No guideline: Parva aesthetica

Image: Wikipedia, Holy Trinity Church, better known as Wotruba Church


Presentation to the Brazilian edition of the recently published book by Theodor Adorno.

In the German edition of Adorno's Collected Works, No guideline integrates the two volumes of essays that bear the title of Review cultural and society. Taking advantage of the subtitle of the first of the four collections published there, its editor, Rolf Tiedemann, put under the same sign two decades of intense post-war essay practice.

Contrary to what is observed in musical writings, our sociological writings or in the literature notes, the clipping is not thematic. The editor makes use of an intention present in the broad spectrum of Adorno's objects of reflection, here exposed in a condensed register. Analyzes of literary and musical works share space with weighty reflections on criticism and philosophy; the evaluation of cultural industry phenomena appears alongside considerations on the role of education in a Germany resurfacing from the Auschwitz catastrophe. In all themes, the critical dimension of a thought that crosses borders between academic disciplines is highlighted to expose the historical and social inscription of cultural phenomena, including this same thought.

No guideline follow that spirit. Published in 1967, Adorno saw it as a kind of propaedeutic to the aesthetic theory which he then wrote. The subtitle – Silly Aesthetica [small aesthetic] - indicates a set of reflections on artistic objects, but the title raises a question about the meaning of aesthetics for modern art. How to think of an aesthetic theory that neither systematizes the production of its time nor offers guidance for those who feel lost in the face of phenomena that are not readable in the light of the ordering categories of tradition?

This conflict is replicated in the laborious construction of Adorno's sentences, moving between opposite poles with the intention of exposing contradictions that are none other than the issue at hand. In the essay that gives the volume its title, as well as in the one that complements it by reflecting on “On Tradition”, Adorno foregrounds the problematic nature of the relationship between the present and the past, which can also be observed, from different angles, in each of the essays in this volume. collection. If norms and guidelines for spiritual production are no longer extractable from contemporary works of art, nor can they be provided by thought, the situation of art itself becomes a problem to be considered, as well as a privileged angle for the elaboration of a diagnosis of the present time.

When discussing the concept of tradition, Adorno, who had his thinking formed in close contact with modern art and was always critical of the idealizations of a pre-industrial Germany, seeks to show how much the resort to the past in search of guiding norms has become if troublesome. If tradition is thought of by him above all as a process of transmission, its crisis is a sign of a breakdown of the bonds that link the present era to the past. Modern art demonstrated an acute awareness of this crisis by noting that its materials and procedures, including the very idea of ​​art, no longer possessed the evidence that tradition gave them.

At least since Baudelaire, modernity as an epoch consciousness implies reflection on the discontinuities between the current moment and the previous one. Past norms lose ballast in current concrete experience and, therefore, fail to live up to their own name. In view of this, Adorno notes a reaction in post-war Germany that is, simultaneously, a rejection of modern art and a nostalgia for past times, a phenomenon also analyzed in the essay “Constructive Proposal”. If Adorno in fact realized early on that the promises of individual liberation generated in the wake of the bourgeois rise were also accompanied by mechanisms of domination, he did not fail to point out that pre-capitalist communities, with their more immediate personal ties, quite different from the impersonality of mercantile exchange, were also marked by rules imposed on people. Nostalgia for a cohesive and substantial community life covered up blindness to pre-capitalist forms of domination.

The same occurred with the cultural productions of the past. The alleged superiority of works of art from a pre-bourgeois era because of their “completeness, coherence and immediate evidence”, in contrast to the alleged anarchy of contemporary production, presupposed as eternal values ​​that were historical and had entered into decline. Adorno, however, points out that such changes were not arbitrary, but had roots in art itself, which was technically transformed from critical positions towards the previous production. The superiority of Bach's fugues in relation to his predecessors' pieces or the invention of perspective in painting are remembered as examples of a dynamic characteristic of artistic techniques that pushes art beyond tradition. This anti-traditionalist defense of progress in art is summarized with a lapidary phrase by Paul Valéry: “in art, the best of what is new always corresponds to an old need”. Hence the anachronism of seeking in the art of the past and in its corresponding worldview a reservoir of precepts that serve as a guideline for contemporary culture.

