the alienated body are potentiated to become social practices of creative consumption as resistance to and mediation of the dominance of production and distribution while not being effaced with an absolutist claim to social significance. Similarly, the ethics of non-identity within artworks cannot be considered a once-and-for-all claim to truth outside of the mediations of multiple contexts of address and reception. As Adorno asserts, The political and the immanent dimension are not congruent, but they are not divergent either [. . .] Truth content always points beyond the immanent aesthetic make-up of art works themselves towards some political significance. This duality is stamped on every single

72 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 work of art (AT 351). However, as we have seen, this analysis of the import of the work in terms of its social and aesthetic truth content affords no guarantee of the works social significance without an adequate formulation of reception aesthetics, even within an extended notion of practice which acknowledges the material effects of philosophical aesthetics. If Adornos aesthetic theory is to retain relevance in a changed sociohistorical context, then, as Zuidevaart suggests, the singular normativity of aesthetic import must be put into dialectical interplay with an analysis of the works function to produce a complex normativity.73 According to Zuidevaart, complex normativity refers to a network of norms [. . .] many of which apply to phenomena outside autonomous art [. . .] A partial list of norms could include technical excellence, formal depth, aesthetic expressiveness, social scope, political effectiveness, and historical truth.74 The interpretive approach characteristic of post-aesthetic theory, geared towards meaning as the key determinant of social significance, must work and be put to work against the grain of the explanatory approach characteristic of Beech and Robertss cultural theory, which is geared towards effect as the key determinant of social significance.75 Following this, a complex normativity would take account of the relations between aesthetic norms which establish a basis for the judgement of the works intrinsic merits, and social history which could offer an interpretation of the works functions in socio-historical context. Consequently, no one style, tradition or type of work would be admissible as the sole standard by which all others are judged, thereby democratising post-aesthetic theorys exclusivist approach towards popular culture as the relations between autonomy, truth and social significance are loosened. However, before we could be in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, establishing in its place a happy free-for-all which bears little relation to Adornos aesthetics, the unresolved issue of reception and modes of attention may serve to call us away from the brink of an anything-goes approach to art. If neither the narcissistic pleasures of the philistine nor the contemplative reflections of the aesthete are adequate to a viable theory of articulated agency and practice within the dispersed field of social significance, the notion of complex normativity may again throw some light on the potential for their mutual mediation. Within this, the spontaneous reactions of alienated pleasure, understood in terms of an aesthetic experience which moves within the work, must be allied to the discursive judgements of philosophical reflection which moves outside the work. Immanence and transcendence thus produce a dialectical experience in which subjective

Post-aesthetic ethics: Adornos theory of artistic non-identity 73 reactions are constellated around the object of reflection, forming a comprehensive experience of art whereby the narcissistic ego realises its own finitude, surrendering the self-interest of Imaginary desire as it assimilates itself to the work from a standpoint of reflection. Within this dialectic of bodily and artistic materialism, the alienated ego is, on the one hand, barred from total self-identification within the Imaginary refuge of narcissistic pleasures as fetishised practice, but finds on the other hand, a moment of transcendent objectification of consciousness through entry into the non-identity of the work which is, nevertheless, condemned to remain as a utopian standpoint, itself barred from exiting the terms of Symbolic finitude. Thus the infinity of the Real puts an end to the Imaginary opposition into which the discussion of aesthetic and bodily pleasures has risked falling again and again, shining the light of redemption, showing us the world as it is and the world as it may one day appear in the messianic light.76

