Friday, March 25, 2005

Barometer: against meaning

A series of setbacks and irritants – not least among them the return of South Florida’s (in)famous and debilitating humidity – have made this a rather grim and unhappy week. So of course I turn to the Mr. Sunshine of critical theory, Theodor “Teddy-boy” Adorno, for a bit of light-hearted fun:

It is quite clear how contemporary art, in view of its own problematic, should behave in regard to the avant-gardism of the past, and the artists of importance know this well. Anti-conventionalism remains indispensible; forms return only within the interior of works, not as something imposed upon them heteronomously. Such works must consciously measure themselves against the historical situation of their material: they must neither abandon themselves blindly and fetishistically to the material nor mold it from outside with subjective intentions. Only what is free from cowardice and ego-weakness and advances without protection, refusing everything indicated in the German language of the post-Hitler epoch by that loathsome expression “guiding image,” has a chance of creating something that is not superfluous. Every consideration of possible effects, even under the pretext of social function or regard for the so-called human being, is untenable, but then so is the high-handed imperiousness of both the subject and its expression from the heroic days of modern art. It is no longer possible to evade the aspect of paradox in all art itself: this paradox, and not any existential philosopheme, is what the label “absurd” means. In every one of its elements contemporary artistic production must bear in mind the crisis of meaning: the meaning subjectively given a work of art as well as its meaningful conception of the world. Otherwise artistic creativity sells its service to legitimation. The only legitimately meaningful artworks today are those opposing the concept of meaning with the utmost recalcitrance.

[Theodor W. Adorno, “Those Twenties,” Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, trans. Henry W. Pickford (New York: Columbia UP, 1998) 45]

Take that, Billy Collins! On the bright side, there’re lots of new and newly read books of poetry to talk about (Josh Corey’s Selah and Eric Baus’s The To Sound among them), and talk about them I no doubt will.

1 comment:

E. M. Selinger said...

Dub this posting "Glum and Glummer." Just because the rains have returned to South Florida, the rest of us have to suffer? It's SNOWING in Chicago, Mark, and I'll be damned if I'll let either of you Puritans take my cakes and ale. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go curl up with a stack of romance novels AND a Billy Collins collection, both of which will actually warm me little heart a while. (This last in stage Irish, natch.)