A diagnosis that points to the obsolescence of the ordering categories of the aesthetics of tradition could conclude that the philosophical consideration of art would have its days numbered, leaving the reflection to dedicate itself to the analysis of the works, in particular their technique. In many senses, this is what Adorno does, as anyone who reads his essays on literature and music can see, attentive to the smallest details of the construction of each work. It so happens that Adorno sustains that the power of thought also impels him to the universal. And more: thought should not give up separating the true from the false when considering works of art. Giving up the universal would be a sign of resignation.

The question that then arises is how to justify this judgment directed both to the object and to a universal that is neither a set of abstract rules nor incapable of reaching the details of artistic production. The issue is similar to that of the persistence of tradition: if advanced writers do not feel they are part of a literary tradition, the language they mobilize does not mean that it is devoid of history, with all the accumulated suffering that it entails. “That is why tradition finds itself today facing an insoluble contradiction. No tradition is current or should be invoked; but if one is extinguished, then the march towards inhumanity begins”.

Adorno's answers are never simple, nor expressed in transparent sentences. When dealing with the production of the work of art, he seeks to highlight the objectivity content of the subjective procedure. Thinking of art as a relationship between subject and object, he discards the idea that an inert matter would receive its meaning from the sovereign artist. The material, on the contrary, carries with it an organization, even an intention that stems from its history; the material, in short, is not sound or color, for example, but the relations of sounds and colors produced so far. The artist, in turn, is not the absolute creator, the demiurge who makes something out of nothing; he is constituted as an artist much more by the way he faces problems that preceded him.

That's what he does by identifying what's obsolete in the lore material, what should be set aside, and what can be reworked to move the production forward. The artist's freedom, in this sense, is inseparable from the demands of the time itself, or from the state of tradition, both objectively configured in the situation of material and artistic procedures. Individualization, by the way, is formed in this contact with the material's own logic, which can only be transformed by the artist as long as he respects its own legality. This process is none other than the development of artistic technique, simultaneously objective and subjective, material and spiritual. It is in her, finally, that Adorno detects the universal dimension to be considered by aesthetic reflection in his search for the truth of works: “The sphere, however, in which it is possible to decide irrefutably, without resorting to misleading guidelines, about what is right and wrong, is the sphere of technique”.

Adorno would not have arrived at these formulations without close attention to the reflection that modern art had been able to develop immanently in its own praxis. It was her achievement to reject norms and guidelines without falling back into chance, at the same time that he carried out the idea of ​​the integral construction of the work of art without avoiding criticism of the conception of the work of art as an artifact full of meaning. The example of Beckett, arguably Adorno's most important postwar artist, gives due dimension to the problem.

parts like aspenrando godot e end of game staged what Adorno called a parody of drama. Beckett mobilized traditional components of the genre, from the dramatic curve to character development, but he used them in a way that showed how obsolete they had become. Drama, with its emphasis on the individual's freedom to make decisions and alter fate, was no longer the appropriate genre for an age marked by the decline of the individual. At the same time, the present was unable to overcome the vestiges of the previous era, so that it allowed itself to be read in the ruins of a tradition in crisis.

By giving new functions to traditional procedures, Beckettian theater introduced innovations of great technical reach, while at the same time reflecting on tradition without needing to theorize about it. As Adorno indicates when remembering Beckett's admiration for Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane, a novel that in no way serves as a parameter for contemporary writing, tradition is no longer the standard to be followed, but a model of the irrecoverable. Its permanence is not in resisting the passage of time, but in succumbing to its course. “Whoever does not want to betray happiness [Bliss] that she still promises in many of her images, the shaken possibility that hides under her ruins, must distance herself from the tradition that abuses possibility and meaning to the point of converting them into a lie. Tradition can only return in what implacably denies it”.

The same problematic relationship with the past motivates the fierce polemic waged by Adorno against the distortion of the baroque, a phenomenon also stimulated by nostalgia for an orderly era, prior to the consolidation of bourgeois society. In the wake of historians such as Heinrich Wölfflin and Alois Riegl, Adorno recognizes the Baroque as the last great artistic style in architecture and the visual arts. The idea of ​​a musical baroque, capable of encompassing the most diverse compositions of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, awakens, however, Adorno's reservations against the generalized application of the term, which is accompanied by the impoverishment of musical listening. The problem, which could be limited to the phonographic market and music festivals, also pervades the work of serious musicologists such as Friedrich Blume, who defended the concept through vague approximations with the visual arts or based on the warmed-up concept of the spirit of the times.

