Friday, March 30, 2018

Adorno's Optimism

Adorno's Optimism... Yes, it sounds like the title of a book thinner than Trump on Kant or When Coetzee Smiles or Complex Sentences in Raymond Carver, but anyone who has read even a bit of Adorno has likely come upon passages of surprising optimism--or at least the possibility of optimism--that flash out of the general pessimism like a jagged lightning strike against the blackness of a stormy night. Here are five such moments from Adorno's last book, Aesthetic Theory, an epigram mine of near-Nietzschean richness:

"Aesthetic splendor is not just affirmative ideology; it is also the reflected glimmer of life free of oppression: In its defiance of ruin it takes the side of hope." (Read that again, and remember that it's Adorno, not Ernst Bloch.)

"Only when play becomes aware of its own terror, as in Beckett, does it in any way share in art's power of reconciliation."

"Every artwork, if it is to be fully experienced, requires thought and therefore stands in need of philosophy, which is nothing but the thought that refuses all restrictions." (Those last six words just became my favorite definition of philosophy.)

"If art, as Valery once said, wants to be indebted only to itself, this is because art wants to make itself the likeness of an in-itself, of what is free of domination and disfigurement."

"The making of every authentic work contradicts the pronunciamento that no more can be made." (This statement should be read in the light of Adorno's famous remark about poetry after Auschwitz and his later embrace of the work of Paul Celan. )

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