Citation
Sublime indifference

Material Information

Title:
Sublime indifference reconsidering aesthetic autonomy
Added title page title:
Reconsidering aesthetic autonomy
Creator:
Yefimenko, Svetlana ( author )
Place of Publication:
Denver, Colo.
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
1 electronic file (105 pages) : ;

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Degree:
Master's ( Master of humanities)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Humanities

Subjects

Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Review:
This thesis examines the instrumentalist critique of the Kantian notion of aesthetic autonomy as exemplified in Marxist and feminist thought and suggests a resolution through recourse to an existentialist aesthetics which combines the aesthetic theories of Friedrich Nietzsche and Theodor Adorno.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographic resource.
System Details:
System requirements: Adobe Reader.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Svetlana Yefimenko.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
on10191 ( NOTIS )
1019158595 ( OCLC )
on1019158595
Classification:
LD1193.L58 2017m Y44 ( lcc )

Downloads

This item has the following downloads:


Full Text
SUBLIME INDIFFERENCE: RECONSIDERING AESTHETIC AUTONOMY
by
Svetlana Yefimenko
B.A., University of Colorado Denver, 2007
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Humanities Humanities and Social Sciences Program
2017


This Thesis for the Master of Humanities degree by Svetlana Yefimenko has been approved for the Master of Humanities Program by
David Hildebrand Gabriel Zamosc Myra Bookman
Date: May 13, 2017


Yefimenko, Svetlana MH, Master of Humanities and Social Sciences Program Sublime Indifference: Reconsidering Aesthetic Autonomy Thesis directed by Professor David Hildebrand
ABSTRACT
This thesis examines the instrumentalist critique of the Kantian notion of aesthetic autonomy as exemplified in Marxist and feminist thought and suggests a resolution through recourse to an existentialist aesthetics which combines the aesthetic theories of Friedrich Nietzsche and Theodor Adorno.
The form and content are approved. I recommend its publication.
Approved: David Hildebrand


TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION................................................1
CHAPTER 1...................................................8
CHAPTER II.................................................29
CHAPTER III................................................62
REFERENCES.................................................96


Introduction
Over the past 25 years, a peculiar debate gained force in Anglo-American aesthetics: art has become a politically contested space. While an ethical concern with arts awesome power is not new, the notion of aesthetic autonomy, which has its roots in romantic theories of individual genius, has been used since the eighteenth century as a shield to deflect the sorts of attacks aimed at, for example, Robert Mapplethorpes photographs. Simply put, autonomy defends such artworks on the grounds that their primary allegiance is not to the moral standards of the state or the public, but to the expression of the artist, and that they must not be constrained by external ends, ethical or otherwise. Perhaps surprisingly, the Mapplethorpe controversy marks the acceleration of demands not for more autonomy for artworks, but less of it. These demands are launched almost entirely from feminist aestheticians who, in turn, ground their critique of autonomy in Marxist approaches to art. It is the purpose of this paper to develop a response to Marxist and feminist critics of autonomy by investigating the nature of instrumental approaches to art and elaborating an alternative, existentialist aesthetics which reinterprets the thought of Immanuel Kant and reconciles Theodor Adornos and Friedrich Nietzsches disparate theories into their common emphasis on arts redemptive potential.
The notion of autonomy so mistrusted by feminist and Marxist aesthetics began with Kants Critique of Judgment, which argued for a subject-oriented, perceptual experience of art. Kants third Critique explores whether there is any justification for aesthetic judgments in the first place, and the special kind of emotion associated with regarding something as beautiful. Defining beauty not as a property of objects, but as a subjective feeling, Kant separates aesthetic judgments into judgments of sense and judgments of taste. A judgment of sense is associated
1


with liking, and presumably desiring, a thing, while the judgment of taste involves the quality of disinterestedness. While experiencing beauty is certainly pleasurable, it is a pleasure that is fundamentally distinct from other forms of enjoyment because it lacks desire. For example, Kant presents the delight in the agreeable, and the delight in the good, as necessarily bound up with interest.1 For Kant, the agreeable is a form of personal enjoyment akin to eating a delicious sandwich it is a pleasure which finds its source within the desire to possess the sandwich, presumably in order to taste it. The good, meanwhile, involves a conceptual understanding, akin to admiring someones ethical qualities such admiration finds its source in the desire to apply or observe ethical conduct. The agreeable and the good are both inextricable from desire to either possess an object or an experience in reality, or to bring a particular state of affairs into existence. Kant explains that it is precisely the possibility of the actual existence of ethical, or sensuously pleasant, qualities that renders them enjoyable in the first place. After all, it is difficult to appreciate a well-prepared meal without desiring to taste it in reality, or to admire a moral action without desiring for it to exist. Both the good and the agreeable, then, whether directly or indirectly, are capable of conferring some sort of benefit. Thus, pleasure and desire are necessarily congruent. However, Kant claims that in truly aesthetic experiences, the subject is able to untangle pleasure from desire, such that desire dissolves and pleasure alone subsists. In such a disinterested state, the subject contemplates beauty without reference to its existence.
Kant argues that unlike judgments of the agreeable, judgments of beauty are universal.2 This claim is simultaneously intuitive and counter-intuitive. It is usually supposed that aesthetic perception is entirely relative, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that there cannot be an objective criterion for beautiful things. However, this common wisdom is contradicted by
1 Kant, Immanuel. (1790/1987). Critique of Judgment. (Pluhar, W. Trans.). Hackett Publishing Company. 1.2-1.3.
2 Kant, Critique, 2.6
2


behavior: humans frequently assume that others agree with their assessment of beauty and even argue about what ought to be regarded as beautiful. Kant explains that although such debates may seem to get us somewhere, they are, in fact, ultimately futile: judgments of beauty are not conceptual,3 and therefore not logical, and so cannot be defended discursively.
An experience of beauty which involves neither desire nor concepts but is nevertheless universal is, Kant argues, an experience of the free play of understanding and imagination.4 In the absence of organizing principles, the subject does not subsume the aesthetic object into a rigid concept, and his mind remains suspended in a harmonious state of aesthetic appreciation. We can imagine, for example, listening to a musical phrase, or gazing at an abstract painting: nothing in the musical notes or painted forms tells us what they are or what to think of them, yet we follow the notes and the lines with a satisfaction that is derived simply from following the notes and the lines. If the notes make us think of falling drops or the paintings lines recall to us the flight of birds, there is no reason to suppose we are wrong because no particular identity constrains them. They are non-conceptual, and our response to them is therefore both free, because unconstrained, and playful, because it cannot be settled or verified with any kind of accuracy. Perhaps it is this state which Oscar Wilde had in mind when he noted, Beauty is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation. For Kant, explaining an aesthetic experience is not only unnecessary, but impossible: where beauty begins, logic ends.5
Without organizing concepts, without desire, without existence, without goals, the aesthetic object seems to be quite without purpose. Indeed, this is precisely what Kant has in
3 Kant, Critique, 2.8
4 Kant, Critique, 2.9
5 This is because a judgment of taste is, in Kantian terms, a reflective judgment, and such judgments are not determinative. For example, the judgment "this is X" is reached by subsuming X into the more universal concept into which X falls. However, reflective judgments do not organize objects according to attributes because beauty is a subjective response, not a quality inhering within the object.
3


mind. Beauty does not have ends toward which it is aimed, but it seems as if it does. This active seeming Kant terms purposiveness, and claims it can exist independently of an actual purpose: An object, or state of mind, or even an action may, although its possibility does not necessarily presuppose the representation of a purpose, be called purposive simply on account of its possibility being only explicable and intelligible for us by virtue of an assumption on our part of fundamental causality according to purposes... Purposiveness, therefore, may exist apart from a purpose... So we may at least observe a purposiveness of form, and trace it in objects though by reflection only without basing it on a purpose.6
Kant means that beauty is not a tool for the realization of an external goal. Therefore, it lacks purpose. However, purposelessness does not imply that it is disorganized or chaotic. A beautiful object has a purposiveness of form and, therefore, possesses a coherent structure and organizing principles that make it the thing that it is. However, since Kant argues that beautiful objects cannot be subsumed under more general concepts, any structuring harmony they possess is in each case singular and cannot be abstracted as a general rule or applied to anything else.
This structuring of the particular seems to be what Kant means by purposiveness. Since the perception of the aesthetic object is divorced from external ends, the object is not suited for human use, and does not actually have a purpose. Its purposiveness, then, is manifested formally. The aesthetic object is contemplated, not appropriated or applied. The sense of pleasure involved in experiencing beauty arises from a non-conceptual awareness of the objects purposiveness7 simply because humans find delight in the coherence of nature, as if it were organized for the sake of cognition itself.
6 Kant, Critique, 2.10
7 Kant, Critique, p. Iviii
4


Although Kant did not write specifically about artworks, his analysis of aesthetic judgments is the historical origin of the philosophical notion of aesthetic autonomy, which involves three features:
1. The independence of artistic institutions;
2. The universality of artworks;
3. The political neutrality of aesthetic evaluations.8
The claim for institutional autonomy has its origins in Europe, when the eighteenth century saw individual artists disentangle themselves from craft guilds, churches, and courts. This resulted in the separation of places such as art galleries and museums from other social institutions. The notion of universality describes the irreducibility of an artworks meaning to its sociopolitical or ideological context or content importantly, this applies not only to arts capacity to be more than a mirror held up to its historical moment, but also to the capacity of its audience to transcend their historical moment to understand or appreciate a work. Finally, political neutrality refers to the privileging of aesthetic, formal criteria when evaluating artworks. It is significant that the claim for political neutrality does not suggest that the consideration of aesthetic qualities is the only possible way to approach an artwork, but rather that aesthetic qualities ought to be prioritized in artistic evaluation. Perhaps predictably, these claims for autonomy are deeply controversial, and their sharpest critics emerge from Marxist and feminist theories of art. Their critiques take various forms, but are almost always underscored with what looks like autonomys indifference to real life concerns, particularly political struggle. Their position is that even if arts aloofness from praxis were possible, a possibility Marxist and feminist theorists deny, it is deeply undesirable to the point of being reactionary and even immoral.
8 Devereaux, Mary. (1992). 'The Philosophical and Political Implications of the Feminist Critique of Aesthetic Autonomy." In The Bucknell Review, Vol. 36, No. 2: pp. 164
5


While it seems that a Kantian approach is utterly divorced from praxis, this does not seem to be a generous, or even a fair, interpretation. For Kant, aesthetic judgment is congruent with, and even necessary for, the experience of moral feeling, albeit in an indirect, circuitous way. In the Critique of Judgment, Kant tells us that The beautiful prepares us to love something, even nature, apart from any interest,9 and The Metaphysics of Morals echoes that notion: A propensity to wanton destruction of what is beautiful... weakens or uproots that feeling... which, though not of itself moral, is still a disposition of sensibility that greatly promotes morality or at least prepares the way for it: the disposition, namely, to love something... even apart from any intention to use it.10 A disinterested appreciation of beauty prepares us to be moral because it inspires the subject to transcend personal benefit in the way morality itself requires. Beauty serves morality only inasmuch as it first serves itself. We have seen that the good, for Kant, is associated with the desire to bring an ethical state of affairs into existence, and desire is inseparable from interest. If beauty were to serve morality directly, then the experience of it would necessarily be interested and would preclude the subject from transcending personal benefit. Since beauty promotes beauty rather than morality, the subject is able to lose himself in aesthetic contemplation, overcoming the barriers of his self-interest. Such an experience, for Kant, is an experience of freedom. Not only is beauty implicitly different from external aims and therefore rendered autonomous, but in engaging with beauty, the subject finds himself removed from external aims and becomes temporarily autonomous. In other, bolder, words, beauty is freely self-absorbed, and only in virtue of its self-absorption can it be regarded as a space for the beginning of morality. Of course, it is not only beauty that is selfish in this way. Morality, too, is similarly self-directed. Let us imagine a surgeon. He is regarded as a humanitarian, perhaps
9 Kant, Critique, 29
10 Kant, Immanuel. (1785/2002). Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. (Wood, A. Trans, and Ed.) Yale University Press. 6:443
6


even a hero. It is the nature of his position that it results in various financial, social, and political advantages: he earns a substantial salary, is respected by his community, and favored by the state with tax benefits. However, to pursue surgery for the sake of such advantages is precisely not to behave as a humanitarian or a hero. The activity of saving human lives must be pursued as an end in itself, rather than a means, in order for it to be moral. Similarly, when beauty is pursued as a means, for exterior purposes, it ceases to be disinterested, and therefore loses its ethical potential. The purpose here is not to reintroduce the Categorical Imperative in a different guise but simply to emphasize that Kantian disinterestedness is not the source of indifference to practical concerns, but rather of renewed engagement with them. Thus, Kantian disinterestedness and autonomy are the salient features of an aesthetic theory which ushers in the sort of interest that can emerge only when interest is set aside, and therein I locate the source of the seemingly paradoxical notion that only inasmuch as art remains autonomous can it achieve ethical ends.
7


CHAPTER I
Marxist Aesthetic Thought
Aesthetic scholarship has utilized various instruments to interrogate the meaning and implications of aesthetic autonomy, which involves the related features of institutional independence, universality, and political neutrality. The goal of such interrogations has always been an acknowledged attempt to deprive autonomy (hereafter, unless indicated, autonomy designates aesthetic autonomy) of authority and privilege altogether. Prior to replying to autonomys objectors, we will examine their concerns.
Challenges to autonomist thinking often follow one of two approaches: critiquing autonomys justificatory logic, or problematizing autonomy from the perspective of the sociology of culture.11 The former method is often a feature of Marxist analysis, and the latter sociological critique is common to feminist thinkers. Marxist approaches highlight the problematic tendency of autonomist notions to theoretically disconnect aesthetic value from human life as a lived, embodied, everyday experience. For most Marxists, neither art nor knowledge is separable from material reality. With this inseparability in mind, thinkers such as Walter Benjamin, Georg Lukacs, and George Plekhanov interrogate the context of social relationships comprising artistic production and reception within which aesthetic experience takes place, arguing that failing to acknowledge such contexts results in incoherence. In other words, a decontextualized aesthetic experience, floating free from the social and material conditions that make it possible in the first place, simply cannot exist.
Invoking the relation between the material base and the cultural superstructure of society, Marxist thinkers do not trivially and vulgarly insist that the material simply imprints
11 Haskins, Casey. (1998). "Autonomy." In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. (M. Kelly, ed.). Oxford University Press, pp. 173-174
8


itself upon culture12 in a one-to-one correspondence; rather, art is approached as an overdetermined network consisting of and representing class relations, historical tendencies, and social formations. Indeed, for most Marxists, the famous formulation, It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness, grounds the origin and development of any conscious activity, artistic or otherwise, only in relation to the historical moment and material condition of those who produce and receive it. The way humans produce, or the mode of production, is responsible for thoughts and desires, such that historical development reflects objective, economic factors rather than subjective ideas and interests. Art, therefore, is not afforded a privileged space or expression, but is dependent upon the mode of production like every other human activity. By attempting to analyze artworks formally, disregarding their social origins, autonomist aesthetics seems to reject the material, and thus the historical, context of art. Such rejection is tantamount to dismissing arts content entirely, since its sociohistorical context and consequences are embedded intrinsically in art qua art.13 In this manner, the superstructure of society, to which art is a contributing member, acts upon the material base, rather than solely the other way around. The cultural is thus not subservient to the economic, but informs it and is informed by it. Consequently, for Marx and Engels, the meaning of artworks is found not within the aesthetic sphere, but within a works relationship to its material reality.14 For Benjamin, Lukacs, and Plekhanov, the inheritors of Marxs aesthetic analysis, this means that deliberate reference to social origins and consequences is integral to aesthetic understanding and appreciation. The conclusion that estimation of the meaning or implication of artistic products is essentially a
12 Lang, Berel. (1998). "Marxism: Historical and Conceptual Overview." In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. (M. Kelly, ed). Oxford University Press, pp. 183
13 Lang, Overview, pp. 183
14 Lang, Beryl. (1998). "Marxism and Materialism" In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. (M. Kelly, ed.). Oxford University Press, pp. 184
9


cognitive activity firmly rejects an abstract, noncognitive, Kantian beauty, and indeed all formalistic accounts of art. Since formalist approaches emphasize a non-discursive engagement with the sensuous features of artworks rather than their intellectual interpretation, they are inadequate for addressing the sociohistorical context of works. Beyond the lens of mediating history, stripped of their social meaning, Marxism regards the formal elements of artworks as propped up like stick figures without animating features: inhuman, vacuous, and unengaging.
Since art is ontologically inextricable from the sociohistorical situations of those who produce it, a Marxist aesthetics tends to include an examination of the social and material origins and consequences of artworks. Though Marxism postulates that art cannot exist beyond its historical circumstances, it need not reiterate them, either: art production is capable of working upon or against its historical moment. This approach is well exemplified in the writings of Benjamin, a leading figure in Marxist aesthetic theory, whose writing anticipated and facilitated the philosophical reaction to art production in the past three decades.15 Benjamin has no patience for idealist, Kantian notions of sublimity and beauty, and his artist finds himself deeply immersed in the heated center of productive relations. The painter, writer, or poet is not an aloof observer, but an active participant, no longer a creator, but a producer. For Benjamin, asking whether an artwork does or does not exhibit a political tendency is redundant. An artwork cannot help manifesting such tendencies and is of necessity constrained to represent certain class interests. Bound to the productive forces of its time, the only agency available to an artwork is that of determining its position in relation to those forces. In other words, whose interests will the work facilitate? If the apparatus of production falls into the wrong hands for Benjamin, these are always bourgeois hands it cunningly conceals the interests of the class that owns it.
15 Gelley, Alexander. (1999). "Contexts of the Aesthetic in Walter Benjamin." In MLN, Vol. 114, No. 5. pp. 933-961. pp. 935
10


The only ethical option is to align the goals of the artwork with the goals of revolutionary praxis, and the progressive artist deliberately places himself on the side of the proletariat. And thats the end of his autonomy. He directs his activity towards what will be useful to the proletariat in the class struggle.16 Furthermore, it is not enough for an artist to personally sympathize with marginalized groups. He must actively demonstrate this sympathy, must indeed make emancipation the ultimate focus of his work, lest he unwittingly contribute to the perpetuation of oppression: a political tendency, however revolutionary it may seem, has a counterrevolutionary function as long as the writer feels his solidarity with the proletariat only in his attitudes, but not as a producer.17
The revolutionary potential of art finds its source within cultural and technological development. In the seminal essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin employs classical Marxist analysis to describe new art forms as dialectically related to emerging forms of production. With the advent of film and photography, Benjamin purports that new technologies have removed traditional aesthetic values from their cultural pedestal. Impressions of creativity and beauty are the romantic remnants of fascist ideology,18 and are contrasted with communisms appropriation of the aesthetic through the political. What enables this cultural shift is technologys reproductive capacity. Traditionally, every artwork was a unique historical presence, an authentic and irreplaceable artifact occupying a particular location in time and space. Any attempt at reproducing the artifact was effectively an attempt at forgery or plagiarism, and the original maintained its air of aloof supremacy. Benjamin terms this almost supernatural sense of authenticity the artworks aura, and concludes that that which withers in
16 Benjamin, Walter. (1934/1998). "The Author as Producer." In Understanding Brecht. (Bostock, A. Trans). Verso, pp. 85-86
17 Benjamin, Producer, pp. 91
18 Benjamin, Walter. (1936/1968). 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." In Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (Arendt, H. ed). Shocken Books, pp. 218
11


the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.19 A reproduction lacks original presence and, therefore, authority: The technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.20 The undermining of sacred pedestals and subsequent dissolution of uniqueness is motivated by the rising recognition of general equality, as the masses begin to bring once distant things within the scope of their reach. With the decline of the aura, Benjamin posits that aesthetic objects are no longer legitimized by cultic notions of eternal beauty, but now exist within the sphere of politics. Auratic artworks encourage the intellectual distance and contemplation Kant insisted upon, while technologically dependent works, which achieve their apotheosis in photography and film, produce a form of noncognitive distraction. Like Rilkes source of sound, which reverses poetic contemplation such that nature is a great shell of an ear listening to us, Benjamins distracted masses are not absorbed by art, but instead absorb the artwork into the common round of the everyday.
Although Kant pointed out that beautys universality encouraged an intersubjective, communicative response, wherein the aesthetic experience is shared in discussion and argument, Benjamin finds that aesthetic contemplation is a private and removed experience. Aesthetic distraction, however, is invariably social. In a contemporary environment wherein the privileged aesthetic aura has been revoked by technological advancement, conventional artworks become a form of antisocial behavior. Quietly pensive before a traditional canvas, the privileged art spectator retreats into himself, following the inner trail of cognitive and emotional associations.
A social art discourages such retreat, precluding its very possibility, by a brisk series of shocks and interruptions aimed at a general public: Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction
19 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 221
20 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 221
12


of the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie.21 Dadaism, Benjamin suggests, anticipated the destruction of the aura through moral shock effects. Mechanical reproduction, however, shifts disruption from the moral to the physical dimension. In a darkened movie theater, entranced by the swift juxtaposition and succession of images, the spectator is neither held nor deeply engaged. In fact, he can barely think at all. His thoughts are disordered and scattered, and he interacts with the projected images lightly and playfully. Although it seems that such states of mind are contrary to the requirements of emancipatory praxis, Benjamin argues that this unthinking, distracted audience cannot be rightly regarded as passive. The intellectual diaspora produced by reproducible cultural forms is precisely the social response Benjamin longs for. Non-autonomous art acts as a social agitator, and is able to mobilize the masses22 to acts of sociopolitical import. By not becoming aesthetically absorbed, the spectators have thrown off the yoke of arts domination of their consciousness. In some sense, the aesthetic object has relinquished the locus of control to the viewer, who, through proximity and distractedness, becomes an absent-minded critic.23 In a seeming paradox, because the viewer is not transported into a distancing and hermetic plane of contemplation, he remains fully present and socially engaged, yet because he is not enthralled by the works aura, he maintains a critical distance. Even if his criticism is scattered and perhaps superficial, it remains his own, and the artwork no longer has any authoritative hold upon it. In the absence of aesthetic authority, art loses its autonomy forever.
Within a Benjaminian framework, the creation of, or preference for, autonomous art is reactionary because Benjamin locates an inherently political and emancipatory effect within
21 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 234
22 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 240
23 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 239
13


mechanical reproducibility. However, this organically developed political potential of aesthetic phenomena is in danger of appropriation by capitalistic and fascistic forces: The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.24 When the natural politicization of aesthetics is thus impeded, an aestheticization of politics ensues, wherein the masses are granted the illusory right to express themselves through art while perpetuating an unjust social structure. Benjamin warns that autonomous, auratic tendencies in art are synonymous with selfalienation, inspiring society to become an aesthetic object for itself. Then, like Nero who calmly watched his city burn for the sake of poetic inspiration, humanity will contemplate its own destruction from the lofty vantage point of Kantian disinterestedness. Benjamin insists that the only antidote to fascism is a politicization of art.
The materialist clarion call of art as a call to political action is echoed in Georg Lukacs, who reiterates the Marxist premise that individual ideas are inextricably linked with the social class whose aspirations they express.25 In other words, the ideas that triumph in any epoch are merely the manifestations of the power dynamics between classes and groups. Lukacs relied on a Leninist epistemology to account for his own theory of reflection.26 The opening passages of Lukacs essay Art and Objective Truth sketch his epistemological framework: Any apprehension of the external world is nothing more than a reflection in consciousness of the world that exists independently of consciousness. This basic fact of the relationship of consciousness to being also serves, of course, for the artistic reflection of reality.27 Art and science, for Lukacs, are motivated by the same goal of exploring and conveying objective
24 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 241
25 Lukacs, Georg. (1957/1963). The Meaning of Contemporary Realism. (Mander, J. Trans.). Merlin Press, pp. 65
26 Lukacs, Georg. (1989) Theory, Culture, and Politics. (Marcus, J. and Zoltaan, T. Eds.). Transaction Publishers, pp. 84-85
27 Lukacs, Georg. (1970/2005). "Art and Objective Truth" in Writer and Critic: And Other Essays (Kahn, A. and Lukacs, G. Eds.) pp. 25
14


reality.28 Setting aside the problematic nature of the supposition that the mind can accurately grasp the external world, the approach to art as conveyer of reality grounds Lukacs insistence that arts proper role is mimesis. To this end, Lukacs develops a defense of realism wherein realism is defined as the authentic artworks ability to disclose the concealed tensions and tendencies of an epoch. Arts semblance to reality is not a literal reproduction of appearance but an illumination of social contradictions and their possibility of resolution, emphasized particularly in the relationship of the individual to the sociohistorical totality. Lukacs regards realism as much more than a stylistic alternative, but as a revelation of truth along with a prescription for transformation. The politicization that the strategy of mechanical reproduction accomplished for Benjamin, the metaphysics of realism accomplishes for Lukacs. It is not insignificant that the aesthetics of the former reaches into the technologically determined future, while the aesthetics of the latter search for its models in the traditional (auratic?) past. Extolling the classical achievements of Tolstoy, Stendhal, Dickens, and Mann against the avant-gardist, modernist literature of Joyce and Kafka, Lukacs argued that only realist art is capable of representing sociohistorical truth.
Because Lukacs regards style as emerging from content, the realism of traditional artists is informed by the ideology, whether intentional or not, that is implicit in their achievement: It is the view of the world, the ideology or Weltanschauung underlying a writers work that counts.29 Concealed ideological commitments are motivated by the ontological question art must eternally ask: what is man? Lukacs insists that artists inevitably approach this question with vastly divergent instruments and results. The realist artist relies upon the Aristotelian
28 Lukacs, Art and Truth, pp. 37
29 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 19
15


notion of the human as a zoon politikon, an inherently social animal30 whose ontological structure is suffused with his sociohistorical context. The human condition as understood by the fashionable avant-gardist, however, is characterized by a solitary, asocial state of facticity31 struggling with the unfathomable meaninglessness of existence. The notion of facticity, for Lukacs, is implicitly ahistorical. The human being as conceived by Expressionism or Surrealism struggles with the nightmares of private, existentialist dilemmas rather than with a historical consciousness, and is therefore decadent. Perhaps a conscientious Marxist might point out that the interiorized and anxious individual of modernism that Lukacs despises is, of course, also a historical product. Nevertheless, Lukacs attributes what he regards as modem arts failure to render social totality to Kierkegaard, who rejected a Hegelian approach to history, which sweeps aside particularity on its path to universality, for the sake of privileging an interiorized and suffering individual being. A separation between subjectivity and material conditions results in a dandyish decadence which is incapable of conveying truthfully the dialectical movement between inner experience and external historical conditions, which Lukacs characterizes as the proper role of authentic art. The acknowledgment of the dialectical unity of inner experience and outer conditions flows into allegiance to an ideology which allows of a belief in social development.32 Invoking the historical predictions of classical Marxism, Lukacs locates social development in the inevitable progression toward socialist ideals, and therefore no writer of the past century, asking himself to what goal history is moving, has been able to ignore socialism.33 The mimesis Lukacs requires of authentic art is not only of the sociohistorical totality, but also of its teleological movement toward a sharply delimited political future.
30 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 20
31 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 20
32 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 57
33 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 59
16


Strikingly, Lukacs concludes that the rejection of a socialist perspective amounts to an inability to create authentic artworks.34 Since a truthful presentation of the world is the underlying purpose of authentic art, and no rendition of the modern experience is complete without its historical trajectory, avant-garde artworks are unrealistic and ahistorical laments lacking hope for a better world. At best, the avant-garde is simply formalistic experimentation. At worst, the ideology motivating modernist failure to facilitate historical progress and Joyce, Kafka,
Camus, Beckett, Conrad, and Dostoyevskiy are only some of the illustrious company entangled in the net of modernist decadence must end in nihilistic support for both Cold War policies and fascism.35 The alternative Lukacs offers to this rather grim state of affairs is socialist realism.
Since the identification of humans as social animals is tantamount to accepting the socialist perspective which equips the authentic artwork to depict life comprehensively, Lukacs purports that the sociohistorical totality is best communicated via the methods of socialist realism. Unlike all other aesthetic forms, socialist realism is profoundly concerned with truth because the road to socialism is identical with the movement of history itself.36 Furthermore, Lukacs contends that There is no phenomenon, objective or subjective, that has not its function in furthering, obstructing or deviating this development.37 Bourgeois art is concerned with inner, private transformation, but the great climax of socialist art grounds its emphasis on social activity. Since Marxist thought acknowledges no human endeavor that can exist beyond the relentless sweep of history, all art either facilitates or impedes inevitable historical processes.
This unforgiving indictment of apolitical art reveals it to be not actually apolitical but simply counter-revolutionary and ultimately fascistic. Lukacs prophesies that when subjectivism is
34 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 60
35 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 62-63
36 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 100
37 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 100
17


completely overcome in culture, socialist realism will become the dominant art form since it will be the only art form capable of adequately describing such a culture. It follows that if art is not critiquing capitalism, not only is it reactionary, it is also untrue. Since, for Lukacs, truth value is synonymous with aesthetic value, art that is unconcerned with facilitating emancipatory praxis can hardly count as art at all.
The art of the Russian revolutionary movement which so enamored Lukacs received its most systematic exposition from George Plekhanov, and his work resulted in the most influential model for Marxist criticism of the 1930s.38 Appealing to the dynamics between the base and superstructure of society, Plekhanov argues that the development of productive forces determines the interrelationships of individuals, which in turn characterize what he terms the spiritual essence of a society. It is this nuanced essence which is expressed in artworks, and it is very difficult to directly recognize the influence of economics on aesthetic development because superstructural formations are distanced from the economic base through a succession of intermediary forms. Despite such mediations, Plekhanov nevertheless purports that artistic content is ultimately a reformulation of the class struggle. Art, like other superstructural elements, reflects and ultimately validates the relations of production and class structures of a given society, and is therefore implicitly ideological.39 Agreeing with Marx that social being determines consciousness, Plekhanov writes:
It is clear that any given ideology also, therefore, art and so-called belles lettres -expresses in itself the striving and moods of a given society, or if we are involved with a society divided into classes of a given social class. For a person who adheres to this
38 Baxandall, Lee. (1967). "Marxism and Aesthetics: A Critique of the Contribution of George Plekhanov." In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 2, No. 3. pp. 267-279. pp. 267-268
39 Truitt, Willis. (1970). "Mr. Baxandall's Revisionism: 'Marxism and Aesthetics' (A Reply)." In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 28, No. 4. pp. 511-514 pp. 512.
18


view, it is clear also that the critics who undertake to evaluate a given work of art must first of all elucidate precisely what aspect of social (or class) consciousness is expressed in this work40 (Plekhanovs italics).
Thus echoing the maxims of Lukacs and Benjamin, Plekhanov locates within art an ideological allegiance to dominant classes and hegemonic social structures, and it is the function of the critic, presumably a Marxist critic, to reveal the interests concealed behind every aesthetic gesture. There are two acts proper to aesthetic criticism, Plekhanov contends. The first component consists of translating the content of an aesthetic imagery into sociological language, and the second component, which is subordinate to and dependent upon the first, is to evaluate the aesthetic merit of the work.41 The first critical act, then, is to subsume all formal and ideational in other words, all aesthetic elements into a sociological framework. The second act is the evaluation of the embodiment of the sociological by the aesthetic or, in simpler terms, the evaluation of how well the form expresses the content.
Since artistic creation and judgment must be understood from a sociological platform as ideologically determined, Plekhanov, like Lukacs and Benjamin, finds an explicit correlation between aesthetic and social processes in the form of arts revolutionary potential.42 Artworks which are politically engaged Plekhanov regards as utilitarian, and artworks which exhibit Kantian disinterestedness he regards as simply art for arts sake. Plekhanov argues that social conditions determine aesthetic tendency, and when the artist finds himself in symbolic exile and alienation from his culture, his work finds expression in art for arts sake43 and obscure,
40 Mills Todd III, William. (1978). Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800-1914. Stanford University Press, pp. 35
41 Mills Todd, pp. 35
42 Baxandall, Marxism and Aesthetics, pp. 270
43 Plekhanov, George V. (1974) "Art and Society" in Art and Society and Other Papers in Historical Materialism. Oriole Editions: New York., pp. 15
19


incomprehensible formal experimentation. This aesthetic inwardness is antisocial, and Plekhanov purports that models for such alienated solitude are to be found within Cubist and Impressionistic artworks, which do not demonstrate any ideational content but are absorbed with their own formal properties.44 However, when the contradiction between art and society is overcome and artists find themselves engaged in a mutual bond of sympathy45 with their sociohistorical conditions, a utilitarian art arises, whereby artworks exhibit a judgment on the phenomena of life and a readiness to participate in social struggles.46 Much like Lukacs, who regards avant-garde art as antisocial, Plekhanov finds that only utilitarian art is socially relevant. Here, however, is where Plekhanov parts ways with other historical materialists. Unlike Lukacs and Benjamin, Plekhanov accords art little critical maneuverability. The former thinkers presuppose that art has a political obligation to align itself with liberating praxis, but Plekhanov insists that the modern artists he and Lukacs describe as decadent cannot be anything but decadent. Artists must mirror the particulars of their class and sociohistorical context, and not the class that Marxist agitators would like them to mirror. Examining the art for arts sake which does not further proletarian activity, Plekhanov explains that just as apple-trees must give forth apples and pear-trees pears, so must artists who share the bourgeois point of view struggle against this movement. The art of a decadent epoch must be decadent.47 With one hand, Plekhanovs analysis frees nonpolitical art from the charges of willful antisociality, but with the other, it dooms art to uncritically reflect the material and class conditions of its time. Either way, art is harnessed and bound, either because it ought to be so, or because it cannot but be so.
44 Plekhanov, pp. 55
45 Plekhanov, pp. 20
46 Plekhanov, pp. 20
47 Plekhanov, pp. 64-65
20


Despite arts inevitable parroting of its social conditions, Plekhanov nevertheless suggests that utilitarian art, developed in sympathetic communion between culture and artist, is the more true art. Identifying historical progress with class struggle, the artwork which mirrors the inevitable sweep of history toward emancipation reflects reality accurately,48 and therefore, only utilitarian art is capable of rendering truth. Apolitical art, on the other hand, is aesthetically lacking: When a work of art is based upon a fallacious idea, inherent contradictions inevitably cause a degeneration of its esthetic quality.49 What is the fallacious idea? The unwillingness to align with revolutionary activity or, in Lukacsian terms, the rejection of socialism. This amounts to an asocial refusal of historical truth and distortion into false consciousness. And thus, Plekhanovs thought rejoins the Marxist fold: politically disinterested art is aesthetically flawed.
Feminist Aesthetic Thought
Although critique of autonomy has its roots in Marxist theory, feminist scholarship has emphasized these objections in current, Anglo-American aesthetics, and the feminist conception of art has developed mostly in response to notions of aesthetic autonomy.50 Of course, not all feminist thought involves aesthetic theory, but when it does, it tends to argue for the indisputability of what Marxist thinkers conjectured. Regarding the notion of an autonomous aesthetic realm as the residue of ahistorical, essentialist thinking, feminism rejects it as part of a patriarchal vocabulary of oppression,51 and the ideals of Kantian disinterestedness and universality are remnants of the dominant aesthetic ideology that feminism seeks to overturn.52
48 Plekhanov, pp. 38
49 Plekhanov, pp. 38
50 Devereaux, Mary. (1992). "The Philosophical and Political Implications of the Feminist Critique of Aesthetic Autonomy." In The Bucknell Review. Vol. 36, No. 2:164-186. pp. 166
51 Devereaux, Philosophical and Political Implications, pp. 166
52 Eaton, A. W. (2008). "Feminist Philosophy of Art." in Philosophy Compass Vol. 5, No. 3: 873-893. pp. 884
21