Notes
1 Theodor Adorno, in Gillian Rose, The Melancholy Science: An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor Adorno (London: Macmillan, 1978), 57. 2 Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (London: Routledge, 1973), 13. Further citations from this work will be noted parenthetically by page number and the prefix ND. 3 Adornos brand of utopian thought did not permit more than tentative allusions to the impossible possibility of reconciliation between subject and object. His notion of rational identity denotes the most direct formalisation of such a state of reconciliation which no longer represses the non-identical within an as-yet inconceivable social context. See Martin Jay, Adorno (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 65. 4 Adornos notion of constellation refers to the contradictions and paradoxes of traditional metaphysical opposites brought into dialectical tension. See Hauke Brunkhorst, Adorno and Critical Theory (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1999), 556. 5 Kant introduced the concept of the Categorical Imperative as a moral imperative based upon universal law independent of any meansends relations. See Thomas Mautner (ed.), The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy (London: Penguin, 1996), 88. 6 Adorno rejected all Hegelian teleologies of history, substituting his own teleology of suffering: The One and All that keeps rolling on to this day with occasional breathing spells would teleologically be the absolute of suffering (ND 320). 7 Whereas Kants first and second Critiques were largely concerned with epistemological issues of mind, the third Critique is widely understood in

74 Critical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3


terms of its systematic attempt to construct a bridge between the faculties of the understanding [. . .] and reason, through a critique of the faculty of judgement. As such, judgement becomes the harmonising factor between theory and practice. See Simon Critchley, Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 19. Jay M. Bernstein, The Fate of Art: Aesthetic Alienation from Kant to Derrida and Adorno (Cambridge: Polity, 1992), 6; Critchley, Continental Philosophy, 19. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, trans. W. S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987). Dave Beech and John Roberts, Spectres of the Aesthetic, New Left Review, 218 (1996), 110. Benjamins notion of configuration refers to the internal relations between actual, finite possibilities and potential, infinite possibilities expressed and determined through the medium of art. See Howard Caygill, Walter Benjamin: The Colour of Experience (London: Routledge, 1998), 37. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 351. Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. C. Lenhardt (London: Routledge, 1984), 173. Further citations from this work will be noted parenthetically by page number and the prefix AT. Quoted in John Lechte, Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers (London: Routledge, 1994), 1. Bernstein, The Fate of Art, 207. Lambert Zuidevaart, Adornos Aesthetic Theory: The Redemption of Illusion (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1991), 131. Lechte, Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers, 5. Gregory B. Sadler, Three Dialectical Relationships and the Necessity for Critique in the Works of Theodor Adorno, Minerva, 3 (1999) 13 December 2001, 3; http://www.ul.ie/ philos/vol3/send.html. See also Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from a Damaged Life, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott (London: New Left Books, 1974), 247. Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, 356. Benjamin pitted the notion of realised infinity as that which manifests the absolute within the finite through the configuration of form, against Hegels notion of a bad infinity as that which perpetually slides into another infinity. The oppositions here are analogous to Hegels distinctions between genuine infinity, in which the infinite is immanently folded within the finite, and bad infinity, in which infinity is transcendent and open ended. See Caygill, Walter Benjamin, 43. For Adorno, the coldness of bourgeois subjectivism, as a libidinal deficiency in the context of lives lived through instrumental rationality, involves a paradox whereby the individual lack of identity with others which allowed Auschwitz to happen is, nevertheless the same order of identity in which we are condemned to live even after the moral outrage. This is because coldness prohibits understanding outside the bounds of modern rationality and, therefore, is unable to overcome its own violent condition.

