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The Idealist Embarrassment: Observations on Marxist Aesthetics

Author(s): Hans Robert Jauss and Peter Heath


Source: New Literary History, Vol. 7, No. 1, Critical Challenges: The Bellagio Symposium
(Autumn, 1975), pp. 191-208
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/468285
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The Idealist Embarrassment:Observations
on MarxistAesthetics*
HansRobert
Jauss

ofGreekArt
I. The Ideality
But the difficultyis not in grasping the idea that
Greek art and epos are bound up with certain forms
of social development. It lies ratherin understand-
ing why they still constitute for us a source of
aesthetic enjoyment and in certain respects prevail
as the standard and model beyond attainment.
(Marx's Grundrisse, tr. D. McLellan [London,
1971], P. 45)
T IS surely no mere accident that this question concludes the draft
of the "Einleitung zur Kritik der politischen Okonomie" of 1857,
which was published not by Marx himself,but only posthumouslyin
1903 from his manuscript remains. This late publication is responsible
for the fact that Marxist aestheticsreceived its firstorientationnot froma
new understandingof antiquity or a coming to terms with the "classical
heritage," but from the Sickingen Debates, an exchange of lettersabout
the tragedyof the contradictionbetween the revolutionaryIdea and class
consciousness. The narrowing of the aesthetic issue to a particular prob-
lem of postclassical tragedy becomes only too obvious if we recall that
the Okonomisch-philosophischeManuskripte of I844 firstsaw the light
of day after an even longer time lag, in 1932. The categories there de-
veloped-the appropriation of Nature, the formation of the senses,
historyas labor or "the emergence of Nature forman," alienation brought
about by the category of having, society as the true "resurrection of
nature"-could have given to Marxist aesthetics,which for decades had
engaged in scholastic exegeses of the reflectiondogma, a new level of dis-
cussion which would doubtless have saved it also from its notorious
incomprehensionof modern art.
The belated reception of the aesthetic approaches of the young Marx
significantlyenlivened aesthetic discussion in the Marxist camp. And
here it is preciselythe relics of idealism in the materialistaestheticswhich
are glossed over as an embarrassment, but also employed to render
opinions legitimate. To reduce matters to a provocative formula, the
state of this discussion might be epitomized by the question whether a

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192 NEW LITERARY HISTORY

materialist aesthetic must not admit that it cannot get along without
a central core of idealism.
Marx's high esteem for Greek art, which allows him, half a century
after the "Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes" had ended in his-
toricism, to be enrolled among the admirers of the Greek ideal, be-
queaths a number of difficultiesto a materialist aesthetic. It breaches
the principle of the prior economic determinationof all artistic produc-
tion and confers on the relation of substructure and superstructurea
nonsimultaneity of the necessarily simultaneous, which already fore-
shadows the later metaphorical monstrositiesof an "activityof the super-
structure." It compels the recognition that the art of a distant past
can provide enjoyment independently of the material conditions of
its origin as well as of the material needs of its later readers and
spectators. And it makes it impossible to overlook the embarrassment
that in sum the art of a slave-owning society should also still rank
as a "standard and model beyond attainment" for an emancipated man-
kind. Marx's own answer by no means gets rid of these difficulties.That
an "eternal charm" should be exerted by the "childhood of human
society, where it obtained its most beautiful development," could
scarcely have been formulated otherwise by Schiller. It is in line with
Freud's theoryof the recognitionof a Golden Age imprintedbeforehand
in childhood, and findsa noteworthyecho in Proust's saying: "Les vrais
paradis sont les paradis qu'on a perdu" (Marx: "an age that will never
return").
After many orthodox attempts to dissolve this idealist embarrassment
convincinglyinto a materialist dialectic, which, as R. Bubner has shown
recently, have not been successful, an interestingattempt has now at
length been made from the neo-Marxist angle to concede an idealistic
and utopian concept of art to Marx.1 However, a surprisingconclusion
is drawn. 0. K. Werckmeister seeks to derive the essential difference
between the art of the Greeks and all later artistic productioni from
Marx's insight that the formercould be perfect precisely because it was
not determined by an unfree order of society: "thus it provides a sort
of Archimedean point, from which later ideological art production must
be condemned as alienated from its nature. In an extreme judgment of
this sort, Marx has described capitalist production in toto as hostile to
art. When he pronounces the reason for this to be man's alienation
from Nature in capitalism, he presupposes the idealist conception of
an art which apprehends the essence of Nature."2 For the utopian
future as well as the classical past, Werckmeister has discovered the
Archimedean point in a Marxian passage about Raphael from the
Deutsche Ideologie (1846), which describes art in a Communist society
as a free activityset loose from all dependence on the division of labor.3
Werckmeisternot only thinksthat he has thus secured a frameworkfor
materialist aesthetic within the philosophy of history,in which "all the

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THE IDEALIST EMBARRASSMENT 193

European art of past historyappears as an alienated activity" (p. 15).