The dismantling of autonomist thinking requires feminist aesthetics to reject three related claims regarding the nature of art, already described in the introduction:
1. The independence of artworks, which posits that art is not merely a reproduction of nature, and argues for arts institutional independence.
2. The universality of artworks, which suggests that art can, at least to some extent, transcend its originating influence, and cannot be reduced to political, social, or ideological content.
3. The intrinsic value of artworks, which locates the source of aesthetic value within the work rather than in an external source.53
These presuppositions result in the autonomist conclusion that a proper understanding and evaluation of artworks requires the application of aesthetic criteria and a certain degree of distance from the requirements of everyday life. Armed with the famous refrain that the personal is political, feminist aesthetics takes as its point of departure arts contingent nature and inevitable immersion in sociopolitical discourses, arguing that creators and audiences experience artworks in ways that reflect their social positions, particularly emphasizing the situatedness of gender or sex. Arguing that aesthetic discourse is elitist, isolated, and fetishized, feminist theory uproots the ideological allegiances only partially concealed beneath an aesthetic sphere that is utterly dependent upon private, status-oriented wealth.54 The nature of historical conceptions of what is termed great art is, for feminist critics, hegemonic and reactionary not
53 Devereaux, Mary. (1998). "Autonomy and its Feminist Critics" in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. (M. Kelly, Ed), pp. 179
54 Vogel, Lise. (1974). "Fine Arts and Feminism: The Awakening Consciousness." In Feminist Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1: 3-37. pp. 21-22
22


only in the interests it obscures, but in the interests it creates and promotes. Thus, feminist critique insists that art is constitutive of ideology, it does not merely illustrate it.55
The already precarious position of universality is rejected with the contention that art speaks in the name of particular privileged groups which typically consist of white, elite males. Canonical artworks, feminist theory points out, represent women and men according to the androcentric formula of men act and women appear.56 Locating an aspect of womens subordination throughout history within the sexualization of the conventional gender hierarchy, feminist critique regards the prominent figuration of the female nude within Western art as a patriarchal image which explicitly contributes to womens inequality by prescribing to such sexualization.57 Anne Eaton has argued that artworks belonging to the genre of the female nude objectify womens bodies by presenting women as objects to be consumed or instruments to be played upon, by foregrounding erogenous zones, by dividing them into sexual parts, by eroticizing passivity, by employing diegetic surveillance, and by employing passive poses of availability.58 These various details and attitudes are then presented to the male gaze of a presumably (but not necessarily) male spectator, because Eaton insists that the primary function of such paintings is the provision of visual erotic pleasure of a gendered nature.59 Some feminist critics, relying upon Lacanian analysis, suggest that scopophilia can account for aesthetic pleasure.60 The absence of fullness of the maternal body which pervades existence within the
55 Gouma-Peterson, Thalia and Mathews, Patricia. (1987) "The Feminist Critique of Art History." In The Art Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 3: 326-357. pp. 354
56 Eaton, Feminist Philosophy of Art, pp. 877
57 Eaton, A. W. (2012) "What's Wrong With the (Female) Nude?" In Art and Pornography: Philosophical Essays (eds. Maes, H. and Levinson, J.) University Press Scholarship Online, pp. 4
58 Eaton, What's Wrong? pp. 8-11
59 Eaton, What's Wrong? pp. 11
60 Korsmeyer, Carolyn. (1993). "Pleasure: Reflections on Aesthetics and Feminism." In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 51, No. 2: 199-206. pp. 204
23


rigid symbolic order inspires a fetishistic objectification of the female nude, which then functions as a displaced construct.
The autonomist claim to intrinsic value is critiqued, too, and feminist theorists point out that canonical art has historically been misogynistic, sexist, alienating, and exclusionary.61 Crucially, this perceived moral defectiveness is regarded as being more significant than, or capable of cancelling out, any aesthetic or literary merit. The traditionally aesthetic value of beauty is either challenged as a politically dangerous category which is both reifying and exclusionary, threatening the autonomy and subjectivity of its possessor, or it is simply dismissed as old patriarchal do-dah about transcendent formal values and humane realism.62 The imagery of Gauguin, for example, is scrutinized for the sociopolitical values it implicitly condones, which consist of the aggressively macho and superficial unquestioning... sex roles 63 imposed upon womens consciousness and behavior. Furthermore, feminist aesthetics purports that beauty is utilized as a legitimization of sexual inequality by rendering female subordination to male dominance as sexual.
As a consequence of the theoretical dismantling of autonomys claims, feminist criticism rejects the validity of aesthetic evaluative criteria that has been historically biased against women. Not only have women artists been largely absent from the artistic canon, but the works traditionally produced by women, such as pottery and quilts, are not taken seriously by the aesthetic discourse. In response, Eaton explores feminisms most common reactions to the problematic nature of canon formation: the perspectives of humanism or gynocentrism.64 The humanistic approach relies upon a historical analysis and hypothesizes that social, economic, and
61 Devereaux, Mary. (1992). "Autonomy and its Feminist Critics." in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, ed). pp.
180
62 Brand, P.Z. (1999). "Beauty Matters." In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 57, No. 1:1-10. pp. 2
63 Vogel, Fine Arts, pp. 48
64 Eaton, Feminist Philosophy, pp. 879
24


institutional oppression has prevented women from creating great artworks. Although gender has altered the way women produce and receive art, it is due to patriarchal disenfranchisement rather than gender, and in the absence of systemic barriers, women have the potential to create canonical work. Feminisms most prevalent reaction to the humanistic response is the derisive conviction that it takes the bait.65 The traditional critical standards of greatness and aesthetic achievement have been an ideological practice which is implicitly patriarchal and therefore invalid. The objective of seeking out female artists whose artistic accomplishments correlate with those standards is simply a surrendered participation in an already flawed system, inadvertently perpetuating its oppressive nature. Cassandra Langer writes that such revisionism upholds, if only tacitly, the same long-established categories of high art, great artists, individual genius and purity of formal aesthetic criteria,66 which are sexist and exclusionary. Langers solution is what Eaton described as the gynocentric perspective, which insists that gender does alter the production and reception of art such that the appreciation and evaluation of womens aesthetic contributions demands standards which are utterly different than those employed in judging traditional, masculine art. Like most feminist aestheticians, Langer advocates relinquishing the standards of autonomy in favor of a politicized conception of art:
By bringing a sociological perspective to bear upon the study of art, it dismisses the idea of objective criteria for artistic quality and emphasizes instead the importance of such concepts as class, sex, and culture in the determination of what constitutes good art.67 Gynocentric art criticism is no longer artistic production or evaluation, but is an active agitator for social justice. If the point of philosophy is to change the world, as Marx urged, then the feminist scholar can
65 Langer, Cassandra. (1988). "Against the Grain: A Working Gynergenic Art Criticism." In Feminist Art Criticism. (Raven, A. Ed.) Icon Editions, pp. 114
66 Langer, pp. 115
67 Langer, pp. 117
25


add that art has a similar function. The dismissal of formal quality and normative claims to artistic value in favor of political and social meanings of artworks has succeeded in creating a state wherein it is common nowadays for feminists to refuse to speak of some works being better than others or, when they do use evaluative language, to enclose the value terms in scare quotes68 and which features the banishing of beauty from the humanities in the last two decades... by a set of political complaints against it.69
A politicized conception of art takes the form of ethical, rather than traditionally aesthetic, re-evaluation of canonized artworks. Examining Titians Rape of I Cur opa, Eaton explains that the work represents Europa as an active and willing participant for whom rape seems to be pleasurable. Such a depiction not only seeks to arouse the spectators sexual desire, but also eroticizes rape, which promotes and sustains gender inequality.70 Since the traditional separation between the ethical and the aesthetic has collapsed, Eaton asserts that the ethical defect of eroticizing rape culminates in an aesthetic defect, thus diminishing the overall aesthetic value of Titians painting. Strikingly, Eaton argues that acknowledging the aesthetic merit of the Rape of Europa implicitly condones its ethics, thereby condoning gender inequality.71 A feminist art, which is mostly concerned with depicting female oppression,72 is regarded as the antidote and subversive reaction to sexist art such as Titians.
Of course, suspicion of arts awesome power is not new. Platos ideal city can be described as a furious rejection of the poetic force of Homers artistic vision, and it is not
68 Eaton, Feminist Philosophy, pp. 884
69 Scarry, Elaine. (1998) "On Beauty and Being Just." The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, delivered at Yale University, pp. 39
70 Eaton, A. W. (2003). "Where Ethics and Aesthetics Meet: Titian's Rape of Europa." In Hypatia, Vol. 18, No. 4:159-188. pp. 163
71 Eaton, Rape of Europa, pp. 168
72 Hein, Hilde. (1990) 'The Role of Feminist Aesthetics in Feminist Theory." In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 48, No. 4: 281-291. pp. 284
26


inconsequential that Homer is exiled from Platos just and reasonable republic. The art and literature created during the reign of Louis XIV was representative of the rulers conviction that the purpose of the aesthetic is moral instruction.73 Following him, Napoleon I agreed that autonomous art was both idle and dangerous, and that artworks ought to commemorate the undisputed moral virtue of the Empires military successes.74 In the nineteenth century, the St. Simonians adhered to the Enlightenment notion that arts function is to render abstract ideas sensual, acquiring thereby mass effectiveness.75 The requirement of mass effectiveness is taken up almost verbatim in Benjamins urging that art ought to mobilize the masses, and it becomes obvious that seemingly outdated and puritanical strictures upon aesthetic production are insisted upon anew in Marxist and feminist critique, under a different guise. The notorious excesses of Soviet realism aside, the demand for arts politicization and tendentiousness is realized again and again in galleries and museums, such as the 1993 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The sculptures, installations, and conceptual works of 82 artists created a litany of political statements regarding class, race, gender, AIDS, sexuality, and poverty. Visitors received museums tags inscribed with the phrase, I cant imagine ever wanting to be white. Though the exhibition was politically and socially challenging, some art critics nevertheless wondered about its aesthetic merit. Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times announced simply, I hate the show. Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes described it in contentious terms, referencing the Marxist and feminist concerns with the concealed ideological commitments inherent within aesthetic evaluation:
A saturnalia of political correctness, a long-winded immersion course in marginality the only cultural condition, as far as its reborn curators are concerned, that matters... The
73 Plekhanov, Art and Society, pp. 23
74 Plekhanov, Art and Society, pp. 23
75 Burger, Peter. (1998). "Critique of Autonomy." In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, ed.). pp. 176-177
27


aesthetic quality (that repressive, icky word again!) is for the most part feeble. The level of grievance and moral rhetoric, however, is stridently high... Its more or less given that painting is a form of white male domination, implying mastery... If we are at the point where any attempt at aesthetic discrimination can be read as blaming the victim, is there any use in choosing anything over anything else?76 Perhaps Hughes is unfair, quarrelsome, and extreme. Yet he accurately diagnoses what can be summarized as the exhibits utter absence of aesthetic pleasure and the anxiety such absence inspires. Is ethico-political content the final arbiter of aesthetic quality? More importantly, must it be? To contest this is to contest the entire Marxist and feminist aesthetic edifice. The question is ultimately one of ontology and epistemology: is there an aesthetic dimension separable from ethics, politics, and ideology, and if there is, how do we separate it? If Benjamin is to be disputed, he must be disputed here. There is, however, another alternative, which is less fraught with the dead ends of philosophical abstraction and less likely to earn the accusation of privileging theory over praxis: even if art is doomed to reflecting sociohistorical content, even if arts meaning is indistinguishable from its political commitments, it must nevertheless be experienced and evaluated as if it were autonomous, not only because aesthetic value is a precious and fragile thing that it would be a shame to lose, but also because, surprisingly, it is a propaedeutic for the ethics which so concern autonomys critics. This form of strategic essentialism avoids both a stubborn insistence upon tendentious art and the dogmatic reliance upon absolutes so characteristic of Romantic aesthetics, while preserving an emphasis upon aesthetic quality and ethical possibility by positing that ethics is epiphenomenal to aesthetics. This means that an artworks ethical expression is parasitic upon its aesthetic qualities, such that the moral aspect of the work depends upon the autonomous aspect of the work. In other words,
76 Hughes, Robert. (1993). "Art: The Whitney Biennial: A Fiesta of Whining." In TIME Magazine: Mar. 22,1993.
28


if the work is not autonomous, it cannot succeed ethically as an artwork. This does not separate ethics and aesthetics into completely separate realms, but shows rather how they come to be engaged in artistic activity in a way that they are not engaged in other human activities. This is the position I will endeavor to explicate and defend in the following chapters.
CHAPTER II
The political tension aesthetic criticism inherited from its Marxist and feminist critics, and the struggle against it, is symptomatic of deeper philosophical commitments. These can be broadly categorized as an axiological incongruence between instrumentalism and autonomism. The breadth of these categories renders them useful in illuminating the general pattern which particular aesthetic debates adhere to.
T. J. Diffey defines instrumentalism as the view which regards an artworks value, and usually its very identity, as residing in the performance of some function or functions.77 In other words, a work is good because its good for something, it has a tangible and calculable benefit on something outside of itself. In direct contrast, autonomism insists that an artworks function, if it has one at all, is not an essential component of arts value or identity. Autonomism is more likely to argue for the specialness, or ineffability, of aesthetic experience, regarding it as qualitatively different from other features of human endeavor.
It is not necessary to list the entirety of criticisms each side levels at the other, but two primary and common arguments deserve notice. When instrumentalism conjectures that the identity of an artwork is bound up with its performance of a particular function, the critic of instrumentalism points out that if the function can be performed by something other than the artwork, then not only is an artwork replaceable by a nonartwork and therefore unnecessary, but
77 Haskins, Casey. (1998). "Autonomy." In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, Trans.), pp. 2
29


a normative notion of art ceases to exist altogether. After all, if aesthetic functions can be effectively carried out by other means, then in what sense is art anything other than a meaningless plaything? Perhaps the instrumentalist might reply that instrumentalisms denigration of art is not a count against the theorys explanatory value, while some autonomists, most famously Oscar Wilde, go so far as to claim that a charming toy is all art is, anyway.
Most autonomists, however, contend that art is neither useless nor frivolous. A common complaint about autonomism is predicated on the basis of this rejection of frivolity, since it notes that an artwork is a kind of thing which presents itself as being of value to somebody. Therefore, the instrumentalist critic proceeds, any claim to arts value being removed from external, interpretative sociality is elitist at best and incoherent at worst. Instrumentalists are usually concerned with the moral dimension of art, and to this end, aesthetic questions in the humanities are almost always addressed in ethical or political terms.78 Most instrumentalists, therefore, are ethicists, moralists, moderate moralists, or any position along a spectrum which involves the view that moral evaluation of artworks is an appropriate aesthetic activity inasmuch as a works moral defects may be regarded as aesthetic defects. Autonomists, sometimes calling themselves aestheticists, contend that moral evaluation of art, while a legitimate and valuable activity, is nevertheless incongruent with aesthetic evaluation.
It is important to note that such debates were certainly not settled with Kant, and have passionately continued precisely because arts moral terrain, whether or not it has one, has not been explicitly defined even among those who oppose autonomy. Therefore, aesthetic discourse has much to accomplish, for although it presupposes that art can be discussed and even evaluated morally, little effort has been devoted to working out the philosophical foundations of moral criticism beyond loudly and insistently protesting that the doctrines of formalism and
78 Carroll, Noel. (1996). "Moderate Moralism." In British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 36, No. 3: 223-238. pp. 223
30


artistic autonomy are obviously wrongheaded, repressive and undoubtedly pernicious.79 There are not many radical instrumentalists or autonomists among philosophers,80 and the most common arguments advanced by either side take the form of moderate moralism or moderate autonomism. The disagreements among them are refinements of the primary conflict between instrumentalists and autonomists outlined above, and can be well exemplified by a dispute between the moralist Noel Carroll and the autonomists J. Anderson and J. Dean. The debate, politely confined to academic journals, was initiated by Carrolls explication of his position as a moderate moralist.
Moderate moralism is less stringent than, for example, the ethicism of Berys Gaut, who argues that the ethical assessment of attitudes manifested by works of art is legitimate aspect of the aesthetic evaluation of those works, such that, if a work manifests ethically reprehensible attitudes, it is to that extent aesthetically defective, and if a work manifests ethically commendable attitudes, it is to that extent aesthetically meritorious.81 Although Gaut qualifies the definition as involving a pro tanto principle, since ethically desirable attitudes count toward the overall assessment of the work while ethically undesirable attitudes count against it, thereby leaving room for the possibility of ethically flawed (and therefore aesthetically flawed) masterpieces, Carroll nevertheless regards ethicism as too harsh.
Defending a slightly weaker and far more compelling thesis, Carroll begins with the observation that many artworks inspire moral responses in their audience, thereby encouraging interpretation and evaluation of themselves in moral terms82 For Carroll, such responses are often not prescribed by the work, but already present in the minds and hearts of audiences.
79 Carroll, Noel. Moderate Moralism, pp. 224
80 Haskins, Casey. (2000). "Paradoxes of Autonomy; or, Why Won't the Problem of Artistic Justification Go Away?" In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 58, No. 1:1-22. pp. 3
81 Gaut, Berys. (1998). "The Ethical Criticism of Art." In Aesthetics and Ethics. Cambridge: 182-203. pp. 182
82 Carroll, Moderate Moralism, pp. 227
31


Numerous presuppositions are required of spectators and readers, who arrive with assumptions and then utilize them to complete narrative gaps. For example, Shakespeare neednt explain why Hamlet is outraged at his fathers murder. King Lears disappointment in Regans ingratitude is taken as a matter of course, since ungrateful children are tacitly understood to be disappointing.
In fact, narratives are often unintelligible without the audiences preconceptions: unless one finds the social ostracism of Anna Karenina both inevitable and distressing, Annas suicide becomes incomprehensible. Thus, Carroll explains, it is a typical element of artworks to activate existing moral emotions, without which the work will be inaccessible to the viewer (whether some works deliberately strive for inaccessibility is a related notion, to be discussed later).
Given sufficient moral flaws, Carroll posits, the activation does not take place, and the work remains beyond intelligibility. Since an antecedent moral understanding is a prerequisite of arts audience, Carroll concludes that moral evaluation is implicit in aesthetic engagement.
Carrolls second bulwark for moderate moralism relies upon an Aristotelian conception of proper tragic character. In his Poetics, Aristotle proposes that the plot tragedy offers must not be the spectacle of a ... bad man passing from adversity to prosperity ... it neither satisfies the moral sense, nor calls forth pity or fear.83 Moral defectiveness, in other words, must not be presented without its just punishment, or, what amounts to the same thing, without a moralizing message. Without it, the audience cannot sympathize with the artwork. If a work strives to arouse pity and fear, as proper tragedy should, the substance of the work must be morally sympathetic.
Venturing where Aristotle points, Carroll introduces the uncontroversial thesis that achieving the desired audience response is an integral feature of successful artworks. However, if a work which aims at the audiences pity is so ethically inappropriate that it prevents emotional
83 Aristotle (335 B.C./1902). Poetics. (S. H. Butcher. Eds). McMillan and Company, pp. 45
32


uptake, it cannot achieve the desired pitying response because it has invited the audience to share a defective moral perspective.84 Thus, the portrayal of certain unethical attitudes, since it precludes the hoped for aesthetic response, forces the artwork to fail qua art. Invoking the incorrect bad man passing from adversity to prosperity formula, Carroll imagines a dramatic representation of Hitler as a sympathetic character (perhaps not unlike The Triumph of the Will). Such a representation must founder in its own emotional inaccessibility, Carroll argues, because the audience cannot summon the necessary sympathy for such a morally objectionable figure. In the simplest terms, the artwork remains beyond sympathy because the audience doesnt get it. For Carroll, emotional remoteness occasioned by the failure to achieve uptake is an aesthetic failure precisely because it is a moral failure. Linking the capacity to achieve uptake with his assertion that audiences complete works by contributing an implicit ethical understanding,
Carroll concludes: Securing the right moral response of the audience is as much a part of the design of a narrative artwork as structural components like plot complications. Failure to elicit the right moral response, then, is a failure in the design of the work, and, therefore, is an aesthetic failure.85 With this elegant formulation, Carroll defends a moderate moralism which maintains the necessary connection between ethical and aesthetic value. But is it convincing?
Let us begin by examining Carrolls first supposition: artworks activate existing moral emotions, and if the activation doesn 7 take place, the work remains inaccessible. One must understand Hamlets outrage at his fathers murder, for example, in order to understand the play. If one believed that murdering fathers was a common or even a cheerfully encouraged practice, Hamlef s plot would become nonsensical. Thus, Shakespeare activates our ethical sense by summoning the common knowledge that murder, particularly when applied to family members,
84 Carroll, Moderate Moralism, pp. 232
85 Carroll, Moderate Moralism, pp. 233
33


is wrong. Very well. But doesnt Hamlet also activate our biological sense by relying upon our common knowledge that humans are mortal? Is not this sense further activated by Shakespeare neglecting to mention that his characters drink water and use the restroom? The audience is not surprised when Hamlet does not sit down to a single square meal for the long months of the plays action because the fact that he must be eating is implicitly understood. In fact, there is a myriad of implicit understandings with which an audience arrives at an artwork biological, historical, cultural, psychological, and even scientific. If the activation of ethical norms is a standard feature of artworks, then so is the activation of biological and historical norms, without which the work may be incomprehensible. This is true, but trivially so. Unless, along with ethics, we are prepared to admit biology, history, and science into the summary of aesthetic value, such implicit understandings, while necessary, are nevertheless not aesthetic features. But wait, an attentive objector might cry, Carrolls formula regards ethical norms as aesthetic features only if eliciting such norms is part of the design of the work. Again, this is only trivially true. If it is essential to the design of Hamlet that we reject murder, it is equally essential that we accept mortality or the undesirability of death because, without them, the plots design is not possible. Surely, we are not prepared to admit moderate biologism or moderate psychologism along with Carrolls moderate moralism into the scope of art critical standards. Not only would it mean limiting an artworks range to what audiences are capable of assimilating into their own experience, thereby condemning without qualification revolutionary and unassimilable works, but aesthetic value becomes too broadly sketched to have any consensus or evaluative authority, such that all such discussions become meaningless.
Let us now consider Carrolls second supposition: achieving the desired audience response is a standardfeature of successful artworks. While this seems self-evident, it does not
34


follow that if the desired response is an ethical one, the artworks failure to achieve it is also ethical. Invoking Brett Easton Ellis novel American Psycho, Carroll recounts that it was intended as a satire, but the coldly disturbing descriptions of murders were regarded as so morally offensive, that audiences were unable to see the novels ironic elements: American Psychos failure to achieve uptake as satire is attributable to Ellis failure to grasp the moral inappropriateness of regarding his serial killer as comic.86
Carroll argues that such works fail because they ask the audience to share a defective moral perspective where the nature of the work itself calls for a proper moral perspective. However, this contradiction lies not in ethics, but in aesthetics. When Hamlets dead father appears in contemporary productions of the play as a transparent phantom, the audience is asked to entertain an unscientific point of view. Ghosts, common knowledge tells us, do not exist. The play asks us to temporarily believe, for its sake, that they do. Despite common knowledge, the audience plays along. If the scenes special effects become excessive, with, say, transparent sheets flying to and fro, the childish absurdity of believing in ghosts might overcome the power of the play to move us. In such a case, it would not be the unscientific nature of ghosts, but the way ghosts are presented, that prevents tragic uptake. It would not be content, but the form, of the work that would become objectionable. These would not be scientific defects, but aesthetic ones. Similarly, if the audience does not play along with American Psychos killer, it is not a moral failing, but an aesthetic one. It isnt that the novel portrays a killer, but rather that it does so hadly. Killers need not be justly punished for a novel to work at securing uptake, but they must be presented in ways which accord with aesthetic sensibilities. Had Ellis been a stronger artist, the immoral content of his novel may have been transcended by its aesthetic form. The old cliche, No villain is a villain to himself, is nowhere more relevant than in works of art
86 Carroll, Moderate Moralism, pp. 232
35


which portray villains in ways that make us understand them. We understand the monstrous Iago not because he is more moral than Ellis murderer, but because Shakespeare can make us see how Iago justifies himself to himself. Iagos values look unethical only from the side; to him, they are not faults but justifications. Shakespeare shows us Iago not in terms of his faults, but in terms of his justifications. Shallower works sometimes founder in the gap between form and content which powerful works are capable of reconciling, asking audiences to identify with villains in just this way. If we cannot thus identify with Ellis killer, it is not because he is unethical but because he fails to engage us on his terms, so we judge him on ours.
To illustrate this further, let us imagine the feminist philosopher Marcia Muelder Eaton lingering near a lake in Minneapolis. Beside the water, the loose strife flower blooms. Frothy purple blossoms cling to slender stems. The flower, Ms. Eaton thinks, is beautiful. Then, she recalls that the exotic plant invades wherever it takes root, swiftly ruining water purification processes for other plants and animals and destroying the delicate ecosystem. She writes, I know that it is a dangerous, even evil, plant... But I cannot prevent myself from finding the plant quite beautiful.87 Despite its ruthlessness, the flower is beautiful, and its destructiveness perhaps only makes this conflict more pronounced and therefore more aesthetically forceful. In Carrolls parlance, the purple flower contradicts implicit moral knowledge. Nevertheless, it achieves uptake in Ms. Eatons mind. This ethical dilemma of beauty in evil is at the very heart of Carrolls critique. It is, however, an ethical dilemma. American Psycho is unlike the loose strife flower because it lacks aesthetic, not moral, goodness.
Perhaps the most notorious example of an evil artwork is Leni Riefenstahls Triumph of the Will, a glorification of Nazi Germany which enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive
87 Eaton, Marcia Muelder. (1999). "Kantian and Contextual Beauty." In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 57 No. 1: 11-15. pp. 11
36


reception, though certainly not because it was more moral than American Psycho. The film, made at Hitlers request, focuses upon the 1934 Nuremberg party rally sponsored by the Nazi Party. Brilliantly orchestrated montages of thousands of troops, marching bands, parades, and speeches flowing to the cadence of Wagnerian music create a stunning spectacle. The film was successful not only in Germany, but won the Gold Medal at the Venice Film Festival and the Grand Prix at the Paris Film Festival, and is still regarded as a supreme cinematic achievement.88 The controversy, of course, is explicit. The representation of ecstatic crowds adulating Hitler, who is portrayed as a redeeming figure graciously accepting bouquets from laughing children, culminates in a vision of Nazi Germany as desirable and, quite simply, good. The Triumph of the Will is also unlike the loose strife flower, but not because it lacks aesthetic force. Unlike the flower which prompts us to set aside its destructive nature for the sake of appreciating its formal beauty, the glorification of Nazism structures the work as a whole. Content and form merge: we cannot set aside the content of a messianic Hitler because that content is precisely what forms the film into the kind of film that it is.
Here, Carroll would likely insist that when content becomes paramount, aesthetic evaluation is helpless and ethical evaluation must take the reins. However, this is misguided. A purely formalistic survey, wherein we are asked to bracket the films veneration of Hitler in order to appreciate only its stylistic features, is not the only aesthetic approach. Form and content are reconciled in exploring how stylistic features convey substance, such that the entire expression of the work is included in aesthetic evaluation. Instead of setting aside the vision of Hitlers goodness, we assess how that vision is communicated. Much like Othello is canonized not in spite of Iagos treachery but partially because of it, the film succeeds aesthetically not in
88 Devereaux, Mary. (1998). "Beauty and Evil: The Case of Leni Riefanstahl's Triumph of the Will." In Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection. (Jerrold Levinson, Ed.) Cambridge University Press: 227-56. Pp. 249
37


spite of its message, but partially because of it. Asking whether the historical Hitler is as messianic as he is represented is like asking whether space travel really occurs as instantaneously as it does in science fiction novels. The magical realism of Borges, wherein tigers are willed into existence and dead men play the gramophone, asks us to transcend the experience of waking reality we leave the real behind eagerly because Borges is a master artist. We neednt accept the validity of manifesting tigers for his stories to achieve uptake, and we neednt accept the validity of Hitlers goodness for a controversial film to achieve uptake. Of course, this doesnt preclude moral critique of the film, just as science fiction novels do not preclude scientific critique. The provocative film promotes ethical questions and fears as it should. Such critique, however, is nevertheless not aesthetic in nature. Nazi Germany remains despicable; the film remains a masterpiece.
Leaving aside the obvious objection that it is sometimes the very purpose of artworks to elicit moral disgust, it is important to note that Carrolls supposition that artworks which cannot achieve their desired responses fail aesthetically is simply not borne out in art history. It is doubtful that Manet painted his Olympia, depicting a nude prostitute, with the anticipation that its spectators will respond with inordinate hostility. At its first 1865 exhibition, the most famous art critics were scandalized into a brutal disparagement which echoed the publics immediate rejection of the painting. One critic depicted the crowd thronging in front of the putrefied Olympia as if it were at the morgue,89 another declared that her face is stupid, her skin cadaverous,90a third declared that she does not have a human form.91 The disturbed public was even less generous with its praise than the critics. In such a case, the achievement of desired
89 Bernheimer, Charles. (1989). "Manet's Olympia: The Figuration of Scandal." In Poetics Today, Vol. 10, No. 2. (1989): 255-277. pp. 256
90 Bernheimer, pp. 256
91 Bernheimer, pp. 256
38


audience response figuring as an implicit feature of aesthetic merit begins to seem much less self-evident.
Many artworks shared a similar fate. Sargents Madame X and Picassos Les Demoiselles D Avignon were scorned by an offended public, and Modigliani and Keats famously languished beneath the weight of critical rejection. Melvilles Moby Dick profoundly disturbed implicit ethical understanding, as well, but it would be difficult to argue that these works were therefore aesthetically defective. Similarly, Carrolls thesis fails to account for historical shifts in what counts as ethical, and therefore what becomes implicit. While Petronius Satyricon roused its Roman audience to laughter, a typical contemporary reader may find little thats amusing in its explicit narration of sexual abuse. It seems ludicrous to suggest that the Satyricon was a good artwork in the first century, but is a defective artwork now. Indeed, we can only suggest this if we believe that a work ought to be judged not on its terms, but on ours. Therefore, even though we dont laugh at the Satyricon, we see not only why it was intended to inspire laughter, but also why its still capable of moving us in other ways. This is partially because the Satyricon is not read for its moral, historical, or ethnographic value, but for its aesthetic virtue, which retains its hold on us despite changing ethical norms.
Let us now hear from the opposition, and consider the moderate autonomist response to Carrolls moderate moralist thesis. James Anderson and Jeffrey Dean begin their answer to Carroll by invoking the not infrequent tension arising between moral and aesthetic convictions. Recalling Shakespeares Jewish merchant Shylock, who is hilariously and yet prejudicially written, the very conflict between morality and art is cited as evidence that they are indeed separate values. This conclusion seems intuitive. Ms. Eatons hesitation beside the lake, suspended between appreciation and moral hostility for the purple flower, is perhaps
39


symptomatic of a dissonance that exists at the very heart of art. Great art often troubles and disturbs, deliberately estranging its audience from normative experience.
Ethical norms, like scientific or historical norms, do not occupy a privileged position by floating above the material that art transforms. Picassos simultaneity disturbs normative perceptions of temporality and Shakespeares ghosts disturb normative perceptions of mortality. Why, then, ought normative perceptions of morality those which Carroll terms implicit remain immune from arts relentlessly questioning irreverence? We do not regard Picassos Still Life with Compote and Glass as aesthetically defective because it refuses to conform to proper visual experience. If anything, its strangeness is what makes the work vital, significant, and powerful. Why, then, must we regard The Merchant of Venice as aesthetically defective because it refuses to conform to a proper morality? It is possible that the inner struggle such works engender between aesthetic power and ethical conviction, whether intended by the artist or not, contribute to their greatness. An audiences implicit understanding, whether moral or otherwise, is never secure within the domain of art, and this insecurity is precisely what contributes to arts awesome power. The legal scholar Richard Posner aptly describes a consuming artistic experience as superseding normative values. As we read great literature, for example, we find ourselves identifying with dubious characters and perspectives, cheering on egomaniacs, scamps, seducers, conquerors, psychopaths, tricksters, and immoralists ... charming, sometimes dazzling, scoundrels.92 Of course, such identifications do not discredit the ethical import of artworks they are simply not reduced to them. Morality and politics, much like any aspect of sociality, are arts raw material, not its goal. To strip art of its power to estrange, in effect to neuter it, is to strip it of its aesthetic function.
92 Posner, Richard. (1997)."Against Ethical Criticism." In Philosophy and Literature, Vol. 21, No. 1:1-27. pp. 415
40