Contemporary baroque fashion bore little resemblance to its strength as a style. This is what Adorno indicates when recovering the concept of “structuring” proposed by Riegl to show that the decorative and illusionistic effects of the great Baroque works were not superfluous props, but resulted from their constructive characteristics. The work of a historian like Riegl also allowed a better understanding of the very concept of style, thus making it possible to differentiate current production from the great works of the period.

In Adorno's formulation, the most significant works were not those that fully implemented all the characteristics of the style, but, on the contrary, those that also used it to deny it. The particular work is initially expressed in the artistic language of its time, but the force that pushes it towards autonomy also forces it to confront objective conventions in search of its own language. It is the contradiction between autonomy and style that differentiates the larger works from everyday production, the latter more obedient to the style of the time. It is the same autonomy, in turn, that will lead, especially from Romanticism onwards, to the decline of the very notion of style as a formative force in the art of an era. Paradoxically, autonomy will also be responsible for engendering nostalgia for a return to the cohesion that its advance destroyed. As we are dealing here with the relationship between the particular and the universal, between the work and its adequacy or not to conventions, the description of the cultural industry as the realization of a total style through the perfect adequacy of the particular to the universal will not be so strange.

Riegl and Wölfflin's attention to the constructive elements of the Baroque also serves Adorno to focus on the work of the one who is, simultaneously, the greatest composer of the period and the most inadequate to the concept of Baroque: Bach. If there was any relevance in the rapprochement between music and the visual arts, it could be found in the relationship between the illusionist appearance and the technical construction, evidenced by the idea of ​​a structuring element. This is how an analysis of a five-voice fugue by The Well-Tempered Clove reveals the connection between the illusionist effect and the subversion of the strictest logic of fugue: in its final part, the stretto, the repeated overlapping of the initial parts of the themes results in the simulation of a multiplicity of voices that, in reality, do not exist. The five voices, articulated in the rigorous form of the fugue, through an artifice in the repetition of themes, appear as if there were ten or more voices. As Adorno understands that this illusionist dimension permeates the entire tonal system, the subsequent abandonment of tonalism can also be interpreted as a criticism of the appearance of the work of art.

It is the same emphasis on constructive technique that justifies Adorno's criticism of equating Bach with a diffuse conception of musical baroque or with inferior contemporaries like Handel. It is also the structuring character of the musical technique that serves as an argument against the strong trend of historical interpretations that will be installed in musical practice from the middle of the XNUMXth century, unfolding both in the use of period instruments and in the restoration of performance practices. from historical documents.

Resuming arguments that he had already presented in the essay “In defense of Bach against his admirers”, published in Prisms, he refers to the variety of instruments of the time, one of the charms of the Baroque for its admirers, to the precarious organization of instrument production and to the still incipient rationalization of musical timbre. In this context, the lack of precise indications of many pieces regarding instrumentation, such as the escape art or musical offering, both by Bach, is taken as an indication that the music was more advanced than the means available for its execution at the time.

Playing Bach on the piano or with the instruments of the contemporary orchestra would not, therefore, be an anachronism, but the realization of musical potentialities unavailable at the time of its composition. The anachronism would be, on the contrary, in giving a character of necessity to an instrumentation that, at the time, was casual, projecting in the Baroque a conception of instrumentation that would only be established later. For these reasons, a “current” interpretation of Bach would be one that highlights the “structuring” elements of the compositional work, that is, the latent connections of musical motifs that reach down to the smallest details of the piece.

As Adorno also identifies a process of rationalization in the construction of instruments, as well as in musical performance, only modern instruments would be able to explain that Bach's works were already fully structured, as Adorno would point out in Beethoven and his successors. By showing that the work is not a mere adaptation to a period style, the performance would be putting into practice the criticism of appearance developed by the most advanced musical conscience. This would be, ultimately, the antidote against the “distorted baroque”.