He likewise considers the contradiction in Marx between the idealist
utopian and the historicallydeterministconceptions of art to be thereby
purified: apart from its idealist beginning and utopian end, art is no
more than one form of ideology among others. As such it is reduced
to the object of historico-empirical inquiry, which for Werckmeister
means a critique of ideology: "So far as art is concerned, there can
be no aesthetics. It would fall under Marx and Engels' negative counter-
concept to empirical historical experience, the concept of abstraction"
(P-. 7)-
If we follow this interpretation,Marx becomes the executor of the
Hegelian thesis of the end of art, and Werckmeisterthe executor of the
end of aesthetics. But finallya materialist philosophy of art, thus carried
to its most extreme consequences, unwittinglysaws off the branch on
which it thought it was still sitting. For Werckmeisterfails to see that
a materialist historyof art which reduces the whole range of aesthetic
problems to a mere critique of ideology can itself no longer give any
specific reason for its interest in art of the past, and therefore falls
back-by no accident-into an empirical historicism,4or more precisely
into antiquarianism under materialist auspices. To the extent that the
Werckmeisterbrand of experiential science which he refinesinto critique
of ideology is successful in unmasking the "appearance of its indepen-
dence" in all artistic production as a pure ideological delusion, artistic
works, precisely in their "specific effects,"5that is (as K. Kosik formu-
lates it), in their dialectic of genesis and validity, or more accurately
in their peculiar capacity to assume concrete form as the witness of an
age and to survive that age,6 must become for this science an enigmatic
abstraction. The enjoyment one may derive from using an ideological
critique for unmasking is surely an answer only for the select few to
Marx's question, namely, why the art of the past-and certainly not
Greek art alone, as Marx the admirer of Balzac again testifies-can still
affordus enjoyment.Why, after all, should the current ruling class enlist
the arts in the service of its interests,if the work of art possesses only the
obscuring function of a beautiful illusion, and not also the power of
shaping history and achieving a social effect as well, which a total
suspicion of ideology may certainlydisavow, but cannot banish from the
world?
O. K. Werckmeister'sexcessivelyingenious exegesis of Marx stands at
that extreme pole of a materialist aesthetic which can accord to art in
present-day society, as in its past, a function scarcely larger than did
Plato in his ideal state or Rousseau in his ideal democracy. From the same
texts, Herbert Marcuse, who represents the opposite pole of Marxist
aesthetics,has attributedto art the highest function in the emancipatory
and even revolutionary development of society. His answer to Marx's
question is that art of the past still provides enjoyment, because it

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194 NEW LITERARY HISTORY

transforms existing reality into another dimension, that of possible


liberation, and because it appeals to repressed qualities of human sen-
sibilitythrough its aesthetic form. "And it does so only if art wills itself
as illusion: as an unreal world other than the established one. And pre-
cisely in this transfiguration,art preserves and transcends its class
character. And transcends it, not toward a realm of mere fiction and
fantasy, but toward a universe of concrete possibilities."7 What for
Werckmeisterwas the Archimedean point by which he could demonstrate
that all artisticproduction since antiquity is alienation under the spell of
ideologies, appears in Marcuse as the "idealist core of dialectical mater-
ialism: the transcendence of freedom beyond the given forms" (p. 7o).
If Marcuse's aesthetic theorythus seems again very close to the Hegelian
definitionof beauty as the sensory appearance of the Idea of freedom
(cf. p. IIo), it can nonetheless conceive of itself as materialistic insofar
as it seeks to set up the "subversive truth of art" (p. 98) against the re-
pressive forces of tradition, the emancipation of human sensibility (p.
71) against the blunted senses of alienated labor. In the face of the
current "counter-revolution" of a society whose consumption patterns
are stabilized and of the prevailing culture-industry,art can, accord-
ing to Marcuse, by virtue of its aesthetic qualities which are "essentially
nonviolent, nondomineering" (p. 74), still most readily stand guard
over, or even awaken, the need for social change.
This rediscoveryof the implicitlypolitical potential of art leads ma-
terialist aesthetics out of the aporia of that critique of ideology which,
from an earlier standpoint of Marcuse's (in his "tber den affirmativen
Charakter der Kultur" of 1937), perceived only idealist affirmative
corruption in every attitude to art since the separation of labor and
leisure, and was ready to concede a renewed social function to aesthetic
experience only in a utopian future,after the "liberation fromthe ideal."
The reversion to the Okonomnisch-philosophische Manuskripte of 1844,
from which Marcuse takes the central themes of his theoryof art-the
subversivepotential of sensibilityand Nature in the realm of liberation-
freesthe materialistaesthetic fromthe cognitivelimitationsof hypostatized
class consciousness. The Brecht-Lukaics debate, which in its boldest
flightsdid little more than shake the dogma of the class-specificcharacter
of the artisticmedium, seems in retrospectto be remarkablybackward by
comparison. Whereas the aestheticof Prague structuralismassociated with
Muka'ovsk (1936) had long ago recognized the preeminentsocial func-
tion of the work as an aesthetic sign, explained by Mukarovsky as
an "empty function" organizing other functionsof social life, the Brecht-
Lukaics debate continued for a long time under the spell of the dogmas
of reflection,partisanship,canonized realism, and the decadence of every-
thing "modern." It was only the theses of Stalin On Linguistics of 1950,
which, though by no means motivated by any liberalizing intention,
created the possibilityof also justifyinga dialectic between class content

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THE IDEALIST EMBARRASSMENT 195

and transcendent artistic form, analogous to the independence of lan-


guage between substructure and superstructure. Today we can only
continue to wonder why it proved so much harder for post-Marxian
aesthetics than for Karl Marx in his 1857 encounter with Greek art
to admit that for its aesthetic, dialectical materialism "contains (I would
say 'needs') idealism as an element of both its theoryand practice" and
to draw conclusions fromit.8

II. The WorkofArtas PossibleParadigm


ofNonalienatedLabor
The practical construction of an objective world,
the manipulation of inorganic nature, is the con-
firmationof man as a conscious species-being, i.e.
a being who treats the species as his own being or
himselfas a species-being. Of course, animals also
produce. They constructnests,dwellings,as in the
case of bees, beavers, ants, etc. But they only pro-
duce what is strictlynecessary for themselves or
their young. They produce only in a single direc-
tion, while man produces universally. They pro-
duce only under the compulsion of direct physical
needs, while man produces when he is free from
physical need and only truly produces in freedom
from such need. Animals produce only themselves,
while man reproduces the whole of nature. The
products of animal production belong directly to
their physical bodies, while man is free in face of
his product. Animals constructonly in accordance
with the standards and needs of the species to
which they belong, while man knows how to pro-
duce in accordance with the standards of every
species and knows how to apply the appropriate
standard to the object. Thus man constructsalso
in accordance with the laws of beauty. (Karl
Marx, Early Writings,tr. T. B. Bottomore [New
York, 19641, pp. 127-28)