Does this mean that an artwork cannot be motivated by ethico-political aims? Of course it can. Nevertheless, ethico-political aims, however they are deployed within the work, will not necessarily render the work aesthetically valuable. This is the essence of Anderson and Deans critique of Carroll. Although ethical and political criticism of artworks is a legitimate and important activity, Anderson and Dean argue that neither Gaut nor Carroll have succeeded in convincing them that identifying with ethically reprehensible attitudes entails aesthetic shortcomings. Relatedly, an artworks representation of ethically commendable attitudes does not result in aesthetic merit. Art can seduce its audience into identifying with scoundrels and, in some cases, even outright evil, because, Anderson and Dean insist, an artwork will never be worse because of its moral defects.93 They explain that American Psycho s aesthetic failure stems from its inability to satisfy the Aristotelian demand for audience sympathy, while its moral failure stems from its endorsement of immoral perspectives. Since its moral and aesthetic failings have different causes, then an inquiry into the works moral value will not yield any information about its aesthetic value.
Carroll decided to meet the challenge and published a response. Once again returning to his claim that artworks are incomplete structures requiring audiences to arrive with certain prior knowledge, Carroll argued that works must be so structured as to invite audiences to complete them appropriately. Facilitating the improper audience response not only prevents understanding, but subverts the aim of the work. Since this address to the audience is part of the structural design of the work, the failure to elicit the desired moral response is a failure in design and, therefore, an aesthetic failure. Carrolls response-dependent formula again neglects the shifting nature of audiences, whose responses are deeply influenced by ethical, political, social,
93 Anderson, James and Dean, Jeffrey. (1998). "Moderate Autonomism." In British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 38,
No. 2: 150-166. pp. 153
41


and sexual mores such that an Olympia which offends ethical sensibilities in 1865 is incapable of evoking class distinctions a century later. If the representation of a sallow prostitute seems ugly because ethical norms deem her so, and years later the spell she weaves stems from her strange beauty, perhaps achieving undesired responses is a sign not of aesthetic failure, but aesthetic revolution. A moral rejection might seem, to later generations, as little more than puritanical blindness. Does this mean that American Psycho might come to be regarded as a masterpiece a hundred years hence? Perhaps. Certainly nothing in aestheticisms reasoning would reject this possibility. More importantly, it means that rushing forth to disparage a works aesthetic meaning by critiquing its moral content may not only prove to be historically misguided, but may negate the works offering of aesthetic power which is, amid todays political debates, precisely whats at stake.
Marxist and Feminist Critique as Instrumental Moralism
It is not an exaggeration to conclude that the potential loss of aesthetic power is not regarded as a significant threat by moralist critics, who concern themselves with arts ethical scope primarily, and its aesthetic scope only secondarily. This is the form of instrumentalism which moralism advances, and its position is conceptually representative of both Marxist and feminist aesthetics. Its influence can be found not only in feminist A.W. Eatons recent regard for Titians Europa as an aesthetic failure because of its depiction of rape, but also in the postcolonial critic Chinua Achebes characterization of Joseph Conrad as a thoroughgoing racist and his conclusion that The Heart of Darkness, an offensive and deplorable book, should not be read in university literature courses.94 It can be found in post-colonialist Gayatri Spivaks claim that Jane Austens Mansfield Park is underwritten by slavery and that the novel
94 Achebe, Chinua. (1975). "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." Chancellor's Lecture, delivered at the University of Massachusetts, February 1975. pp. 1,791
42


therefore condones and legitimizes slavery,95 such that one dares not wonder what ethical monstrosity actually liking the novel might commit, or in Stanford Universitys removal of Platos Republic from reading lists because it represents anti-assimilationist movements,96 or the urging of two literature professors to replace Romeo and Juliet in high school freshman classes with Brokeback Mountain because, they argue, the heteronormative relationship of the work excludes and thereby disparages homosexuality.97 These developments are responsive to the instrumental pressure of aesthetic moralism and represent its logical conclusion. If such things are not a sufficient threat because instrumentalists are prepared to throw out Conrad and Titian in the name of what seems like the greater good, there are nevertheless political implications of discrediting aesthetic value which may prove more convincing.
Representative of this instrumental moralist turn, the identification of arts proper goal in ethico-political praxis has as its precondition the destruction of autonomy. As mass phenomenon, the heteronomous, committed, tendentious art Benjamin, Lukacs, and Plekhanov advocate does not demand introspection or contemplation. However, it is precisely this feature which thwarts emancipation. Trapped within the field of immanence, heteronomous art is not capable of critiquing social practice because it is utterly subsumed within it. Enthralled by a Benjaminian version of mass culture or a Lukacsian conception of class consciousness, the artwork obeys immediate praxis. The critical faculty is lost. For critique, there must be reflection upon the critiqued object which presupposes a cognitive aloofness that is profoundly private in character. To resist social conditions, a work must stand outside of those conditions, if
95 Fraiman, Susan. (1995). "Jane Austen and Edward Said: Gender, Culture, and Imperialism." In Critical Inquiry, Vol. 21, No. 4: 805-821. pp. 809
96 Avery, Jon. (1995). "Plato's Republic in the Core Curriculum: Multiculturalism and the Canon Debate." In The Journal of General Education, Vol. 44, No. 4: 234-255. pp. 234
97 Blackburn, Mollie and Smith, Jill. (2010). "Moving Beyond the Inclusion of LGBTQ-Themed Literature in English Language Arts Classrooms: Interrogating Heteronormativity and Exploring Intersectionality." In Journal f Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Vol. 53, No. 8: 625-634. pp. 627
43


only conceptually. Just as a human being who is an inextricable aspect of sociality but can nevertheless reflect upon the social practices he is beholden to, artworks also possess this reflexive, dual allegiance. While art certainly begins with sociohistorical contexts, it does not always end with them, and rather than mimicking reality it struggles, lapses, and breaks against the status quo.
The pioneering critical theorist of the Frankfurt School, Theodor Adorno, writes, Even the most sublime work of art takes up a definite position vis-a-vis reality by stepping outside of realitys spell, not abstractly once and for all, but occasionally and in concrete ways, when it unconsciously and tacitly polemicizes against the condition of society at a particular point in time.98 While some critics of autonomy deny the very existence of this critical function, arguing as Lukacs does that art cannot help but blindly reproduce prevailing ideology, the instrumentalist, Benjaminian critic of autonomy wishes to put arts critical function to good use, to force it into political, moral service. In other words, since artworks can function critically, they had better criticize in the right direction.
There are two objections to this line of reasoning I would like to advance. Before I do so, it is important to iterate that both objections are offered not for the sake of aesthetic autonomy, but for the sake of preserving arts critical function. However, it is only upon the basis of autonomy that this function can be preserved.
1. If moral critique must be arts primary preoccupation, we must return to the original concern with instrumentalism. If non-artworks, such as, say, political speeches, can perform the role demanded of artworks in this case, endorsement of progressive ethics then why bother with art at all? When the Caliph Omar sanctioned the destruction of the library at Alexandria, he is
98 Adorno, Theodor. (1970/2002). Aesthetic Theory. (Hullot-Kentor, R. Trans.) (Adorno, G. and Tiedemann, R. Eds). Continuum, pp. 7
44


reported to have observed, If the books are in agreement with the Quran, we have no need of them. If they are opposed to the Quran, destroy them. While this is certainly an extreme case, the comparison is clear. If art is to exist at all, it must exist aesthetically and not merely as a political and moral champion. Furthermore, art must not merely be something more than moral reasoning, a position which would transform it from art with moral potential into morality with an aesthetic twist. It must be not secondarily, not later on, not after the political allegiances have been articulated but ontologically aesthetic in nature. To be an ethically engaged human being, one must first be a human being. To be an ethically engaged artwork, a work must first be an artwork. Aesthetic concerns must be prioritized over ethical concerns especially when an artwork functions critically. This is because, in order to reflect upon its sociohistorical context, the work must, in Adornos words, step outside of realitys spell.
An artwork accomplishes this by a decisive inward turn, from reality into a different world. Daring what no moral speech or political pamphlet ought ever to dare, art lies. As such, art is a unique form of critique in that it is real without being actual. Let us imagine Bizets Carmen. If a woman were strangled beyond the aesthetic realm, wherein everything is permitted, the audience members would react with terror, violence, and instantly begin fumbling with pockets and purses for their cell phones to dial 9-1-1. Of course, in the opera house, there is no such scrambling. As the rapt audience watches Don Jose murder Carmen, it really experiences a scene of murder while not actually experiencing such a scene at all. The audiences profoundly real outrage, melancholy, and sympathy are tempered with the understanding that these are not responses to actuality. Carmen, Desdemona, and Ophelia never actually die they are only eternally dying, suspended in a state between existence and nonexistence peculiar to the aesthetic dimension. The Soviet poet Mayakovsky wrote:
45


A rhymes a barrel of dynamite.
A line is a fuse
thats lit.
The line smoulders,
the rhyme explodes
and by a stanza
a city
is blown to bits"
In the unreal city of the aesthetic, the audience identifies with egomaniacs, scamps, seducers. The artwork forces us to transcend natural responses, to replace them with aesthetic ones.
If a political reach is available to the artwork, it is only because it legitimizes itself through recourse to the aesthetic lie. It is quite possible for a work of literature to operate as a war machine,99 100 the feminist philosopher Monique Wittig remarks. Her novel Les Guerilleres depicts a bloody, terrifying battle of the sexes, as women fight to challenge oppression. The characters use of weapons and the novels assault on traditional language are quite literally acts of violence committed against the dominant order. However, this terror is fictional. The damage is real, palpable, significant, and challenging. But it is not actual. Nevertheless, it leaves its mark upon culture without the repercussions of real destruction. Wittigs narrative technique challenges language and the assumptions which form it, particularly the way language constructs notions of sexuality and femininity. Les Guerilleres replaces the masculine and universal pronoun iT with the feminine Elies. Initially, the change is jarring, as an aesthetic experience
99 Mayakovksiy, Vladimir. (1915/1965). Mayakovsky. (Marshall, H. Trans, and Ed.), pp. 352.
100 Butler, J. (1999/2002). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge. pp. 152.
46


so often is. After a while, however, the texts cadence and rhythm become habitual, and the challenge of the work infiltrates ordinary signification, subtly, almost imperceptibly, changing it. While speaking a different, challenging language, the text nevertheless remains intelligible, altering signification and shifting the subjects position therein from within the symbolic domain. The signifying gesture of an artwork communicates meaning, but it does not function as an ordinary sign because the object it points to does not exist. Poetic language signifies a world which contradicts the hegemonic scope of this one, a world wherein women brutally kill for freedom, because by a stanza/ a city/ is blown to bits. The actuality an artwork creates is capable of transformative power that a primarily political, non-aesthetic gesture simply cannot match. If such a work succeeds politically, it will succeed not because of its political potential, but because of its aesthetic strength, which make its political potential possible.
As the artworks privileged site beyond actuality replaces natural responses with aesthetic ones, art negates while affirming. We are horrified by Carmens death, but we also take pleasure in it. Even abject suffering, the utmost negation of life, can be presented as enjoyable by being aesthetically created and aesthetically received. During one of his lectures, novelist Jorge Luis Borges spoke of Voltaires Candide, which is a dark, satirical argument for pessimism: Voltaires brilliance itself refutes its own thesis... Now, what could be said against Candide ... is that a world in which Candide which is a delicious work, full of jokes exists cant be such a terrible world. Because, surely, when Voltaire wrote Candide, he didnt feel the world was so terrible. He was expounding a thesis and was having a lot of fun doing so.101 We read Candide and we nod along with its pessimistic pronouncements upon the futility of life, and this gives us pleasure. We read Wittigs work and we empathize with her women rather than the men they
101 Borges, Jorge Luis. (1996/2013). "Class 9." In Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature. New Directions, pp. 84-86
47


slaughter, and we enjoy this aestheticization of monstrosity without ourselves becoming monstrous. Rather, in our pleasure, we are uplifted. This simultaneous, seemingly paradoxical ability to negate while affirming is at the very heart of arts reality without actuality.
Arts inward turn also renders it less accessible. Mass art, emerging from a capitalist mode of production, is widely accessible not because it is liberating but because it has become utterly commodified. The marketability and market valuation of products results in standardized, commercialized works which discourage critical thought. Against Benjamins optimism, Adorno argues that capitalism is strengthened by mass culture, which is itself a kind of manifestation of mass production. Underwritten by Marxs distinction between use value and exchange value, Adornos critique of aesthetic commodification emphasizes the shift from early to late capitalism: whereas, in early capitalism, artworks had both use and exchange value, late capitalism has replaced use value with exchange value, such that exchange value itself has become a source of enjoyment. In other words, the value of a painting is its cost. Commercial success becomes fetishized in artworks, and the consumer is really worshipping the money that he himself has paid for the ticket to the Toscanini concert.102 This leads to what Adorno terms the regression of aesthetic appreciation to an infantile state of docile acceptance of whatever is supplied. Precisely because mass mediated artworks demand nothing of their audience, because they are effortless and immediate, they cannot be emancipatory. Rather than being inspired to acts of socio-political import, the endlessly entertained masses dwell in their passivity, having renounced the individual critical function for submission to immanence. Writing in 1938 about the effects of popular music upon critical consciousness, Adorno evokes a Kafka-esque metaphor to observe bitterly:
102 Adorno, Theodor. (1938/1985). "On the Fetish Character of Music and the Regression of Listening." In The Essential Frankfurt School Reader. (Arato and Gebhardt, Eds.) Continuum, pp. 278
48


Types rise up from the mass of the retarded who differentiate themselves by pseudoactivity and nevertheless make the regression more strikingly visible. There are, first, the enthusiasts who write fan letters to radio stations and orchestras and, at well-managed jazz festivals, produce their own enthusiasm as an advertisement for the wares they consume. They call themselves jitterbugs, as if they simultaneously wanted to affirm and mock their loss of individuality, their transformation into beetles whirring around in fascination.103
We can replace the dated jitterbug with any modern consumer of mass culture whose complacency, and even dissent, is commodified. The mass character of art precludes liberation by plunging subjects into a glittering, enchanting present, thereby severing the possibility of transcendence through critical abstraction. To function critically, Adorno insists, art must reject its mass basis.
Retreating into inaccessibility, inward art critiques its historical moment simply by existing. From the atonality of Schoenberg to the literary inaccessibility of Faulkner, modem art is unavailable for general consumption. In its exclusivity, it rejects society. Adornos thought radicalizes Kantian purposelessness into a political stance, and this posture of rejection carries with it the enormous force of social critique: Insofar as a social function can be predicated for artworks, it is their functionlessness.104 In other words, arts contribution to social praxis is its own autonomy. By remaining uncaught, art is not only free to critique the social relations it repudiates, but its very existence functions as an immense bulwark against those relations, representing the possibility of altering them. Mass art lacks such autonomy and is therefore doomed to simply replicate the injunctions of capitalism. This is because mass art is beholden
103 Adorno, Fetish Character, pp. 292
104 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 309
49


not to progressive praxis, but to exchange value. Obviously, this accusation is only true of mass art in late capitalist society its quite possible that the mass art of different epochs may well produce Parthenons and Sistine Chapels. Now, progressive art must necessarily be estranged from its public because that public is beholden to the bestsellers which can only faithfully reproduce the status quo.
2. If art must obey the proper political formula, if the autonomous space of critique is instantly filled with a prescribed agenda perhaps even before a work is created, a reactionary path to censorship has been initiated. To those who might shrug and say unwisely in the name of progressive praxis, Well, then let there be censorship, I can only offer the philosophical problem of justifying which values ought to be suppressed. If misogyny is unfit for aesthetic representation, then perhaps so is the absence of traditional family values. Indeed, the National Endowment for the Arts has heard objections from conservative legislators to federal financing of art deemed indecent for decades, initially sparked by the controversy of Robert Mapplethorpes photographs. Museum directors have been indicted on charges of obscenity and obliged to sign pledges that that they will not promote or disseminate works which are considered obscene.105 The NEAs decency clause, created in 1990 along with a revocation of funding for individual artists, still stands. Dedicated to the promotion of mostly Christian fundamentalist principles, objectors argue that what they regard as spiritually degenerate modern art should not receive support from public tax dollars. In some sense, they may have a point. After all, why should art be representative of liberal rather than conservative values? Much like autonomys feminist critics, conservative legislators regard art primarily as a medium that can be utilized to convey ethical and political truths. Yet if art which is misogynist, racist, or oppressive
105 Devereaux, Mary. (1993). "Protected Space: Politics, Censorship, and the Arts." In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 51, No. 2:207-2015. pp. 207
50


ought to be suppressed, upon what grounds can we deny the same censoring rights to those who wish to suppress Mapplethorpes homoerotic photographs? Or Serranos controversial Piss Christl To whose voice should art lend its trumpets and who gets to decide? My politics are better than your politics gets us nowhere, particularly when politics are deeply embedded within religious, sociocultural, and economic structures which cannot be simply overcome by the force of the better argument. This disagreement might seem like a practical, real world matter, yet it is underwritten with purely philosophical considerations. Historically, recourse to autonomy solved the dilemma and sheltered art from either conservative or progressive political meddling. Prior to 1800, artistic practice was delimited by the ritualistic or didactic functions it served for institutions such as the church and the court.106 Indeed, these extra-artistic functions were (as they remain for instrumentalists) constitutive of arts nature, determining everything that applied to art, from art theory to art production and art criticism.107 Writing about the history of musical production, the aesthetic theorist Lydia Goehr remarks of music before 1800:
Musical practice of the Middle Ages continued... to be basically conservative... Music demonstrating newness, personal innovation, or creativity, for example, was valued only if it strictly conformed to the traditions of the church the teaching body... Practicing musicians had to reconcile their taste for variety and innovation with their social and religious obligations.108
The Renaissance saw a humanistic development in art criticism which insisted that art can be secular. Nevertheless, when J.S. Bach applied for an organists position in 1713, his contract (which he returned unsigned) stipulated that he must perform such that his audience shall be the
106 Goehr, Lydia. (1992). The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music. Clarendon Press: Oxford, pp. 122
107 Goehr, pp. 122
108 Goehr, pp. 135
51


more inspired and refreshed in worship and in their love of hearkening to the Word of God.109 It was only with the development of romantic theories of the fine arts which shifted aesthetic assessment away from focusing on arts mimetic qualities to individual expression, stressing the artworks autonomy, that art production became an independent practice.
The gradually achieved autonomist protection is worth invoking again, though not as a formalist rejection of politics in art but rather as a means of keeping the aesthetic space free from being obligated to privilege any particular politics. To avoid arts dissolving (devolving) into little more than advertising for special interests, whether those interests be reactionary or progressive, religious or secular, Mary Devereaux argues for a protected space for art. A feminist thinker deeply motivated by the emancipatory potential of artworks, Devereaux recognizes that this potential simply cannot exist if art is proscribed from functioning critically and freely, with the freely guaranteeing the critically. Linking the liberal democratic notion of individual freedom with the peculiar, visionary character of aesthetic expression, Devereaux suggests that art deserves special protections. She explains:
If we accept that artists are specially equipped technically and imaginatively to help us see things, then they naturally have a special role to play. They can function as critics, reformers, revolutionaries... It is this social value... that warrants protection, according to the principle of autonomy. In allowing art the independence to function in these ways, we seek to protect a political good.110
Devereaux conception of political goodness seems to be founded not upon the particular content of a work emancipatory, anti-patriarchal, or otherwise but rather in the works ability to assume such content in the first place. Political good ceases to be a prescribed position of
109 Geek, Martin. (2000). Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work. (Trans. Hargraves, J.) Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Books, pp. 73
110 Devereaux, Protected Space, pp. 214
52


thought and becomes instead a condition for thought. This condition is essentially one of autonomy. Political interference is dangerous not only because artworks can fall into the wrong, reactionary hands. Its dangerous also because it muzzles art by obligating it to an arranged formula, thereby silencing its critical faculty. Yet from Upton Sinclairs The Jungle which cried out against the brutalities of factory work to Franz Marcs subtler Fate of the Animals which cast a harsh light upon humanitys objectification of nature, challenging artworks have tended to cast aside formulas and obligations.
With these two objections in place, autonomy is revealed to be aesthetic primacy within a nonpartisan space. This prevents both censorship and losing sight of art qua art tendencies which run the risk of destroying arts critical possibilities. It is important to note that such an approach to autonomy does not commit us to formalism or to apolitical art. Not only the formal aspects of the work are protected the works content is, as well. A protected space grants license to the artwork to delimit its own values, both ethically and aesthetically. Autonomy is arts initial condition, the space in which its born and takes refuge.
At the practical level of deciding how best to allocate NEA funds, autonomy is indeed the least partisan approach. Yet discerning thinkers may well recognize that just as liberal tolerance for all belief systems is itself a belief system, a nonpartisan space is itself a normative ethical perspective. The jurist and economist Richard Posner perceived this nuance when he wrote,
The aesthetic outlook is a moral outlook, one that stresses the values of openness, detachment, hedonism, curiosity, tolerance, the cultivation of the self, and the preservation of a private sphere in short, the values of liberal individualism.111 If freeing art from external interference advances a political good, it is only because such autonomy is a model for social emancipation which prioritizes independence of thought and action. Anderson and Dean are correct in their
111 Posner, Richard, Against Ethical Criticism, pp. 2
53


observation that art often engenders moral conflict. It does, though not for the reasons they suppose. Despite appearances, the debate is not simply a matter of aesthetics vs. ethics, or beauty vs. goodness. Its a more rarefied struggle, and its nature is more readily understood by referring to the Kantian idea of freedom.
In the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant writes: Now I say: every being that cannot act otherwise than under the idea of freedom is precisely for this reason actually free in a practical respect, i.e., all laws inseparably combined with freedom are valid for it, just as if its will had also been declared free in itself and in a way that is valid in theoretical philosophy.112 This is a curiously existentialist claim. Kant is telling us that even in the absence of sound theoretical reasons for believing in free will, we must act as though we are free even if we believe we are not. Kant is not making a metaphysical observation. Freedom in this sense is not a feature of existence; it is rather a normative principle for making moral decisions, a stance we take up in approaching the world. The necessity of acting under the idea of freedom may tell us little about the actuality of free will, but it does tell us something about moral deliberation. Moral deliberation is the kind of thing which involves the ability to make a choice. For Kant, acting morally presupposes acting autonomously. When one obeys contingencies, inclinations, appetites, feelings, and social precepts, one surrenders ones freedom and acts heteronomously. Furthermore, self-interested behavior is the most slavish heteronomy of all, since one is merely reacting to biological or psychological phenomena that the subject neither creates nor controls: As a mere piece of the sensible world, [all my actions] would have to be taken as entirely in accord with the natural law of desires and inclinations, hence with the heteronomy of nature.113 At the phenomenal level, we cannot help but respond to external
112 Kant, Groundwork, 4:448
113 Kant, Groundwork, 4:453
54


stimuli we cannot help but be unfree. For Kant, the universal laws of morality exist in a transcendental, noumenal realm precisely because of their universality. They are not subject to the whims and stresses of contingency. When we act in accordance with such laws, we are lifted above sensible phenomena, cease to react to alien standards, and become autonomous. Morality does not simply operate autonomously. For Kant, morality is autonomy. Though the notion of a transcendental realm of freedom may seem dubiously metaphysical, we need not regard it as an actual space hovering beyond experience. The lofty noumenal dimension may just as well indicate regulatory ideals and normative principles which structure ethical practice. It is a special kind of causality which can be regarded as a condition for behavior.
Why should we wish to behave morally and therefore autonomously? Kant admits: I will concede that no interest drives me to it.. ,114 In other words, no heteronomous value is associated with morality. This is precisely why moral behavior is synonymous with agency.
One will not become happier, skinnier, or wealthier by acting morally and if these were the motivations for moral action, the action would cease to be autonomous and would instantly cease to be moral. Earlier in the Groundwork, Kant notes that the human will can take an interest without therefore acting from interest. The former signifies the practical interest in the action, the second the pathological interest in the object of the action... In the first case the action interests me, in the second the object of the action (insofar as it is agreeable to me).115 This reads almost like an answering echo to Kants discussion of aesthetic pleasure in the Critique of Judgment, wherein he described beauty as purposiveness without purpose. Beauty, for Kant, is not a tool for the realization of an external goal and, as such, beauty lacks purpose. However, its lack of purpose does not degrade it into chaos and incomprehensibility since it possesses a
114 Kant, Groundwork, 4:449
115 Kant, Groundwork, 4:413
55


coherent, organizing structure which makes it the thing that it is. This intelligibility of form, or purposiveness, cannot be appropriated or subsumed into external ends. The sense of pleasure it engenders is the pleasure taken in purposiveness without purpose. We can see how one takes an interest in such an object without using it to act from interest. Like a living being, the beautiful object keeps its dignity by not becoming an instrument. It is obvious that, for Kant, the approach to beauty and morality must be disinterested in similar ways for similar reasons. As stated in the introduction, beholding beauty inspires us to transcend personal interest in the same way acting morally often does contemplation of beauty prepares us to be moral.
If autonomy is morality and contemplation of beauty prepares us for morality, it is not pushing Kantian thought too far to suggest that, within the sphere of art, autonomous aesthetic value begets morality. Or more simply: ethics is epiphenomenal to aesthetics. Just as moral law does not reference contingent externalities to validate itself, aesthetic law legitimizes itself upon its own art critical grounds. Oscar Wilde quipped, There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all. In a sense, the aesthetic is a realm of virtue ethics, wherein the focus is not whether an artwork aligns with moral precepts, but what kind of artwork it is. Of course, there are such things as moral or immoral books, but Wildes point remains: they are, first of all, books. Their ability to influence moral praxis is dependent upon their aesthetic power. Weak, poorly created works cannot make us better off. They can sentimentalize, cheapen, or distract us, but they cannot ennoble us because they lack the strength to estrange. Art remains disinterested by acting on behalf of itself, thereby preparing a platform for morality.
Ethics and aesthetics are not dichotomous, and setting up beauty against goodness results in a crude polarization which simply does not exist. Moreover, just as autonomy does not
56


commit us to formalism, the notion of beauty need not be limited to superficially pretty things. It is unjust to suppose that Kantian reflective judgments are fluffy and insubstantial. In their power to estrange, to render the familiar unfamiliar, artworks disrupt the everyday processes of cognition which functions as recognition. Since reflective judgments are non-discursive and so their content cannot be subsumed into an already existing knowledge structure, that content remains beyond the scope of what can be recognized. Yet if we cannot recognize the artwork, how do we come to know it? It is perhaps time to step beyond Kant and follow his thought to a different conclusion.
Since knowledge is accessed via thought, then thought must begin beyond knowledge.
For Gilles Deleuze, thought is an almost violent, often dangerous, encounter: Something in the world forces us to think.116 To conceive of thought as something that is externally forced is to challenge the Aristotelian notion that thought is an inner necessity. Rather than knowledge that is cheerfully and naturally pursued, the subject is, in a sense, bullied into it. For Deleuze, this means that the majority of the time, the subject is not thinking. We simply go through the motions of the everyday, recognizing all the aspects of the world as familiar because we already have a pre-established framework with which to make sense of experience. In other words, in everyday recognition, experience does not contradict understanding. Yet the subject is never quite safe within the world. Sometimes, something strange and dangerous happens, something which is the emerging moment of thought: one encounters a contradiction, what Deleuze terms a problem. The pre-established structures of thought are impotent to explain what has been confronted, incapable of weathering the force of the contradiction, and an intellectual struggle ensues. It is only during this moment of discomfort that we actually think. Paradoxically, thought is the /^ability to engage in normative, logical categorizations. The estranging quality of
116 Deleuze, Gilles. (1968/1994). Difference and Repetition. (Patton, P. Trans.) Columbia University Press.
57


artworks grants art the special ability of functioning as a Deleuzian problem, as a contradiction which disrupts familiar knowledge patterns and encourages thought which leads to critical knowledge. Interestingly, this inability to categorize what has been confronted, this indeterminate floating between knowledge structures which is so difficult for Deleuze is, for Kant, a source of pleasure. However, the inability to neatly categorize an aesthetic experience precludes it from being one-dimensionally and superficially pleasing.
If aesthetic experience begets critical knowledge, it seems it cannot be truly disinterested. In a sense, this is true. Aesthetic disinterestedness doesnt circumscribe the meaning of the artwork, and it must not be simply idealized. Autonomy does not imply that artworks cannot have social and political consequences. The separation of the aesthetic from the empirical realm which attempts to dominate it is a condition of arts freedom but it need not be arts goal. Adorno writes, The route to aesthetic autonomy proceeds by way of disinterestedness; the emancipation of art from cuisine or pornography is irrevocable. Yet art does not come to rest in disinterestedness. For disinterestedness immanently reproduces and transforms interest.117 The purposive purposelessness which renders works inaccessible and autonomous is also what renders them capable of transforming social praxis by exposing irrationality, injustice, or contradiction. In advanced capitalist society, where everything is administrated and mobilized, where every human experience has a price and a function, it is precisely the functionlessness of artworks that render them such powerful critiques. In their very being, autonomous works challenge a heteronomous social present. Operas attended for the sake of social status and paintings purchased as good financial investments deride Kantian contemplative pleasure and render it helpless. Rather than founder in helplessness, artworks turn their back on a society which has rejected what Stendhal termed their promesse de bonheur promise of happiness.
117 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 12-13
58


You cannot use me, they tell us, retreating deeper into themselves. This stubborn refusal influences social consciousness by a contrast which is simultaneously rejection and challenge: Art is not only the plenipotentiary of a better praxis than that which has to date predominated, but is equally the critique of praxis as the rule of brutal self-preservation at the heart of the status quo and in its service. It gives the lie to production for productions sake and opts for a form of praxis beyond the spell of labor... happiness is beyond praxis.118
It would be misguided to read this passage of Adornos as suggesting that art disrupts unjust social structures simply by presenting a just and tidy fable of proper morality. Artworks brim with ethical atrocities: misogyny in Manets Luncheon on the Grass, rape and human sacrifice in Homers Iliad, anti-semitism in Shakespeares Merchant of Venice, racism in Twains Huckleberry Finn, colonialism in Gauguin, imperialism in Jane Austen, animal cruelty in Hemingway, sexual abuse in Puccini, the list is endless. To a great extent, spectators and readers accept depictions of outdated moral practices with the same shrug with which they accept depictions of outdated vehicles, clothing, and manners. Yet not all representations of cruelty or injustice are simply due to outmoded social structures. Given its seeming amorality, how can art prepare us to be moral or point to a more just social praxis? There are two replies to this question. The first is simple: if we take Kant seriously, it is not the content of the work but our disinterested approach to it which conveys a moral attitude. In a poignant letter to a young writer, the modernist poet Rainer Maria Rilke advises: Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them. This state of mind which does not begin with an aggressive leap of judgment but with an open, curious tolerance is itself an egalitarian and moral outlook.
118 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 12
59


The second reply is more nuanced and perhaps more controversial: we respond to the rage of Homers Achilles for the same reasons ancient Greek audiences responded to it.
Outdated morality aside, great artworks achieve a transhistoricity in instantly recognizable themes of love, death, and happiness. In this sense, art lifts us from rounds of mortgages and dentist appointments, contributing to the sense of estrangement. As we become more distant from the parochial everyday, we glimpse something more essential and more lastingly human.
In observing Gauguins Day of the Gods politically, we notice the objectification and exoticization of Tahitian women. In observing it aesthetically, the painting suspends us from the tyranny of actuality and the monopoly of imposed values. These women are real without being actual, and we are asked to view them as Gauguin viewed them, as goddesses or perhaps sorceresses. We are taken out of ourselves and sympathetically unified with the vision of another human being from another epoch in another culture. This does not mean that we simply obey the artists representations, but it does mean that we commune with and respond to them. Harold Bloom remarked that one reads because one cannot know enough people. In facing a great work of art, we not only come to know themes of Thanatos and Eros, but we also come to know the Other. These knowledges are peculiar to the aesthetic experience and they are, in a profound sense, good for us. Roger Scruton notes that in studying pictures we are adding to our knowledge of the human heart: the knowledge what to feel, which is the core of virtue.119 This peculiar knowledge is entirely dependent upon the experience of submitting to, and submitting the self to, the Otherness of an artwork. We must fall under the spell of Shakespeares language or Gauguins brush strokes in order for them to do things to us. When we examine a work for the ideology which underwrites us, we disenchant it and leave it bereft of its Otherness and its power to move us. With ironical detachment, we examine the patriarchal
119 Scruton, Roger. (1980). "Humane Education." In American Scholar, Vol. 49, No. 4:489-498. pp. 14
60


or economic roots of the work, asking why it was written or painted in just this way, inevitably finding the answer in social relations. While this may be a valuable activity, it utterly ignores the aesthetic aspect of a work. Discovering the social relations which produced Hamlet tells us much about Elizabethan England, and very little about Hamlet. Only through the eyes of the aesthetic can we see what Hamlet can show us. This perception of what can only be described as ethical knowledge succeeds when artworks are permitted a protected, autonomous space wherein to practice purposive purposelessness indeed, it is the only way to be, as Rilke urged, fair to them. There is a deeper, subtler order of interest and use which emerges when a work is permitted to be disinterested and useless. In approaching artworks instrumentally, calculating what can be gotten from them, demanding benefits and rewards, we exploit their aesthetic freedom and thereby undermine their ethical potential.
Paradoxically, we have arrived at our beginning: artworks can, and do, have implicit ethical potential. However, this potential is realizable only by deferring to the works autonomy that is, if we are concerned with preserving the integrity of an artwork as artwork.
Nevertheless, I do not wish simply dangle the carrot of social reform while urging tolerance of the stick of autonomy. In other words, autonomy ought not be regarded as a necessary evil which is to be endured because autonomous works can, after all, usher in social change. This is because critical thought is not all art is good for. Although art does beget ethical and critical thought, it accomplishes this because it is not only contemplative it is sensuous and vital. The world is not safe for the subjects existing knowledge structures precisely because the subject is not a securely removed Cartesian cogito. By returning the thinking subject into the surveyed world, critical thought overcomes the illusion of its neutrality, recognizing that it is an embodied phenomenon which gazes not at but from within lived experience. It is precisely this embodied
61


embeddedness that is the source of aesthetic experience. It is tangible and erotic, beginning as a pleasure which must be private before it can be shared.
CHAPTER III
Now that I have presented aesthetic autonomy as something persecuted and seeking asylum, now that we have forgiven autonomy because it can, after all, participate in ethical practice, it is essential to take account of arts sensuous just becauseness which makes it art in the first place and which Susan Sontag terms the erotics of art. Aesthetic pleasure is something which we, in our preoccupation with purpose and ethics, might otherwise overlook. Interrogating the work from the instrumental perspective is much like pulling butterfly wings from a butterfly to learn why it flies it destroys what it seeks to find. Pointing out that the Marxist and Freudian traditions have bequeathed to art the tendency to approach interpretation as synonymous with understanding,120 a tendency feminist critics have also taken up, Sontag demonstrates that much of what passes as artistic understanding is actually a restatement of the original aesthetic phenomenon, an attempt to find an equivalent for it.121 In short, interpretation replaces aesthetic phenomena with non-aesthetic phenomena: this red streak means the proletariat or that atonal note means patriarchal dominance. Reviewing a realist exhibit in The New York Times, the respected art critic Hilton Kramer lamented realisms seeming lack of theory. He supposed that given the nature of our intellectual commerce with works of art, to lack a persuasive theory is to lack something crucial the means by which our experience of individual works is joined to our understanding of the values they signify.122 Setting aside whether or not realism lacks a unifying theory, Kramers conclusion exemplifies the tendency to
120 Sontag, Susan. (1961/2013). "Against Interpretation." In Against Interpretation and Other Essays. Picador, pp. 4
121 Sontag, pp. 4
122 Kramer, Hilton. (1974). "Realism: The Painting is Fiction Enough." In The New York Times. April 28th, 1974.
62


equate aesthetic experience with intellectual detective work, to suppose that an artwork always stands for or represents a separate meaning which can decipher it. The novelist Tom Wolfe summarizes this approach: In short: frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I cant see a painting.123 As we look for theoretical meanings, treating artworks like secret missives communicating in code, we miss the red streaks and atonal notes altogether, though these elements are precisely what make an artwork the thing that it is.
Arguing for an immediate, visceral purity of aesthetic elements may sound a lot like an argument for the sociohistorical vacuity of formalism until we remember that red streaks and atonal notes are the sociohistorically contextual achievements of human subjects. These streaks and notes are simply not replaceable by, or reducible to, those contexts. Although a red streak may emerge from the brush of a sixteenth century Florentine painter, it does not therefore mean that the red streak can be substituted with an intellectual understanding of some aspect of sixteenth century Florence. Red streaks and atonal notes are something more which emerges from the world and are added to the world, yet this something more is not synonymous with the world they emerged from. To consider an example, denying the existence of a subjects ethnicity is absurd, but to see the subject only in terms of that ethnicity is to deny his subjectivity. Coming to know his ethnicity is not a satisfactory substitute for knowing him. If we wish to know him as a human subject, his ethnic origins can afford to be taken for granted, while his subjectivity cannot. To be sure, his ethnicity will manifest itself in a thousand different ways: the types of dishes he prefers, the family relationships he values, the climates he misses, and so on. Among many other qualities, these constitute his subjectivity. He is neither separable from them nor reducible to them. Yet the convenient summing up of Russian ethnicity no more explains his taste for vodka than Victorian morality explains love affairs in Jane Austens
123 Wolfe, Tom. (1975). The Painted Word. Bantam Books, pp. 4
63


novels. If we wish to engage with works of art, their sociohistorical contexts can be taken for granted, while their aesthetic aspects cannot. Understanding the historical necessity responsible for King Lear is not the same thing as understanding King Lear, and is not a satisfactory substitute for it.
Furthermore, heeding Sontags clarion call for the eroticization of aesthetics does not limit us to formal appreciation of surface phenomena. To assume this is to cheapen the nature of eroticism. In human relationships, erotic responses are not simply responses to visible curves, rippling muscles, and beautiful eyes. There are also tones of voice and intense stares, lightness of touch and intellectual competence, shared fears and suspected secrets. An entire constellation of nuanced elements which have nothing to do with surface appearance may combine to render an experience erotic. Similarly, our hearts might beat faster in response to an artworks wisdom, knowledge of life, delicacy, originality, or impact, which are considerably wider themes than anodyne prettiness.
Let us begin with the supposition that the erotics of art supplies the answer to the question what is art for? Of course, there is an element of absurdity lurking here, since the very purpose of this paper is the attempt to persuade us to stop asking that question. If we do stop, a different, more Kantian, sort of usefulness will emerge. Utility, in this sense, is not only the political tendentiousness Benjamin seeks or the milder ethical usefulness Carroll insists upon, but also the philosophical demand that art be interpretable. If aesthetic experience is a reflective judgment upon that which cannot be subordinated to existing knowledge structures, the artwork need not have recognizable content at all. If we cease regarding works as bearers of implicit meaning, the need for interpretation also ceases. Indeed, the presupposition that art should say
64