One of the peculiarities of No guideline resides in the fact that such an intense reflection on tradition also reaches the biographical past of its author. This is what we find in a set of travel reports, generally short and unpretentious texts, often composed of fragments and loose phrases. Despite the personal dimension of the reflection, anyone would be missing the mark if they identified a mere subjective relapse of an author who had used the essay form all his life precisely to try to do justice to the primacy of objects over categories previously conceived by thought. They bring not only the visitor's immediate impressions, but also a topographical memory in which the personal memory is fed by the history of the place visited. In this way, the reports approach the genre of the essay and lend themselves to the search for objective connections at the heart of the most personal experience.

In this sense, "Amorbach" is exemplary: the town less than a hundred kilometers from Frankfurt where he spent his childhood holidays is, with its many Proustian echoes, Adorno's Combray. She gave him an image of a sheltered happiness that would accompany him throughout his life. Although he continued to visit the village even after returning from the United States, there is no nostalgia here, but a search for the convergence of spatial and temporal coordinates. The topography of the region is associated with the imagination of the child and the knowledge acquired later by the adult.

Local associations with the remote past of Songs of the Nibelungs join the discovery of Wagner's operas by meeting artists who worked at the Bayreuth festival. In these connections, memory deciphers events of the past as premonitory signs of a still unknown future, whether in listening to dissonances of new music on a damaged guitar, or in the frightening confrontation with the youth movement that would culminate in German nationalism.

These associations between present and past are repeated on a visit to Vienna, the city where Adorno lived in the 1920s when, under the guidance of Alban Berg, he thought of pursuing a career as a composer. Visits to the opera and to aristocratic friends served Adorno not only to discuss the difficulties of maintaining the operatic repertoire, but also the reciprocal charm between intellectuals and aristocrats, a conjunction with the potential to criticize the dialectic of personalization that prevails in bourgeois society: the less social processes are influenced by individuals, the greater the tendency to attribute them to prominent figures.

As alien to the bourgeois world as Vienna appears to be Sils Maria, a village in the Swiss Alps where Adorno, as well as many other intellectuals, spent their summer holidays. The place had also been the residence of Nietzsche, whose modest room, in stark contrast to the opulence of hotels in the region, Adorno visits. If what matters here in the traveler's description is the historical character of the appeal to nature, in other reports Adorno will dedicate himself to notes about arts that he said little about in his essays, in particular architecture and painting.

From a visit to Tuscany he extracts new elements from the old contrast, famous in German reflection, between the countries of the north and those of the south. The celebrated formal sense that would mark the Latin peoples is guided by a reflection on the constructive dimension of works of art: the more accentuated this dimension is, the stronger is art as domination of nature; but if this nature is warmer, exuberant like the Tuscan landscape, the need to build weakens, which gives a more relaxed, even docile character to the architectural form, as well as another relationship between construction and the decorative aspects of the facades . In condensed form, in the personal record of the visitor, we recognize there his reflections developed regarding the Baroque.

A visit to the Jeu de Paume in Paris, in turn, gives rise to the series of “scribbles” on impressionist painting and its posterity. Adorno differentiates the French Impressionists from their German successors because the former focused especially on the objects of modern life instead of running away from them to seek, far from the urban space, the peaceful observation of the incidence of natural light in the landscape. Impressionism emerges in full force when an intention to still save as experience the degraded elements of the big city and industrialization becomes a way of painting. Associations with their antecedents and descendants in French painting itself, in the comparison of Manet's apples with those of Cézanne, they give rise to considerations regarding the dialectic of artistic progress. If Manet falls short of the material progress produced by the Impressionists, he nonetheless appears stranger and more modern than those who had carried the technique forward in a more coherent and resolute manner. In his association with the destructive character of modernity, he registers firsthand its strongest shocks and thus places himself alongside Baudelaire in presenting the epoch.

As can be seen, modernity in art cannot be reduced to technical progress. On the other hand, as Adorno suggests when emphasizing the superiority of Ravel's songs compared to the most advanced artistic means of a Bartók quartet, the quality of the antecedent would not prevail if the material did not evolve. Finally, in yet another dialectical reversal of the argument, Adorno, with an eye on Picasso, questions whether this idea that the best of art is what survives over time would not cover up a metaphysical – and conservative – desire that the works finally survived the moment that made them modern. Equally dialectical is his depreciation of the Toulousse-Lautrec posters: the functional art that makes itself great and thus triumphs over propaganda ends up placing itself, against its own intentions, at the service of propaganda.