It seems to be important to start from the fact that the concept of


"beauty" in the young Marx appears in a context that is primarily of
significancefor the historyof the concept of "labor." In the Okonomisch-
philosophische Manuskripte of I844 the concept of "labor" notoriously
reaches the peak of its dignity: whereas in the ancient beginnings of its
historyit designated the lowest level of human activity (the alienated
existence of the unfree), it now names man's highest claim to make
Nature into his own work: "The human significanceof nature only exists

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196 NEW LITERARY HISTORY

for social man, because only in this case is nature a bond with other men,
the basis of his existence for others and of their existence for him. ...
[It is then] a vital element of human reality."9 Labor as the "self-creation
of man" (p. 202) is, as the "veritable resurrectionof nature" (p.
I57),
at once the password for a new understanding of history,as Marx puts
it with referenceto Hegel's Phenomenology: "Nature, as it develops in
human history,in the act of genesis of human society,is the actual nature
of man .... History itselfis a real part of natural history,of the develop-
ment of nature into man" (p. i64). It may be remarked in passing that
Droysen, in his historical writingsof almost the same period, also speaks
of world historyas the "labor of the human race." Marx has thus effected
a reversal of the Aristotelianhierarchyof praxis and poiesis in favor of
the primacy of poiesis: "Labor as man's essential overall praxis is given
precedence over political action and theory."10 The consequences of
thus putting objective doing above communicative action have been
pointed out by J. Habermas.11 Already in the Okonomisch-philosophische
Manuskripte, as a matter of fact, categories of interactionor communica-
tion occupy only a marginal position in the analysis of the dialectic of ap-
propriation. They are neverthelessarticulated, however, not only in the
celebrated remarksabout the relation of man to woman ("In this natural
species-relationship man's relation to nature is directly his relation to
man" [p. I54]), but also in a discussion of the goal of emancipation of all
human senses: not only are need and enjoyment to lose "their egoistic
character" there, but the "senses and minds of other men" are also to
"become my own appropriation" (p. I6o). In Marxist aesthetics these
attempts to postulate that aesthetic experience has a solidarizing function
have not, to my knowledge, been taken up (not even by Marcuse, in any
explicit form).
Let us now return to the question of what meaning can be ascribed to
the production of beauty by labor, seen as the human act of self-creation.
Marx proceeds here from the distinctionbetween men and animals: the
latter "produce only themselves, while man reproduces the whole of
nature." In contrast to all other organic life, the specifically human
activity is labor, and thus not consciousness by which he is traditionally
distinguished. If it is labor, therefore,and no longer consciousness that
mediates between man and Nature, subjectivity and objectivity, this
mediation is neverthelessviewed from the outset as a kind of production
"free from physical need." What is constitutivefor the activity of man
the species-being is not just a production to satisfyphysical needs, but
firstand foremostthe capacity to go beyond natural needs, to develop
new and thus social needs, and to produce in accordance with them. But
human activityalso differsfromthat of the merelyself-producinganimal
in that man is capable of creating actively an objective world, that
is, unlike the animal, of appropriating Nature to himself "in an all-
inclusive way" (p. I59) and not just one-sidedly for a specific use. The
practical creation of a world is represented here by yet another concept

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THE IDEALIST EMBARRASSMENT 197

which disappeared from later Marxist aesthetics, or more precisely was


replaced by the concept of imitation and the imagery of "reflection": the
appropriation of Nature. Every objective relation or relation to an
object, whether it be mediated by the senses or by activity,is still viewed
in the O*konomisch-philosophischeManuskripte as "appropriation of
human reality"; the process wherebyman appropriates his "objective es-
sence" is thus also an appropriation of Nature, which by means of such
production "appears as his work and his reality." Here Marx has adopted
-even to the image of duplication ("for he no longer reproduces himself
merely intellectually,as in consciousness,but actively and in a real sense,
and he sees his own reflectionin a world which he has constructed" [p.
I28])-definitions to be found in Hegel's lectures on aesthetics under the
title "The Artwork is a Creation of Human Activity." Compare, for
example: "The objects of Nature exist exclusively in immediacy and
once for all. Man, on the contrary,as mind reduplicates himself.He is, to
start with, an object of Nature as other objects; but in addition to this,
and no less truly,he exists for himself; he observes himself,makes himself
present to his imagination and thought,and only in virtue of this active
power of self-realizationis he actually mind or spirit" (p. 41). Already
in Hegel's aesthetics, man attains this duplication by no means only
theoretically (Marx: "no longer . . . merely intellectually, as in con-
sciousness"), but also through practical activity,as Hegel shows precisely
by reference to the "Universal demand for artistic expression": "And
man does all this, in order that he may as free agent divest the external
world of its stubborn alienation from himself-and in order that he
may enjoy in the configurationof objective fact an external realitysimply
of himself" (p. 42).
This agreement with the idea of the universal demand from which,
according to Hegel, art is brought forth,is bound altogether to become
an idealist embarrassmentfora materialistaesthetic when Marx evidently
interpretsthe practical creation of an objective world according to the
paradigm of the production of works of art: "Animals constructonly in
accordance with the standards and needs of the species to which they
belong, while man knows how to produce in accordance with the stan-
dards of every species and knows how to apply the appropriate standard
to the object. Thus man constructsalso in accordance with the laws of
beauty." With the concept of constructingaccording to laws of beauty,
Marx has obviously chosen to abide by the verbal usage of the classicist
theoryof natural beauty. Hence this key passage is difficultfor a material-
ist aesthetic to take into account. For "the appropriate standard" which
man the producer is to apply to every object can hardly be drawn from
his material as such (unless we wish to polish up the medieval doctrine
of the inherentbeauty that God has concealed in all created things,and
which the artisthas only to elicit). But how is the "appropriate standard"
of every object related to the "laws of beauty"? Such "laws of beauty"
can hardly be prescribed here by Nature, let alone reside in the material,