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23 Against Epistemology: A Metacritique Studies in Husserl and the Phenomenological Antimonies, trans. W. Domingo (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1983), 118. 24 This comes close to Benjamins notion of infinity within the finite configuration of works, manifest in the warps, tears and incongruities of experience. Within this metaphysics of experience shared by Benjamin and Adorno, reflection, as mutually mediating the immediacy of objects, constitutes the absolute and it constitutes it as a medium (Caygill, Walter Benjamin, 44). 25 Bernstein, The Fate of Art, 203. 26 Zuidevaart, Adornos Aesthetic Theory, 119. 27 According to Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment, art and science, as opposing poles of reason, originated in magic as a pre-modern unity of reason. Unlike magic, science attempts to control nature through abstraction. By contrast, art aims towards mimesis. The former therefore constitutes a determined relation to nature which transforms its qualities into quantitative equivalences, while the latter constitutes a respectful relation which preserves natures qualities through affinitive likening to its qualitative particularity. These alternate forms of rationality at an impasse also describe the impasse of social relations which negative dialectics attempts to break. See Zuidevaart, Adornos Aesthetic Theory, 1324. 28 Theodor W. Adorno, Commitment, in Aesthetics and Politics, trans. and ed. R. Taylor (London: Verso, 1977), 194. 29 Lacan writes that profuse culture . . . will give him the wherewithal to forget his own existence and his death, at the same time to misconstrue the [. . .] meaning of his life; that is, to block the epiphany of tragic knowledge. See Peter Starr, The Tragic Ear of the Intellectual: Lacan, Tympanum: A Journal of Comparative Literary Studies, 1 (1998), 13. 30 Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Lacan: The Absolute Master, trans. D. Brick (California: Stanford University Press, 1991), 65. 31 Steve Nixon, Exhibiting Masculinity, in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, ed. S. Hall (London: Sage, 1977), 317. 32 Darian Leader, Lacan for Beginners (London: Icon Books, 1995), 22. 33 Roger Caillois used his studies of insect and animal behaviour to argue, against the received wisdom of scientist explanations, that mimetism is not positively life-enhancing; rather, creatures are captured by their environment and subjected to its visual structures, producing catastrophic tisme et psychasthe nie, Minataure, 7 effects on them. See Roger Caillois, Mime (1935). 34 The objet petit a is Lacans formula for the lost object which unleashes desire vi-Strausss and, as such, always bears a relation to separation. Influenced by Le reading of culture as structured by unconscious patriarchal laws identical with the laws of language, Lacan developed the concept of The Name of the Father as a paternal metaphor referring to the substitution of cultural laws for the desire of the mother. As a symbolic metaphor, the name of the father designates the symbolic function of separation from the mother and the

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renunciation of Imaginary desire to be the phallus for the mother, as opposed to referring to any actual father. See Leader, Lacan for Beginners, 100102. Quoted in Starr, The Tragic Ear of the Intellectual, 11. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, trans. A. Sheridan-Smith (London: Tavistock, 1977), 1314. Jacques Lacan, Television, trans. D. Hollier, R. Kraus and A. Michelson, ed. J. Copjec (New York: Norton, 1990), 31. Yannis Stavrakakis, Lacan and the Political (London: Routledge, 1999), 4. Ernesto Laclau, The Impossibility of Society, in New Reflections on the Revolution of our Time (London: Verso, 1990), 96. Adornos well-known contempt for jazz, most fully elaborated in On the Fetish Character of Music and the Regression of Listening (The Essential Frankfurt Reader, ed. A. Arato and E. Gebhardt, New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1982), refers to modern forms of commercial jazz as distinct from original forms rooted in black culture, although his did not always qualify the distinction, lending ethnicist and Eurocentric overtones to his analysis. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York: Continuum, 1972), 155. Simon Critchley, Very Little . . . Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy, Literature (London: Routledge, 1997), 152. Ibid., 23. The structural principles of metonymy and metaphoricity correspond to the differences in Adorno between modern rationality and exchange-value logic on the one hand, and aesthetic rationality and use-value on the other. While metonymy denotes scientific rationalitys erasure of qualitative distinctions through the logic of quantitative substitution in conceptual universals, metaphoricity denotes aesthetic rationalitys preservation of qualities through the logic of affinity in experiential particulars: to yield to the object means to do justice to the objects qualitative moment. Scientific objectification, in line with the quantitative tendency of all science since Descartes, tends to eliminate qualities and to transform them into measurable definitions. Within this, artistic mediation registers the gap between finite empirical reality and the infinite possibilities of the Real, thereby retaining a metaphoric redemptive standpoint within the metonymic logic of Symbolic dominance (ND 42). In Lacanian theory, psychosis issues from an abolition of the paternal metaphor, a foreclosure which results in the radical absence of The Name of the Father as that which secures an anchor to the Symbolic order of everyday neurotic existence. Following this, the psychotic lives the paternal metaphor deliriously in the Real. As the Real can only be inscribed as an impasse, the liberty gained in the Symbolic sphere is a tragic form of liberty which Freud described elsewhere as a confrontation with that tragic meaning which all humans bear within. In other words, tragic liberty inscribes an ethical field beyond the self-interested pursuit of pleasure in which the egoistic subject realises its own finitude. For