If every room in the Parisian museum is capable of giving rise to “extravagant ideas” for the philosopher who wrote very little about painting, references to other arts also permeate Adorno’s other memories, as in “Twice Chaplin”, a brief essay in two halves in which he narrates the “privilege” of having been imitated by Chaplin in California, even during exile. The considerations about the filmmaker are here much more favorable than those outlined in the letters to Benjamin during the 1930s. clown, Adorno identifies the dialectic of humor and terror that he detailed in his study of Beckett.

In addition, it incorporates a reflection about cinema and the cultural industry that is reasonably different from that presented in the Dialectic of Enlightenment. By resuming the central theses of this book in the “Summary about cultural industry” and examining them in the light of post-war cinema in “Film Transparency”, two themes stand out: consumer awareness of cultural industry products and consideration of cinema as art, a possibility excluded in the written book four hands with Max Horkheimer. If Adorno does indeed offer a reassessment of his previous hypotheses, he was evidently favored by the emergence of the new German cinema in the 1960s, which had a great impetus in the Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962. It is from there that Volker Schlöndorf and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and Alexander Kluge emerge, the latter one of the most articulate filmmakers and intellectuals of the movement, a close friend of Adorno, and probably responsible for stimulating the reflections exposed in “Transparências dofilme”.

Adorno considered the photographic procedure an element responsible for the backward position of cinema in relation to the arts that had been able to overcome any vestige of realism by fully constructing its object. The idea of ​​a work of art constructed in its entirety, recurrent in his mentions of music, literature or painting, does not initially apply to the film. The most advanced cinema, however, knew how to develop montage techniques with the potential to dissolve the adherence of the photographic negative to the represented object.

But his praise for the montage does not come without reservations. Or rather: it seeks to confront objectivist conceptions of editing that would maintain that the edited material would be able to express itself, regardless of an author's subjective intentions. His target there is, once again, Benjamin, at least according to the way Adorno reads the essay on “The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility”. He points out that montage in cinema also lends itself to the subjectivation of objective processes: “[...] the refusal to give meaning, to the subjective addition, is also subjectively organized and, in this sense, it is something that beforehand gives meaning”.

Although montage can be considered a technique with cinematic specificity, Adorno tends to value it for its reach in other arts, particularly literature. In a reflection that anticipates the “imbrication of the arts” that he would discuss in the essay “Art and the arts”, he thinks of literary montage when pointing out affinities between cinema and the discontinuous succession of images in the interior monologue. Editing then resembles a form of writing, in the same way that it also benefits from the more advanced reach of contemporary music, such as in the television film. Antithesis by composer Mauricio Kagel, from 1965, an experiment far removed from any common sense regarding cinema. It would be, in short, these “imbrications” with the autonomous arts at their most advanced stage that would free cinema from the false immediacy that characterizes the vast majority of the industry's products.

This “latecoming moment” implied in the photographic technique of cinema involves, in turn, another relationship with artistic progress, in this case favorable to cinema. If, in the autonomous arts, Adorno does not consider adequate anything that falls short of the most advanced technique, in an industrial art such as cinema, in which technical development served above all to standardization, the precarious conditions of production and the amateurism of young filmmakers they become liberating qualities. Anyone who compares the Cinema Novo films made in Germany, France or Brazil in the 1960s with their Hollywood contemporaries will easily notice the disparity
technical compass pointed out by Adorno. It would be precisely there, when transforming the medium requires moving away from an achieved standard, which also has very high costs, that cinema opens itself to the unpredictability of autonomous art and takes a path that is not that of the cultural industry.

The awareness of industry consumers, as exposed in these essays, also makes it possible to identify alterations in Adorno's evaluation in relation to his previous considerations on the subject. Taking into account empirical opinion polls, whose importance is also highlighted in “Theses on the sociology of art”, as well as studies of television programs made during a stay in the United States in the 1950s, he indicates that the ideology propagated by films it is not fully and necessarily reproduced in the consciousness of its spectators. Even more: the gap between the product and its effect would be pre-formed in the product itself. These hypotheses did not seem to have a place in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, full of formulations such as the following: “In industry, the individual […] is only tolerated to the extent that his unconditional identity with the universal is out of the question”. Here, individual consciousness is identified with the world produced by industry.