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198 NEW LITERARY HISTORY

unless Marx can be found to have been guilty of relapsing into an alto-
gether naive Platonism.
These difficultieshave not, however, deterred the official aesthetic
theory of the German Democratic Republic from making astonishing
use of the materialisticallydubious principle of the young Marx. In the
Philosophisches Warterbuch of Georg Klaus and Manfred Buhr, it not
only serves to set up aesthetics as the "theory of the aesthetic activityof
man," but to establish furtherthat man "thereforehas an aesthetic rela-
tion not only to his own creations, but also to Nature." 12 This aesthetic
relation is also said to include the fact that "aesthetic principles of form
are inherent to labor," as is shown by history,right back to the first
beginnings of human culture. The author of this article, entitled "Aes-
thetics," had no cause to fear that his recourse to an unorthodox position
of the young Marx would be held against him. For in the meantime the
principle that man creates according to "laws of beauty" had been en-
dorsed as orthodox at the highestofficiallevel: "The essence of socialism
also includes the deliberate shaping of all spheres of life according to
'the laws of beauty' (Decree of the State Council of German Democratic
Republic of 30 November 1967)" (p. 121). We can do no less than con-
gratulate both the Philosophisches Warterbuch and the State Council
of the German Democratic Republic upon this insight, but would be
glad to know how it is to be reconciled with the principles of dialectical
and historical materialism that man in his history,despite all alienation
of labor, should be able to construct "according to the laws of beauty."
The young Marx himself did not go that far, as can be seen from a
glance at his sketch of historyin the Okonomisch-philosophischeManu-
skripteof 1844-
Here we find unfolded an implicitly three-stage view of history,set
forthin the context of a polemic against private property,or more pre-
cisely, against reducing man under the category of having (pp. I59ff.).
The sense of possession is here said to bring about the alienation of all
the other physical and mental senses-the senses which make possible
an all-inclusive appropriation of Nature as a human reality and hence
man's complete self-enjoyment(with the notable addendum that suffer-
ing itself,humanly considered, is "an enjoyment of the self for man"
[p. 159]). It remains obscure here why possession,understood as a taking-
into-use of things,should not also constitute a positive mode of appro-
priation. Since Marx connects the beginning of alienation firmlyto the
categoryof having, the question arises as to when and how, in his model
of history,this alienation is supposed to have come about. Was it pre-
ceded by a primitivestage at which having, understood as a taking-into-
use of things, could still be a positive way of appropriating Nature?
According to the text of The German Ideology, the beginning of aliena-
tion came with the form of the division of labor which split material
and intellectual labor and thus produced the fatal effect of estrange-
ment ("that .. . enjoyment and labour, production and consumption-

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THE IDEALIST EMBARRASSMENT 199

devolve on differentindividuals"), introduced the separation of pure


theory and practice, and also brought in its train the "first property"
-already in the shape here of the "power of disposing of the labour-
power of others." According to the text of the Okonomisch-philosophische
Manuskripte, the threshold is so presented, however, as if this step into
povertyof all thingsmust have been the condition for all furtherwealth-
if we adhere to the statement: "The human being had to be reduced to
this absolute poverty in order to be able to give birth to all his inner
wealth" (p. 16o). Does this dialectical ambivalence perhaps indicate that
Marx hesitated to proclaim alienation through "having" as a firstact
or fall fromgrace in historyas the materialistsees it?
In this text, the end of alienation is no less problematic than its be-
ginning: "The supersessionof private propertyis, therefore,the complete
emancipation of all the human qualities and senses. It is such an emanci-
pation because these qualities and senses have become human, from the
subjective as well as the objective point of view" (p. i6o). It was on this
that Marcuse based his interpretation,as beautiful as it is sympathetic,
that a new dimension of history could be opened up, not only by the
formal abolition of private property,but primarilyby an abolition of the
alienation of the senses, that is, by a radical redefinitionof sensibility(pp.
86f.). The only thing I fail to understand here is how the emancipation
of human senses and human qualities could have remained suspended
throughout the long historyof alienated labor, and only now, if not in
time to come, will be set in motion again-as if at a drum-stroke-after
the abolition of private property. This already contradicts Marx's sub-
sequent observation that "The cultivation of the five senses is the work
of all previous history" (p. 161). Thus the cultivation of the senses in the
emancipatory process of human historymust have gone on, or been able
to go on, despite alienation through the category of having! 13
The aporia between the category of "having" and the category of the
progressive appropriation of Nature can be eliminated by extending
Marx's 1844 views and attributingto art the functionof permittingman
a "having" which does not lapse into the perversityof property; does
not man's relation to art, indeed, permitof a "having as if thou hadst not"
(if we may be allowed to interpretthe aesthetic suggestionsof the young
Marx with the aid of Pauline theology)? It can in fact be specifically
said that in the case of the work of art "man is free in face of his product"
(cf. introductoryquotation). This is true of the producer, insofar as his
work is to be regarded as "man's own deed," which does not "become
an alien power opposed to him" (German Ideology, p. 45). But it is also
true of the recipients,inasmuch as need or enjoyment lose "their egoistic
character" most manifestly (Early Writings, p. 16o) in the aesthetic
experience. Thus the work of art could become a paradigm for non-
alienated labor which could uphold the idea of free productivity and
sense-changing receptivityin periods of alienated material labor. This
would explain the unsupported statement in the "aesthetics" article in

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200 NEW LITERARY HISTORY

the Philosophisches Warterbuch of the German Democratic Republic,


that "aesthetic principles of form are inherent to labor" (p. 121). How-
ever, my thesis of the work of art as a paradigm of nonalienated labor
does not remove the idealist embarrassmentof Marx's passage about con-
structing according to the laws of beauty, but elevates it into an in-
dispensable component of a materialist aesthetic, which has no wish to
deprive art of the high rank still attributed to it in the concept of the
young Marx.

