Theodor Adorno, ‘De gustibus est disputandum’ (1944)

Even someone believing himself convinced of the non-comparability of works of art will find himself repeatedly involved in debates where works of art, and precisely those of highest and therefore incommensurable rank, are compared and evaluated one against the other. The objection that such considerations, which come about in a peculiarly compulsive way, have their source in mercenary instincts that would measure everything by the ell, usually signifies no more that solid citizens, for whom art can never be irrational enough, want to keep serious reflection and the claims of truth far from the works. This compulsion to evaluate is located, however, in the works of art themselves. So much is true: they refuse to be compared. They want to annihilate one another. Not without cause did the ancients reserve the pantheon of the compatible to Gods or Ideas, but obliged works of art to enter the agon, each the mortal enemy of each.

The notion of a ‘pantheon of classicity’, as still entertained by Kierkegaard, is a fiction of neutralized culture. For if the Idea of Beauty appears only in dispersed form among many works, each one nevertheless aims uncompromisingly to express the whole of beauty, claims it in its singularity and can never admit its dispersal without annulling itself.

Beauty, as single, true and liberated from appearance and individuation, manifests itself not in the synthesis of all works, in the unity of the arts and art, but only as a physical reality: in the downfall of art itself. This downfall is the goal of every work of art, in that it seeks to bring death to all others. That all art aims to end art, is another way of saying the same thing. It is this impulse to self-destruction inherent in works of art, their innermost striving towards an image of beauty free of appearance, that is constantly stirring up the aesthetic disputes that are apparently so futile. While obstinately seeking to establish aesthetic truth, and trapping themselves thereby in an irresoluble dialectic, they stumble on the real truth, for by making the works of art their own and elevating them to concepts, they limit them all, and so contribute to the destruction of art which is its salvation. Aesthetic tolerance that simply acknowledges works of art in their limitation, without breaking it, leads them only to a false downfall, that of a juxtaposition which denies their claims to indivisible truth.

—Minima Moralia, Part 1, #47. (Translated by E.F.N. Jephcott)

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~ by ohkrapp on April 25, 2010.

One Response to “Theodor Adorno, ‘De gustibus est disputandum’ (1944)”

  1. The last section is a typical Frankfurt fantasia (and painfully anthropomorphic; works of art want to do something?), but I do respect any suggested subversion of the standard of taste (or lack thereof). I’m also sweet on the ἀγών.

    More insightful discussions of the same subject are sociological. I really need to read Bourdieu’s La Distinction.

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