In these essays of Without guideline, Adorno understands the phenomenon from a “split conscience” between the planned entertainment offered by industry and the doubt about the benefit of what it offers them. In other words, people “want a decoy that they themselves debunk; they close their eyes tightly and consent to what happens to them in a kind of self-loathing, knowing why it was manufactured. Without admitting it, they realize that their lives would become utterly unbearable as soon as they ceased to cling to satisfactions that are not satisfactions at all. If consumers do not entirely believe in the industry, but they also do not give up on it, if they adhere but are suspicious, then we have a form of domination somewhat different from that dystopian picture of satisfied and anesthetized individuals identified in the United States of the 1940s.

But what Adorno presents here, based on the non-identity between individual consciousness and current ideology, is not necessarily a weakening of the cultural industry in its tendency towards integration. If the industry is capable of incorporating this moment of non-identity into its functioning, it can develop means of neutralizing any criticism leveled at it and reinforcing its need for the consumer. In the same movement, however, antagonism, a novelty of the Adornian diagnosis, is a force contrary to the closure of the system: “By wanting to capture the masses, the very ideology of the cultural industry becomes in itself as antagonistic as the society it intends to achieve. It contains the antidote to your own lie. No other argument could be used in their salvation.”

Like the works on cinema and the cultural industry, the long essay on “Functionalism today” also
It also implies a reflection on the concept of an autonomous work of art, developed here from the requirement for functionality initially posed by the work of Adolf Loos and reverberated by modern architecture, by the design and urban planning. Adorno is not only concerned with debating the boundaries between the autonomous and the functional, but also with thinking about the posterity of the modern functionalist project based on two very concrete problems, arising from its historical moment.

The first of these is given by German urban and architectural reconstruction in the immediate post-war period. Particularly in the city where he lived, in Frankfurt, Adorno was able to observe one of the fastest processes of reurbanization in Germany after the war. The second problem, in turn, presented itself in the awareness provided by the historical distance regarding the extreme objectivism of modern architecture, a problem that resulted in the uncomfortable, unwelcoming, even inhuman scale of many of its buildings, or else in the lack of practicality. of objects considered functional. Both processes converge in Adorno's concern with the individuals that functionalism should serve.

Adorno detects the origin of these problems in the rigid separation proposed by Adolf Loos between the functional and the autonomous, which has a paradigmatic example in the polemic against ornament. If the thesis that “what was functional yesterday can revert into its opposite” is valid for ornament, Adorno will pose the same question to functionalism. In fact, Loos, following the arguments of historians such as Alois Riegl, maintained that the ornament had become superfluous when it lost its foundation in the constructive characteristics of the work. It is the same argument used by Adorno in his essay on the baroque. As a result of the decline in the formative force of the great styles, functional ornamentation would not be restorable, nor would it be possible to invent new ornaments. Loos then turns against the non-functional ornamentation of objects of practical use, against attempts to reconcile the useful and the autonomous, industry and art, put into practice by a series of movements such as the Art Nouveau: Jugendstil and the Arts and Crafts.

Against the so-called decorative arts, Loos's practical proposal, recognizable in the organization of the Bauhaus courses, was in the direction of a kind of manufacture “that made use of technical innovations without its forms being borrowed from art”. It is this campaign against ornamentation that would lead him to an absolute reciprocal exclusion between the functional and the autonomous that, according to Adorno, would not sufficiently take into account the historical interweaving between the two. Proposing a more dialectical treatment of each of these poles, Adorno maintains that the arts that gained autonomy were linked in their origin to social purposes such as sociability, dance and entertainment, from which they distanced themselves, surpassing them in their internal formal constitution .

The formulation of the “endless purpose” by the college review to judge Kant's work is then read as a sublimation of ends and not as his eradication from the domain of art, which remains in tension with the social ends that it denies in its autonomous movement. Likewise, the strictly functional object, in order to meet its purpose, makes use of ideas such as formal simplicity, resulting from artistic experience. The connection between form and function gives an aesthetic dimension to the object of use. The very aging of these objects, their old-fashioned form, is capable of giving them the symbolic character of the collective image of an era.