III. The DialecticofProduction


and Consumption,
"ArtObject" and a "PublicAppreciative
ofBeauty"
Production not only supplies the want with ma-
terial,but supplies the material with a want. When
consumption emerges fromits firststage of natural
crudeness and directness-and its continuation in
that state would in itselfbe the resultof a produc-
tion still remainingin a state of natural crudeness-
it is itself,as a desire, mediated by its object. The
want for it which consumption experiences is
created by its perception of the product. The object
of art, as well as any other product, creates an
artistic public, appreciative of beauty. Production
thus produces not only an object for the subject,
but also a subject for the object.
Production thus produces consumption: first,by
furnishing the latter with material; second, by
determiningthe manner of consumption; third,by
creating in consumers a want for its products as
objects of consumption.It thus produces the object,
the manner and the desire forconsumption. In the
same manner, consumption creates the disposition
of the producer by setting him up as an aim and
by stimulatingwants. (Marx's Grundrisse,pp. 25-
26)
Not by accident is a theoryof literaryreception one of the most recent
achievements of Marxist aesthetics. Karl R. Mandelkow recently
examined the historyof the theory of literaryreception in the German
Democratic Republic, which until the present has largely been the
historyof the obstacles placed in its way.14 According to Mandelkow it
was a writer,Christa Wolf, who in 1956 firstexpressed the hope "that
the effectof the work of art will be one of the criteria of a Marxist
aesthetic yet to be created." This hope apparently was not realized by
1968, as another writer,Giinter de Beuyn, attests in his novel Buridans
Esel through the voice of a pert librarian. In the meantime, however, in

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THE IDEALIST EMBARRASSMENT 201

1965, Georg Lukaics spoke of the catharsis and the aftereffectof the
receptive experience, and in 1965 Walter Hohmann declared in the
periodical Der Bibliothekar that research on literaryeffectwas a regret-
table deficiency in Marxist literary scholarship. But Lukaics considered
the problem of literaryeffectin his aesthetic theory only to reduce the
perceiving subject to the passive role of solitary contemplation, quite in
the tradition of classical bourgeois aesthetics,and thus-in this case, too,
even more orthodox than Goethe, whom he recruitsto support his argu-
ments-to preservethe authorityof the work fromall infringementon the
part of emancipated recipients. And Hohmann's programmatic step
forward did not simply confine itself to a sociology of reading destined
for the cultural politics of the library, but rather had an unattractive
flow: "Research on effectas the additive expansion of a theoryof litera-
ture based on the primacy of production aesthetics,with the goal of in-
vestigatingthe mechanisms and the laws of 'correct' effectof art based on
identification,the betterto direct,influence,and correct these laws on the
basis of this knowledge." 15 The connection between this theory and the
practice of authoritarian artistic politics can be seen easily. Marxist re-
search on literaryeffectin the German Democratic Republic therefore
necessarilyfelt particularly challenged by West German literaryscholar-
ship when the latter began to develop an aesthetics of reception which
accords to the reader an active role in constitutingthe significance/mean-
ing (Sinn) of the works as well as in formingtradition and in the social
functionof literature. In the words of Karl Mandelkow: "The openness
of the text to the possibilityof active reader participation appears to be
the condition, on the side of the work, for a nonauthoritarian form of
effect.However, this sort of democratic relationship between work and
effect brings with it the danger of-to use Benjamin's expression-
'making the public into a party.' But this and nothing else is the actual
challenge which the aesthetics of reception offers Marxist literary
theory."16 Since 1970, a group of scholars centered around Robert
Weimann, Manfred Naumann, and Claus Triiger has answered this
challenge from a higher level of argumentation. The dialogue which
has been carried on since then has focused on clarifyingthe issues of
production and consumption,effectand reception,traditionand selection.
In spite of all differences,a common interestexists in research into the
question of how literaturecan again be understood in its communicative
function and thus as a force which shapes history.My last contribution
to this debate17 was followed by M. Naumann's Gesellschaft-Literatur-
Lesen: Literaturrezeption in theoretischerSicht (Berlin and Weimar,
1973). This is the firstGerman attempt at a materialisttheoryof literary
reception worth mentioning, even if it ignores-to its own detriment--
nearly everything (or has to ignore nearly everything?) which the
Prague School achieved likewise along materialistlines. A famous passage
from Marx from the Einleitung zur Kritik der politischen Okonomie
(1857), interpretedhere afresh,serves to legitimize the new theory.The

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202 NEW LITERARY HISTORY

authors draw from Marx's dialectic of production and consumption, of


art object and public able to enjoy beauty, in particular the concept of
receptive predetermination (Rezeptionsvorgabe), with which they claim
to have overcome the subjectivist, that is, idealist weakness of the
bourgeois aesthetic of reception. Can this counter-proposalto the Iserian
"structure of reader involvement" (Appell-Struktur) and the Jaussian
"horizon of expectation" of literary texts legitimately appeal to the
dialectic of production and consumption in Marx's Einleitung of 1857?
How will it cope with the idealist implications which once more emerge
in this context in regard to Marx's own chosen paradigm of the object
of art?
Manfred Naumann, the author of the introductoryarticle which
lays the foundation for furtherdiscussion is able to appeal to the above-
cited observationsof Marx for the "discovery" that production and recep-
tion of literatureare but two sides of a dialectical process that is nothing
more than "a special case of the general dialectic of appropriation"
(pp. 86f.). In fact it seems only logical to apply the postulated categories
of production and consumption to mental activities as well, which in
Marx fall under the concept of labor as appropriation of Nature anyway.
Naumann very aptly reproduces Marx's position of 1857, insomuch as
he expounds his (and my) thesis that the work of art needs a reader
in order to become a real work in the following terms: "For since
production is directed towards appropriating not just merely 'natural
matters', but natural matter in a form that men can use, the product
proves good and is a 'real' product 'not as objectified activity,but only
as an object for the active subject.' As 'objectified activity' the product
is a product 'in possibility'only. It becomes one 'in actuality' only as an
object 'for the active subject', i.e., in consumption. It is here that it
firstreceives the 'finishingtouch' and is completed" (p. 84). So far, so
good. But the hidden seeds of future trouble are overlooked. The trouble
is that the art object could hardly elicit a need that was initially quite
absent in a public which the art object firsthas to create if beauty is to
be given only the functionof copyingin a materialisticway. The aesthetic
paradigm in Marx's dialectic of production and consumption implies
that the beautiful has a transcendent ("idealist") function.But that is not
all: Marx elevates the public, which as "active subject" of consumption
"creates the want as the inward object, the purpose of production"
(Marx's Grundrisse,p. 26), into a factor which is once again active in a
comprehensive process which goes beyond the limits of the static imagery
of substructureand superstructure.Regardless of how one interpretsthe
passage of 1857 that is used to justify the new materialist theory of
literaryreception, it is manifestlyat odds with all theories of reflection
and more particularlywith the principle which Naumann apostrophizesin
a later passage: "the principle, basic to any materialisttheoryof art, that
even the ideal which appears in art is 'nothingelse but the material, trans-
formed and translated in the human head', that even those 'concepts in