something is, Adorno argues, a conservative prejudice against atelic, hermetic works of art124 which do not point beyond themselves the way symbols do. Unlike language, what art conveys does not exist because arts substance is real without being actual. Artworks do not indicate an external reality to be grasped through concepts; artworks indicate themselves. Adorno explains the hostility this hermetic tendency engenders: When the social contract with reality is abandoned, and literary works no longer speak as though they were reporting fact, hairs start to bristle. Not the least of the weaknesses of the debate on commitment is that it ignores the effect produced by works whose own formal laws pay no heed to coherent effects.125 What are the effects produced by works which ignore coherent social effects? Put differently, what kind of utility emerges when utility is set aside? Autonomous works produce two levels of experience, one somatic and the other existential, and the latter is begotten by the former. The somatic experience is synonymous with Sontags erotics of art, but because it is a disinterested eroticism, it can act as a propaedeutic for not only explicit ethico-political commitments, but also an order of ethical concerns which are existential in nature. How do we get to this subtler sort of utility?
First, its essential to keep in mind that it is not always possible to set utility aside.
During the 13th and 14th centuries in Europe, the natural landscape was not regarded as beautiful. It was, rather, a looming menace to be avoided or subdued:
The factor which affects the landscape more than any other is disease. From 1348, waves of plague depopulate rural manors to such an extent that the entire way of managing the land changes... The village develops in line with the contours of necessity ... medieval parishioners have no compunction about simply lopping off one aisle of the church when the population of the village shrinks. The harmonious symmetry of the church is
124 Hunter, Frederick. (1985). "Commitment and Autonomy in Art: Antinomies of Frankfurt Esthetic Theory." In Berkeley Journal of Sociology, Vol. 30: 41-64. pp. 46
125 Hunter, Commitment, pp. 46
65


destroyed, as they realize; but the resultant smaller building is better suited for the reduced population.126
When the scramble for self-preservation reigns supreme, there is no sense in setting aside utility. When nature overwhelms with a perpetual promise of destruction, its power can only be confronted violently, and violence for the sake of survival may perhaps be regarded as the most radical form of utilitarianism. When the landscape ceased to be a tyranny of natural disasters and fatal diseases, it became the site of crops, livestock, and rural labor: nature was to be tamed and used. The direct pursuit of ends precludes an appreciation of nature for its own sake: Agricultural occupations, in which nature as it appears is an immediate object of action, allow little appreciation for landscape.127 The aesthetic attitude, however, is characterized by disinterest, and its delight in nature is not contingent upon any benefit derived from natures bounty. Only when self-preservation ceases to engulf our attention, can art begin to flourish. Wordsworths Tintern Abbey springs from the Kantian mood of pleasure, perhaps even sorrowful pleasure, without possession:
Once again,
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
Which on a wild secluded scene impress Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect The landscape with the quiet of the sky (4-8).128
The wildness and steepness of the cliffs is not frightening, and the landscape seems tranquil, offering only thoughts of seclusion, with is a different sort of reward. The very possibility of
126 Mortimer, Ian. (2008). The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England. Simon and Schuster, pp. 30-31
127 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 65
128 Wordsworth, William. (1885). Ode on Immortality, and Lines on Tintern Abbey. Michigan University Press, pp.
31
66


such an aesthetic experience has historical origins not only in the conceptual separation of appearance and reality, but also in overcoming the tyranny of utilitarianism and self-preservation. This is the utility that must be set aside every time for the subtler order of aesthetic utility to emerge.
If the aesthetic response carries with it elements of sensuality and eroticism, how can it be disinterested? Because pleasure is separable from desire. For Kant, an aesthetic experience consists of delight which has been refined of the desire to bring about or possess, such that pleasure alone subsists, a pleasure which is not concerned with the actual existence of pleasures source. In Thomas Manns Death in Venice, Gustav von Aschenbach is the controversial protagonist whose disturbing obsession with a young boy signals his decline into madness and, eventually, death. Aschenbach, who is a writer, finds the boy so unbearably beautiful that his beauty inspires Aschenbachs writing. Although though they never speak, his passion continues to grow. When cholera sweeps through Venice, local authorities decide not to notify the tourists, since their departure will result in economic losses for the city. Aschenbach, who knows of the cholera, understands that if the boys guardians arent notified, they will remain in the diseased city and the boy will die. However, if Aschenbach warns them, the boy will be taken from Venice. In a burst of what can only be regarded as cruelty, Aschenbach decides not to tell the boys guardians about the disease. In other words, the boys survival is of indifference to the haunted Aschenbach. This indifference is further emphasized by Aschenbachs unwillingness to interact with the object of his devotion. Aschenbachs experience is purely aesthetic. In Kantian terms, Aschenbach seeks neither to possess the boy, nor to bring about a state of affairs favorable to their union. Certainly, there is an element of monstrosity in the separation of human ends from aesthetic pleasure: ...for beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just
67


able to endure/ And we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.129 The experience of beauty is neither safe nor easy. Indeed, beautys spell is inseparable from its dangers.
This conclusion is at great variance with Benjaminian and feminist critique, which present beauty as either a remnant of fascist ideology or an exclusionary, reifying category which harms its possessor. Regarding nature or a human face as beautiful either dredges up outdated, cultic beliefs which distract us from unjust social relations, or else objectifies and appropriates the beautiful thing in a way which undermines its dignity. In either case, the beholder of beauty promotes suffering by the very nature of his regard. Yet this supposition is not everywhere evident. Elaine Scarry writes: In accounts of beauty from earlier centuries, it is precisely the perceiver who is imperiled, overpowered, by crossing paths with someone beautiful.130 While our compassion is roused by Thomas Manns young boy who is put at risk of cholera by the overzealous regard of an aging writer, it is easy to miss that it is really Aschenbach who is in danger. Beauty hunts him until he is helpless before an overwhelming passion, utterly seized by it until it destroys him. The Roman poet Ovid tells the story of Actaeon who, having glimpsed the unspeakable beauty of the moon goddess Diana bathing, is tom apart by his own dogs as punishment. Plato, for whom embodied, particular beauty is a route to the divine, compares adult men in the presence of the beautiful Charmides to fawns in the presence of devouring lions. Even Socrates is rendered speechless upon seeing Charmides, who looks like a statue. Beauty strikes us, arrests us, and renders us helpless. Echoing Kantian nondiscursivity, Adomo, too, insists that beauty cannot be adequately spoken of: According to the canon of universal concepts [natural beauty] is indefinable precisely because its own concept has its substance in
129 Rilke, Rainer Maria. (2000). The First Elegy in Duino Elegies (Trans. Mitchell, S.) Vintage Books: New York. pp. 3
130 Scarry, On Beauty, pp. 50
68


what withdraws from universal conceptuality... Natural beauty is perceived both as authoritatively binding and as something incomprehensible...131 An authoritative, powerful, dangerous beauty is very far indeed from the poor beauty pinned and wriggling helplessly beneath the intensity of our gaze.
Despite our vulnerability, the spell of the beautiful is something we are willing to endure because of the intense delight it brings us. This delight is not one of superficial satisfaction which can be found in any relaxing amusement. Adorno admonishes that no Greek sculpture was a pin-up... [aesthetic] pleasure may mount to an ecstasy for which the meager concept of enjoyment is hardly adequate.132 Such pleasure can be destabilizing, with the greatest risks directed to the observer it is a hard-won delight, a difficult pleasure which a more accessible work cannot match. Perhaps not philosophically, but certainly psychologically, relevant, research in the fields of cognition and positive psychology has indicated a similar distinction between what the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi terms pleasure and enjoyment: Pleasure is a feeling of contentment that one achieves whenever information in consciousness says that expectations set by biological programs or social conditioning have been met.133 In other words, pleasure as Csikszentmihalyi defines it is unchallenging and effortless. He goes on to explain that enjoyable events occur when a person has not only met some prior expectation... but has also gone beyond what he or she has been programmed to do and achieved something unexpected, perhaps something unimagined before. Enjoyment is characterized by this forward movement: by a sense of novelty... After an enjoyable event we know that we have changed, that our self has grown.134 Enjoyment, in this sense, differs from pleasure because it is
131 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 70-71
132 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 13-14
133 Czikszentmihalyi Mihaly. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Perennial, pp. 45
134 Czikszentmihalyi, pp. 46
69


more difficult, and its difficulty arises from its disruption of the normative categories which delimit the self and its context.
Whether the Classical ethos of a beauty which partakes in universality, or the Romantic pathos of particular, intensely personal, encounters with beauty, aesthetic experience can be difficult because it estranges us not only from our everyday context, but from the most familiar thing of all: ourselves. The disinterest implicit in aesthetic appreciation is sparked by our realization of something besides ourselves. This realization is partly somatic our pupils dilate, our breath catches, our heart beats faster. When Charmides walks into the gymnasium, Socrates realizes Charmides just as he unrealizes himself. As his sense of self wavers, Socrates is dispossessed of himself, which is why he cannot speak. He stands and stares in tense, paralyzed silence. When confronted with beauty, we, too, stand silently still and watch the sudden flock of birds arc into the sky, momentarily suspended and forgotten to ourselves. We dare not reach for them. We dare not breathe. We surrender our centrality to the galloping horse, the plaintive notes of a violin, or the poignancy of a sonnet. The feeling, of course, does not last and is perhaps more evocative precisely because of its ephemeralness. This unrealization which Scarry terms an opiated adjacency is associated in aesthetic experience with intense pleasure: A beautiful thing is not the only thing in the world that can make us feel adjacent; nor is it the only thing in the world that brings a state of acute pleasure. But it appears to be one of the few phenomena in the world that brings about both simultaneously.135
Setting the self aside, we give up our attention to an artwork which binds us with its promesse de bonheur, a promise to which we cannot hold it if we hope that it will be kept. Arousing our great capacity for joy, artworks decenter and disorient us, plunging us into a well of feeling. Deep experience is never peaceful, Henry James once commented. Whoever has
135 Scarry, pp. 79
70


sat mesmerized in a dark auditorium, watching Othello mourn the pearl he threw away, understands this. The audience is disturbed and overcome. Yet, exiting the theater, we turn to one another and smile, sharing a sense of profound contentment. What has happened? We have relinquished our position of centrality to Othellos sorrow, but it is not only our self-abandonment which is satisfying. It is also that we have replaced ourselves with this other, and the other is beautiful and strange. As Othello takes possession of our concentration, we realize him and partake in him, and he completes himself in us. Even the most abstruse, inward works, which perhaps are less obviously beautiful than Othello because they are more wounded, can possess us. They, too, are the Other which estranges us from ourselves. Investigating canonicity and what makes a great literary work, Harold Bloom concludes: The answer, more often than not, has turned out to be strangeness... When you read a canonical work for a first time you encounter a stranger, an uncanny startlement rather than a fulfilling of expectations... [which can] make you feel strange at home.136
Significantly, it is not only the reception of artworks which begets a dissolution of the self, but also the creation of them. Painting, sculpting, writing, or composing are secular activities which border on spiritual experiences because they destabilize the limits of the self, blurring the boundaries of self-identity and even reality itself. Psychological research terms this experience flow, and it is mainly characterized by a psychosomatic self-forgetfulness which includes the suspension of awareness of time and even biological drives. Describing the psychology of flow, Csikszentmihalyi writes that the physical and cognitive processes become unified in an act of creativity such that creators stop being aware of themselves as separate from the actions they are performing... one item that disappears from awareness deserves special
136 Bloom, Harold. (1994). The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. Riverhead Books, pp. 3
71


mention, because in normal life we spend so much time thinking about it: ourself.137 This will be familiar to anyone who has sat writing or reading for hours, and finally glances up only to realize with astonishment that it is time to turn on the lamp because the world beyond the windows has grown dark long ago. Describing dancers who have been leaping and spinning long into the evening without realizing that they have not eaten since morning, Csikszentmihalyis research echoes Cezannes description of his creative process: I am as one with my painting.
We are an iridescent chaos. I come before my motif and I lose myself in it.138 Crucially, Csikszentmihalyi notes that what slips below the threshold of awareness is the concept of the self, the information we use to represent to ourselves who are. And being able to forget temporarily who we are seems to be very enjoyable. When we are not preoccupied with our selves, we actually have a chance to expand the concept of who we are.139 Although there are plenty of flow activities which can absorb us so completely that the self is unrealized, it seems that only artworks can offer that same experience of unrealization to its audience. The ballerinas self disappears as she pirouettes across the stage, and our self disappears while we watch her. Dissolution of the self is found at the moment of creation and perception, at both ends of the aesthetic experience, which begins with the creative act and completes itself in us.
This sense of being peculiar to oneself is achieved by all powerful art, which returns us to ourselves a little bit different than we were when we left. Can this difference make us more ethical? It can. Ethical feeling becomes not simply a matter of mystic codes, but also a sensuous engagement with otherness. Something besides ourselves that can exist only beyond the boundaries of our selves becomes the focus of our regard. This denies Kantian ethics only the rigor of abstraction, but retains the substance of his claim that self-denial prepares us to be moral.
137 Csikszentmihalyi, pp. 59-62
138 Cezanne, P. and Doran, M. (2001). Conversations with Cezanne. University of California Press, pp. 114
139 Csikszentmihalyi, pp. 64
72


Since aesthetic self-relinquishment is experienced as pleasurable despite, or because of, its difficulty, this ethical staging area is uniquely somatic. Simply put, Kantian aesthetic pleasure feels good not in spite of its disinterest, but precisely because of it.
For Herbert Marcuse, the beauty of artworks is begotten in human libidinal drives, and therefore artworks have biological value.140 In some sense, this is reminiscent of Sontags critique. By arousing and possessing us, artworks free us from the tyranny of local contexts and limited identities, which also makes us more responsive to otherness. For Marcuse, just as for Adorno, fulfillment, freedom and beauty are qualities... that pertain historically to the form of all art.141 While Kantian disinterestedness lacks biological value, it nevertheless participates in the sense of pleasure and sensuous fulfillment which suffuses us with the will to live and which is itself emancipatory because in its vitality, it strains against and overflows all efforts to limit, neglect, or destroy. In approaching artworks, we pass through disinterest to interest because ethical engagement to otherness is parasitic upon autonomous disengagement from self.
It is important to note that even if artistic content is particular, disturbing, or ugly, the form of art rescues it into universality. It is shown to be more than this particular thing because it is an instance of something that is shared. It isnt simply Hamlet experience that is represented, but the deeper existential truth which motivates his experience. This is possible partly because art is real without being actual, and partly because art has the capacity to estrange. Autonomous artworks can act as a critique which tendentious art cannot rival because tendentious art cannot estrange. Art which rejects autonomy is, to employ Sontags terminology, for interpretation rather than against it, reducing its significance to its content. This is not only because heteronomous art is cognitive, thereby precluding self unrealization, but also because
140 Schoolman, Morton. (1976). "Marcuse's Aesthetics and the Displacement of Critical Theory." In New German Critique, No. 8: 54-79. pp. 72
141 Schoolman, pp. 77
73


heteronomous art must be intelligible and accessible in the very terms of the sociohistorical relations it aims to subvert. To admonish us effectively, it must speak our language, and thus capitulate not only to current praxis but also to pre-established ethics, acting as an instrument serving the interests of social institutions. Like the nature which cannot be aesthetically perceived so long as it is primarily an instrument for survival, so is tendentious art beholden to the struggle for self-preservation. It is beholden to external interests rather than itself, and so cannot be regarded aesthetically. For this reason, Marcuse observed that the works of the great bourgeois antirealists and formalists are far deeper committed to freedom than is socialist and Soviet realism.142 From the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna, the first poet in recorded history, through Sappho, Dante, Donatello, Goethe, Cezanne, Joyce, and Pollock, great artists have been iconoclasts, subverting the values of their time period and our own. Their works marginality and inaccessibility to the masses which Benjamin resents is the key to their subversive potential.
It is important to keep in mind that these works werent subversive because they set out to be subversive; they were subversive because they were autonomous. Works which obey the outlines of prescribed ethicopolitical values deny the tension between empirical reality and art, and undermine the very notion of resistance by undermining their own autonomy. The political immediacy of a Brechtian play is conceptually recognizable and so it is not a Deleuzian problem which prompts an inward struggle to understand because we know immediately what it wants us to think and to do. Adorno argued that this didactic tendency creates in tendentious art an accommodation to the world143 which can utilize, and indeed has utilized, artworks as vessels for any content at all. By relinquishing its uselessness, art becomes eminently useful and usable by anyone. Adornos fear is echoed in the concerns of Mary Deveraux, who insisted
142 Marcuse, Herbert. (1961). Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis. Columbia University Press, pp. 118
143 Hunter, Commitment, pp. 48
74


upon the importance of a protected space for artworks, lest their powerful capacity to convey meaning be coopted and exploited. Furthermore, by being instantly accessible and recognizable, heteronomous works plunge themselves ever deeper into empirical reality. By partaking of the status quo, tendentious works harangue and lecture it without overcoming it, as only autonomous works can do: The inescapability of [autonomous] work compels the change of attitude which committed works merely demand.144 Art, then, can function as an effective revolutionary tool precisely because of its distance from politics, which is underscored by its emphasis on prediscursive sensuality and individuality. By their very nature, autonomous works subvert the social relations Benjamin critiques, which is why they must refuse the harness of mass accessibility Benjamin tries to devise for them:
It is by virtue of its separation from empirical reality that the work of art can become a being of a higher order, fashioning the relation between the whole and its parts in accordance with its own needs... It is not the office of art to spotlight alternatives, but to resist by its form alone the course of the world, which permanently puts a pistol to mens heads... The principle that governs autonomous works of art is not the totality of their effects, but their own inherent structure. They are knowledge as nonconceptual objects.145
However, it seems that Adornos vision of autonomy challenges arts capacity to estrange and fulfill precisely by emphasizing its apolitical transformative power. Beyond the unfreedom of late capitalism, autonomous art doesnt seem to have any justification. Autonomy is, in other words, a tactic for resistance which can be set aside when that which is being resisted is finally overcome. But if autonomy functions as a political tactic which is so powerful precisely because
144 Hunter, pp. 49
145 Hunter, pp. 44-45
75


its functionless and therefore apolitical, then the pleasurable unrealization it evokes must also be historically transient. Yet the capacity to estrange seems to pertain historically to all art. A self-forgetting pleasure of estrangement, felt by the entirety of the body before thought assimilates it into itself, is the eroticism that precedes discursivity and which is the somatic experience of all autonomous artworks. This can lead to an existential experience which redeems us not merely from the hegemonic culture industry, but also from the mortal self which suffers and dies. Although Adorno focuses on the specificity of late capitalism, his emphasis on autonomy neednt be restricted to that historical moment and can, indeed, be extended to include the human experience more generally. The existentialism of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose overwhelming concern was how to rescue the human being from meaninglessness, broadens Adornos historicism, while Adornos notion of autonomy concretizes the qualities of the redemptive art Nietzsche argues for. Adorno and Nietzsche can act as correctives for one anothers thought, such that a new model for existentialist aesthetics emerges, which features Nietzschean redemption achieved and maintained through Adornian autonomy.
First Nietzsche, Then Adorno
Historically, a pleasurable overcoming of the boundaries of self-interest was the purpose of ancient mystery cults. The Dionysian Mysteries of ancient Greece worshipped the god Dionysus by inducing a trance via singing, dancing, and intoxication. The sense of ecstasy, a hysteria verging on madness, was characterized by the dissolution of the self. Celebrants merged into a collective identity, relinquishing themselves for rapturous union with the god. The chorus in Euripides Bacchae chants, Blessed is the man who has the good fortune to know the gods
76


mysteries, who consecrates his life and makes his soul one with the throng.146 The Saturnalia festival of ancient Rome, celebrating the reign of the agricultural god Saturn, was notorious for an abandonment of stable identity: masters and slaves mingled in egalitarian excess, gambling and drunk together. Although such rituals were sexually frenzied some say even orgiastic -sexuality was not the motive.
The Eleusinian mysteries were different from the healing rituals of other ancient cultures because they were not at all a collection of practical charms.147 Particularly in their manifestation in the Dionysian Mysteries, they celebrated eternal life by celebrating death itself, thereby infusing suffering with a sense of meaning.148 This temporary overcoming of mortality was achieved by temporary overcoming of the self: in a chaotic trance, participants underwent the loss of inhibition and subversion of normative practices. Walter Burkert, the scholar of classical mythology, describes the mingling of the living and the dead: ...an inscription on a late sixth century mirror from a tomb at Olbia: a woman and her son are acclaimed with the Dionysiac cry of ecstasy, euhai\ both evidently had taken part in the orgia, and this is to be recorded in their tomb. Happy they all on account of the teletai that free from suffering, Pindar says in one of his Dirges. In other words, the teletai, or mystery rituals, could offer an escape from death by an ecstatic affirmation of life, an affirmation which expresses itself in frenzied activity, in a sort of heaping up of life on life, with sexual excesses indicating not only multiplication and continuation, but a continuation beyond the boundaries of the self.
Burkert goes on to describe the mystery participants identification with death, referencing literary testimonies concerning Bacchic rites performed right at the tombs of the deceased members of Bacchic associations; mourning and ecstasy somehow seem to fuse...
146 Euripides. "The Bacchae." In The Bacchae and Other Plays (Da Vie, J. Trans.). Penguin Books.
147 Burkert, Walter. (1987). Ancient Mystery Cults. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 21
148 Burkert, pp. 22
77


Bacchants invite the deceased child to join their dances as a little satyr...149 Symbolically, the living overcome mortality and the dead return to life as religious figures, thus reversing the status of Eros and Thanatos, replacing one with the other, blurring where one mystery participant ends and another, perhaps even a dead other, begins. In their lack of deliberately delimited selves, these libidinal festivals can be described as completely disinterested. Such practices might seem barbaric now, and we may even find ourselves disparaging the ancients as irrational and naive. Yet Nietzsche found great truth in the temporary rejection of social mores, particularly as it manifested itself in ancient Greece. The Greeks were not naive, Nietzsche argued, but incomparably wise.
Nietzsches The Birth of Tragedy, the publication of which scandalized the high echelons of the philological world of 1872, begins with the improbable declaration that It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.150 There is something inherent in the very structure of existence, Nietzsche posits, which longs for the redemptive movement of art. For Nietzsche, the seemingly stable world of appearance, brimming with humans and buildings and goals and forests, conceals an underlying, prediscursive reality.
Within this more fundamental order of existence, the Truly-Existent and Primal Unity,151 a primordial indifference reigns. The dark heart of life is eternally striving, pulsing, aimless, and utterly unconcerned with finite human beings. Moby Dick's Ishmael encounters this force in the midst of the tossing ocean: .. .a certain impersonal stolidity as it were; impersonal, I say; for it so shaded off into the surrounding infinite of things, that it seemed one with the general stolidity discernible in the whole visible world; which while pauselessly active in uncounted modes, still
149 Burkert, pp. 23
150 Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1871/1995). The Birth of Tragedy. (C.P. Fadiman, Trans.) Dover Publications Inc pp. 17
151 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 1,0
78


eternally holds its peace, and ignores you, though you dig foundations for cathedrals.152 Because the underlying reality is formless, there can be no place within it for distinguishable entities, conceptual or otherwise, and consequently, it dissolves the particular human form into nothingness. There is a something merciless in this sublime disregard for individual life and dignity, and beholding it with human eyes is terrifying. Nietzsche recounts the myth of Silenus, who laughed at Midas and cried, What is best of all is beyond your reach forever: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is quickly to die.153 Since the world of particular entities is merely an appearance cast upon a ceaseless, formless unity, all individualizing concepts are doomed to failure. When, armed with the tools of reason and science, humanity interrogates reality to reveal its secrets, it discovers that objectifying knowledge is powerless to grasp ultimate reality, which resists fragmentation into concepts.
Nietzsche finds the best exemplification of the fundamental essence of reality in the character of the drunken god Dionysius whose dangerous wildness conveys a primitive, metaphysical terror. His eternal counterpart is the proud god Apollo, who represents the ordering and organizing principle of humanity. Apollos cool hand tempers Dionysian ecstasy just as human reason imposes structure upon, and refines, an amoral and undifferentiated reality. The Apollonian tendency presents the world as if it has an objective order, a separation between good and evil, and, perhaps most importantly, as if individual beings have a meaningful identity and function within it. So, if life is inherently terrible and meaningless, and reality is ultimately unknowable, what response or course of action is possible? There are several. The first is, of course, suicide. The second is perhaps even more dangerous and is what Nietzsche terms
152 Melville, Hermann. (1851/1996). Moby Dick. Quality Paperback Book Club. pp. 464
153 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 8
79


negation of the will.154 Gazing into the Dionysian horror of life, the spectator is paralyzed with disgust, and metaphysical nihilism becomes psychological nihilism. Realizing that all human endeavor is ultimately meaningless, that even the greatest accomplishments are doomed to obscurity, he recedes from activity and life itself. The ultimate irrelevance of human achievement is well exemplified in Shelleys Ozymandias:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away (1-14).155 To gaze upon a vast emptiness where a great civilization once flourished is inevitably and understandably demoralizing. How can one take the details of his own life seriously, a life of mortgages and dentist appointments, when even the glory of ancient Egypt is doomed to
154 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 23
155 Shelley, Percy Bysshe. (1826). "Ozymandias" in Miscellaneous and Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley. London, W. Benbow. pp 100
80


nothingness? Paralysis ensues. How to disentangle the nauseated, paralyzed being from this cruel vision? Art saves him, Nietzsche tells us, and through art life saves him.156
For Nietzsche, humanity suffers from the metaphysical need for redemption. Given the underlying structure of reality, human life is intolerable, and must be justified prior to being lived. However, if reality is fundamentally meaningless, then redemption cannot come from reality, cannot arise from within the realm of nature. Meaninglessness, after all, cannot beget meaning. Dionysius cannot beget Apollo. Redemption, then, must come from a different source, from the opposite of reality and truth, which is appearance,157 exemplified in Apollonian repose. Since redemption is appearance, it is illusory. Nietzsche defines art as a redemptive illusion. Such an approach to artworks might seem counter-intuitive, since it advocates not the mirroring or reflecting of nature, but rather a transcendence of it. The horror of reality is not denied, but overcome. The first philosophical question, then, is not one of ontology but one of aesthetics.
The underlying reality must be countered and redeemed not by its antithesis, not by its obliteration by an opposite, but by a dialectical movement between truth and appearance which preserves the qualities of both. Art does not contradict nature, then, but rather echoes its qualities in a transfiguring gesture, including Dionysian qualities Apollo would rather we forget. This transformative, and yet preservative, approach is precisely what Nietzsche admires in culture of ancient Greece. The Homeric worldview, with its glittering panorama of flawed and vengeful gods, enabled the Greeks to endure existence.158 Significantly, their gods were not morally idealized, but often cruel and destructive. In deifying the angry Ares, for example, the Greeks were glorifying not only the virtuous and beautiful aspects of life, but its immoral and damaging elements, as well. The Greeks, Nietzsche purports, glimpsed the terror of reality and
156 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 23
157 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 11
158 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 9
81


did not turn away, but celebrated it, elevated it to sublimity, regarding even the painful aspects of life as praiseworthy. Thus, the Greeks were reconciled with nature without being overwhelmed by it. They were capable of transcending it without denying it. This transcendence reached its apotheosis in Greek tragedy. The heroes upon the stage, their triumphs and sorrows, reflect the Apollonian principle of humanity, while the musical chorus embodies the intoxicating Dionysian truth which ultimately dooms the protagonist to a tragic end. However, the spectacle creates a metaphysical comfort... that in spite of the flux of phenomena, life at bottom is indestructibly powerful and pleasurable.159 How is this comfort achieved? Certainly not by denying Dionysius, but by unrealizing the self into flowing communion with Dionysius and being reconstituted in the image of Apollo. In other words, the subject cedes his centrality to be dissolved into primordial unity and then a transformed subjectivity is re-asserted, one that has affirmed life after first passing through the denial of self. The spectator descends into the nauseating pit of existence, and then identifies himself with the tragic hero who affirms his life, and in that affirmation, the spectator regards his own life as praiseworthy.
If tragedys heroes are suffused with Dionysian wisdom, if they are, in fact, begotten only by passing through a Dionysian experience, then a tragic Hamlet can be regarded as simply a mask Dionysius wears. Hamlet is representative of the entirety of humanity, and is therefore universal. The mask of Hamlet consists of the particular details of his life his fathers murder, his love for Ophelia but these details are not what the tragedy communicates. The tragedy demonstrates not only the plot of the play but the underlying structure of human experience itself as the wisdom of Silenus is revealed behind Hamlets face. This eternal knowledge is in every human endeavor, behind every disguise, and the message of Dionysian truth speaks through Hamlets story. However, Hamlet does not affect a complete identification with Dionysius. He
159 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 22
82


retains his particularity as a human being who must make a decision and take revenge upon Claudius. The Dionysian experience is a launching pad, not a dwelling place. This tension between Dionysian understanding and subjective experience of an individuated self reaches its climax in the highest artworks. The redemptive act, then, is always fundamentally Dionysian. Since, for Nietzsche, artifice is a more refined version of truth, the princely Hamlet is, similarly, a more refined version of sensual Dionysius. The mask is an extension of the concealed face, illusion arises from truth, and redemptive art does not deny reality, but simply transforms it.
This is the secret wisdom of the disturbing Dionysian Mysteries and their inheritor, the Saturnalia: tragic knowledge accepted with the entire drunken, dizzy body, through suffering becoming ecstasy.
The redemption Nietzsche locates in art varies greatly from the redemption Adorno advocates. For Nietzsche, art is predicated upon an ontological feature of human existence: its meaninglessness. While our need for redemption varies historically, our lack of redemption does not. Paradoxically, this existentialist position avoids the charge of essentialism by its very nature: it cannot be accused of grounding itself upon an absolute because it recognizes no absolutes, and the clever notion that rejecting absolutes is itself an absolute is a trick of logic, not praxis. The Modernist poet Wallace Stevens wrote, After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as lifes redemption. In a meaningless world in which God is quite dead, art becomes a secular salvation.
Whether secular or deeply religious, art is a response to the truth the ancients glimpsed and which no social system can overcome. The establishment of just social relations cannot reconcile Eros and Thanatos or eradicate despair, loss, parting, and death. If humans were immortal, dwelling in a perpetual fullness of being, they might perhaps have no need of art.
83


However, the incommensurability of the particular and the universal is not a sociopolitical problem, but an existential one. Perhaps this is why love and death are arts greatest masters: after it exhausts itself with love, art turns at last to death, for only the redemptive gesture of aesthetic illusion can persuade us that death is feebler than love, and less final. Adornos aesthetics reject the universality of redemption. He regards the need for aesthetic salvation as a result of unresolved tensions accumulated historically which, at least in theory, can be overcome. In a free society, art will no longer have to stand as a functionless bulwark against the totalizing functionality of late capitalism. However, Adornos thought diverges utterly from the instrumental tendencies of Marxist and feminist critique because he argues that it is only by virtue of its autonomy, its rejection of functionality, its obstinate inwardness, that art can transcend social unfreedom. Autonomy, then, becomes an unconscious strategy to influence political praxis by remaining deeply apolitical. As strategy, it will become irrelevant in a just social system. To this end, Adorno notes that art would die only for a humanity at peace.160 Art secretly longs for its own destruction at the dawn of a free society. This echoes the suggestion that, given immortality, humanity would have no need of art, for its affirmation of life and pleasure would become redundant and unnecessary.
Of course, for Nietzsche, the societal contradictions and injustices which are historically variable are not arts proper province, for the tragic truth which art expresses can never be overcome, only affirmed. Yet if Adorno and Nietzsche become corrective for one anothers thought, an artworks nonidentity with its historical moment becomes an artworks nonidentity with metaphysical truth. In other words, aesthetic autonomy becomes not only the defensive redemption of the unfree historical context, but the redemption of inabsolute human life itself.
160 Schweppenhauser, Gerhard. (2009). Theodor W. Adorno: An Introduction. Duke University Press, pp. 93
84