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Adorno, this is intuited in the form of artworks; similarly for Lacan, the Real only manages to be inscribed through an impasse of formalization. That is why I have thought to [. . .] sketch out a model of it by taking mathematical formalization as my point of departure (Lacan, Ecrits, 85). Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism: Or the Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1991), xiv. Ibid., 55. In For Marx, Althusser defined ideology as the systems of representation in which we live our imaginary relations to the real conditions of existence. Within this, knowledge is produced through meaningful practice within a materialist notion of ideology which is open to a negotiation of meaning through constant articulation and disarticulation. Jameson conceptualises these differences in terms of the oppositions between paranoia and schizophrenia as both generalised cultural conditions and modes of subjective response to these conditions. The former refers to a closed pattern or grand narrative which revolves around a centred ego, while the latter refers to the break-up of these narratives into a multiplicity of inputs which become available for [. . .] joyous intensities (Jameson, Postmodernism, 29). Baudrillard, borrowing essentially from the first section of Debords Society of the Spectacle, famously conceptualised this phenomenon in terms of the shift in Western capitalism from the production of things to the production of images of things, the latter coined as copies of simulacra. Bernstein, The Fate of Art, 2667. Jameson, Postmodernism, x. Within the notion of subjectification through technologies of the self in his later work, Foucault succeeded in demonstrating how the formal subject-positions produced within discursive norms become actively inhabited by particular historical individuals through specific situated practices. Subjects are no longer merely the effects of the discursive power structures of his, but are accorded a form of agency as performance; it is this articulation between formal positions and the real social practices of individuals which make subjectivisation possible. Technologies of the self, therefore, permit a degree of agency as response or resistance within the circulation of power; they permit individuals to effect by their own means [. . .] a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness (Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan-Smith, New York: Pantheon, 1997, 18). Jameson, Postmodernism, ix. Fredric Jameson, The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern (London: Verso, 1998), 2. Zuidevaart, Adornos Aesthetic Theory, 231. Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 137.

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58 Dave Beech and John Roberts, Tolerating Impurities: An Ontology, Genealogy and Defence of Philistinism, New Left Review, 227 (1988), 62. 59 Beech and Roberts, Spectres of the Aesthetic, 102. 60 John Roberts, After Adorno: Art, Autonomy and Critique, Historical Materialism, 7 (2000), 233. 61 Beech and Roberts, Tolerating Impurities, 62; Roberts, After Adorno, 233. 62 Beech and Roberts, Tolerating Impurities, 62. 63 Jay M. Bernstein, Against Voluptuous Bodies: of Satiation without Happiness, New Left Review, 225 (1997), 100. 64 Beech and Roberts, Spectres of the Aesthetic, 103. 65 Beech and Roberts, Tolerating Impurities, 62. 66 Ibid., 71. 67 Judith Butler developed the Foucauldian concept of performativity in contradistinction to performance, the latter presuming [. . .] a subject, the former contesting [. . .] the very notion of a subject (Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, London: Routledge, 1989, 37). 68 Stuart Halls conjunctural theory of ideology and the social formation offers an understanding of articulation which defies both culturalisms emphasis on necessary correspondence and poststructuralisms emphasis on necessarily no correspondence. Instead, Halls position points to the necessity of constructing an articulation between social, political, economic and ideological forces through practice, as struggle, not necessity. See Stuart Hall, Signification, Representation, Ideology: Althusser and the Post-structuralist Debates, in Cultural Studies and Communication, ed. D. Morley et al. (London: Arnold, 1996), 14. 69 Roberts, After Adorno, 233. 70 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984), 63. 71 Ibid., 64. 72 See Laclau, The Impossibility of Society. 73 Zuidevaart, Adornos Aesthetic Theory, 246. 74 Ibid. 75 Ibid., 90. 76 Jameson, quoted in Adam Roberts, Fredric Jameson (London: Routledge, 2000), 69; Adorno, Minima Moralia, 247.