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THE IDEALIST EMBARRASSMENT 203

our heads' that have a function in the constructionof works of art are
'copies of real things'" (p. 39). For if the beautiful art object elicits
a new and not yet existingneed, it can hardly be a copy of things which
are already materiallypresent at the same time, any more than the "laws
of beauty" can be drawn from that which is already materially present.
For the Marx of I844, these are the laws according to which man, unlike
the merely self-producing animal, creates ("reproduces the whole of
nature"), inasmuch as he "knows how to apply the appropriate standard
to the object in everycase"; and theycan scarcelybe derived fromalready
presentmaterial to which, though we scarcelyknow how, a standard must
firstbe applied, so that "nature appears as his work and his reality" to
man throughhis aesthetic activity.
It may be mentioned in passing that on pages 24ff.,Naumann entirely
fails to notice the contradiction between the young Marx's position,
which conceives of art as an appropriation of Nature and as a medium
for educating the senses, and the Leninist theory of reflection.The idea
of art as a paradigm for labor (plus the possibilitywhich Marx did not
exploit of being a paradigm for nonalienated labor), as an equally
original mode of appropriation or reproduction of Nature, bestows on
the product of artistic labor no less than of material labor a rank that
is no longer metaphysically subordinate to a higher, intellectual form
of being. The later Marxist-Leninist epistemology, on the other hand,
which views the artistic product as a copy of real things or a transla-
tion of the material into the ideal (p. 26), falls back involuntarily,in its
view of art, into a materialistic Platonism, insofar as it subordinates the
art product, qua copy, to the product of material labor, and thus accords
it merely a third place behind economic truth. Naumann nowhere ven-
tures to tell us what is relative about the "relative autonomy of art" (p.
30) and whether this relative autonomy removes art from the suspicion
of ideology (on p. 31 he is even so kind as to grant the propertied classes
strugglingfor dominance "a maximum of relative truth concerning social
existence") .
It is comfortingto learn that in the developed socialist society of the
German Democratic Republic "reading is gradually becoming a 'habit
of life' for the majority of people" (p. 13). A certain mistrust as to
whether the socialist reader is in fact mature enough seems to be deeply
rooted in Naumann's mind, however. This becomes apparent when,
polemicizing against Roland Barthes and myself,he goes so far as to
make the followingassertion: the revolutionaryauthor who writes realis-
tically "not only wishes the reading of his work to liberate the reader
'from adaptations, prejudices and constraints,by compelling him to a new
perception of things'; he wishes it to compel him to perceive things cor-
rectly" (p. 74). D. Schlennstedt's attack on the theory of Wolfgang
Iser is along the same lines: "By opening a search for meaning Iser's
theorysees the reader's freedomas guaranteed, in wavering indeterminacy
it sees a poetic goal. We wish to maintain, on the contrary,that the plu-

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204 NEW LITERARY HISTORY

ralistic defense against manipulation which is expressed is only the re-


verse side of this manipulation. The feast of permissivenessis of no help
in abolishing the circumstances which are under criticism; it is rather
an expressionof them, a support for the subjection of individuals to con-
tingency. An aesthetic linked to social progress thereforelays stress on
determinacy" (p. 373). The theory of "receptive predetermination"
(Rezeptionsvorgabe) at present under scrutinyshows that in these three
cases we are not dealing with a mere passing excess of zeal (or an adapta-
tion to the party line).
Manfred Naumann's theoretical justificationdoes not permit us to see
as clearly as could be wished what Schlennstedt's practical application
unmistakably proclaims: that the Marxist variant of the aesthetics of
reception is primarily interested in the "determinateness of the object
of receptive activity." There is no special inquiry into the material de-
terminatenessof the receiving side, that is, into the resuscitated "active
subject" of the receiving activity; despite all the polemic against Iser's
"implied reader" and the "public in general" imputed to me (p. 136),
this aspect is construed as an idealized consciousness (cf. Schlennstedt,p.
354: "If we try to convert the potential of the work into a theoretical
model of reception, we have to reckon with postulating an idealized con-
sciousness"). Naumann likewiseemphasizes fromthe verystart: "We shall
call the work's propertyof guiding its reception receptivepredetermination
(Rezeptionsvorgabe). We use this concept in a nonevaluative sense; any
given work predeterminesits reception.We are concerned with a category
which expresses the functionsa work can potentiallyperformin virtue of
its nature" (p.
35).
In Naumann's theoretical exposition we constantly find specifications
which describe the process of reception both on the side of the work
(receptive predetermination) and on the side of the reader (social modes
of reception,p. 91), and which differso little from my own theorythat,
considering that my book appeared considerably earlier in 1967, it
would definitelybe possible to speak of "dialectical appropriation." Yet it
is repeatedly evident here that in Naumann's case there can be no talk
of an interaction of the two systemsor horizons, the systemof the work
or horizon of literaryexpectation on the one hand (his Rezeptionsvor-
gabe), and the systemof interpretationor horizon of expectation of the
life-worldon the other hand. He accords the reader as "the active subject"
no special, socially conditioned horizon of understanding, no changing
code of interpretation.When Naumann starts (as I do) fromthe promise
"that a work's receptive predetermination (Rezeptionsvorgabe) may be
realized in quite differentways" (p. 35), he has no means of defining
these "quite differentways" in any categorial and intersubjectivefashion;
he lacks Vodicka's concept of the literary public, as is particularly ap-
parent where he speaks of social institutionswhich select, make available,
and evaluate literaryworks before they get into the hands of the reader
(p. 90). When Naumann observes (as I do) that "reception hence rep-