The pervasiveness of tragic truth broadens Adornos historicism, demonstrating that arts redemptive potential burns brightly not only in contexts of revealing capitalisms essence, but whenever there are beings who live, suffer, and die. In turn, Adornos emphasis on inward, uncommunicative artworks which reject mass assimilation challenges Nietzsches insistence that only an accessible art which finds its panacea in like-minded crowds is powerful enough to justify existence. The death of Greek tragedy did not bury the possibility of aesthetic salvation. The excesses of Dionysian Mysteries and Saturnalias are not the only way to undergo unrealization. The obscurity of modern art estranges us from Apollonian identity in its rejection of discursivity and subversion of normativity, and affirms life through the Dionysian universality Adornos aesthetics denies. Following a deep existential vein, Marcuse writes that the true subject of art and even philosophy is always the same: The universality of art cannot be grounded in the world and world outlook of a particular class, for art envisions a concrete universal humanity because history is guilt but not redemption... The world was not made for the sake of the human being and it has not become more human.161 Of course, this does not mean that art cannot have immediate relevance, only that if immediate relevance is all it has, it cannot partake in universality and therefore cannot last. Political dissident and first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, endured years of arrests and interrogations because his plays functioned as sharp criticisms of government oppression until, eventually, they were simply banned. Aptly, Havel explained in an interview: As for the plays themselves... I certainly didnt write them to illustrate a theory, and their source of inspiration is definitely not abstract thought. When the interviewer asked what the plays are about, Havel responded, All my plays so far have essentially been about a single theme: the crisis of human identity... I believe that
161 Agger, Ben. (1987). "Marcuse's Aesthetic Politics: Ideology-Critique and Socialist Ontology." In Dialectical Anthropology, Vol. 12, No. 3: 329-341. pp. 336
85


with the loss of God, man has lost a kind of absolute and universal system of coordinates, to which he could always relate anything, chiefly himself.162 Despite the political immediacy of Havels work, it transcended that immediacy by its communion with mortality and existential alone-ness which cannot be overcome. This was the great insight of the ancients, but the ability to affirm without denying did not die with them, and subsists in autonomous art.
In Christopher Hamptons play Total Eclipse, the Symbolist poets Rimbaud and Verlaine discuss their writing. Scrutinizing Rimbauds latest scribbles, Verlaine asks, And whats this? Rhymes? I have researched the magic shapes/ Of the happiness no one escapes. Thats wonderful. What does it mean? We can imagine Rimbauds irritation as he responds, It means exactly what it says it does, word for word, no more, no less.163 It is telling that Verlaines assessment of the poems merit is immediate: Thats wonderful. Only afterward does he attempt interpretation: What does it mean? His delight in Rimbauds poem is nonconceptual, and the work of interpretation comes afterward. Yet Rimbaud cannot interpret the poem in any terms external to it. He cannot tell Verlaine what the poem means if meaning assumes merely content. Indeed, Whats this poem/painting/novel/opera about? is a perennial question which usually presupposes two things: first, that the work is necessarily about something, and second, that this aboutness is a matter of content. The kind of response people usually expect consists of a retelling of content in the sense of plot: this poem is about lost love, that painting is of my grandmother, this opera is about the Civil War. In lesser works, the content, or plot, often summarizes quite neatly what the work is about. Yet something like Pierre Juliens Dying Gladiator cannot be explained in terms of its content. It is not simply about the death of a gladiator, which is only one feature of the work. The marvelous sculpture is also
162 Havel, Vaclav. (1991). "It Always Makes Sense to Tell the Truth." In Vaclav Havel: Open Letters. (Wilson, P. Ed.). Faber and Faber, pp. 94-95
163 Hampton, Christopher. (1985). Total Eclipse: A Play in Two Acts. Samuel French, Inc. pp. 49
86


about death, about the proximity of cool marble, about heroism, about sexuality, about youth, about the male body, about the fleeting nature of life, about the eighteenth centurys fascination with ancient Rome, and may indeed have still been about all of those things without even depicting a gladiator. If the gladiators head drooped a few inches fewer, the sculpture would still be about a dying gladiator, but its pathos would be significantly reduced. Its ability to evoke pathos, however, is just as much what the sculpture is about as is the fact that it is a gladiator.
The sculpture is a dynamic tangle of material, immaterial, contextualized, and decontextualized elements which is best described as the relationship of form and content. The pleasure of aesthetic apprehension flows from a works relationship between content and form, with form acting as the nondiscursive organizing of content. Aesthetic autonomy is founded upon the hermetic nature of this relationship, which marks an artwork as separate from an everyday object of discourse that which is said in the movement between form and content cannot be said any other way: It means exactly what it says it does, word for word, no more, no less. It is the entirety of the work, which is not the sum of its particularities but their relationship to one another, which make it the thing that it is.
Missing the dialectic integrity of a work is all too common, and is reflected in feminist thinkers leveling the critique of misygony at Tolstoys War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
They accuse Tolstoy of punishing his female characters for their agency and willfulness.164 Tolstoy killed his Anna and doomed his Natasha to an unsatisfying life of domesticity, the argument goes, which legitimizes Tolstoys own patriarchal prejudices. Attributing the artists values to the narrator is a beginning to a political critique, not an aesthetic one, precisely because it ignores the dialectic between form and content. It abstracts Annas suicide from the novels
164 Olson, Laura. (1997). "Russianness, Femininity, and Romantic Aesthetics in War and Peace." In The Russian Review, Vol. 56, No. 4: 515-531. pp. 515
87


entirety and transposes it into a discursive chain: Annas suicide means misogyny, Natashas domesticity means sexism. But War and Peace is not only, or even primarily, its heroines fate, its plot, or its ending it is a dialectic of content and form, of what is written communing with how it is written. While Natasha may have ended as a dull housewife, she spends almost the entirety of the novel mobile, dynamic, expressive, and free. She stamps her foot and betrays her lover and forms secret allegiances and generally lives passionately, insistently, hungrily.
Natasha is written as a powerful life force, and her unhappy ending cannot be presented as a social document, which is why a feminist criticism of War and Peace tells us so much about feminism and so little about War and Peace. To critique some aspect of the plot is to remove it from the novels dialectical entirety, to insist that what the novel says can be said differently, in fragments and abstractions. Aptly, Tolstoy remarked, If I were to try to say in words everything that I intended to express in my novel, I would have to write the same novel I wrote from the beginning. Form and content, and the distance between them, are a sovereign space which is not an aping of external values and norms, whether of context or interpretation. They are, for lack of a better phrase, a tiny life. It need not mirror reality or be true. Just as life overwhelms the particularities of its events, so does the relationship between form and content overwhelm an individually regarded form or an individually regarded content. Of course, Anna does die. However, the novels entirety belies Annas death, just as War and Peace belies Natashas role as housewife.
Let us imagine we are characters in Homers Odyssey. Troy has fallen and, like characters do in the Odyssey, we ask the bard to sing about it. It is very significant that we do not ask for a description of the fall of Troy, like the kind a newsletter might feature, or a recitation of facts and figures about who killed whom and how. We understand that there is a
88


difference between the delivery of information in the form of news, and a bardic song. Hesiod, in his Theogony, written not long after Homers death, explains that song comes from the Muses, who are daughters of Mnemosyne memory. They were born as forgetfulness of evils and relief from anxieties.165 How can it be that the daughters of memory offer forgetfulness? The classical scholar James Redfield suggests that what is forgotten is different from what is remembered,166 and we remember the world of the song while forgetting our own. As we realize the Iliad, we unrealize ourselves. Although the Iliad is a tragic and violent tale, it nevertheless offers relief from anxieties not only because we have forgotten them, but also because the song brings pleasure. If the bard were to relate the events of the Trojan War as a newsletter might, in bullet points, it is unlikely that we would be so transported to forget ourselves. After all, the heroes who fell at Troy are our brothers and fathers and friends. Learning how Hector bludgeoned them to death should not soothe our anxiety. Yet this is precisely what happens in the Odyssey. As the bards audience listens to his song, they succumb to it. This is because the song is able to colonize history as its raw material, such that actual events are transformed into song, and thereby cease to be actual. The audience remembers, and so the audience forgets.
Let us now imagine that in the audience with us is an instrumentalist theorist who gets up to say something about the bards song, and that it is the sort of thing instrumental theorists are wont to say about artworks. My hypothesis is that the instrumentalist will fail in making one of two distinctions:
1. He will either fail to see the difference between a song about the fall of Troy and a newsletter about the fall of Troy, approaching the song the same way he would
165 Hesiod. (2006) Theogony (Most, G. Trans.) pp. 7
166166 Redfield James. (1975). Nature and Culture in the Iliad: The Tragedy of Hector. Chicago and London: University Chicago Press, pp. 39.
89


approach the newsletter, with the same methods grounded upon the same assumptions, or
2. He will fail to see the difference between the remembered and forgotten worlds, supposing that what is being valued in the remembered world is valued in the forgotten world in the same way and for the same reasons. If he objects to the glorification of violence which the Iliad on most readings is guilty of it will be because he thinks that glorifying violence within the boundaries of the bards song is synonymous with glorifying violence outside the boundaries of that song.
These failures of distinction are at the heart of how feminist critics respond to War and Peace. As described above, they approach the work no differently from the way they would approach a bulleted list of values and events, assuming that the interpretation which Sontag disparages is possible, that the poetic terms can be substituted for extra-poetic terms just as the terms of a newsletter can be, thereby neglecting the unity of form and content which overwhelms content. Or, if they recognize that artworks can create distance between lived actuality and that actuality which has been colonized by art, this distance is regarded as a danger.
Critics like Eaton, who argues that aesthetic power enables Titian to glorify rape because the painting brings us pleasure, fail to extend aesthetic distance to the pleasure of aesthetic experience, such that if Titian can render rape pleasurable within the bounds of his painting, it is because we believe that rape can be pleasurable outside those bounds, or that if War and Peace can render misogyny acceptable within the bounds of the world it sketches, it must be because we think misogyny is acceptable within the bounds of our own world. However, if this were true, if our forgotten world and the artworks remembered world were thus collapsible into one another, then the bards song would have no power to move us. We would not be transported
90


from our anxieties. We would ask him to please stop singing about our tragedy. Redfield writes of the distinction between the aesthetic and the real which is the source of our pleasure as we sit listening to the bard: Epic song tells stories of violent action; but when the stories are told, a tranquility descends upon the folk... The themes of heroic songs are themes of ruin and disorder, but the song itself is an ordered thing.167
The instrumentalists concern (perhaps exemplified most explicitly in Eatons critique, but evident in all instrumentalist thinkers covered in this thesis) that the values of the forgotten and remembered worlds must be identical is curiously Socratic. The Republics Socrates explains that poets like Homer are imitators: the world they ask us to remember is not distinct from ours, but is rather an imitation of it. Poetry presents gods, for example, as unjust or frivolous, and since the poems gods are copies of actual gods, there is an ethical danger in praising poetry. But Socrates claim that Homers gods are imitations of actual gods is misguided because it supposes that poetic content is substitutable for extra-poetic content (it supposes the validity of interpretation such that terms outside the artwork can stand in for terms within it) and that this content is all, or primarily, what the poem is.
However, Homers gods are just that: Homers gods. If his gods are wicked which is, of course, debatable they are wicked on the poems terms, not on ours. If Natasha is treated misogynistically which is even more debatable this is misogyny on the novels terms, not on ours. And those terms are not the terms of explicit content of the sort that can be encountered in newsletters, which has substitutes and is interpretable in terms of those substitutes, such as piety or impiety, or misogyny or equality. Rather these terms are the dynamic relationship of content and form, such that how impiety or misogyny is presented is as much what the work is about as its impious or misogynistic content. This is because the artist can promote impiety or misogyny
167 Redfield, pp. 39
91


and then, in the same breath, in the same sentence, disavow it by the very structure of the work. As a result of this self-reflexive unity of content and form, that which brings pain in the real world is capable of bringing pleasure to the aesthetic experience, and that which is simply unethical in the real world is colonized by art to become something different from an explicit lack of ethics. This dynamism which looks so much like contradiction does not escape the spectator who is much wiser than the instrumentalist assumes: The gods of the Iliad belong to the conventional world of epic and were understood as such by the audience. Just as epic tells, not of men, but of heroes, so also it tells stories, not of gods conceived as actual, but of literary gods.168 These literary figures which populate that remembered world for which we have forgotten our own are not direct imitations of, or substitutes for, actual figures. They cannot be said in any terms beyond the literary, cannot be subsumed into an Apollonian structure.
The dialectic of form and content can contradict the content just as much as it can reinforce it, perhaps even at the same time. This is why art can affirm even when negating, why Voltaires Candide is simultaneously a rejection and an acceptance of human life: while the novels character rejects reality, the novels entirety accepts it. When we enjoy seeing the gladiator die, it is not the mere plot of his death that we are enjoying but the movement between the plot and its form, which belies death. Such contradictions are supported by the very nature of aesthetic objects, and their tensions achieve resolution in the wholeness of the work. The content of a work can be just about anything even nothing but its formal expression must be strong enough to carry it. Formal strength manifests itself in the works capacity to estrange, to induce a nonconceptual unrealization of the self as we cede our ground to the aesthetic other, as we forgo our world to remember another world. This estranging wholeness renders artworks autonomous, and finds its capacity to redeem by partaking in Dionysian universality. Like the
168 Redfield, 76
92


ancient tragedy Nietzsche praised, autonomous artworks dissolve and reconstitute our identity anew. In relinquishing our centrality to the self-contained wholeness of an artwork, we are temporarily rescued from contingency, which is our tragedy, and are temporarily united with transhistorical themes of love, happiness, and death. The internal movement of a work, by resisting the external compulsion to communicate in the terms of the world, brings a physical pleasure which affirms life in its embodied, mortal state. The unity of Dionysus and Apollo achieves expression in autonomous works which overcome the contingent historical moment within the bounds of that moment, achieving transcendence in immanence, universality in sensuality.
Echoing the existential refrain, Scruton contends that what emanates from artworks is a secular vindication of a sacred view of human life... the vision of human life as mattering, and mattering more than can easily be said.169 Art rescues us from fragmentation, dissolving us into the otherness of its wholeness. Indeed, this experience cannot easily be said, and herein Kantian nondiscursivity achieves an existential meaning. For the hermetic work lifts us above mortality and history, from the concerns of self-preservation, offering a glimpse of the fullness of being which cannot be said in any but aesthetic terms: The observer enters into a contract with the work, agreeing to submit to it on condition that it speak... but communication is the adaptation of spirit to utility170 and artworks cannot be thus co-opted, and it is their silence which justifies us. Artworks speak on their terms, not on ours. Kant reminds us that this obscurity encourages intersubjective communication among ourselves, even when the failure of this communication is an integral part of the aesthetic experience. There may come a time when artworks will no longer need to seal themselves away from sociality, when there is no longer any
169 Scruton, Roger. (1996). "The Aesthetic Endeavor Today." In Philosophy, Vol. 71, No. 277: 331-350. pp. 338.
170 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 73-74
93


tension between the sociopolitical and the aesthetic which colonizes it, and when the aesthetic experience may perhaps become communicable this is Adornos great dream. If it comes to pass, art can return to vindicating human life without denying the historical moment, but Nietzsche warns that even utopia fails to overcome the Dionysian truth which cannot be rejected and therefore must be affirmed.
Having argued for aesthetic autonomy from various directions, it is time for a peculiar confession: autonomy, just like the redemption it facilitates, is illusory. Tragic knowledge has its counterpart in art, which is self-conscious of its unfreedom. Artworks persuade us to approach the world as if it keeps a place for us, and we affirm our finitude in the face of this glorious deception. They can achieve this miracle by denying their historical contingency through deliberate invocation of autonomys protection. Arts transcendence is a necessary self-deception, a precarious position carved into the historical moment and rigorously defended. For Adorno, autonomous works are fetishes whose fetish-character enables them to call society to account by seeming to live out the changed conditions they long for. The belief in autonomy is perhaps one of the most elitist, self-indulgent, and presumptuous achievements of Western art without which there would be no Western culture and perhaps no critical consciousness. Autonomy, then, is not simple delusion, but a condition of arts potential to redeem both the historical moment and transhistorical truth. Our belief in arts autonomy is not a foolhardy rejection of historical or metaphysical knowledge, but rather the wisdom that comes only after accepting that knowledge, which manifests itself in deliberate acts of concealment. Everything profound loves the mask, Nietzsche tells us, perhaps referring to the paradoxical depths found in acknowledging truth without living according to it, even forgetting it for the sake of a more intensified life experience. Since forgetting is part of remembering, this peculiar denial through
94


acceptance is part of arts capacity for universality, and in summoning that which does not exist art is uniquely positioned to justify that which does. Arts ethical potential, whether realized in sociopolitical critique or existential redemption, is epiphenomenal to its aesthetic autonomy, without which arts center cannot hold.
Doubtless there will be those who, radicalizing Adornos position, will assert that the yearning for redemption is not an ontological feature of human beings because it will surely become a mere trace in the historical record when the shadows of God finally fade. Perhaps. However, in the absence of a known culture which has dispensed with the longing to transcend contingency, or which does not seek to persuade itself that human existence is not meaningless, I cannot imagine it and must think and work in the cultural tradition I have inherited. Nietzsches thought prophesies the destruction of art by reason which, if it comes to pass, will certainly make human experience less perilous. While a scientific egalitarianism may yet teach us to banish all tragic knowledge of death and suffering from our art and from our consciousness, I am not sure if such sterile peacefulness will be human anymore.
95


Works Cited
Achebe, Chinua. (1975). An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrads Heart of Darkness. Chancellors
Lecture, delivered at the University of Massachusetts, February 1975.
Adomo, Theodor. (1970/2002). Aesthetic Theory. (Hullot-Kentor, R. Trans.) (Adomo, G. and Tiedemann, R. Eds). Continuum.
Adomo, Theodor. (1938/1985). On the Fetish Character of Music and the Regression of Listening. In The Essential Frankfurt School Reader. (Arato and Gebhardt, Eds.)
Continuum.
Agger, Ben. (1987). Marcuses Aesthetic Politics: Ideology-Critique and Socialist Ontology.
In Dialectical Anthropology, Vol. 12, No. 3: 329-341.
Anderson, James and Dean, Jeffrey. (1998). Moderate Autonomism. In British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 38, No. 2: 150-166.
Aristotle (335 B.C./1902). Poetics. (S. H. Butcher. Eds). McMillan and Company.
Avery, Jon. (1995). Platos Republic in the Core Curriculum: Multiculturalism and the Canon Debate. In The Journal of General Education, Vol. 44, No. 4: 234-255.
Baxandall, Lee. (1967). Marxism and Aesthetics: A Critique of the Contribution of George Plekhanov. In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 2, No. 3. pp. 267-279.
Benjamin, Walter. (1934/1998). The Author as Producer. In Understanding Brecht. (Bostock,
A. Trans). Verso.
Benjamin, Walter. (1936/1968). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (Arendt, H. ed). Shocken Books.
Bemheimer, Charles. (1989). Manets Olympia: The Figuration of Scandal. In Poetics Today,
Vol. 10, No. 2. (1989): 255-277.
Blackburn, Mollie and Smith, Jill. (2010). Moving Beyond the Inclusion of LGBTQ-Themed
96


Full Text

PAGE 1

SUBLIME INDIFFERENCE: RECONSIDERING AESTHETIC AUTONOMY by Svetlana Yefimenko B.A., University of Colorado Denver, 2007 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Humanities Humanities and Social Sciences Program 2017

PAGE 2

This Thesis for the Master of Humanities degree by Svetlana Yefimenko has been approved for the Master of Humanities Program by David Hildebrand Gabriel Zamosc Myra Bookman Date: May 13, 2017

PAGE 3

Yefimenko, Svetlana MH, Master of Humanities and Social Sciences Program Sublime Indifference: Reconsidering Aesthetic Autonomy Thesis directed by Professor David Hildebrand ABSTRACT This thesis examines the instrumentalist critique of the Kantian notion of aesthetic autonomy as exemplified in Marxist and feminist thought and suggests a resolut ion through recourse to an existentialist aesthetics which combines the aesthetic theories of Friedrich Nietzsche and Theodor Adorno. The form and content are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved: David Hildebrand

PAGE 4

TABLE OF CONTENTS 8 .. 29 ... .62 ..96

PAGE 5

1 Introduction Over the past 25 years, a peculiar debate gained force in Anglo American aesthetics: art has become a politically contested not new, the notion of aesthetic autonomy, which has its roots in romantic theories of individual genius, has been used since the eighteenth century as a shield to deflect the sorts of attacks aimed Simply put, autonomy defends such artworks on the grounds that their primary allegiance is not to the moral standards of the stat e or the public, but to the expression of the artist and that they must not be constrained by external ends ethical or otherwise Perhaps surprisingly, the Mapplethorpe controversy marks the acceleration of demands not for more autonomy for artworks, bu t less of it. These demands are launched almost entirely from feminist aestheticians who, in turn, ground their critique of autonomy in Marxist approaches to art. It is the purpose of this paper to develop a response to Marxist and feminist critics of au tonomy by investigating the nature of instrumental approaches to art and elaborating an alternative, existentialist aesthetics which reinterprets the thought of Immanuel Kant and recon ciles Theodor Adorno and Friedrich Nietzsche The notion of autonomy so mistrusted by feminist and Marxist aesthetics began with Critique of Judgment which argued for a subject oriented, perceptual experience of art third Cr itique explores whether there is any justification for aesthetic judgments in the first place, and the special kind of emotion associated with regarding something as beautiful. Defining beauty not as a property of objects, but as a subjective feeling, Kan t separates aesthetic judgments into judgments of se nse and judgments of taste. A judgment of sense is associated

PAGE 6

2 with liking, and presumably desiring, a thing, while the judgment of taste involves the quality of disinterestedness. While experiencing beauty is certainly pleasurable, it is a pleasure that is fundamentally distinct from other forms of enjoyment because it lacks desire. For example, Kant presents the delight in the agreeable, and the delight in the good, as necessarily bound up with inte rest 1 For Kant, t he agreeable is a form of personal enjoyment akin to eating a delicious sandwich it is a pleasure which finds its source within the desire to possess the sandwich, presumabl y in order to taste it The good meanwhile, involves a conce ptual understanding, akin t such admiration finds its source in the desire to apply or observe ethical conduct. The agreeable and the good a re both inextricable from desire to either possess an object or an experien ce in reality, or to bring a particular state of affairs into existence. Kant explains that it is precisely the possibility of the actual existence of ethical, or sensuously pleasant, qual ities that renders them enjoyable in the first place. After all, i t is difficult to appreciate a well prepared meal without desiring to taste it in reality or to admire a moral action without desiring for it to exist Both the good and the agreeable, then, whether directly or indirectly, are capable of conferring some sort of benefit. Thus, pleasure and desire are necessarily congruent However, Kant claims that in truly aesthetic experiences, the subject is able to untangle pleasure from desire such that desire dissolves and pleasure alone subsists In such a disinterested stat e, the subject contemplates beauty without reference to its existence. Kant argues that unlike judgments of the agreeable, judgments of beauty are universal 2 This claim is simultaneously intuitive and counter intuitive. It is usuall y supposed that aesthetic an objective criterion for beautiful things. However, this common wisdom is contradicted by 1 Kant, Immanuel. (1790/1987). Critique of Judgment. (Pluhar, W. Trans.). Hackett Publishing Company. 1.2 1.3. 2 Kant, Critique, 2.6

PAGE 7

3 behavior: humans frequently assume that others agree with their assessment of beauty and even argue about what ought to be regarded as beautiful. Kant explain s that although such debates may seem to get us somewhere, they are in fact, ultimately futile: judgments of beauty are not concep tual 3 and therefore not logical and so cannot be defended discursively. An experience of beauty which involves neither desire nor concepts but is nevertheless 4 In the absence of organizing principles the subject does not subsume the aesthetic object in to a rigid concept, and his mind remains suspended in a harmonious st ate of aesthetic appreciation. We can imagine, for example, listening to a musical phrase or gazing at an abstract painting: nothing in the musical notes or painted forms tells us what they are or what to think of them, yet we follow the notes and the lines with a satisfaction that is derived simply from following the notes and the lines. If the flight of birds, there is no reason to suppose we are wrong because no particular identity constrains them. They are non conceptual, and our response to them is therefore b oth free, because unconstrained, and playful, because it cannot be settled or verified with any kind of accuracy. Perhaps it is this state which Oscar Wilde had in mind when he noted Beauty is or Kant, explaining an aesthetic experience is not only unnecessary, but impossible: where beauty begins logic ends. 5 Without organizing concepts, without desire, without existence, without goals, the aesthetic object seems to be quite without purpose Indeed, this is precisely what Kant has in 3 Kant, Critique, 2.8 4 Kant, Critique, 2.9 5 This is because a judgment of taste is, in Kantian terms, a reflective judgment, and such judgments are not determinative. For ex ample, the jud universal concept into which X falls. However, reflective judgments do not organize objects according to attributes because beauty is a subjective response, not a quality inhering with in the object.

PAGE 8

4 mind. Beauty does not have ends toward which it is aimed, but it seems as if it does. This active An object, or state of mind, or even an action may, although its possibility does not necessarily presuppose the representation of a purpose, be called purposive simply on account of its possibility being only explicable and intelligible for us by virtue of an assumpti of form, and trace it in objects though by reflection only without basing it on a purpos e 6 Kant means that be auty is not a tool for the realization of an external goal. Therefore, it lacks purpose. However, purposelessness does not imply that it is disorganized or chaotic. A beautiful and, therefore, possesses a coherent structure and organizing principles that make it the thing that it is However, since Kant argues that beautiful objects cannot be subsumed under more general concepts, any struct uring harmony they possess is in each case singular and cannot be abstracted as a general rule or applied to anything else. S ince the perception of the aesthetic object is divorced from external ends, the object is not suited for human use, and does not actually have a purpose. Its purposiveness, then, is manifested formal ly The aesthetic object is contemplated, not appropriated or applied. The sense of pleasure involved in experiencing beauty arises from a non conceptual a purposiveness 7 simply because humans find delight in the coherence of nature, as if it were organized for the sake of cognition itself. 6 Kant, Critique, 2.10 7 Kant, Critique, p. lviii

PAGE 9

5 Although Kant did not write specifically about artworks, his analysis of aesthetic judgments is the historical origin of the philosophical notion of aesthetic autonomy, which involves three features: 1. The independence of artistic institutions ; 2. The universa lity of artworks ; 3. The political neutrality of aesthetic evaluations 8 The claim for institutional autonomy has its origins in Europe, when the eighteenth century saw individual artists disentangle themselves from craft guilds, churches, and courts. This r esulted in the separation of places such as art galleries and museums from other social institutions. The ideological context or content importantly, th than a mirror held up to its historical moment, but also to the capacity of its audience to transcend their historical moment to understand or appreciate a work. Finally, political neutrality refers to the privileging of aesthetic, formal criteria when evaluating artworks. It is significant that the claim for political neutrality does not suggest that the consideration of aesthetic qualities is the only possible way to approach an artwork, but rather that a esthetic qualities ought to be prioritized in artistic evaluation. Perhaps predictably, these claims for autonomy are deeply controversial, and their sharpest critics emerge from Marxist and feminist theories of art Their critiques take various forms, b indifference to real life concerns, particularly political struggle. Their position is that even if ny, it is deeply undesirable to the point of being reactionary and even immoral. 8 The Bucknell Review Vol. 36, No. 2: pp. 164

PAGE 10

6 While it seems that a Kantian approach is utterly divorced from praxis, this does not seem to be a generous, or even a fair, interpretation. For Kant, a esthetic judgment is congruent with, and even necessary for, the experience of moral feeling albeit in an indirect, circuitous way In the Critique of Judgment nature, apart from any interest 9 and Th e Metaphysics of Morals echoes that notion : propensity to wanton destruction of what weakens which, though not of itself moral, is still a disposition of sensibility that greatly promotes morality or at least prepa res the way for it: the disposition, namely, to love somethin even apart from any intention to use it 10 A disinterested appreciation of beauty prepares us to be moral because it inspires the subject to transcend personal benefit i n the way morality itself requires. Beauty serves morality only inasmuch as it first serves itself. We have seen that the good, for Kant, is associated with the desire to bring an ethical state of affairs into existence, and desire is inseparable from in terest. If beauty were to serve morality directly, then the experience of it would necessarily be interested and would preclude the subject from transcending personal benefit. Since beauty promotes beauty rather than morality, the subject is able to lose himself in aesthetic contemplation, overcoming the barriers of his self interest. Such an experience, for Kant, is an experience of free dom. Not only is beauty implicitly different from external aims and therefore rendered autonomous, but in engaging wi th beauty, the subject finds himself removed from external aims and becomes temporarily autonomous. In other bolder, word s, beauty is freely self absorbed, and only in virtue of its self absorption can it be regarded as a space for the beginning of moral ity. Of course, it is not only beauty that is selfish in this way. Morality, too, is similarly self directed. Let us imagine a surgeon. He is regarded as a humanitarian, perhaps 9 Kant, Critique, 29 10 Kant, Immanuel. (1785/2002). Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (Wood, A. Trans. and Ed.) Yale University Press. 6:443

PAGE 11

7 even a hero. It is the nature of his position that it results in various financial, social, and political advantages: he earns a substantial salary, is respected by his community, and favored by the state with tax benefits. However, to pursue surgery for the sake of such advantages is precisely not to behave as a human itarian or a hero. T he activity of saving human lives must be purs ued as an end in itself rather than a means, in order for it to be moral. Similarly, when beauty is pursued as a means for exterior purposes, it ceases to be disinterested, and therefo re loses its ethical potential The purpose here is not to reintroduce the Categorical Imperative in a different guise but simply to emphasize that Kantian disinterestedness is not the sou rce of indifference to practical concerns, but rather of renewed engagement with them Thus, Kantian disinter estedness and autonomy are the s alient features of an aesthetic theory which ushers in the sort of interest that can emerge only when interest is set aside and ther ein I locate the source of the seemingly paradoxical noti on that only inasmuch as art remains autonomous can it achieve ethical ends.

PAGE 12

8 CHAPTER I Marxist Aesthetic Thought Aesthetic scholarship has utilized various instruments to interrogate the meaning and implications of aesthetic autonomy which involves the related features of institutional independence, universality, and political neutrality The goal of such interrogations has always been an acknowledged attempt to deprive autonomy designates aesthetic autonomy) of authority and privilege altogether. Prior to replying to we will examine their concerns Challenges to autonomist thinking often follow one of two approaches: critiquing from the perspective of the sociology of culture. 11 The former method is often a feature of Marxist analysis, and the latter sociological critique is common to feminist thinkers. Marxist approaches highlight the problematic tendency of autonomist notions to theoretically disconnect aesthetic value from human life as a lived, embodied, e veryday experience. For most Marxists neither art nor knowledge is separable from m aterial reality. With this inseparability in mind thinkers such as Walter Benjamin, Ge org Lukacs, and George Plekhanov interrogate the context of social relationships comprising artistic production and reception within which aesthetic experience takes place, arguing that failing to acknowledge such contexts results in incoherence. In other words, a decontextualized aesthetic experience, floating free from the social and material conditions that make it possible in the first place, simply cannot exist. superstructure of so ciety, Marxist thinkers do not trivially and vulgarly insist that the material simply imprints 11 Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. (M. Kelly, ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 173 174

PAGE 13

9 itself upon culture 12 in a one to one correspondence; rather, art is approached as an overdetermined network consisting of and representing class relations, histo rical tendencies and social formations. Indeed, f or most Marxists, the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that he origin a nd development of any conscious activity, artistic or otherwise, only in relation to the historical moment and material condition of those who produce and receive it. T he way humans produce, or the mode of production, i s responsible for thoughts and desir e s, such that historical development reflects objective, economic factors rather than subjective ideas and interests Art, therefore, is not afforded a privileged space or expression, but is dependent upon the mode of production like every other human act ivity. By attempting to analyze artworks formally, disregarding their social origins, autonomist aesthetics seems to reject the material, and thus the historical, context of art. Such rejection is tantamount sociohistorical context and consequences are embedded intrinsically in art qua art. 13 In this manner, the superstructure of society, to which art is a contributing member, acts upon the material base, rather than solely the other way around. The cultural is thus not subservient to the economic, but informs it and is informed by it. Con sequently, for Marx and Engels, the meaning of artworks is found not within the aesthetic 14 For Benjamin, Lukacs, and this means that d eliberate reference to social origins and consequences is integral to aesthetic understanding and appreciation The conclusion that estimation of the meaning or implication of artistic products is essentially a 12 Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, ed). Oxford University Press. pp. 183 13 Lang, Overview, pp. 183 14 Encyclopedia of Aesthet ics (M. Kelly, ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 184

PAGE 14

10 cognitive activity firmly rejects an abstrac t, noncognitive, Kantian beauty, and indeed all formalistic accounts of art. Since formalist approaches emphasize a non discursive engagement with the sensuous features of artworks rather than their intellectual interpretation, they are inadequate for add ressing the sociohistorical context of works. Beyond the lens of mediating history, stripped of their social meaning, Marxism regards the formal elements of artworks as propped up like stick figures without animating features: inhuman, vacuous, and unenga ging. Since art is ontologically inextricable from the sociohistorical situations of those who produ ce it, a Marxist aesthetics tends to include an examination of the social and material origins and consequences of artworks. Though Marxism postu lates th at art cannot exist beyond its historical circumstances it need not reiterate them, either: art production is capable of working upon or against its historical moment. This approach is well e xemplified in the writings of Benjamin a leading figure in Mar xist aesthetic theory, whose writing anticipated and facilitated the phil osophical reaction to art production in the past three decades. 15 Benjamin has no patience for idealist Kantian notions of sublimity and beauty, and his artist finds himself deeply i mmersed in the heated center of productive relations. The painter, writer, or poet is not an aloof observer, but an active participant, no longer a creator, but a producer For Benjamin, asking whether an artwork does or does not exhibit a political tendency is redundant. An artwork cannot help manifesting such tendencies and is of necessity constrained to represent certain class interests. Bound to the productive forces of its time, the only agency available to an artwork is that of determining its position in relation to those forces. In other words, whose interests will the work facilitate? If the apparatus of production falls into the wrong hands for Benjamin, these are always bourgeois hands it cunningly conceals the interests of the class that owns it. 15 MLN Vol. 114, No. 5. pp. 933 961. pp. 935

PAGE 15

11 The only ethical option is to align the goals of the artwork with the goals of revolutionary praxis, the end of his autonomy. He directs hi s activity towards what will be useful to the proletariat in 16 Furthermore, it is not enough for an artist to personally sympathize with marginalized groups. He must actively demonstrate this sympathy, must indeed make emancipation th e ultimate focus of his work, lest he unwittingly contribute to the perpetuation of function as long as the writer feels his solidarity with the proletariat on ly in his attitudes, but not 17 The revolutionary potential of art finds its source within cultural and technological development. In the seminal essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Benjamin employs classical Marxi st analysis to describe new art forms as dialectically related to emerging forms of production. With the advent of film and photography, Benjamin purports that new technologies have removed traditional aesthetic values from their cultural pedestal. Impre ssions of creativity and beauty are the romantic remnants of fascist ideology, 18 and are y, every artwork was a unique historical presence, an authentic and irreplaceable artifact occupying a particular location in time and space. Any attempt at reproducing the artifact was effectively an attempt at forgery or plagiarism, and the original mai ntained its air of aloof supremacy. Benjamin terms this almost 16 Understanding Brecht. (Bostock, A. Trans). Verso. pp. 85 86 17 Benjamin, Producer, pp. 91 18 Illuminations (Arendt, H. ed). Shocken Books. pp. 218

PAGE 16

12 19 A reproduction lacks orig reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a 20 The undermining of sacred ped estals and subsequent dissolution of uniqueness is motivated by the rising recognition of general equality, as the masses begin to bring once distant things within the scope of their reach. With the decline of the aura, Benjamin posits that aesthetic obje cts are no longer legitimized by cultic notions of eternal beauty, but now exist within the sphere of politics. Auratic artworks encourage the intellectual distance and contemplation Kant insisted upon, while technologically dependent works, which achieve their apotheosis in photography and film, produce a form of noncognitive is a great shell of an ear listening to us rbed by art, but instead absorb the artwork into the common round of the everyday. communicative response, wherein the aesthetic experience is shared in discussion and ar gument, Benjamin finds that aesthetic contemplation is a private and removed experience. Aesthetic distraction, however, is invariably social. In a contemporary environment wherein the privileged aesthetic aura has been revoked by technological advanceme nt, conventional artworks become a form of antisocial behavior. Quietly pensive before a traditional canvas, the privileged art spectator retreats into himself, following the inner trail of cognitive and emotional associations. A social art discourages s uch retreat, precluding its very possibility, by a brisk series of shocks 19 B enjamin, Work of Art, pp. 221 20 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 221

PAGE 17

13 of the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting change s into the 21 Dadaism, Benjamin suggests, anticipated the destruction of the aura through moral shock effects. Mechanical reproduction, however, shifts disruption from the moral to the physical dimension. In a darkened movie theater, entranced by the swift juxtaposition and succession of images, the spectator is neither held nor deeply engaged. In fact, he can barely think at all. His thoughts are disordered and scattered, and he interacts with the projected images lightly and playfully. Although it seems that such states of mind are contrary to the requirements of emancipatory praxis, Benjamin argues that this unthinking, distracted audience cannot be rightly regarded as passive. The intellectual diaspora p roduced by reproducible cultural forms is precisely the social response B enjamin longs for. Non autonomous 22 to acts of sociopolitical import. By not becoming aesthetically absorbed, the spectators have thrown off relinquished the locus of control to the viewer, who, through proximity and distractedness, 23 In a s eeming paradox, because the viewer is not transported into a distancing and hermetic plane of contemplation, he remains fully present and distance. Even if his criticism is scattered and perhaps superficial, it remains his own, and the artwork no longer has any authoritative hold upon it. In the absence of aesthetic authority, art loses its autonomy forever. Within a Benjaminian framework, the creation of, or preference for, autonomous art is reactionary because Benjamin locates an inherently political and emancipatory effect within 21 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 234 22 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 240 23 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 239

PAGE 18

14 mechanical reproducibility. However, this organically developed political potential of aesthetic phenomena is in danger of approp 24 When the natural politicization of aesthetics is thus impeded, an aestheticization of politics ensues, wherein the masses are granted the illusory right to express themselves through art while perpetuating an unjust social structure. Benjamin warns that autonomous, auratic tendencies in art are synonymous with self alienation, inspiring society to become an aesthetic object for itself. Then, like Nero who calmly watched his city burn for the sake of poetic inspiration, humanity will contemplate its own destruction from the lofty vantage point of Kantian disinterestedness. Benjamin insists that the only antidote to fascism is a politicization of art. class whose aspirations they expr 25 In other words, the ideas that triumph in any epoch are merely the manifestations of the power dynamics between classes and groups. Lukacs relied on a Leninist epistemology to account for his own theory of reflection. 26 The opening passages of Luk Art and Objective Truth apprehension of the external world is nothing more than a reflection in consciousness of the world that exists independently of consciousness. This basic fact of the relationsh ip of 27 Art and science, for Lukacs, are motivated by the same goal of exploring and conveying objective 24 Benjamin, Work of Art, pp. 241 25 Lukacs, Georg. (1957/1963). The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (Mander, J. Trans.). Merlin Press. pp. 65 26 Lukacs, Georg. (1989) Theory, Culture, and Politics. (Marcus, J. and Zoltaan, T. Eds.). Transaction Publishers. pp. 84 85 27 Writer and Critic: An d Other Essays (Kahn, A. and Lukacs, G. Eds.) pp. 25

PAGE 19

15 reality. 28 Setting aside the problematic nature of the supposit ion that the mind can accurately gras p the external world, the approach to art as conveyer of reality realism is defined as the authent an illumination of social contradictions and their possibility of resolution, emphasized particu larly in the relationship of the individual to the sociohistorical totality. Lukacs regards realism as much more than a stylistic alternative, but as a revelation of truth along with a prescr iption for transformation. The politicization that the strategy of mechanical reproduction accomplished for Benjamin, the metaphysics of realism accomplishes for Lukacs. It is not insignificant that the aesthetics of the former reach es into the technologically determined future, while the aesthetics of the l atter search for its models in the traditional (auratic?) past. Extolling the classical achievements of Tolstoy, Stendhal, Dickens, and Mann against the avant gardist, modernist literature of Joyce and Kafka, Lukacs argued that only realist ar t is capable of representing soci ohistorical truth. Because Lukacs regards style as emergin g from content, the realism of traditional artists is the view of the world the ideology or weltanschauung that 29 Concealed ideological commitments are motivated by the ontological question art must eternally ask: what is man? Lukacs insists that artists inevitably approach this question with vastly divergent instruments and results. The realist artist relies upon the Aristotelian 28 Lukacs, Art and Truth, pp. 37 29 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 19

PAGE 20

16 notion of the human as a zoon politikon an inherently social animal 30 whose ontological structure is suffused with his sociohistorical context. The human condition as understood by the fashionable avant gardist, however, is characterized by a solitary, asocial state of facticity 31 struggling with the unfathomable meaninglessness of existence. The notion of facticity, for Lukacs, is implicitly ahistorical. The human being as conceived by Expressionism or Surrealism struggles with the nightmares of private, existentialist dilemmas rather than with a historical consciousness, and is therefore decadent. Perhaps a conscientious Marxist might point out that the interiori zed and anxious individual of modernism that Lukacs despises is, of course, also a render social totality to Kierkegaard, who rejected a Hegelian approach to hi story which sweeps asi de particularity on its path to universality, for the sake of privileging an inte riorized and suffering individual being. A separation between subjectivity and material conditions results in a dandyish decadence which is incapable o f conveying truthfully the dialectical movement between inner experience and external historical conditions, which Lukacs characterizes as the proper role of authentic art. The acknowledgment of the dialectical unity of inner experience and outer conditions 32 the past century, asking himself to what goal history is moving, has been able to ignore 33 The mimesis Lukacs requires of authentic art is not only of the sociohistorical totality, but also of its teleological movement towa rd a sharply delimited political future. 30 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 20 31 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 20 32 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 57 33 Lukacs, Cont emporary Realism, pp. 59

PAGE 21

17 Strikingly, Lukacs concludes that the rejection of a socialist perspective amounts to an inability to create authentic artworks. 34 Since a truthful presentation of the world is the underlying purpose of authentic ar t, and no rendition of the modern experience is complete without its historical trajectory, avant garde artworks are unrealistic and ahistorical laments lacking hope for a better world. At best, the avant garde is simply formalistic experimentation. At w orst, the ideology motivating modernist failure to facilitate historical progress and Joyce, Kafka, Camus, Beckett, Conrad, and Dostoyevskiy are only some of the illustrious company entangled in the net of modernist decadence must end in nihilistic sup port for both Cold War policies and fascism. 35 The alternative Lukacs offers to this rather grim state of affairs is socialist realism. Since the identification of humans as social animals is tantamount to accepting the socialist perspective which equips t he authentic artwork to depict life comprehensively, Lukacs purports that the sociohistorical totality is best communicated via the methods of socialist realism. Unlike all other aesthetic forms, socialist realism is profoundly concerned with truth becaus 36 Furthermore, 37 Bourgeo is art is concerned with inner, private transformation, but the great climax of socialist art grounds its emphasis on social activity. Since Marxist thought acknowledges no human endeavor that can exist beyond the relentless sweep of history, all art eith er facilitates or impedes inevitable historical processes. This unforgiving indictment of apolitical art reveals it to be not actually apolitical but simply counter 34 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 60 35 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 62 63 36 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 100 37 Lukacs, Contemporary Realism, pp. 100

PAGE 22

18 com pletely overcome in culture, socialist realism will become the dominant art form since it will be the only art form capable of adequately describing such a culture. It follows that if art is not critiquing capitalism, not only is it reactionary, it is als o untrue. Since, for Lukacs, truth value is synonymous with aesthetic value, art that is unconcerned with facilitating emancipatory praxis can hardly count as art at all. The art of the Russian revolutionary movement which so enamored Lukacs received it s most systematic exposition from George Plekhanov, and his work resulted in the most influential model for Marxist criticism of the 1930s. 38 Appealing to the dynamics between the base and superstructure of society, Plekhanov argues that the development of productive forces determine s difficult to directly recognize t he influence of economics on aesthetic development because superstructural formations are distanced from the economic base through a succession of intermediary forms. Despite such mediations, Plekhanov nevertheless purports that artistic content is ultima tely a reformulation of the class struggle. Art, like other superstructural elements, reflects and ultimately validates the relations of production and class structures of a given society, and is therefore implicitly ideological. 39 Agreeing with Marx that social being determines consciousness, Plekhanov writes: It is clear that any given ideology also, therefore, art and so called belles lettres expresses in itself the striving and moods of a given society or if we are involved with a society divide d into classes of a given social class For a person who adheres to this 38 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 2, No. 3. pp. 267 279. pp. 267 268 39 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art C riticism Vol. 28, No. 4. pp. 511 514 pp. 512.

