Thursday, March 8, 2012

Adorno, Adorno, Adorno.... --Chad Kipfer

Presentation III, from Aesthetics and Politics, presents three letters from Theodor Adorno to Walter Benjamin and one reply from Benjamin to Adorno. The letters addressed to Benjamin are all critiques of Benjamin essays/drafts and present the problems that Adorno finds within them. Benjamin's letter is a reply to Adorno's last letter which specifically denied the publication of Benjamin's study of Baudelaire in the Institute for Social Research's journal the Zeitschrift fur Socialforschung until after Benjamin made the required 'corrections'/alterations. The introduction to the presentation presents us with a nice bit of historical background to the letters, placing Adorno and Benjamin in context and touching on their prefered subjects of music and film respectively. The first letter from Adorno dated 2 August 1935 presents the most thorough of his critiques of one of Benjamin's works. In it Adorno calls for more specificity and less romanticism, he basically chides Benjamin for not being rigorous enough, citing many specific examples and noting pages needing revision within Benjamin's draft essay 'Paris -- Capital of the Nineteenth Century'. The second Adorno letter is in response to Benjamin's work 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' which Theodor appears to have appreciated and found less fault in than the first essay. Here he focuses on the limits of Benjamin's writing on art accusing him of a "romanticism of blind confidence in the spontaneous power of the proletariat in the historical process-a proletariat which is itself a product of bourgeois society." Adorno also offers glimpses of his writing on Jazz as a sort of example with which he encourages Benjamin to open the dialectic of art and realize the limits of film and the value of art for art's sake.  The third Adorno letter is in many ways the most biting and hints at a distance and difference between the two men. Adorno essentially keeps one of Benjamin's work from being published and then writes to him to tell him why, avoiding the obvious admission of disapproval and instead offering lines of other writers poems and prose as boon to Benjamin's project. To this we get Benjamin's reply. He addresses each of Adorno's concerns, highlights the decisions he made and then points out the great mistake of not publishing his work, which kept it from becoming part of the larger discussion. Then and interestingly we see a glimpse of Benjamin's great respect for Adorno, telling him of his life, entrusting him to run an errand and asking him of his wife and work.

The anti-enlightenment of the culture industry is the theme of Adorno's piece 'Culture industry Reconsidered'. In it he differentiates between the terms culture industry and mass culture, taking away the unconscious dream within the word mass. He goes on to define the culture industry as self sustaining and self serving beyond commodity and unflinchingly powerful over the masses.

This essay also references Benjamin's essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' in its discussion of film and its abandonment of the elevated individual and the aura. Both pieces however fail to foresee film becoming the culture industry reaffirming vehicle that it is today. Devolved into a tool of multiple senses and seemingly limitless time constraints, capable of offering false transcendence at every turn.

The Horheimer and Adorno piece here adds to the context of the term culture industry, highlighting especially the roll of advertising and way in which its expectation tempers its seemingly explicit goals. Advertising does not need to sell anything, it just needs to remind us that it is there, and for the bourgeois that pay its exorbitant fees it acts as waybill, pass code.

and then...
Marinetti's The Futurist Manifesto replacing "myth and the mystic cult of the ideal" with another myth and an ideal of abandonment and zest. Reaching for a future and brushing aside the past while standing on nothing but a now built of aggression and speed. Naivety as both the goal and condition....for the pursuit of yet another myth.

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