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THE IDEALIST EMBARRASSMENT 205

resents not only an end-point, but also a starting-pointfor new literary


production" (p. 37), all he can findto say about it is that literaryproduc-
tion obviously remains the predominant factor, although here he cannot
get along without the "concept of a basic aesthetic need" (p. 38), which
stands out as a notably Platonic element in a Marxist anthropology.When
he frames the distinction,18that the concept of reception is formed from
the reader's angle, whereas the concept of effectstressesthe aspect of the
work (p. 87), the mediation between the two is said to be constituted
"by the evaluating relationship which the reader necessarily assumes
toward the work when he receives it" (pp. 87-88). He is unable to per-
ceive "dialectically" that this "necessity"not only arises on account of the
work, but may be equally determined by an institutionalhorizon which
influences reception, as is also apparent from the following remark:
"Some works, by virtue of their objective properties,compel the reader
to come to terms with them repeatedly; others again, and these are the
majority, for the same reasons cause readers to reject them as objects
of reception after a certain time" (p. 87). Above all else, Naumann's
theory lacks the concept of concretization, understood as the current
pattern of reception endorsed by a literarypublic which emerges fromthe
convergenceof the two horizons-the work's "receptive predetermination"
and the "horizon of expectation" of the "active subject." When Naumann
speaks of "social modes of reception," they remain, as "objective social
functions" or "concrete embodiments of consciousness" (p. 91), un-
connected with the literaryprocess of reception. Intersubjective categories
are entirelylacking on the side of reception, so that it comes to seem
as though receptive predetermination (which, as I maintain, can be
conditioned by language or genre [p. 46]) refersto the individual recep-
tion of the work by a universal reader (cf. pp. 88-97), where we would
specificforsocial classesor generations.
expectcodes of understanding
The exampleof a receptivepredetermination proposedby D. Schlenn-
stedt,Brecht's poem "Der Rauch," confirmsthe one-sidedness of the new
Marxist reception theory.The successfulpart of this interpretationin no
way differsfrom an analysis of appeal-structures (cf. p. 356), such as
on the basis of Iser's theory.Schlennstedt's
would have to be performed
interpretationwould be even more successfulif the specifichorizon of ex-
pectation of the species "lyrical poem," and in particular the tradition of
lyrical laconicism were taken into account.19 For the rest, the reception
side alwaysremainsan idealized impliedreader throughoutthe inquiry
and the latter-in marked contrastto Iser's theory-is unable to actualize
differentmodes of interpretation (Sinngebungen, pp. 367ff.). It is
granted, indeed, that the labor of interpretationthat the work demands
can lead to "quite special results in seeking out the meaning of poetic
shapes" (p. 369). But at no point does the analysis advance to such
an observingand judging"lyricalsubject"
results;instead,it reconstructs
with whom, Brecht implies, the reader is expected to keep in step.20
At the end, indeed, the question is raised: "whether the reader sees

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206 NEW LITERARY HISTORY

the lyrical subject objectively and grasps it as a subjectivityconfronting


him depends on the nearness or remotenessto his own subjectivityof what
is evoked and also on specific receptive intentions" (p. 378). But this
nearness or remoteness to "his own subjectivity" (again we lack the
intersubjectivecategory of the horizon of expectation or code of under-
standing) is not reflectedon further,although on p. 375 the "world at-
titude" of a socialist reader is proclaimed and set off from the bourgeois
approach to Nature. This world attitude, as a specific, socially condi-
tioned horizon of reception "in which other men have become a need"
(p. 375), would have had to be elaborated thematically beforehand as
a contrastto the concept of receptive predeterminationif the postulate of
a Marxist theoryof receptionwhich-pragmatically only, unfortunately--
"is related to the changing context of the historical and actual indi-
vidual situationof the reader" (p. 378) is to be redeemed.
In the end, therefore,the elevation of the reader to an "active subject"
in the process of literaryproduction and consumptionwhich was initially
proclaimed, remains within limits,if not for the moment somewhat meta-
phorical. An exhaustive pursuit of the aesthetic implications of the Marx-
ian dialectic of production and consumption might have led to the con-
sequence that even a materialist aesthetic could account for the socially
formativefunctionsof art ("Production thus produces not only an object
for the subject, but a subject for the object"). For Marx's statementthat
"production forms the actual starting point and is, therefore,the pre-
dominating factor" (Marx's Grundrisse,p. 27) does not rule out, but
rather implies for him that consumption itself can again become an
active subject, that is, a "factor of production" (ibid.). This dialectical
reversal might well be better elucidated by artistic than by material pro-
duction. For Marx says of the latter: "In society,however, the relation
of the producer to his product, as soon as it is completed, is an outward
one, and the return of the product to the individual depends .on his
relations to other individuals. He does not take immediate possession
of it" (ibid.). If there is a chance of becoming immediate possessor of
one's work this will be most likely to be the case with the artist as the
least alienated worker,in interactionwith the reader as the least alienated
consumer. This emerges from Marx's correlative statement: "The in-
dividual produces a certain article and turns it into himself again by
consuming it; but he returns as a productive and self-reproducingin-
dividual. Consumption thus appears as a factor of production" (ibid.).
He who would appeal to the rare fragmentsof the aesthetic theory
of the early Marx must be aware that the legitimationof the materialist
aesthetic he seeks, necessarily must deal with their unrecognized or un-
spoken idealistic premises at the same time. Regardless of whether one
suppresses these premises as an embarrassment or incorporates them as
part of the "inheritance," a materialist aesthetic cannot get along
without them if it wishes to explain the effect of past works on later

