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By J. Hellings

A finished, severe and available account of Theodor W. Adorno's materialist-dialectical aesthetic thought of artwork from a latest viewpoint, this quantity exhibits how Adorno's severe conception is awash with pictures crystallising strategies to this type of measure that it has each cause to be defined as aesthetic.

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Krahl’s equation of the autonomy of autonomous art (art for art’s sake), aesthetic and theoretical autonomy (theory for theory’s sake), with an isolationist withdrawal from public action and resignation over political organisation (the prevalent view) – together with his false opposition between theory and practice – resulted in a very narrow definition of social praxis (action for action’s sake). ’14 Krahl failed to heed 42 Adorno and Art: Aesthetic Theory Contra Critical Theory Goethe’s maxim: ‘to act is easy, to think is hard,’15 and he overlooked Kant’s observation that the activist, tends to look down with great complacency upon the political theorist as a mere academic.

Aesthetics attempts to bring these unknown, but not unknowable, variables to knowledge. Aesthetics attempts answers for the questions enigmatic art poses. This can only culminate in a risky, speculative and inventive science. Perhaps, some critical theorists lack this speculative streak, this vulnerability? At the end of an interview entitled, ‘Of Barricades and Ivory Towers,’ which examined the practical usefulness and concrete impact of Adorno’s critical theory (of society), in the context of direct political action, Adorno offered the following provocation; ‘I am not in the least ashamed to say quite frankly and openly that I am working on a big book on aesthetics’ (BIT 69).

As Simon Jarvis has argued, there was no ‘check-list of characteristics’15 in Adorno’s aesthetics, whereby one could say, for certain, whether a thing or event is art. There is no adequate dictionary definition of art. ‘Nothing concerning art,’ according to Adorno, was ‘self-evident anymore, not its inner life, not its relation to the world, not even its right to exist’ (AT 1), which means that modern and contemporary art must be constitutively enigmatic: artistic creation has its own laws. Art, for Adorno, never followed a necessarily progressive and linear historical trajectory from cave art to computer art.

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