PAGE 23

19 view, it is clear also that the critics who undertake to evaluate a given work of art must first of all elucidate precisely what aspect of social (or class) consciousness is expres sed in this work 40 Thus echoing the maxims of Lukacs and Benjamin, Plekhanov locates within art an ideological allegiance to dominant classes and hegemonic social structures, and it is the function of the critic, presumably a Marxis t critic, to reveal the interests concealed behind every aesthetic gesture. There are two acts proper to aesthetic criticism, Plekhanov contends. The first component consists of translating the content of an aesthetic imagery into sociological language, and the second component, which is subordinate to and dependent upon the first, is to evaluate the aesthetic merit of the work. 41 The first critical act, then, is to subsume all formal and ideational in other words, all aesthetic elements into a sociol ogical framework. The second act is the evaluation of the embodiment of the sociological by the aesthetic or, in simpler terms, the evaluation of how well the form expresses the content. Since artistic creation and judgment must be understood from a soc iological platform as ideologically determined, Plekhanov, like Lukacs and Benjamin, finds an explicit correlation 42 Artworks which are politically engaged Plekhanov regar ds as utilitarian, and artworks which exhibit conditions determine aesthetic tendency, and when the artist finds himself in symbolic exile and alienation from 43 and obscure, 40 Mills Todd III, William. (1978). Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800 1914 Stanford University Press. pp. 35 41 Mills Todd, pp. 35 42 Baxandall, Marxism and Aesthetics, pp. 270 43 Plekhanov, George in Art and Society and Other Papers in Historical Materialism Oriole Editions: New York., pp. 15

PAGE 24

20 incomprehensible formal experimentation. This aesthetic inwardness is antisocial, and Plekhanov purports that models for such alienated solitude are to be found within Cubist and I mpressionistic artworks, which do not demonstrate any ideational content but are absorbed with their own formal properties. 44 However, when the contradiction between art and society is 45 with their 46 Much like Lukacs, who regards avant garde art as antisocial, Plekhan ov finds that only utilitarian art is socially relevant. Here, however, is where Plekhanov parts ways with other historical materialists. Unlike Lukacs and Benjamin, Plekhanov accords art little critical maneuverability. The former thinkers presuppose t hat art has a political obligation to align itself with liberating praxis, but Plekhanov insists that the modern artists he and Lukacs describe as decadent cannot be anything but decadent. Artists must mirror the particulars of their class and sociohistor ical context, and not trees must give forth apples and pear trees pears, so mus t artists who share the bourgeois point of view struggle against this movement. The art of a decadent epoch must 47 With one hand, other, it d ooms art to uncritically reflect the material and class conditions of its time. Either way, art is harnessed and bound, either because it ought to be so, or because it cannot but be so. 44 Plekhanov, pp. 55 45 Plekhanov, pp. 20 46 Plekhanov, pp. 20 47 Plekhanov, pp. 64 65

PAGE 25

21 suggests that utilitarian art, developed in sympathetic communion between culture and artist, is the more true art. Identifying historical progress with class struggle, th e artwork which mirrors the inevitable sweep of history toward emancipation reflects reality accurately, 48 and therefore, only utilitarian art is capable of rendering truth. Apolitical art, on the other hand, is aesthetically s based upon a fallacious idea, inherent contradictions inevitably 49 What is the fallacious idea? The unwillingness to align with revolutionary activity or, in Lukacsian terms, the rejection of socialism. Th is amounts to an asocial refusal of historical truth and distortion into false consciousness. And thus, aesthetically flawed Feminist Aesthetic Thought Although critique of a utonomy has its roots in Marxist theory, feminist scholarship has emphasized these objections in current, Anglo American aesthetics, and the feminist conception of art has developed mostly in response to notions of aesthetic autonomy. 50 Of course, not all feminist thought involves aesthetic theory, but when it does, it tends to argue for the indisputability of what Marxist thinkers conjectured. R egar ding the notion of an autonomous aesthetic realm as the residue of ahistorical, essentialist thinking, femin 51 and the ideals of Kantian disinterestedness and 52 48 Plekhanov, pp. 38 49 Plekhanov, pp. 38 50 The Bucknell Review Vol. 36, No. 2: 164 186. pp. 166 51 Devereaux, Philosophical and Political Implications, pp. 166 52 Eaton, A. W. Philosophy Compass Vol. 5, No. 3: 873 893. pp. 884

PAGE 26

22 The dismantling of autonomist thinking re quires feminist aesthetics to reject three related claims re garding the nature of art, already described in the introduction: 1. ndependence. 2. transcend its originating influence, and cannot be reduced to political, social, or ideological content. 3. the source of aesthetic value within the work rather than in an external source. 53 These presuppositions result in the autonomist conclusion that a proper understanding and evaluation of artworks requires the application of aesthetic criteria and a certain degree of pe rsonal is political and inevitable immersion in sociopolitical discourses, arguing that creators and audiences experience artworks in ways that reflect their social positions, particularly emphasizin g the situatedness of gender or sex. Arguing that aesthetic discourse is elitist isolated, and fetishized, feminist theory uproots the ideological allegiances only partially concealed beneath an aesthetic sphere that is utterly dependent upon private, st atus oriented wealth. 54 The nature of historical 53 Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, Ed). pp. 179 54 Feminist Studies Vol. 2, No. 1: 3 37. pp. 21 22

PAGE 27

23 only in the interests it obscures, but in the interests it creates and promotes. Thus, feminist critique ins 55 The already precarious position of universality is rejected with the contention that art speaks in the name of particular privileged groups which typically consist of white, elite males. Canonical artworks, feminist theory points out, represent women and men according to the 56 subordination throughout history within the sexualization of the conv entional gender hierarchy, feminist critique regards the prominent figuration of the female nude within Western art as a sexualization. 57 Anne Eaton has argued that artworks belonging to the genre of the female nude played upon, by foregrounding erogenous zones, by dividing them into sexual parts, by eroticizing passivity, by employing diegetic surveillance, and by employing passive poses of availability. 58 presumably (but not necessarily) male spectator, because Eaton insists that the primary functi on of such paintings is the provision of visual erotic pleasure of a gendered nature. 59 Some feminist critics, relying upon Lacanian analysis, suggest that scopophilia can account for aesthetic pleasure. 60 The absence of fullness of the maternal body which pervades existence within the 55 Gouma The Art Bulletin Vol. 69, No. 3: 326 357. pp. 354 56 Eaton, Feminist Ph ilosophy of Art, pp. 877 57 Art and Pornography: Philosophical Essays (eds. Maes, H. and Levinson, J.) University Press Scholarship Online, pp. 4 58 11 59 Wrong? pp. 11 60 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 51, No. 2: 199 206. pp. 204

PAGE 28

24 rigid symbolic order inspires a fetishistic objectification of the female nude, which then functions as a displaced construct. The autonomist claim to intrinsic value i s critiqued, too and feminist theorists point out that canonical art has historically been misogynistic, sexist, alienating, and exclusionary. 61 Crucially, this perceived moral defectiveness is regarded as being more significant than, or tionally aesthetic value of beauty is either challenged as a politically dangerous category which is both reifying and exclusionary, threatening the autonomy and subjectivity of its possessor, or it is simply dah about tran 62 The imagery of Gauguin, for example, is scrutinized for the sociopolitical values it implicitly 63 imposed upon wome purports that beauty is utilized as a legitimization of sexual inequality by rendering female subordination to male dominance as sexual. As a consequence of the theoretical dismantling of rejects the validity of aesthetic evaluative criteria that has been historically biased against women. Not only have women artists been largely absent from the artistic canon, but the works traditionally produced by w omen, such as pottery and quilts, are not taken seriously by the problematic nature of canon formation: the perspectives of humanism or gynocentrism. 64 The humanistic approach relies upon a historical analysis and hypothesizes that social, economic, and 61 Encyclopedi a of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, ed). pp. 180 62 In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 57, No. 1: 1 10. pp. 2 63 Vogel, Fine Arts, pp. 48 64 Eaton, Feminist Philosophy, pp. 879

PAGE 29

25 institutional oppression has prevented women from creating great artworks. Although gender has altered the way women produce and receive art, it is due to patriarchal disenfranchisement rather than gender, and in the absence of systemic barriers, women have the potential to create 65 The tra ditional critical standards of greatness and aesthetic achievement have been an ideological practice which is implicitly patriarchal and therefore invalid. The objective of seeking out female artists whose artistic accomplishments correlate with those sta ndards is simply a surrendered participation in an already flawed system, inadvertently perpetuating its oppressive nature. Cassandra Langer writes that such revisionism 66 which are sexist and exclusionary. gender does alter the production and reception of art s uch that the appreciation and evaluation of employed in judging traditional, masculine art. Like most feminist aestheticians, Langer advocates relinquishing the stand ards of autonomy in favor of a politicized conception of art: s 67 Gynocentric art criticism is no longer artistic production or evaluation, but is an active agitator for social justice. If the point of philosophy is to change the world, as Marx urged, then the feminist scholar can 65 Feminist Art Criticism (Raven, A. Ed.) Icon Editions. pp. 114 66 Langer, pp. 115 67 Langer, pp. 117

PAGE 30

26 add that art has a similar function. The dismissal of formal quality and normative claims to artistic value in favor of political and social meanings of artworks has succeeded in creating a ommon nowadays for feminists to refuse to speak of some works being better than others or, when they do use evaluative language, to enclose the value terms in scare 68 de 69 A politicized conception of art takes the form of ethical, rather than traditionally aesthetic, re Rape of Europa Eaton explains that the work represents Europa as an active and willing participant for whom rape but also eroticizes rape, which promotes and sustains gender inequality. 70 Since the tra ditional separation between the ethical and the aesthetic has collapsed, Eaton asserts that the ethical defect of eroticizing rape culminates in an aesthetic defect, thus diminishing the overall aesthetic es that acknowledging the aesthetic merit of the Rape of Europa implicitly condones its ethics, thereby condoning gender inequality. 71 A feminist art, which is mostly concerned with depicting female oppression, 72 is regarded as the antidote and subversive r 68 Eaton, Feminist Philosophy, pp. 884 69 Lectures on Human Values, delivered at Yale University. pp. 39 70 188. pp. 163 71 Eaton, Rape of Europa, pp. 168 72 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 48, No. 4: 281 291. pp. 284

PAGE 31

27 inconsequential that Homer is exiled the purpose of the aesthetic is moral instruction. 73 Following him, Napoleon I agreed that autonomous art was both idle and dangerous, and that artworks ought to commemorate the 74 In the nineteenth century, the St. Simonians adhered to the Enlight 75 become s obvious that seemingly outdated and puritanical strictures upon aesthetic production are insisted upon anew in Marxist and feminist critique, under a different guise. The notorious d tendentiousness is realized again and again in galleries and museums, such as the 1993 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The sculptures, installations, and conceptual works of 82 artists created a litany of political statements regarding class, race, gender, AIDS, sexuality, and critics neverthele ss wondered about its aesthetic merit. Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes described it in contentious terms, referencing the Marxist and feminist concerns with the concealed ideological commitments inherent within aesthetic evaluation: A saturnalia of political correctness, a long winded immersion course in marginality the 73 Plekhanov, Art and Society, pp. 23 74 Plekhanov, Art and Society, pp. 23 75 Burger, Peter. (1998). Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, ed.). pp. 176 177

PAGE 32

28 aesthetic qual ity (that repressive, icky word again!) is for the most part feeble. The level nt where any attempt at aesthetic discrimination can be read as blaming the victim, is there 76 Perhaps Hughes is unfair, quarrelsome, and extreme. Yet he accurately diagnoses what can be summarized as the e inspires. Is ethico political content the final arbiter of aesthetic quality? More importantly, must it be? To contest this is to contest the entire Marxist and feminist aesthetic edifice. The question is ultimately one of ontology and epistemology : is there an aesthetic dimension separable from ethics, politics, and ideology and if there is, how do we separate it ? If Benjamin is to be disputed, he must be disputed here. There is, however, another alternative, which is less fraught with the dead ends of philosophical abstraction and less likely to earn the accusation of privileging theory over praxi s: even if art is doomed to reflecting sociohistorical content, even if art ning is indistinguishable from its political commitments, it must nevertheless be experienced and evaluated as if it were autonomous not only because aesthetic value is a precious and fragile thing that it would be a shame to lose, but also because surpr isingly, it is a propaedeutic for the ethics which so concern This form of strategic essentialism avoids both a stubborn insistence upon tendentious art and the dogmatic reliance upon absolutes so characteristic of Romantic aesthetics, while preserving an emphasis upon aesthetic quality and ethical possibility by positing that ethics is epiphenomenal to aesthetics the moral aspect of t he work depends upon the autonomous aspect of the work. In other words, 76 TIME Magazine : Mar. 22, 1993.

PAGE 33

29 if the work is not autonomous, it cannot succeed ethically as an artwork This does not separate ethics and aesthetics into completely separate realms, but shows rather how they come to be engaged in artistic activity in a way that they are not engaged in other human activities. This is the position I will endeavor to explicate and defend in the following chapters. CHAPTER II The political tension aesthetic criticism inherited from its Marxis t and feminist critics, and the struggle against it, is symptomatic of deeper philosophical commitments. These can be broadly categorized as an axiological incongruence between instrumentalism and autonomism. The breadth of thes e categories renders them useful in illuminating the general pattern which particular aesthetic debates adhere to. usually its very identity, as residing in the perfor mance of some function or functions. 77 In other for something, it has a tangible and calculable benefit on something outside of itself. has one qualitatively different from other features of human endeavor. It is n primary and common arguments deserve notice. When instrumentalism conjectures that the identity of an artwork is bound up with its performance of a particular fun ction, the critic of instrumentalism points out that if the function can be performed by something other than the artwork, then not only is an artwork replaceable by a nonartwork and therefore unnecessary, but 77 Encyclopedia of Aesthet ics (M. Kelly, Trans.). pp. 2

PAGE 34

30 a normative notion of art ceases to exist alto gether. After all, if aesthetic functions can be effectively carried out by other means, then in what sense is art anything other than a denigration of art is not a cou most famously Oscar Wilde, go so far as to claim that a charming toy is all art is, anyway. Most autonomists, however, contend that art is neither useless nor frivolous. A common complai nt about autonomism is predicated on the basis of this rejection of frivolity, since it notes that an artwork is a kind of thing which presents itself as being of value to somebody. Therefore, being removed from external, interpretative sociality is elitist at best and incoherent at worst. Instrumentalists are usually concerned with the moral dimension of art, and to this end, aesthetic questions in the humanities are almost always addressed in ethical or political terms. 78 Most instrumentalists, therefore, are ethicists, moralists, moderate moralists, or any position along a spectrum which involves the view that moral evaluation of artworks is an appropriate aesthetic activity inasmuch as a work moral defects may be regarded as aesthetic defects. Autonomists, sometimes calling themselves aestheticists, contend that moral evaluation of art, while a legitimate and valuable activity, is nevertheless incongruent with aesthetic evaluation. It is i mportant to note that such debates were certainly not settled with Kant, and have s not been explicitly defined even among those who oppose autonomy. Therefore, aes thetic discourse evaluated morally, little effort has been devoted to working out the philosophical foundations of moral criticism beyond loudly and insistently protest ing that the doctrines of formalism and 78 British Journal of Aesthetics Vol. 36, No. 3: 223 238. pp. 223

PAGE 35

31 79 There are not many radical instrumentalists or autonomists among philosophers, 80 and the most common arguments advanced by either side take the form of moderate moralism or moderate autonomism. The disagreements among them are refinements of the primary conflict between instrumentalists and autonomists outlined above, and can be well exemplified by a dispute between the moralist Noe l Carroll and the autonomists J. Anderson and J. Dean. The debate, moderate moralist. Moderate moralism is less stringent than, for example, the ethicism of Berys Gaut, who the aesthetic evaluation of those works, such that, if a work manifests ethically reprehensible attitudes, it is to that extent aestheti cally defective, and if a work manifests ethically 81 Although Gaut qualifies the definition as involving a pro tanto principle, since ethically desirable attitudes count toward the overall assessment of the work while ethically undesirable attitudes count against it, thereby leaving room for the possibility of ethically flawed (and therefore aesthetically flawed) masterpieces, Carroll nevertheless regards ethicism as too harsh. Defending a slightly weaker and far more compelling thesis, Carroll begins with the observation that many artworks inspire moral responses in their audience, thereby encouraging interpretation and evaluation of themselves in moral terms 82 For Carroll, su ch responses are often not prescribed by the work, but already present in the minds and hearts of audiences. 79 Carroll, Noel. Moderate Moralism, pp. 224 80 In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 58, No. 1: 1 22. pp. 3 81 Aesthetics and Ethics Cambridge: 182 203. pp. 182 82 Carroll, Moderate Moralism, pp. 227

PAGE 36

32 Numerous presuppositions are required of spectators and readers, who arrive with assumptions and then utilize them to complete narrative gaps. Fo taken as a matter of course, since ungrateful children are tacitly understood to be disappointing. In fact, narrati incomprehensible. Thus, Carroll explains, it is a typical element of artwork existing moral emotions, without which the work will be inaccessible to the viewer (whether some works deliberately strive for inaccessibility is a related notion, to be discussed later). Given sufficient moral flaws, Carroll posits, the a ctivation does not take place, and the work audience, Carroll concludes that moral evaluation is implicit in aesthetic engagement. for moderate moralism relies upon an Aristotelian conception of proper tragic character. In his Poetics 83 Moral defectiveness, in other words, must not be presented without its just punishment, or, what amounts to the same thing, without a moralizing message. Without it, the audience cannot sympathize with the artwork. If a work strives to arouse pity and fear, as proper tragedy should, the substance of the work must be morally sympathetic. Venturing where Aristotle points, Carroll introduces the uncontroversial thesis that achieving the desired audience res ponse is an integral feature of successful artworks. However, 83 Aristotle (335 B.C./1902). Poetics (S. H. Butcher. Eds). McMillan and Company. pp. 45

PAGE 37

33 e to 84 Thus, the portrayal of certain unethical attitudes, since it precludes the hoped for aesthetic response, forces the artwork to fail qua art. Invoking the formula, Carroll imagines a dramatic representation of Hitler as a sympathetic character (perhaps not unlike The Triumph of the Will ). Such a representation must founder in its own emotional inaccessibility, Carroll argues, because the audience cannot su mmon the necessary sympathy for such a morally objectionable figure. In esthetic failure precisely because it is a moral failure. Linking the capacity to achieve uptake with his assertion that audiences complete works by contributing an implicit ethical understanding, he audience is as much a part of the design of a narrative artwork as structural components like plot complications. Failure to elicit the right moral response, then, is a failure in the design of the work, and, therefore, is an 85 With this elegant formulation, Carroll defends a moderate moralism which maintains the necessary connection between ethical and aesthetic value. But is it convincing? e One must If one believed that murdering fathers was a common or even a che erfully encouraged practice, Hamlet summoning the common knowledge that murder, particularly when applied to family members, 84 Carroll, Moderate Moralism, pp. 232 85 Carroll, Moderate Moralism, pp. 233

PAGE 38

34 Hamlet also a ctivate our biological sense by relying upon our common knowledge that humans are mortal? Is not this sense further activated by Shakespeare neglecting to mention that his characters drink water and use the restroom? The audience is not surprised when Ha mlet does not sit down to a single square meal for the long months of the myriad of implicit understandings with which an audience arrives at an artwork biological, historical, cultural, psychological, and even scientific. If the activation of ethical norms is a standard feature of artworks, then so is the activation of biological and historical norms, without which the work may be incomprehensible. This is true, but trivially so. Unless, along with ethics, we are prepared to admit biology, history, and science into the summary of aesthetic value, such implicit understandings, while necessary, are nevertheless not aesthetic features. But wait, an attent features only if eliciting such norms is part of the design of the work. Again, this is only trivially true. If it is essential to the design of Hamlet that we reject murder, it is equally essential that we lism into the scope of art critical standards. assimilating into their own experience, thereby condemning without qualification revolutionary and unassimilable works, but aesthetic value becomes too broadly sketched to have any consensus or evaluative authority, such that all such discussions become meaningless. achieving the desired audience response is a standard feature of successful artworks While this seems self evident, it does not

PAGE 39

35 American Psycho Carroll recounts that it w as intended as a satire, but the coldly disturbing descriptions of murders were regarded as so American Psycho 86 ral perspective. appears in contemporary productions of the play as a transparent phantom, the audience is asked to entertain an unscientific point of view. Gho sts, common knowledge tells us, do not exist. The play asks us to temporarily believe, for its sake, that they do. Despite common knowledge, the sheets flying to and fro, the childish absurdity of believing in ghosts might overcome the power of the play to move us. In such a case, it would not be the unscientific nature of ghosts, but the way ghosts are presented, that prevents tragic uptake. It would not be c ontent, but the form, of the work that would become objectionable. These would not be scientific defects, but aesthetic ones. Similarly, if the audience does not play along with American Psycho moral failing, but an aesthetic one. so badly must be presented in ways which accord with aesthetic sensibilities. Had Ellis been a stro nger artist, the immoral content of his novel may have been transcended by its aesthetic form. The 86 Carroll, M oderate Moralism, pp. 232

PAGE 40

36 which portray villains in ways that make us understand them. We understand the monstrous Iago how Iago justifies himself to himself. they are not faults but justifica tions. Shakespeare shows us Iago not in terms of his faults, but in terms of his justifications. Shallower works sometimes founder in the gap between form and content which powerful works are capab le of reconciling, asking audienc es to identify with villains in just this way unethical but because he fails to engage us on his terms so we judge him on ours. To illustrate this further, let us imagine the feminist philosopher Marcia Muelder Eaton lingering near a lake in Minneapolis. Beside the water, the loose strife flower blooms. Frothy purple blossoms cling to slender stems. The flower, Ms. Eaton thinks, is beautiful. Then, she recalls that the exotic plant invades wherever i t takes root, swiftly ruining water purification plant quite beautifu 87 Despite its ruthlessness, the flower is beautiful, and its destructiveness perhaps only makes this conflict more pronounced and therefore more aesthetically forceful. In vertheless, it ethical dilemma. American Psycho is unlike the loose strife flower because it lacks aesthetic, not moral, goodness. Triumph of the Will a glorification of Nazi Germany which enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive 87 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 57 No. 1: 11 15. pp. 11

PAGE 41

37 reception, though certainly not because it was more moral than Am erican Psycho The film, Party. Brilliantly orchestrated montages of thousands of troops, marching bands, parades, and speeches flowing to the cadence of Wagneria n music create a stunning spectacle. The film was successful not only in Germany, but won the Gold Medal at the Venice Film Festival and the Grand Prix at the Paris Film Festival, and is still regarded as a supreme cinematic achievement. 88 The controversy of course, is explicit. The representation of ecstatic crowds adulating Hitler, who is portrayed as a redeeming figure graciously accepting bouquets from laughing children, culminates in a vision of Nazi Germany as desirable and, quite simply, good Th e Triumph of the Will is also unlike the loose strife flower, but not because it lacks aesthetic force. Unlike the flower which prompts us to set aside its destructive nature for the sake of appreciating its formal beauty, the glorification of Nazism stru ctures the work as a whole Content and form merge: we cannot set aside the content of a messianic Hitler because that content is precisely what forms the film into the kind of film that it is. Here, Carroll would likely insist that when content becomes paramount, aesthetic evaluation is helpless and ethical evaluation must take the reins. However, this is misguided. A order to appreciate only its stylistic fe atures, is not the only aesthetic approach. Form and content are reconciled in exploring how stylistic features convey substance, such that the entire expression of the work is included in aesthetic evaluation. Instead of setting aside the vision of Hitl Othello is canonized not in spite because of it, the film succeeds aesthetically not in 88 Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection (Jerrold Levinson, Ed.) Cambridge University Press: 227 56. Pp. 249

PAGE 42

38 spite of its message, but partially because of it. Asking whether the historical Hitler is as messianic as he is represented is like asking whether space travel really occurs as instantaneously as it does in science fiction novels. The magical realism of Borges, wherein tigers are willed into existence and dead men play the gramophone, asks us to transcend the experience of waking reality the validity of manifesting t preclude moral critique of the film, just as science fiction novels do not preclude sc ientific critique. The provocative film promotes ethical questions and fears as it should. Such critique, however, is nevertheless not aesthetic in nature. Nazi Germany remains despicable; the film remains a masterpiece. Leaving aside the obvious ob jection that it is sometimes the very purpose of artworks to achieve their desired responses fail aesthetically is simply not borne out in art history. It is doubtful that Manet painted his Olympia depicting a nude prostitute, with the anticipation that its spectators will respond with inordinate hostility. At its first 1865 exhibition, the most famous art critics were scandalized into a brutal disparageme Olympia 89 90 a third declared t 91 The disturbed public was even less generous with its praise than the critics. In such a case, the achievement of desired 89 Poetics Today Vol. 10, No. 2. (1989): 2 55 277. pp. 256 90 Bernheimer, pp. 256 91 Bernheimer, pp. 256

PAGE 43

39 audience response figuring as an implicit feature of aesthetic merit begins to seem much less self evident. Madame X Les Demoiselles were scorned by an offended public, and Modigliani and Keats famously languished Moby Dic k profoundly disturbed implicit ethical understanding, as well, but it would be difficult to argue that these works were therefore counts as ethical, and t Satyricon roused its Roman audience to laughter, a typical cont amusing in its explicit narration of sexual abuse. It seems ludicrous to suggest that the Satyricon was a good artwork in the first century, but is a defective artwork now. Indeed, we can only suggest this if we believe that a work ought to be judged not on its terms, but on ours. Therefore, even though it was intended to inspire laughter, but also capable of moving us in other ways. This is partially because the Satyricon is not read for its moral, historical, or ethnographic value, but for its aesthetic virtue, which retains its hold on us despite changing ethical norms. Let us now hear from the opposition, and consider the moderate autonomist response to Carroll by invoking the not infrequent tens ion arising between moral and aesthetic convictions. written, the very conflict between morality and art is cited as evidence that they are indeed separate values. suspended between appreciation and moral hostility for the purple flower, is perhaps

PAGE 44

40 symptomatic of a dissonance that exists at the very heart of art. Great art often troubles and d isturbs, deliberately estranging its audience from normative experience. Ethical norms, like scientific or historical norms, do not occupy a privileged position by e Why, then, ought normative perceptions of morality those which Carroll terms implicit -Still Life with Compote and Glass as aesthetically defective because it refuses to conform to proper visual experience. If anything, its strangeness is what makes the work vital, significant, and powerful. Why, then, must we rega rd The Merchant of Venice as aesthetically defective because it refuses to conform to a proper morality? It is possible that the inner struggle such works engender between aesthetic power and ethical conviction, whether intended by the artist or not, cont awesome power. The legal scholar Richard Posner aptly descri bes a consuming artistic experience as superseding normative values. As we read great literature, for example, we find scamps, seducers, conquerors, psychopaths, tric 92 Of course, such identifications do not discredit the ethical import of artworks they are simply not reduced to them. Morality and politics, much like any aspect of sociality, are art neuter it, is to strip it of its aesthetic function. 92 Philosophy and Literature Vol. 21, No. 1: 1 27. pp. 415

PAGE 45

41 Does this mean that an artwork cannot be motivated by ethico political aims? Of course it can. Nevertheless, ethico political aims, however they are deployed within the work, will not necessarily render the work aesthetically critique of Carroll. Although ethical and political criticism of artworks is a legitimate and important activity, Anderson and Dean argue that neither Gaut nor Carroll have succeeded in convincing them that identifying with ethically reprehensible attitudes entails aesthetic mendable attitudes does 93 They explain that American Psycho stems from its inability to satisfy the Aristotelian demand for audience sympathy, while its moral failure stems from its endorsement of immoral perspectives. Since its moral and aesthetic failings information about its aesthetic value. Carroll decided to meet the challenge and published a response. Once again returning to his claim that artworks are incomplete str uctures requiring audiences to arrive with certain prior knowledge, Carroll argued that works must be so structured as to invite audiences to complete them appropriately. Facilitating the improper audience response not only prevents understanding, but sub verts the aim of the work. Since this address to the audience is part of the structural design of the work, the failure to elicit the desired moral response is a failure in design dependent formula again neglects the shifting nature of audiences, whose responses are deeply influenced by ethical, political, social, 93 British Journal of Aesthetics Vol. 38, No. 2: 150 166. pp. 153

PAGE 46

42 and sexual mores such that an Olympia which offends ethical sensibilities in 1865 is incapable of evoking class distinctions a century la ter. If the representation of a sallow prostitute seems ugly because ethical norms deem her so, and years later the spell she weaves stems from her strange beauty, perhaps achieving undesired responses is a sign not of aesthetic failure, but aesthetic rev olution. A moral rejection might seem, to later generations, as little more than puritanical blindness. Does this mean that American Psycho might come to be regarded as a masterpiece a easoning would reject this meaning by critiquing its moral content may not only prove to be historically misguided, but may Marxist and Feminist Critique as Instrumental Moralism It is not an exaggeration to conclude that the potential loss of aesthetic power is not regarded as a significant threat by scope primarily, and its aesthetic scope only secondarily. This is the form of instrumentalism which moralism advances, and its position is conceptually representative of both Marxist and feminis Europa as an aesthetic failure because of its depiction of rape, but also in the The Heart of Darkness should not be read in university literature courses. 94 It can be found in post colonialist Gayatri Mansfield Park is underwritten by slavery and that the novel 94 delivered at the University of Massachusetts, February 1975. pp. 1,791

PAGE 47

43 therefore condones and legitimizes slavery, 95 such that one dares not wonder what ethical monstrosity actually liking Republic from reading 96 or the urging of two literature professors to replace Romeo and Juliet in high school freshman classes with Brokeback Mountain because, they argue, the heteronormative relationship of the work excludes and thereby disparages homosexuality. 97 These developments are responsive to the instrumental pressure of aesthetic moralism and represent its logical conclusion. If such things are not a sufficient threat because instrumentalists are prepared t o throw out Conrad and Titian in the name of what seems like the greater good, there are nevertheless political implications of discrediting aesthetic value which may prove more convincing. Representative of this instrumental moralist turn, the identific ethico political praxis has as its precondition the destruction of autonomy. As mass phenomenon, the heteronomous, committed, tendentious art Benjamin, Lukacs, and Plekhanov advocate does not demand introspection or contempla tion. However, it is precisely this feature which thwarts emancipation. Trapped within the field of immanence, heteronomous art is not capable of critiquing social practice because it is utterly subsumed within it. Enthralled by a Benjaminian version of mass culture or a Lukacsian conception of class consciousness, the artwork obeys immediate praxis. The critical faculty is lost. For critique, there must be reflection upon the critiqued object which presupposes a cognitive aloofness that is profoundly private in character. To resist social conditions, a work must stand outside of those conditions, if 95 Fraiman, Susan. (1 Critical Inquiry Vol. 21, No. 4: 805 821. pp. 809 96 The Journal of General E ducation Vol. 44, No. 4: 234 255. pp. 234 97 Themed Literature in English l f Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Vol. 53, No. 8: 625 634. pp. 627

PAGE 48

44 only conceptually. Just as a human being who is an inextricable aspect of sociality but can nevertheless reflect upon the social practices he is beholden to, artworks also possess this reflexive, dual allegiance. While art certainly begins with sociohistorical contexts, it does not always end with them, and rather than mimicking reality it struggles, lapses, and breaks against the status quo. The pionee the most sublime work of art takes up a definite position vis vis reality by stepping outside of ete ways, when it unconsciously and tacitly polemicizes against the condition of society at a particular point in 98 While some critics of autonomy deny the very existence of this critical function, arguing as Lukacs does that art cannot help but bli ndly reproduce prevailing ideology, the to force it into political, moral service. In other words, since artworks can function critically, they had better c riticize in the right direction. There are two objections to this line of reasoning I would like to advance. Before I do so, it is important to iterate that both objections are offered not for the sake of aesthetic autonomy, but for the sake of preservi autonomy that this function can be preserved. with instrumentalism. If non artworks, such as, say, political speeches, can perform the role demanded of artworks in this case, endorsement of progressive ethics then why bother with art at all? When the Caliph Omar sanctioned the destruction of the library at Alexandria, he is 98 Adorno, Theodor. (1970/2002). Aesthetic Theory. (Hullot Kentor, R. Trans.) (Adorno, G. and Tiedemann, R. Eds). Continuum. pp. 7

PAGE 49

45 reported to ha the comparison is clear. If art is to exist at all, it must exist aestheticall y and not merely as a -not secondarily, not later on, not after the political allegiances have been articulated -but ontologically aesthetic in nature. To be an ethically engaged human being, one must first be a human being. To be an ethically engaged artwork, a work must first be an artwork. Aesthetic concerns must be prioritized over ethical concerns especially when an artwork functions critically. This is because, in order to reflect upon An artwork accomplishes this by a decisive inward turn, from reality into a different world. Daring what no moral speech or political pamphlet ought ever to dare, art lies. As such, art is a unique form of critique in that it is real without b eing actual Carmen If a woman were strangled beyond the aesthetic realm, wherein everything is permitted, the audience members would react with terror, violence, and instantly begin fumbling with pockets and purses for their cell phones to dial 9 1 1. Of course, in the opera house, there is no such scrambling. As the rapt audience watches Don Jose murder Carmen, it really experiences a scene of murder while not actually y real outrage, melancholy, and sympathy are tempered with the understanding that these are not responses to actuality. Carmen, Desdemona, and Ophelia never actually die they are only eternally dying, suspended in a state between existence and nonexiste nce peculiar to the aesthetic dimension. The Soviet poet Mayakovsky wrote:

PAGE 50

46 a barrel of dynamite. A line is a fuse The line smoulders, the rhyme explode s and by a stanza a city is blown to bits. 99 The artwork forces us to transcend natural responses, to re place them with aesthetic ones. If a political reach is available to the artwork, it is only because it legitimizes itself 100 the feminist philosopher Monique Wittig remarks. Her novel Les Guerilleres depicts a bloody, terrifying battle of the sexes, as women fight to challenge oppression. The literally acts of violence committed against the dominant order. However, this terror is fictional. The damage is real, palpable, significant, and challenging. But it is not actual. Nevertheless, it leaves its mark upon culture without the repercussio challenges language and the assumptions which form it, particularly the way language constructs notions of sexuality and femininity. Les Guerilleres replaces the masculine and universal 99 Mayakovksiy, Vladimir. (1915/1965). Mayakovsky. (Marsha ll, H. Trans. and Ed.). pp. 352. 100 Butler, J. (1999/2002). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity Routledge. pp. 152.