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THE IDEALIST EMBARRASSMENT 207

periods or even the class-transcendentcharacter of the art form; if, in the


face of man's alienation under the rule of capitalism, it wishes to describe
activity freed from dependence on the division of labor as a process
of the aesthetic education of the senses; or if it wishes to conceive of the
consumer not simplyas the victim of material relationshipsbut also as an
"active subject," and thus to acknowledge the possibility of art as a
solidarizing, socially formative force. On the other hand, however, a
bourgeois aesthetic cannot get along without materialist premises if it
wishes to understand the past and possible functions of literature and
art in historyand in society instead of isolating them from the real his-
torical and social processes, and if it no longer wishes to suppress the
embarrassingfact that every work of art, as a beautiful illusion, can serve
both to liberate possibilitiesand needs which are otherwiseunfulfilled,and
to camouflage ruling interests.If the mutual embarrassment were rec-
ognized, a new point of departure for the continuation of the debate be-
tween "bourgeois" and "Marxist" literary theory would perhaps be
won. I also have in mind a long-overdue correction in terminology.In
the field of politics a clear-cut distinctioncan be made, for reasons that
cannot be overlooked,between a "bourgeois" and a "Marxist" standpoint.
In the fieldof philosophytheremay be an "idealistic" and a "materialistic"
theory of cognition. But in the field of aesthetics, on the contrary, the
opposition labelled in this manner has proven again and again to be
unverifiableor purely ideological, thanks to the idiosyncrasyof aesthetic
understanding, which in its nonviolent, nongovernable, and therefore
"subversive" effectivenessagain and again has eluded all ideological
jurisdiction and domination by society's regulatoryestablishments.21
UNIVERSITY OF CONSTANCE
(Translated by Peter Heath)

NOTES
The following discussion is based on the results of a seminar on "Theories
and Critique of Marxist Aesthetics" which I conducted in the Fachbereich Litera-
turwissenschaftat the Universityof Constance in the summer of 1974. I am in-
debted for considerable stimulation to the members of the seminar, especially
Lothar Struss and Burkhart Steinwachs, and to discussions in a Heidelberg collo-
quium on questions of philosophic aesthetics (28-30 June 1974) and followingmy
lecture at the University of Munich (18 Dec. 1974). The third chapter was
published in the anthologyRezeptionsiisthetik:Theorie und Praxis, ed. R. Warning
(Munich, 1975)-
I R. Bubner, Neue Hefte fiirPhilosophie, 5 (i973), 38-73.
2 O. K. Werckmeister,Ideologie und Kunst bei Marx (Frankfurt, 1974), PP-
I4-I5-
3 "Raphael, as much as any other artist, was determined by the technical
advances in art made before him, by the organization of society and the division
of labor in his locality, and finallyby the division of labor in all the countrieswith
which his locality had intercourse.. . . In any case, with a communistorganization

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208 NEW LITERARY HISTORY

of society, there disappears the subordination of the artist to local and national
narrowness,which arises entirelyfromdivision of labor, and also the subordination
of the artist to some definite art, thanks to which he is exclusively a painter,
sculptor,etc., the veryname of his activityadequately expressingthe narrownessof
his professionaldevelopment and his dependence on division of labor. In a com-
munist society there are no painters but at most people who engage in painting
among other activities" (The German Ideology, tr. S. Ryazanskaya [Moscow, 1964],
PP. 442-43).
4 "It translates the seeming truth and values, which past works of art represent
for contemporaryculture, back into the past subjective ideas, convictions and
purposes of those who produced them" (p. 33).
5 How Werckmeisterproposes to get from the labor process of art production
to the "specific effects"of works of art and the differentarts, is his own secret
(ibid., p. 3I).
6 K. Kosik (Die Dialektik des Konkreten [Frankfurt,1967], pp. I33ff.) does
more justice to the fragmentarycharacter of the 1857 Einleitung when he ob-
serves: "Attention is concentrated, not upon elucidating the ideal character of
ancient art, but on interpretingthe problem of genesis and validity : the social
linkage of art and ideas in historyis not identical with their validity." From thence
Kosik develops his dialectic between the life of the work of art as a "reciprocal
interaction of work and mankind," and the concept of an imperishable absolute
and universal,which takes shape in history.
7 Herbert Marcuse, Counterrevolutionand Revolt (Boston, 1972), pp. 87-88.
8 Ibid., p. 9.
9 Marx, Early Writings,p. 157.
Io Wording due to E. Steinwachs, in his contribution to the aforementioned
seminar.
I JiirgenHabermas, Technik und Wissenschaftals 'Ideologie' (Frankfurt,1968),
PP. 9-47.
12 8th correcteded. (Berlin, 1972), p. 121.
13 In criticism of Marcuse's (meanwhile revised) thesis of the affirmative
character of culture, I have elsewhere questioned why his three-stage historico-
philosophical aesthetic specifically misconstrues the genuinely socially realized
achievements of aesthetic practice, which often run counter to philosophical
idealism and the affirmativeculture (see "Negativitit und Identifikation-
Versuch zur Theorie der isthetischenErfahrung," my contributionto Positionen
der Negativitdt,Poetik und HermeneutikVI (Munich, 1975).
I4 "Rezeptions~isthetikund marxistischeLiteraturtheorie,"Historizitiitin Sprach-
und Literaturwissenschaft-Vortriige und Berichte der Stuttgarter Germanis-
tentagung1972, ed. W. Miiller-Seidel (Munich, 1974), PP- 379-88.
I5 Mandelkow's summary,ibid., p. 381.
I6 Ibid., p. 384.
I7 "Die Partialitditder rezeptionsdisthetischen
Methode," R. Warning,Rezeptions-
iisthetik.
I8 As I did before him-and in almost the very words employed in my "Die
Partialitditder rezeptionsisthetischenMethode" (to appear in Yale French Studies).
19 Cf. p. 358, where only global reference is made to norms obtained from
the literaryheritage, and p. 366, where not a word is said about the difference
between Goethe's and Brecht's varieties of laconicism.
20 Cf. p. 366: "repeat his activity as our activity"; p. 378: "Perspectives
throughwhich he 'sees' the things represented."
21 In this context,see also my "Negativitit und Identifikation."

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