PAGE 51

47 challenge of the work infiltrates ordinary signification, subtly, almost imp erceptibly, changing it. While speaking a different, challenging language, the text nevertheless remains intelligible, The signifying gesture of an artwor k communicates meaning, but it does not function as an ordinary sign because the object it points to does not exist. Poetic language signifies a world which contradicts the hegemonic scope of this one, a world wherein women brutally kill for freedom, beca capable of transformative power that a primarily political, non aesthetic gesture simply cannot match. If such a work succeeds politically, it will succeed not because of it s political potential, but because of its aesthetic strength, which make its political potential possible. ones, art negates while affirming We are horrified by C in it. Even abject suffering, the utmost negation of life, can be presented as enjoyable by being aesthetically created and aesthetically received. During one of his lectures, novelist Jorge Luis Borges spoke of V Candide which is a dark, satirical argument for pessimism: Candide is that a world in which Candide which is a delicious work, full of jokes t be such a terrible world. Because, surely, when Voltaire wrote Candide 101 We read Candide and we nod along with its pessimistic pronouncements u pon the futility of life, and this gives us 101 Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature New Directions. pp. 8 4 86

PAGE 52

48 slaughter, and we enjoy this aestheticization of monstrosity without ourselves becoming monstrous. Rather, in our pleasure we are uplifted. This simultaneous, seemingly paradoxical mode of produ ction, is widely accessible not because it is liberating but because it has become utterly commodified. The marketability and market valuation of products results in standardized, optimism, Adorno argues that capitalism is strengthened by mass culture, which is itself a kind of manifestation of mphasizes the shift from early to late capitalism: whereas, in early capitalism, artworks had both use and exchange value, late capitalism has replaced use value with exchange value, such that exchange value itself has become a source of enjoyment. In oth er words, the value of a painting is its cost. Commercial 102 This leads to what Adorno terms supplied. Precisely because mass mediated artworks demand nothing of their audience, because they are effortless and immediate, they cannot be emancipatory. Rat her than being inspired to acts of socio political import, the endlessly entertained masses dwell in their passivity, having renounced the individual critical function for submission to immanence. Writing in 1938 about the effects of popular music upon cr itical consciousness, Adorno evokes a Kafka esque metaphor to observe bitterly: 102 The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (Arato and Gebhardt, Eds.) Continuum. pp. 278

PAGE 53

49 Types rise up from the mass of the retarded who differentiate themselves by pseudoactivity and nevertheless make the regression more strikingly visible. There are, first, the enthusiasts who write fan letters to radio stations and orchestras and, at well managed jazz festivals, produce their own enthusiasm as an advertisement for the wares they consume. They call themselves jitterbugs, as if they simultaneously wanted to affir m and mock their loss of individuality, their transformation into beetles whirring around in fascination. 103 complacency, and even dissent, is commodified. The mass characte r of art precludes liberation by plunging subjects into a glittering, enchanting present, thereby severing the possibility of transcendence through critical abstraction. To function critically, Adorno insists, art must reject its mass basis. Retreating into inaccessibility, inward art critiques its historical moment simply by existing. From the atonality of Schoenberg to the literary inaccessibility of Faulkner, modern art is unavailable for general consumption. In its exclusivity, it rejects society. radicalizes Kantian purposelessness into a political stance, and this posture of rejection carries artworks, it is their functionlessness. 104 its own autonomy By remaining uncaught, art is not only free to critique the social relations it repudiates, but its very existence functions as an immense bulwark against those relations, repres enting the possibility of altering them. Mass art lacks such autonomy and is therefore doomed to simply replicate the injunctions of capitalism. This is because mass art is beholden 103 Adorno, Fetish Character, pp. 292 104 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 309

PAGE 54

50 not to progressive praxis, but to exchange value. Obviously, this accus ation is only true of mass art in late capitalist society produce Parthenons and Sistine Chapels. Now, progressive art must necessarily be estranged from its public because that public i s beholden to the bestsellers which can only faithfully reproduce the status quo. 2. If art must obey the proper political formula, if the autonomous space of critique is instantly filled with a prescribed agenda perhaps even before a work is created, a r eactionary path to censorship has been initiated. To those who might shrug and say unwisely in the name of problem of justifying which values ought to be suppress ed. If misogyny is unfit for aesthetic representation, then perhaps so is the absence of traditional family values. Indeed, the National Endowment for the Arts has heard objections from conservative legislators to federal financing of art deemed indecent for decades, initially sparked by the controversy of Robert obliged to sign pledges that that they will not promote or disseminate works which are considered obsc en e. 105 funding for individual artists, still stands. Dedicated to the promotion of mostly Christian fundamentalist principles, objectors argue that what they regard as spiritually dege nerate modern art should not receive support from public tax dollars. In some sense, they may have a point. After all, why should art be representative of liberal rather than conservative values? Much like lators regard art primarily as a medium that can be utilized to convey ethical and political truths. Yet if art which is misogynist, racist, or oppressive 105 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 51, No. 2:207 2015. pp. 207

PAGE 55

51 ought to be suppressed, upon what grounds can we deny the same censoring rights to those who wish to Piss Christ ly embedded within religious, sociocultural, and economic structures which cannot be simply overcome by the force is underwritten with purely philosophical considerations. Historically, recourse to autonomy solved the dilemma and sheltered art from either conservative or progressive political meddling. Prior to 1800, artistic practice was delimited by the ritualistic or didactic function s it served for inst itutions such as the church and the court. 106 Indeed, these extra artistic functions were (as that applied to art from art theory to art production and art criticism. 107 Writing about the history of musical production, the aesthetic theorist Lydia Goehr remarks of music before 1800: ically conservative.. Music demonstrating newness, personal innovation, or creativi ty, for example, was valued only if it strictly conformed to the traditions of the church musicians had to reconcile their taste for variety and innovation with their social and religious obligations. 108 The Renaissance saw a humanistic development in art criticism which insisted that art can be secular. Nevertheless, w (which he returned unsigned) stipulated that he must perform shal l be the 106 Goehr, Lydia. (1992). The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philo sophy of Music. Clarendon Press: Oxford. pp. 122 107 Goehr, pp. 122 108 Goehr, pp. 135

PAGE 56

52 more inspired and refreshed 109 I t was only with the development of romantic theories of the fine arts which shifted aesthetic assessment away from to individual expression, stressing the art work that art production became an independent practice. Th e gradually achieved autonomist protection is worth invoking again though not as a formalist rejection of politics in art but rather as a means of keeping the aesthetic space free from being obligated to privilege any particular little more than advertising for special interests, whether those interests be reactionary or progressive, reli gious or secular, feminist thinker deeply motivated by the emancipatory potential of artworks, Devereaux recognizes that this potential simply cannot exist if art is proscribed from functioning crit ically of individual freedom with the peculiar, visionary character of aesthetic expression, Devereaux e explains: If we accept that artists are specially equipped technically and imaginatively to help us see things, then they naturally have a special role to play. They can function as critics, warrants protection, according to the principle of autonomy. In allowing art the independence to function in these ways, we seek to protect a political good. 110 of a work emancipatory, anti patriarchal, or otherwise -assume such content in the first place. Political good ceases to be a prescribed position of 109 Geck, Martin. (2000). Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work. (Trans. Hargraves, J.) Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Books. pp. 73 110 Devereaux, Protected Space, pp. 214

PAGE 57

53 thought and becomes instead a condition for thought. This condit ion is essentially one of autonomy. Political interference is dangerous not only because artworks can fall into the arranged formula, thereby silencing its crit The Jungle Fate of the Animals have tended to cast aside formulas and obligations. With these two objections in place, autonomy is revealed to be aesthetic primacy within a nonpartisan space. This prevents both censorship and losing sight of art qua art tendencies which run the risk of destroying approach to autonomy does not commit us to formalism or to apolitical art. Not only the formal aspects of the work are protected -nts license to the artwork to delimit its own values, both ethically and aesthetically. Autonomy is At the practical level of deciding how best to allocate NEA funds, autonomy is in deed the least partisan approach. Yet discerning thinkers may well recognize that just as liberal tolerance for all belief systems is itself a belief system, a nonpartisan space is itself a normative ethical perspective. The jurist and economist Richard Posner perceived this nuance when he wrote, is a moral outlook, one that stresses the values of openness, detachment, hedonism, curiosity, tolerance, the cultivation of the self, and the preservation of a private sphere in short, t 111 If freeing art from external interference advances a political good, it is only because such autonomy is a model for social emancipation which prioritizes independence of thought and action. Anderson and Dean are cor rect in their 111 Posner, Richard, Against Ethical Criticism, pp. 2

PAGE 58

54 observation that art often engenders moral conflict. It does, though not for the reasons they suppose. Despite appearances, the debate is not simply a matter of aesthetics vs. ethics, or and its nature is more readily understood by In the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals that cannot act otherwise than under the idea of freedom is precisely for this reason actually free in a practical respect, i.e., all laws inseparably combined with freedom are valid for it, just as if its will had also been declared free in itself and in a way that is valid in theoretical 112 This is a curiously existenti alist claim. Kant is telling us that even in the absence of sound theoretical reasons for believing in free will, we must act as though we are free even if we believe we are not. Kant is not making a metaphysical observation. Freedom in this sense is not a feature of existence; it is rather a normative principle for making moral decisions, a stance we take up in approaching the world. The necessity of acting under the idea of freedom may tell us little about the actuality of free will, but it does tell us something about moral deliberation. Moral deliberation is the kind of thing which involves the ability to make a choice. For Kant, acting morally presupposes acting autonomously. When one obeys contingencies, heteronomously. Furthermore, self interested behavior is the most slavish heteron omy of all, since one is merely reacting to biological or psychological phenomena that the subject neither taken as entirely in accord with the natural law of d esires and inclinations, hence with the 113 At the phenomenal level, we cannot help but respond to external 112 Kant, Groundwork, 4:448 113 Kant, Groundwork, 4:453

PAGE 59

55 stimuli we cannot help but be unfree. For Kant, the universal laws of morality exist in a transcendental, noumenal realm pre cisely because of their universality. They are not subject to the whims and stresses of contingency. When we act in accordance with such laws, we are lifted above sensible phenomena, cease to react to alien standards, and become autonomous. Morality doe s not simply operate autonomously. For Kant, morality is autonomy. Though the notion of a transcendental realm of freedom may seem dubiously metaphysical, we need not regard it as an actual space hovering beyond experience. The lofty noumenal dimension may just as well indicate regulatory ideals and normative principles which structure ethical practice. It is a special kind of causality which can be regarded as a condition for behavior. Why should we wish to behave morally and therefore autonomously? will concede that no interest drives 114 In other words, no heteronomous value is associated with morality. This is precisely why moral behavior is synonymous with agency. One will not become happier, skinnier, or wealthier by a cting morally and if these were the motivations for moral action, the action would cease to be autonomous and would instantly cease to be moral. Earlier in the Groundwork take an interest without therefore acting from interest The former signifies the practical interest in the action, the second the pathological 115 This Critique of Judgment is not a tool for the realization of an external goal and, as such, beauty lacks purpose. However, its lack of purpose does not degrade it into chaos and incomprehensibility since it possesses a 114 Kant, Groundwork, 4:449 115 Kant, Groundwork, 4:413

PAGE 60

56 coherent, organizing structure which makes it the thing that it is. This intelligibility of form, or cannot be appropriated or subsumed into external ends. The sense of pleasure takes an interest in such an object without using it to act from interest Like a livi ng being, the beautiful object keeps its dignity by not becoming an instrument. It is obvious that, for Kant, the approach to beauty and morality must be disinterested in similar ways for similar reasons. As stated in the introduction, beholding beauty i nspires us to transcend personal interest in the same way acting morally often does contemplation of beauty prepares us to be moral. If autonomy is morality and contemplation of beauty prepares us for morality, it is not pushing Kantian thought too far to suggest that, within the sphere of art, autonomous aesthetic value begets morality. Or more simply: ethics is epiphenomenal to aesthetics. Just as moral law does not reference contingent externalities to validate itself, aesthetic law legitimizes its elf upon a realm of virtue ethics, wherein the focus is not wh ether an artwork aligns with moral precepts, but what kind of artwork it is. Of course, there are such things as moral or immoral books, but dependent upon t heir aesthetic power. Weak, poorly created works cannot make us better off. They can sentimentalize, cheapen, or distract us, but they cannot ennoble us because they lack the strength to estrange. Art remains disinterested by acting on behalf of itself, thereby preparing a platform for morality. Ethics and aesthetics are not dichotomous, and setting up beauty against goodness results in a crude polarization which simply does not exist. Moreover, just as autonomy does not

PAGE 61

57 commit us to formalism, the no tion of beauty need not be limited to superficially pretty things. It is unjust to suppose that Kantian reflective judgments are fluffy and insubstantial. In their power to estrange, to render the familiar unfamiliar, artworks disrupt the everyday proces ses of cognition which functions as recognition. Since reflective judgments are non discursive and so their content cannot be subsumed into an already existing knowledge structure, that content remains beyond the scope of what can be recognized. Yet if w e cannot recognize the artwork, how do we come to know it? It is perhaps time to step beyond Kant and follow his thought to a different conclusion. Since knowledge is accessed via thought, then thought must begin beyond knowledge. For Gilles Deleuze, tho 116 To conceive of thought as something that is externally forced is to challenge the Aristotelian notion that thought is an inner necessity. Rather than kno wledge that is cheerfully and naturally pursued, the subject is, in a sense, bullied into it. For Deleuze, this means that the majority of the time, the subject is not thinking have a pre established framework with which to make sense of experience. In other words, in everyday recognition, experience doe s not contradict understanding. Yet the subject is never quite safe within the world. Sometimes, something strange and dangerous happens, something which is the emerging moment of thought: one encounters a contradiction, what Deleuze terms a The pre established structures of thought are impotent to explain what has been confronted, incapable of weathering the force of the contradiction, and an intellectual struggle ensues. It is only during this moment of discomfort that we actually think. P aradoxically, thought is the in ability to engage in normative, logical categorizations. The estranging quality of 116 Deleuze, Gilles. (1968/1994). Difference and Repetition. (Patton, P. Trans.) Columbia University Press.

PAGE 62

58 which disrupts familiar knowledge pattern s and encourages thought which leads to critical knowledge. Interestingly, this inability to categorize what has been confronted, this indeterminate floating between knowledge structures which is so difficult for Deleuze is, for Kant, a source of pleasure However, the inability to neatly categorize an aesthetic experience precludes it from being one dimensionally and superficially pleasing. If aesthetic experience begets critical knowledge, it seems it cannot be truly disinterested. In a sense, this i artwork, and it must not be simply idealized. Autonomy does not imply that artworks cannot have social and political consequences. The separation of the aesthetic from the empir ical realm emancipation of art from cuisine or pornography is irrevocab le. Yet art does not come to rest in disinterestedness. For disinterestedness immanently reproduces and transforms 117 The purposive purposelessness which renders works inaccessible and autonomous is also what renders them capable of transfo rming social praxis by exposing irrationality, injustice, or contradiction. In advanced capitalist society, where everything is administrated and mobilized, where every human experience has a price and a function, it is precisely the functionlessness of a rtworks that render them such powerful critiques. In their very being, autonomous works challenge a heteronomous social present. Operas attended for the sake of social status and paintings purchased as good financial investments deride Kantian contemplat ive pleasure and render it helpless. Rather than founder in helplessness, artworks turn their back on a society which has rejected what Stendhal termed their promesse de bonheur promise of happiness. 117 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory. pp. 12 13

PAGE 63

59 You cannot use me, they tell us, retreating deeper i nto themselves. This stubborn refusal influences social consciousness by a contrast which is simultaneously rejection and challenge: but is equally the criti que of praxis as the rule of brutal self preservation at the heart of the status 118 It would unjust social structures simply by presenting a just and tidy fable of proper morality. Artworks Luncheon on the Grass rape a nd human Iliad anti Merchant of Venice racism in Huckleberry Finn colonialism in Gauguin, imperialism in Jane Austen, animal cruelty in Hemingway, sexual abuse in Puccini, the list is endless. To a great extent, spectators and readers accept depictions of outdated moral practices with the same shrug with which they accept depictions of outdated vehicles, clothing, and manners. Yet not all representations of cruelty or injustice are simply due to ou tmoded social structures. Given its seeming amorality, how can art prepare us to be moral or point to a more just social praxis? There are two replies to this question. The first is simple: if we take Kant seriously, it is not the content of the work bu t our disinterested approach to it which conveys a moral attitude In a poignant letter to a young and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be with an open, curious tolerance is itself an egalitarian and moral outlook. 118 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 12

PAGE 64

60 The second reply is more nuanced and perhaps more controversial: we respond to the Outdated morality aside, great artworks achieve a transhistoricity in instantly recog nizable themes of love, death, and happiness. In this sense, art lifts us from rounds of mortgages and dentist appointments, contributing to the sense of estrangement. As we become more distant from the parochial everyday, we glimpse something more essen tial and more lastingly human. Day of the Gods politically, we notice the objectification and exoticization of Tahitian women. In observing it aesthetically, the painting suspends us from the tyranny of actuality and the monopoly o f imposed values. These women are real without being actual, and we are asked to view them as Gauguin viewed them, as goddesses or perhaps sorceresses. We are taken out of ourselves and sympathetically unified with the vision of another human being from another epoch in another culture. This does not mean that we simply Harold Bloom remarked that one reads because one cannot know enough people. In facing a gre at work of art, we not only come to know themes of Thanatos and Eros, but we also come to know the Other. These knowledges are peculiar to the aesthetic experience and they are, in a profound sense, good tures we are adding to 119 This peculiar knowledge is entirely dependent upon the experience of submitting to, and submitting the self to, the Otherness of an artwor k. We must fall under the spell of of its Otherness and its power to move us. With ironical detachment, we examine the patriarchal 119 American Scholar Vol. 49, No. 4:489 498. pp. 14

PAGE 65

61 or economic roots of the work, asking why it was written or painted in just this way, inevitably finding the answer in social relations. While this may be a valuable activity, it utterly i gnores the aesthetic aspect of a work. Discovering the social relations which produced Hamlet tells us much about Elizabethan England, and very little about Hamlet. Only through the eyes of the aesthetic can we see what Hamlet can show us. This percepti on of what can only be described as ethical knowledge succeeds when artworks are permitted a protected, autonomous space wherein to practice purposive purposelessness -subtler order of interest and use which emerges when a work is permitted to be disinterested and useless. In approaching artworks instrumentally, calculating what can be gotten from them, demanding benefits and rewards, we exploit their aesthetic freedom and thereby undermine their ethical potential. Paradoxically, we have arrived at our beginning: artworks can, and do, have implicit that is, if we are concerned with preserving the integrity of an artwork as artwork. Nevertheless, I do not wish simply dangle the carrot of social reform while urging tolerance of the stick of autonomy. In other words, autonomy ought not be regarded as a necessary evil which is to be endured because autonomous works can, after all, usher in social change. This is because does beget ethical and critical thought it accomplishes this because it is not only contemplative it is sensuous and vital The not a securely removed Cartesian cogito. By returning the think ing subject into the surveyed world, critical thought overcomes the illusion of its neutrality, recognizing that it is an embodied phenomenon which gazes not at but from within lived experience. It is precisely this embodied

PAGE 66

62 embeddedness that is the sourc e of aesthetic experience. It is tangible and erotic, beginning as a pleasure which must be private before it can be shared. CHAPTER III Now that I have presented aesthetic autonomy as something persecuted and seeking asylum, now that we have forgiven au tonomy because it can, a fter all, participate in ethical practice somethin g which we, in our preoccupation with purpose and ethics, might otherwise overlook. Interrogating the work from the instrumental perspective is much like pulling butterfly wings from a butterfly to learn why it flies it destroys what it seeks to find. Pointing out that the Marxist and Freudian traditions have bequeathed to art the tendency to approach interpretation as synonymous with understanding, 120 a tendency feminist critics have also taken up, Sontag demonstrates that much of what passes as artistic understanding is actually a restatement of the 121 In short, interpretation replaces aesthetic phenomena with non aesthetic phenomena: this red streak means the proletariat or that atonal note means patriarchal dominance. Reviewing a realist exhibit in The New York Times commerce with works of art, to lack a persuasive theory is to lack something crucial the means by which our experience of 122 Setting aside whether or not realism lacks a unifying 120 Against Interpret ation and Other Essays. Picador. pp. 4 121 Sontag, pp. 4 122 The New York Times April 28 th 1974.

PAGE 67

63 equate aesthetic experience with intellectual detective work, to suppose that an artwork always summarizes see 123 As we look for theoretical meanings, treating artworks like secret missives communicating in code, we miss the red streaks and atonal notes altogethe r, though these elements are precisely what make an artwork the thing that it is. Arguing for an immediate, visceral purity of aesthetic elements may sound a lot like an argument for the sociohistorical vacuity of formalism -until we remember that red streaks and atonal notes are the sociohistorically contextual achievements of human subjects These streaks and notes are simply not replaceable by, or reducible to, those contexts. Although a red streak may emerge from the brush of a sixteenth century F lorentine painter, it does not therefore mean that the red streak can be substituted with an intellectual understanding of some aspect of sixteenth century Florence. from the world and are ad the world they emerged from ethnicity is absurd, but to see the subject only in terms of that ethnicity is to deny his subject ivity. Coming to know his ethnicity is not a satisfactory substitute for knowing him. If we wish to know him as a human subject, his ethnic origins can afford to be taken for granted, while his subjectivity cannot. To be sure, his ethnicity will manifes t itself in a thousand different ways: the types of dishes he prefers, the family relationships he values, the climates he misses, and so on. Among many other qualities, these constitute his subjectivity. He is neither separable from them nor reducible t 123 Wolfe, Tom. (1975). The Painted Word. Bantam Books. pp. 4

PAGE 68

64 novels. If we wish to engage with works of art, their sociohistorical contexts can be taken for granted, while their aesthetic aspects cannot. Understanding the historical necessity responsible for King Lear is not the same thing as understanding King Lear and is not a satisfactory substitute for it. ll for the eroticizati on of aesthetics does not limit us t o formal appreciation of surface phenomena To assume this is to cheapen the nature of eroticism. In human relationships, erotic responses are not simply responses to visible curves, rippling musc les, and beautiful eyes. There are also tones of voice and intense stares, lightness of touch and intellectual competence, shared fears and suspected secrets. An entire constellation of nuanced elements which have nothing to do with surface appearance ma y combine to render knowledge of life, delicacy, originality, or impact, which are considerably wider themes than anodyne prettiness. Let us begin with th very purpose of this paper is the attempt to persuade us to stop asking that question. If w e do stop, a different, more Kantian, sort of usefulness will emerge. Utility, in this sense, is not only the political tendentiousness Benjamin seeks or the milder ethical usefulness Carroll insists upon, but also the philosophical demand that art be int erpretable. If aesthetic experience is a reflective judgment upon that which cannot be subordinated to existing knowledge structures, the artwork need not have recognizable content at all. If we cease regarding works as bearers of implicit meaning, the n eed for interpretation also ceases. Indeed, the presupposition that art should say

PAGE 69

65 124 which do not point beyond themselves the way symbols do. Unlike language, wh at art conveys external reality to be grasped through concepts; artworks indicate themselves. Adorno explains the hostility this hermetic tendency engenders: abandoned, and literary works no longer speak as though they were reporting fact, hairs start to bristle. Not the least of the weaknesses of the debate on commitment is that it ignores the effect produced by work 125 What are the effects produced by works which ignore coherent social effects? Put differently, what kind of utility emerges when utility is set aside? Autonomous works produce two levels of exper ience, one somatic and the other existential, and the latter is begotten by the former. The somatic it can act as a propaedeutic for not only explicit ethi co political commitments, but also an order of ethical concerns which are existential in nature. H ow do we get to this s ubtler s ort of utility ? During the 13 th and 14 th centuries in Europe, the natural landscape was not regarded as beautiful. It was, rather, a looming menace to be avoided or subdued: The factor which affects the landscape more than any other is disease. From 1348, waves of plague depopulate rural manors to such an extent that the entire way of managing the parishioners have no compunction about simply lopping off one aisle of the church when the population of the village shrinks. The harmonious symmetry of the church is 124 Hunter, Frederick. (1985). Berkeley Journal of Sociology Vol. 30: 41 64. pp. 46 125 Hunter, Commitment, pp. 46

PAGE 70

66 destroyed, as they realize; but the resultant smaller building is better suited for the reduced population. 126 When the scramble for self preservation reigns supreme, there is no sense in setting aside utility. When nature overwhelms with a perpetual promise of destruction, its power can only be confronted violently, and violence for the sake of survival may perhaps be regarded as the most radical form of utilitarianism. When the landscape cease d to be a tyranny of natural disasters and fatal diseases, it became the site of crops, livestock, and rural labor: nature was to be tamed and used. The direct pursuit of ends precludes an appreciation of nature for its own sake: in which nature as it appears is an immediate object of action, allow 127 The aesthetic attitude, however, is characterized by disinterest, and its delight in nature is not contingent upon any benefit derived from nature bounty. Only when self preservation ceases to engulf our attention, can art begin to flourish. Tintern Abbey springs from the Kantian mood of pleasure, perhaps even sorrowful pleasure, without possession: Once again, Do I behold these s teep and lofty cliffs, Which on a wild secluded scene impress Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect The land scape with the quiet of the sky (4 8). 128 The wildness and steepness of the cliffs is not frightening, and the landscape seems tranquil, offeri ng only thoughts of seclusion, with is a different sort of reward. T he very possibility of 126 Mortimer, Ian. (2008). Simon and Schuster. pp. 30 31 127 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 65 128 Wordsworth, William. (1885). Ode on Immortality, and Lines on Tintern Abbey. Michigan University Press, pp. 31

PAGE 71

67 such an aesthetic experience has historical origins not only in the conceptual separation of appearance and reality, but also in overcoming the tyranny of utilitarianism and self preservation. This is the utility that must be set aside every time for the subtler order of aesthetic utility to emerge. If the aesthetic response carries with it elements of sensuality and eroticism, how can it be disinterested? Because pleasure is separable from desire. For Kant, an aesthetic experience consists of delight which has been refined of the desire to bring ab out or possess, such that Death in Venice Gustav von Aschenbach is the controversial protagonist whose disturbing obsession with a young boy signals his decline into madness and, eventually, death. Aschenbach, who is a writer, finds the boy so unbearably beautiful that his to grow. When ch olera sweeps through Venice, local authorities decide not to notify the tourists, since their departure will result in economic losses for the city. Aschenbach, who knows of the emain in the diseased city and the boy will die. However, if Aschenbach warns them, the boy will be taken from Venice. In a burst of what can only be regarded as cruelty, Aschenbach decides not to tell the terms, Aschen bach seeks neither to possess the boy, nor to bring about a state of affairs favorable to their union. Certainly, there is an element of monstrosity in the separation of human ends from r, which we are still just

PAGE 72

68 129 The dangers. This conclusion is at great varian ce with Benjaminian and feminist critique, which present beauty as either a remnant of fascist ideology or an exclusionary, reifying category which harms its possessor. Regarding nature or a human face as beautiful either dredges up outdated, cultic belie fs which distract us from unjust social relations, or else objectifies and appropriates the beautiful thing in a way which undermines its dignity. In either case, the beholder of beauty promotes suffering by the very nature of his regard. Yet this suppos ition is not everywhere 130 While young boy who is put at risk of cholera by the overzealous regard of an aging writer, it is easy to miss that it is really Aschenbach who is in danger. Beauty hunts him until he is helpless before an overwhelming passion, utterly seized by it until it de stroys him. The Roman poet Ovid tells the story of Actaeon who, having glimpsed the unspeakable beauty of the moon goddess Diana bathing, is torn apart by his own dogs as punishment. Plato, for whom embodied, particular beauty is a route to the divine, c ompares adult men in the presence of the beautiful Charmides to fawns in the presence of devouring lions. Even Socrates is rendered speechless upon seeing Charmides, who looks like a statue. Beauty strikes us, arrests us, and renders us helpless. Echoing Kantian nondiscursivity, Adorno, too, concepts [natural beauty] is indefinable precisely because its own concept has its substance in 129 Rilke, Rainer Maria. (2000). The First Elegy in Duino Elegies (Trans. Mitchell, S.) Vintage Books: New York. pp. 3 130 Scarry, On Beauty, pp. 50

PAGE 73

69 what withdraws from universal co 131 An authoritative, powerful, dangerous beauty is very far indeed from the poor beauty pinned and wriggling helplessly beneath the intensity of our gaze. Despite our vulnerability, the spell of the beau tiful is something we are willing to endure because of the intense delight it brings us. This delight is not one of superficial satisfaction which can be found in any relaxing amusement. Adorno ad was a pin up 132 Such pleasure can be destabilizing, with the greatest risks directed to the observer it is a har d won delight, a difficult pleasure which a more accessible work cannot match. Perhaps not philosophically, but certainly psychologically, relevant, research in the fields of cognition and positive psychology has indicated a similar distinction between wh at the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi terms pleasure and consciousness says that expectations set by biological programs or social conditioning have been 133 In other words, pleasure as Csikszentmihalyi defines it is unchallenging and effortless. programmed to do and achieved something unexpected, perhaps something unimagined before. Enjoyment is characterized by 134 Enjoym ent, in this sense, differs from pleasure because it is 131 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 70 71 132 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 13 14 133 Czikszentmihalyi Mihaly. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Perennial. pp. 45 134 Czikszentmihalyi, pp. 46

PAGE 74

70 more difficult, and its difficulty arises from its disruption of the normative categories which delimit the self and its context. Whether the Classical ethos of a beauty which partakes in universality or the Romantic pathos of particular, intensely personal, encounters with beauty, aesthetic experience can be difficult because it estranges us not only from our everyday context, but from the most familiar thing of all: ourselves. The disinterest impli cit in aesthetic appreciation is sparked by our realization of something besides ourselves. This realization is partly somatic our pupils dilate, our breath catches, our heart beats faster. When Charmides walks into the gymnasium, Socrates realizes Cha rmides just as he unrealizes himself. As his sense of self wavers, Socrates is dispossessed of himself, which is why he cannot speak. He stands and stares in tense, paralyzed silence. When confronted with beauty, we, too, stand silently still and watch the sudden flock of birds arc into the sky, momentarily suspended and forgotten to ourselves. We dare not reach for them. We dare not breathe. We surrender our centrality to the galloping horse, the plaintive notes of a violin, or the poignancy of a son net. The feeling, of course, does not last and is perhaps more evocative precisely because of its ephemeralness. This unrealization which Scarry beautiful thing is not the only thing in the world that can make us feel adjacent; nor is it the only thing in the world that brings a state of acute pleasure. But it appears to be one of the few 135 Setting th e self aside, we give up our attention to an artwork which binds us with its promesse de bonheur a promise to which we cannot hold it if we hope that it will be kept Arousing our great capacity for joy, artworks decenter and disorient us, plunging us into a well 135 Scarry, pp. 79

PAGE 75

71 sat mesmerized in a dark auditorium, watching Othello mourn the p earl he threw away, understands this. The audience is disturbed and overcome. Yet, exiting the theater, we turn to one another and smile, sharing a sense of profound contentment. What has happened? We have relinquished our position of centrality to Oth abandonment which is satisfying. It is also that we have replaced ourselves with this other, and the other is beautiful and strange. As Othello takes possession of our concentration, we realize him and partake i n him, and he completes himself in us. Even the most abstruse, inward works, which perhaps are less obviously beautiful than Othello because they are more wounded, can possess us. They, too, are the Other which estranges us from ourselves. Investigating canonicity encounter a stranger, an uncanny startlement rather than a ful 136 Significantly, it is not only the reception of artworks which begets a dissolution of the self, but also the creation of them. Painting, sculpting, writing, or composing are secular a ctivities which border on spiritual experiences because they destabilize the limits of the self, blurring the boundaries of self identity and even reality itself. Psychological research terms this chosomatic self forgetfulness which includes the suspension of awareness of time and even biological drives. Describing the psychology of flow, Csikszentmihalyi writes that the physical and cognitive processes become unified in an act of creativity such t 136 Bloom, Harold. (1994). The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages Riverhead Books. pp. 3

PAGE 76

72 137 This will be famili ar to anyone who has sat writing or reading for hours, and finally glances up only to realize with astonishment that it is time to turn on the lamp because the world beyond the windows has grown dark long ago. Describing dancers who have been leaping and s pinning long We are an iridescent chaos. I come before my motif an 138 Crucially, self, the information we use to represent to ourselves who are. And being able to forget temporarily who we are seems to be very enjoyable. When we are not preoccupied with our 139 Although there are plenty of flow activities which can absorb us so completely that the self is unrealized, it seems that only a rtworks can offer that same experience of unrealization to its audience. The watch her. Dissolution of the self is found at the moment of creation and percep tion, at both ends of the aesthetic experience, which begins with the creative act and completes itself in us. This sense of being peculiar to oneself is achieved by all powerful art, which returns us to ourselves a little bit different than we were when w e left. Can this difference make us more ethical? It can. Ethical feeling becomes not simply a matter of mystic codes, but also a sensuous engagement with ot herness Something besides ourselves that can exist only beyond the boundaries of our selves be comes the focus of our regard. This denies Kantian ethics only the rigor of abstraction, but retains the substance of his claim that self denial prepares us to be moral. 137 Csikszentmihalyi, pp. 59 62 138 Cezanne, P. and Doran, M. (2001). Conversations with Cezanne University of California Press. pp. 114 139 Csi kszentmihalyi, pp. 64

PAGE 77

73 Since aesthetic self relinquishment is experienced as pleasurable despite, or becaus e of, its difficulty, this ethical staging area is uniquely somatic. Simply put, Kantian aesthetic pleasure feels good not in spite of its disinterest, but precisely because of it. For Herbert Marcuse, the beauty of artworks is begotten in human libidin al drives, and therefore artworks have biological value. 140 critique. By arousing and possessing us, artworks free us from the tyranny of local contexts and limited identities, which also makes us more respons ive to otherness. For Marcuse, just as for 141 While Kantian disinterestedness lacks biological value, it nevertheless participates in the sense of pl easure and sensuous fulfillment which su ffuses us with the will to live and which is itself emancipatory because in its vitality, it strains against and overflows all efforts to l imit, neglect, or destroy In approaching artworks, we pass through disinterest to interest because ethical engagement to otherness is parasitic upon autonomous disengagement from self. It is important to note that e ven if artistic content is particular, disturbing, or ugly, the f orm of art rescues it into universality. It is shown to be more than this particular thing because it is an instance of something that is shared. but the deeper existential truth which motivates his e xperience. This is possible partly because art is real without being actual, and partly because art has the capacity to estrange. Autonomous a rtworks can act as a critique which tendentious art cannot rival because tendentious art cannot estrange. Art w rather than against it, reducing its significance to its content. This is not only because heteronomous art is cognitive, thereby precluding self unrealization, but also becaus e 140 New German Critique No. 8: 54 79. pp. 72 141 Schoolman, pp. 77

PAGE 78

74 h eteronomous art must be intelligible and accessible in the very terms of the sociohistorical relations it aims to subvert. To admonish us effectively, it must speak our language, and thus capitulate not only to current praxis but also to pre establishe d ethics, acting as an instrument serving the interests of social institutions. Like the nature which cannot be aesthetically perceived so long as it is primarily an instrument for survival, so is tendentious art beholden to the struggle for self preserva tion. It is beholden to external interests rather than itself, and so cannot be regarded aesthetically. cialist and 142 From the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna, the first poet in recorded history, through Sappho, Dante, Donatello, Goethe, Cezanne, Joyce, and Pollock, great artists have been iconoclasts, subverting the values of their time period and our own marginality and inaccessibility to the masses which Benjamin resents is the key to their subversive potential. to be subversive; they were subversive because they we re autonomous. Works which obey the outlines of prescribed ethicopolitical values deny the tension between empirical reality and art, and undermine the very notion of resistance by undermining their own autonomy The political immediacy of a Brechtian pl ay is conceptually recognizable and so it is not a Deleuzian it wants us to think and to do. Adorno argued that this didactic tendency creates in tendentious art an 143 which can utilize, and indeed has utilized, artworks as vessels for any content at all. By relinquishing its uselessness, art becomes eminently useful and usable everaux, who insisted 142 Marcuse, Herbert. (1961). Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis Columbia University Press. pp. 118 143 Hunter, Commitment, pp. 48

PAGE 79

75 upon the importance of a protected space for artworks, lest their powerful capacity to convey meaning be coopted and exploited. Furthermore, by being instantly accessible and recognizable, heteronomous works plunge themselves ever de eper into empirical reality. By partaking of the status quo, tendentious works harangue and lecture it without overcoming it, as only autonomous compels the change of attitude which committed works me rely demand 144 Art, then, can function as an effective revolutionary tool precisely because of its distance from politics, which is underscored by its emphasis on prediscursive sensuality and individuality. By their very nature, autonomous works subvert the social relations Benjamin critiques, which is why they must refuse the harness of mass accessibility Benjamin tries to devise for them: It is by virtue of its separation from empirical reality that the work of art can become a being of a higher order, fashioning the relation between the whole and its parts in inciple that governs autonomous works of art is not the totality of their effects, but their own inherent structure. They are knowledge as nonconceptual objects. 145 However, it seems that vision of autonomy fulfill precisely by emphasizing its apolitical transformative power Beyond the unfreedom of words, a tactic for resistance which can be set aside when that w hich is being resisted is finally overcome. But if autonomy functions as a political tactic which is so powerful precisely because 144 Hunter, pp. 49 145 Hunter, pp. 44 45

PAGE 80

76 pl easurable unrealization it evokes must also be historically transient Yet the capacity to estrange seems to pertain historically to all art. A self forgetting pleasure of estrangement, felt by the entirety of the body before thought assimilates it into itself, is the eroticism that precedes discursivity and which is the somatic experience of all autonomous artworks. This can lead to an existential experience which redeems us not merely from the hegemonic cultu re industry but also from the mortal self which suffers and dies. be restricted to that historical moment and can, indeed, be extended to include the human experience more generally. The existentialism of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose overwhelming Nietzsche argues for. Adorno and Nietzsche can act as corr such that a new model for existentialist aesthetics emerges, which features Nietzschean redemption achieved and maintained through Adornian autonomy. First Nietzsche Then Adorno Historically, a pleasurable overcoming of the boundaries of self interest was the purpose of ancient mystery cults. The Dionysian Mysteries of ancient Greece worshipped the god Dionysus by inducing a trance via singing, dancing, and intoxication. The sense of ecstasy, a hysteria verging on madn ess, was characterized by the dissolution of the self. Celebrants merged into a collective identity, relinquishing themselves for rapturous union with the god. The chorus Bacchae

PAGE 81

77 146 The Saturnalia festival of ancient Rome, celebrating the reign of the agricultural god Saturn, was notorious for an abandonment of stable identity: masters and slaves mingled in egalitarian excess, gambling and drunk together. Although such rituals were sexually frenzied some say even orgiastic sexuality was not the motive. The Eleus inian mysteries were different from the healing rituals of other ancient cultures 147 Particularly in the ir manifestation in the Dionysian Mysteries, they celebrated eternal life by celebrating death itself, thereby infusing suffering with a sense of meaning. 148 This temporary overcoming of mortality was achieved by temporary overcoming of the self: in a chaot ic trance, participants underwent the loss of inhibition and sub version of normative practices Walter Burkert, the scholar of late sixth century mirror from a t omb at Olbia: a woman and her son are acclaimed with the Dionysiac cry of ecstasy, euhai ; both evidently had taken part in the orgia and this is to be teletai say s in one of his Dirges In other words, the teletai or mystery rituals, could offer an escape from death by an ecstatic affirmation of life, an affirmation which expresses itself in frenzied activity, in a sort of heaping up of life on life, with sexual excesses indicating not only multiplication and continuation, but a continuation beyond the boundaries of the self. es performed right at the tombs of the deceased members of Bacchic assoc i 146 The Bacchae and Other Plays (Da Vie, J. Trans.). Penguin Books. 147 Burkert, Walter. (1987). Ancient Mystery Cults. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 21 148 Burkert, pp. 22

PAGE 82

78 149 Symbolically, the living overcome mortality and the dead return to life as religious figures thus reversing the status of Eros and Thanatos, replacing one with the other, blurring where one mystery participant ends and another, perhaps even a dead other, begins. In their lack of deliberately deli mited selves, these libidinal festivals can be described as completely disinterested. Such practices might seem barbaric now, and we may even find ourselves disparaging the ancients as irrational and nave. Yet Nietzsche found great truth in the temporary rejection of social mores, particularly as it manifested itself in ancient Greece. The Greeks were not nave, Nietzsche argued, but incomparably wise. The Birth of Tragedy the publication of which scandalized the high echelons of the philo aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified. 150 There is something inherent in the very structure of existence, Nietzsche posits, which longs for the redemptive movement of art. For Nietzsche, the seemingly stable world of appearance, brimming with humans and buildings and goals and forests, conceals an underlying, prediscursive reality. uly 151 a primordial indifference reigns. The dark heart of life is eternally striving, pulsing, aimless, and utterly unconcerned with finite human beings. Moby Dick midst of the tossing oce so shaded off into the surrounding infinite of things, that it seemed one with the general stolidity discernible in the whole visible world; which while pauselessly active in uncoun ted modes, still 149 Burkert, pp. 23 150 Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1871/1995). The Birth of Tragedy (C.P. Fadiman, Trans.) Dover Publications Inc pp. 17 151 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 1,0

PAGE 83

79 152 Because the underlying reality is formless, there can be no place within it for distinguishable entities, conceptual or otherwise, and consequently, it dissolves the particular human form into nothingness. There is a something merciless in this sublime disregard for individual life and dignity, and beholding it with human eyes is terrifying. Nietzsche recounts the myth of Silenus, who laughed at Mida born, not to be to be nothing But the second best for you 153 Since the world of particular entities is merely an appearance cast upon a ceaseless, formless un ity, all individualizing concepts are doomed to failure. When, armed with the tools of reason and science, humanity interrogates reality to reveal its secrets, it discovers that objectifying knowledge is powerless to grasp ultimate reality, which resists fragmentation into concepts. Nietzsche finds the best exemplification of the fundamental essence of reality in the character of the drunken god Dionysius whose dangerous wildness conveys a primitive, metaphysical terror. His eternal counterpart is the proud god Apollo, who represents the just as human reason imposes structure upon, and refines, an amoral and undifferentiated reality. The Apollonian tendency presents the world as if it has an objective order, a separation between good and evil, and, perhaps most importantly, as if individual beings have a meaningful identity and function within it. So, if life is inherently terrible and meaningless, and reality is ultimately unknowable, what r esponse or course of action is possible? There are several. The first is, of course, suicide. The second is perhaps even more dangerous and is what Nietzsche terms 152 Melville, Hermann. (1851/1996). Moby Dick. Quality P aperback Book Club. pp. 464 153 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 8

PAGE 84

80 154 Gazing into the Dionysian horror of life, the spec tator is para lyzed with disgust, and metaphysical nihilism becomes psychological nihilism. Realizing that all human endeavor is ultimately meaningless, that even the greatest accomplishments are doomed to obscurity, he recedes from activity and life itself. The ultimate irrelevance of human Ozymand ias : I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculp tor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed: And on the pedestal these words appear: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away (1 14). 155 To gaze upon a vast emptiness where a great civilization once flourished is inevitably and understandably demorali zing. How can one take the details of his own life seriously, a life of mortgages and dentist appointments, when even the glory of ancient Egypt is doomed to 154 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 23 155 Miscellaneous and Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley London, W. Benbow. pp 100

PAGE 85

81 nothingness? Paralysis ensues. How to disentangle the nauseated, paralyzed being from this crue 156 For Nietzsche, humanity suffers from the metaphysical need for redemption. Given the underlying structure of reality, human life is intolerable, and must be justified pr ior to being lived. However, if reality is fundamentally meaningless, then redemption cannot come from reality, cannot arise from within the realm of nature. Meaninglessness, after all, cannot beget meaning. Dionysius cannot beget Apollo. Redemption, th en, must come from a different source, from the opposite of reality and truth, which is appearance, 157 exemplified in Apollonian repose. Since redemption is appearance, it is illusory. Nietzsche defines art as a redemptive illusion. Such an approach to ar tworks might seem counter intuitive, since it advocates not the mirroring or reflecting of nature, but rather a transcendence of it. The horror of reality is not denied, but overcome. The first philosophical question, then, is not one of ontology but one of aesthetics. The underlying reality must be countered and redeemed not by its antithesis, not by its obliteration by an opposite, but by a dialectical movement between truth and appearance which preserves the qualities of both. Art does not contradict nature, then, but rather echoes its qualities in a transfiguring gesture including Dionysian qualities Apollo would rather we forget This transformative, and yet preservative, approach is precisely what Nietzsche admires in culture of ancient Greece. T he Homeric worldview, with its glittering panorama of flawed and 158 Significantly, their gods were not morally idealized, but often cruel and destructive. In deifying the angry Ares, for example, the Greeks were glorifying not only the virtuous and beautiful aspects of life, but its immoral and damaging elements, as well. The Greeks, Nietzsche purports, glimpsed the terror of reality and 156 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 23 157 Nietzsche, Trage dy, 11 158 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 9

PAGE 86

82 did not turn away, but celebrated it, elevated it to sublimity, regarding even the painful aspects of life as praiseworthy. Thus, the Greeks were reconciled with nature without being overwhelmed by it. They were capable of transcending it without denying it. This transcendence reached its apotheosis in Greek traged y. The heroes upon the stage, their triumphs and sorrows, reflect the Apollonian principle of humanity, while the musical chorus embodies the intoxicating Dionysian truth which ultimately dooms the protagonist to a tragic end. However, the spectacle crea tes a 159 How is this comfort achieved? Certainly not by denying Dionysius, but by unrealizing the self into flowing communion with Di onysius and being reconstituted in the image of Apollo. In other words, the subject cedes his centrality to be dissolved into primordial unity and then a transformed subjectivity is re asserted one that has affirmed life after first passing through the d enial of self The spectator descends into the nauseating pit of existence, and then identifies himself with the tragic hero who affirms his life, and in that affirmation, the spectator regards his own life as praiseworthy. ed with Dionysian wisdom, if they are, in fact, begotten only by passing through a Dionysian experience, then a tragic Hamlet can be regarded as simply a mask Dionysius wears. Hamlet is representative of the entirety of humanity, and is therefore universa l. The mask of Hamlet consists of the particular details of his life his love for Ophelia but these details are not what the tragedy communicates. The tragedy demonstrates not only the plot of the play but the underlying structur e of human experience itself human endeavor, behind every disguise, and the message of Dionysian truth speaks through ffect a complete identification with Dionysius. He 159 Nietzsche, Tragedy, 22

PAGE 87

83 retains his particularity as a human being who must make a decision and take revenge upon Claudius. The Dionysian experience is a launching pad, not a dwelling place. This tension between Dionysian unde rstanding and subjective experience of an individuated self reaches its climax in the highest artworks. The redemptive act, then, is always fundamentally Dionysian. Since, for Nietzsche, artifice is a more refined version of truth, the princely Hamlet is similarly, a more refined version of sensual Dionysius. The mask is an extension of the concealed face, illusion arises from truth, and redemptive art does not deny reality, but simply transforms it. This is the secret wisdom of the disturbing Dionysia n Mysteries and their inheritor, the Saturnalia: tragic knowledge accepted with the entire drunken, dizzy body, through suffering becoming ecstasy. The redemption Nietzsche locates in art varies greatly from the redemption Adorno advocates. For Nietzsche, art is predicated upon an ontological feature of human existence: its meaningless ness. While our need for redempti on varies historically, our lack of redemption does not. Paradoxically, this existentialist position avoids the charge of essenti alism by its very nature: it cannot be accused of grounding itself upon an absolute because it recognizes no absolutes, and the clever notion that rejecting absolutes is itself an absolute is a trick of logi c, not praxis. T he Modernist poet Wallace Steven which God is quite dead, art becomes a secular salvation. Whether secular or deeply religious, art is a resp onse to the truth the ancients glimpsed and which no social system can overcome. The establishment of just social relations cannot reconcile Eros and Thanatos or eradicate despair, loss, parting, and death. If humans were immortal, dwelling in a perpetua l fullness of being, they might perhaps have no need of art.

PAGE 88

84 However, the incommensurability of the particular and the universal is not a sociopolitical after it exhausts itself with love, art turns at last to death, for only the redemptive gesture of aesthetics reject the universality of redemption. He regards the ne ed for aesthetic salvation as a result of unresolved tensions accumulated historically which, at least in theory, can be overcome. In a free society, art will no longer have to stand as a functionless bulwark against the totalizing functionality of late c instrumental tendencies of Marxist and feminist critique because he argues that it is only by virtue of its autonomy, its rejection of functionality, its obstinate inwardness, that art can tra nscend social unfree dom. Autonomy, then, becomes an unconscious strategy to influence political praxis by remaining deeply apolitical. As strategy, it will become irrelevant in a just 160 Art secretly longs for its own destruction at the dawn of a free society. This echoes the suggestion that, given immortality, humanity would have no need of art, for its affirmation of life and pleasure would become redundant and unnecessary. Of course, for Nietzsche, the societal contradictions and injustices which are historically overcome, only affirmed. Yet if Adorno and Nietzsche b thought, a with metaphysical truth. In other words, aesthetic autonomy becomes not only the defensive redemption of the unfree historical context, but the redemption of inabsolute human life itself. 160 Schweppenhauser, Gerhard. (2009). Theodor W. Adorno: An Introduction. Duke University Press. pp. 93

PAGE 89

85 whenev only an accessible art which finds its panacea in like minded crowds is pow erful enough to justify existence. The death of Greek tragedy did not bury the possibility of aesthetic salvation. The excesses of Dionysian Mysteries and Saturnalias are not the only way to undergo unrealization. The obscurity of modern art estranges u s from Apollonian identity in its rejection of discursivity and subversion of normativity, and affirms life through the Dionysian universality subject of art and e grounded in the world and world outlook of a particular class, for art envisions a concrete t 161 Of course, this does not mean that art cannot have immediate relevance, only that if immediate relevance is all it has, it cannot partake in universality and therefore cannot last. P olitical dissident and first president of t he Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, endured years of arrests and inter rogations because his plays functioned as sharp criticisms of government oppression until, eventually, they were simply banned. Aptly, Havel explained in ewer asked what the plays are about, Havel responded so 161 Dialectical Anthropology Vol. 12, No. 3: 329 341. pp. 336

PAGE 90

86 with the loss of God, man has lost a kind of absolute and universal system of coordinates, to 162 Despite the political immediacy of its communion with mortality and existential alone ness which cannot be overcome. This was the great insight of the ancients, but the ability to affirm without denying did not die with them, and subsists in autonomous art. Total Eclipse the Symbolist poets Rimbaud and Verlaine 163 It is telling that Verlain nonconceptual, and the work of interpretation comes afterward. Yet Rimbaud cannot i nterpret the poem in any terms external to it. He cannot tell Verlaine what the poem means if meaning question which usually presupposes two things: first, that the work is necessarily about something, and second, that this aboutness is a matter of content. The kind of response people usually expect consists of a retelling of content in the sense of plot: this poem is about lost love, that painting is of my gran dmother, this opera is about the Civil War. In lesser works, the content, or plot, often summarizes quite neatly what the work is about. Yet something like Pierre Dying Gladiator cannot be explained in terms of its content. It is not simply abo ut the death of a gladiator, which is only one feature of the work. The marvelous sculpture is also 162 Faber and Faber. pp. 94 95 163 Hampton, Christopher. (1985). Total Eclipse: A Play in Two Acts Samuel French, Inc. pp. 49

PAGE 91

87 about death, about the proximity of cool marble, about heroism, about sexuality, about youth, about the male body, about the fleeting nature of life, about with ancient Rome, and may indeed have still been about all of those things without even still be about a dying gladiator, but its pathos would be significantly reduced. Its ability to evoke pathos, however, is just as much what the sculpture is about as is the fact that it is a gladiator. The sculpture is a dynamic tangle of material, immaterial, contextualized, and decont extualized elements which is best described as the relationship of form and content. The pleasure of acting as the nondiscursive organizing of content. Aestheti c autonomy is founded upon the hermetic nature of this relationship, which marks an artwork as separate from an everyday object of discourse entirety of the work, which is not the sum of its particularities but their relationship to one another, which make it the thing that it is. Missing the dialectic integrity of a work is all too common, and is reflected in feminist War and Peace and Anna Karenina They accuse Tolstoy of punishing his female characters for their agency and willfulness. 164 Tolstoy killed his Anna and d oomed his Natasha to an unsatisfying life of domesticity, the values to the narrator is a beginning to a political critique, not an aesthetic one, precisely be cause 164 The Russian Review Vol. 56, No. 4: 515 531. pp. 515

PAGE 92

88 means domesticity means sexism. But War and Peace is not only, o its plot, or its ending it is a dialectic of content and form, of what is written communing with how it is written. While Natasha may have ended as a dull housewife, she spends almost the entirety of the novel mobil e, dynamic, expressive, and free. She stamps her foot and betrays her lover and forms secret allegiances and generally lives passionately, insistently, hungrily. Natasha is written as a powerful life force, and her unhappy ending cannot be presented as a social document, which is why a feminist criticism of War and Peace tells us so much about feminism and so little about War and Peace To critique some aspect of the plot is to remove it l says can be said differently, in that I intended to express in my novel, I would have to write the same novel I wrote from the t, and the distance between them, are a sovereign space which is not an aping of external values and norms, whether of context or interpretation. They are, for verwhelms the particularities of its events, so does the relationship between form and content overwhelm an individually regarded form or an individually regarded content. Of course, Anna does die. as War and Peace as housewife. s Odyssey Troy has fallen and, like characters do in the Odyssey we ask the bard to sing about it. It is very significant that we do not ask for a description of the fall of Troy like the kind a newsletter might feature or a recitation of facts and figures about who killed whom and how. We understand that there is a

PAGE 93

89 difference betwe en the delivery of information in the form of news, and a bardic s ong Hesiod, in his Theogony s death, explains that song come s from the Muses, who are daughters of Mnemosyne 165 How can it be that the daughters of memory offer forgetfulness? The classical scholar James Redfield suggests that what is forgotten is different from what is remembered 166 and we remember the world of the song while forget ting our own. As we realize the Iliad we unrealize ourselves. Although the Iliad is a tragic and violent tale, it nevertheless cause the song brings pleasure. If the bard were to relate the events of the Trojan War as a newsletter might, in bullet points, it is unlikely that we would be so transported to forget ourselves. After all, the heroes who fell at Troy are our brothe rs and fathers and friends. Learn ing how H ector bludgeoned them to death sh ould not soothe our anxiety. Yet this is precisely what happens in the Odyssey This is because the song is able to colonize history as its raw material, such that actual events are transformed into song, and thereby cease to be actual. T he audience remember s, and so the audience forget s Let us now imagine that in the audience with us is an instrumentalist theorist who get s up to say something s song, and that it is the sort of thing instrumental theorist s are wont to say about artworks. My hypothesis is that the instrumentalist will fail in making one of two distinctions: 1. He will either fail to see the difference between a song about the fall of Troy and a newsletter about the fall of Troy, approaching the song the same way he would 165 Hesiod. (2006) Theogony (Most, G. Trans.) pp. 7 166 166 Redfield, James. (1975). Nature and Culture in the Iliad: The Tragedy of Hector. Chicago and London: University Chicago Press. pp. 39.

PAGE 94

90 approach the newsletter, with the same methods grounded upon the same assumptions, or 2. He will fail to see the difference between the remembered and forgotten world s supposing that what is being valued in the remembered worl d is valued in the forgotten world in the same way and for the same reasons. If he objects to the glorification of violence which the Iliad on most readings is guilty of it will be synonymous with glorifying violence outside the boundaries of that song. These failures of distinction are at the heart of ho w feminist critics respond to War and Peace As described above they approach the work no differently from the way they would approach a bull eted list of values and events assuming that the interpretation which Sontag disparages is possible, that the po etic terms can be substituted for extra poetic terms just as the terms of a newsletter can be, thereby neglecting the unity of form and content which overwhelms content Or, if the y recognize that artwor ks can create distance between lived actuality and t hat actuality which has been colonized by art, this distance is regarded as a danger. Critics like Eaton, who argues that aesthetic power enables Titian to glorify rape because the painting brings us pleasure, fail to extend aesthetic distance to the ple asure of aesthetic ex perience such that if Titian can render rape pleasurable within the bounds of his painting, it is because we believe that rape can be pleasurable outside those bounds, or that if War and Peace can render misogyny acceptable within the bounds of the world it sketches it must be because we think misogyny is acceptable wit hin the bounds of our own world. However, if this were s remembered world were thus collapsible into one another, then the

PAGE 95

91 from our anxie ties. We would ask him to please stop singing about our tragedy. Redfield writes of the distinction between the aesthetic and the real which is the source of our plea sure as we sit 167 ( but evident in all instrumentalist th inkers covered in this thesis) that the values of the forgotten and remembered worlds must be identical is curiously Socratic. s Socrates explains that poets like Homer are imitators : t he world they ask us to remember is not distinct from our s, but is rather an imitation of it. Poetry presents gods, for example, as unjust or opies of actual gods, there is an ethical danger in claim misguided because it supposes that poetic content is substitutable for extra poetic content ( it supposes the validi ty of interpretation such terms within it) and that this content is all or primarily, what the poem is. However, which is, of course, d ebatable If Natasha is treated misogynistically which is even more debatable ours. And those terms are not the terms of explicit content of the sort tha t can be encountered in newsletters which has substitutes and is interpretable in terms of those substitutes, such as piety or impiety, or misogyny or equality. Rather these terms are the dynamic relationship of content and form, such that how impiety or misogyny is presented is as much what the work is about as its impious or misogynistic content. This is because the artist can promote impiety or misogyny 167 Redfield, pp. 39

PAGE 96

92 and then, in the same breath, in the same sentence, disavow it by the very structure of the work As a result of this self reflexive unity of content and form, that which brings pain in the real world is capable of bringing pleasure to the aesthetic experience and that which is simply unethical in the real world is colonized by art to become something different from an explicit lack of ethics. This dynamism which looks so much like contradiction does not escape the spectator who is much wiser than the instrumentalist assumes Iliad belong to the conventional world of epic and were un ders tood as such by the audience. Just as epic tells, not of men, but of heroes, so also it tells stories, not of gods conceived as actual, but of literary 168 These literary figures which populate that remembered world for which we have forgotten ou r own are not direct imitations of, or substitutes for, actual figures They cannot be The dialectic of form and content can contradict the content just as much as it can reinforce it perhaps even at the same time This is why art can affirm even when negating, why Candide is simultaneously a rejection and an acceptance of human life: while the epts it. When we enjoy seeing the gladiator die, it is not the mere plot of his death that we are enjoying but the movement between the plot and its form, which belies death. Such contradictions are supported by the very nature of aesthetic objects, and their tensions achieve resolution in the wholeness of the work. The content of a work can be just about anything even nothing -but its formal expression must be strong ange, to induce a nonconceptual unrealization of the self as we cede our ground to the aesthetic other as we forgo our world to remember another world This estranging wholeness renders artworks autonomous, and finds its capacity to redeem by partaking i n Dionysian universality. Like the 168 Redfield, 76

PAGE 97

93 ancient tragedy Nietzsche praised, autonomous artworks dissolve and reconstitute our identity anew. In relinquishing our centrality to the self contained wholeness of an artwork, we are temporarily rescued from continge ncy, which is our tragedy, and are temporarily united with transhistorical themes of love, happiness, and death. The internal movement of a work, by resisting the external compulsion to communicate in the terms of the wor ld brings a physical pleasure whi ch affirms life in its embodied, mortal state. The unity of Dionysus and Apollo achieves expression in autonomous works which overcome the contingent historical moment within the bounds of that moment, achieving transcendence in immanence, universality in sensuality. 169 Art rescues us from fragmentation, dissolving us into the otherness of its wholeness. Indeed, this ex and herein Kantian nondiscursivity achieves an existential meaning. For the hermetic work lifts us above mortality an d history, from the concerns of self preservation, offering a glimpse of the fullness of the work, agreeing to submit to it on ommunication is the 170 and artworks cannot be thus co opted, and it is their silence which justifies us. Artworks speak on their terms, not on ours. Kant reminds us that this obscurity encourages intersubjective communicati on among ourselves, even when the failure of this communication is an integral part of the aesthetic experience. There may come a time when artworks will no longer need to seal themselves away from sociality, when there is no longer any 169 Philosophy Vol. 71, No. 277: 331 350. pp. 338. 170 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 73 74

PAGE 98

94 tension between th e sociopolitical and the aesthetic which colonizes it and when the aesthetic experience may perhaps become communicable pass, art can return to vindicating human life without denying the historical moment, b ut Nietzsche warns that even utopia fails to overcome the Dionysian truth which cannot be rejected and therefore must be affirmed. Having argued for aesthetic autonomy from various directions, it is time for a peculiar confession: autonomy, just like the redemption it facilitates, is illusory. Tragic knowledge has its counterpart in art, which is self conscious of its unfreedom. Artworks persuade us to approach the world as if it keeps a place for us, and we affirm our finitude in the face of this glorio us deception. They can achieve this miracle by denying their historical contingency through deception, a precarious position carved into the historical moment and rig orously defended. For Adorno, autonomous works are fetishes whose fetish character enables them to call society to account by seeming to live out the changed conditions they long for. The belief in autonomy is perhaps one of the most elitist, self indu lgent, and presumptuous achievements of Western art without which there would be no Western culture and perhaps no critical consciousness. historical moment and s autonomy is not a foolhardy rejection of historical or metaphysical knowledge, but rather the wisdom th at comes only after accepting that knowledge thing in acknowledging truth without living according to it, even forgetting it for the sake of a more intensified life experience. Since forgetting is part of remembering, this peculiar denial through

PAGE 99

95 sociopolitical critique or existential redemption, is epiphenomenal to its aesthetic autonomy, yearning for redemption is not an ontologica l feature of human beings because it will surely become a mere trace in the historical record when the shadows of God finally fade. Perhaps. However, in the absence of a known culture which has dispensed with the longing to transcend contingency, or whic h does not seek to persuade itself that human existence is not meaningless, I cannot imagine it and must think and work in the cultural tradition I have inherited. Ni thought prophesies the destruction of art by reason which, if it comes to pass, will certainly make human experience less perilous. While a scientific egalitarianism may yet teach us to banish all tragic knowledge of death and suffering from our art and from our consciousness, I am not sure if such sterile peacefulness will be human anymore.

PAGE 100

96 Works Cited Lecture, delivered at the University of Massachusetts, February 1975. Adorno, Theodor. (1970/2002). Aesthetic Theory. (Hullot Kentor, R. Trans.) (Adorno, G. and Tiedemann, R. Eds). Continuum. The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (Arato and Gebhardt, Ed s.) Continuum. In Dialectical Anthropology Vol. 12, No. 3: 329 341. British Journal of Aesthetics Vol. 38, No. 2: 150 166. Aristotle (335 B.C./1902). Poetics (S. H. Butcher. Eds). McMillan and Company. In The Journal of General Education Vol. 44, No. 4: 234 255. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 2, No. 3. pp. 267 279. Benjami Understanding Brecht. (Bostock, A. Trans). Verso. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (Arendt, H. ed). Shocken Books. Poetics Today Vol. 10, No. 2. (1989): 255 277. Themed

PAGE 101

97 Literature in English Language Arts Classrooms: Interrogating Heteronormativity and 625 634. Bloom, Harold. (1994). The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages Riverhead Books. Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature New Directions. In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 57, No. 1: 1 10. Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, ed.). Butler, J. (1999/2002). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity Routledge. British Journal of Aesthetics Vol. 36, No. 3: 223 238 Cezanne, P. and Doran, M. (2001). Conversations with Cezanne University of California Press. Czikszentmihalyi Mihaly. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Perennial. Deleuze, Gilles. (1968/1994). Difference and Repetition. (Patton, P. Trans.) Columbia University Press. Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, Ed). Devereaux, Mary Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection (Jerrold Levinson, Ed.) Cambridge University Press: 227 56. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 51, No. 2:207 2015. of The Bucknell Review Vol. 36, No. 2: 164 186

PAGE 102

98 Philosophy Compass Vol. 5, No. 3: 873 893. Art and Pornog raphy: Philosophical Essays (eds. Maes, H. and Levinson, J.) University Press Scholarship Online. 18, No. 4: 159 188. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 57 No. 1: 11 15. The Bacchae and Other Plays (Da Vie, J. Trans.). Penguin Books. Critical Inquiry Vol. 21, No. 4: 805 821. Aesthetics and Ethics Cambridge: 182 203. Gelley, Alexan MLN Vol. 114, No. 5. pp. 933 961. Gouma The Art Bulletin Vol. 69, No. 3: 326 357. Hampton, Christopher. (1985). Total Eclipse: A Play in Two Acts Samuel French, Inc. Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. (M. Kelly, ed.). Oxford University Press. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 58, No. 1: 1 22. (Wilso n, P. Ed.). Faber and Faber. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 48, No. 4: 281 291. TIME Magazine :

PAGE 103

99 Mar. 22, 1993. Berkeley Journal of Sociol ogy Vol. 30: 41 64. Kant, Immanuel. (1790/1987). Critique of Judgment. (Pluhar, W. Trans.). Hackett Publishing Company. Kant, Immanuel. (1785/2002). Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (Wood, A. Trans. and Ed.) Yale University Press The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 51, No. 2: 199 206. The New York Times A pril 28 th 1974. Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, ed.). Oxford University Press. Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (M. Kelly, ed). Oxford University Press. Feminist Art Criticism (Raven, A. Ed.) Icon Editions Writer and Critic: And Other Essays (Kahn, A. and Lukacs, G. Eds.) Lukacs, Georg. (1957/1963). The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (Mander, J. Trans.). Merlin Press. Lukacs, Georg. (1989) Theory, Culture, and Politics. (Marcus, J. and Zoltaan, T. Eds.). Transaction Publishers. Marcuse, Herbert. (1961). Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis Columbia University Press. Mayakovksiy, Vladimir. (1915/1965). Mayakovsky. (Marshall, H. Trans. and Ed.).

PAGE 104

100 Melville, Hermann. ( 1851/1996). Moby Dick. Quality Paperback Book Club. Mills Todd III, William. (1978). Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800 1914 Stanford University Press. Mortimer, Ian. (2008). Simon and Schuster. Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1871/1995). The Birth of Tragedy (C.P. Fadiman, Trans.) Dover Publications Inc The Russian Review Vol. 56, No. 4: 515 531. in Art and Society and Other Papers in Historical Materialism Oriole Editions: New York. Philosophy and Literature Vol. 21, No. 1: 1 27. delivered at Yale University. New German Critique No. 8: 54 79. Schweppenhauser, Gerhard. (2009). Theodor W. Adorno: An Introduction. Duke University Press. American Scholar Vol. 49, No. 4:489 498. Philosophy Vol. 71, No. 277: 331 350 Miscellaneous and Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley London, W. Benbow. Theory, Culture, Society 23, no. 227 (2006): 237 243. pp. 237 Against Interpretation and Other Essays. Picador.

PAGE 105

101 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 28, No. 4. pp. 511 514 Feminist Studies Vol. 2, No. 1: 3 37. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 11, No. 4: 360 377 Wolfe, Tom. (1975). The Painted Word. Bantam Books.