In addition to these corrections, what really matters to Adorno is to think about the place of the subject in the scope of functionality, which is shown in an exemplary way in the apparent opposition between manual work and fantasy, which Adorno will also submit to the test of dialectics. If adequate knowledge of materials and techniques is a notable dimension of valuing manual work, with important consequences even for the autonomous arts, its apology also lends itself to archaisms, as in the transfiguration of rudimentary modes of production overcome by the advancement of technique. A similar position holds for fantasy, rejected by Loos in the field of applied arts, but recovered by Adorno as a kind of “spatial sense” proper to architecture, capable of converting space into function, not simply to conceive something in space, but building something according to space, just as a composer organizes time by inventing melodies. The role of fantasy – subjectivity as a spatial sense – would be to promote this reciprocal mediation of formal construction and function.

With this, Adorno seeks to correct the rigid separation proposed by Loos between the aesthetic and the applied and, simultaneously, to re-dimension the position of the subject in functionalism as a function for the subject. At first glance, it's the same Loos program of meeting objective needs. However, Adorno points out that, paradoxically, functionalism is led to a contradiction between the possible and the real that is characteristic of autonomous art. When thinking about the objective needs to be met, the most advanced consciousness is aimed first of all at the possible humanity starting from the stage reached by the most developed productive forces.

It so happens that real humanity, concrete people, although far below what is possible, also have immediate needs that deserve to be met, even if they are false needs produced by a social system that keeps them in a state of minority. If rational functionality turns out to be dysfunctional for existing people, it becomes oppression. It is this contradiction that inscribes modern architecture in the current domination relations and would help to explain why only a small part of the projects of great architects like Loos or Le Corbusier would have left the drawing board.

The contradiction is not exclusive to architecture, but is inscribed in the very situation of art, whose autonomy leads it to deny, in the name of a possible order, the same order in force to which it remains linked to being a product of work. human. “In the false total state, nothing appeases the contradiction. A utopia conceived freely beyond the functional relations of the prevailing order would be impotent because it has to extract its elements and its structure precisely from the prevailing order”. If art conformed to the functional, it would sanction the world that is there, thus denying another possible one, but, if it took refuge in pure autonomy, it would approach the irrelevant fetish. The issue of functionalism, its “subordination to utility”, translates into the challenge of how to make things human by meeting their purposes; this would be the figure of reconciliation with objects implied in the idea of ​​utility.

The question connects aesthetic reflection to social theory and justifies the philosophical understanding of art advocated by Adorno in numerous essays and in the aesthetic theory. When addressing architects, he insists that the artist, in his practical work, is confronted with elements that require reflection, be it social limitations to his activity, be it aesthetic categories to which the work must not simply adapt to justify itself. theoretically. Categories, insists Adorno, have their own strength capable of illuminating the contradictions of artistic practice. This is how its overcoming would require not only overcoming the opposition between functional and autonomous, but also the very concept of art. The placement is enigmatic. If the opposition that Adorno talks about stems from the current domination relations, art itself also has its origin in social oppression. In a situation of freedom, possibly it would find itself obsolete.


The overcoming of art is also at stake in what is the essay most directly linked to the problems posed by contemporary art, “A arte e as artes”, originally a conference at the Akademie der Kunste [Academia das Artes], in Berlin, in 1966. Adorno observed that the boundaries between particular arts became more permeable in a significant part of the post-war artistic production, characterizing what he called “imbrication phenomena”. He draws examples from all the arts, from the effect of Mondrian's pictorial constructions on the development of musical techniques to Alexander Calder's mobiles as the temporalization of sculpture, but most of his contemporary references are unfamiliar to the Brazilian public: the compositions of Sylvano Bussotti are mentioned as an example of a form of musical notation capable of granting autonomy to the graphic dimension of music; in the graphic arts of Rolf Nesch and in the informal painting of Bernhard Schultze, he identifies painting's tendency towards three-dimensionality; Fritz Wotruba's sculptures, in turn, are closer to architectural constructions; finally, the prose of Hans G. Helms transforms musical techniques characteristic of serialism into a constructive principle for literature.

Adorno's essay is receptive to these trends, but safeguards its relevance to the exclusive context of the autonomous development of artistic milieus. The “imbrication” thus does not indicate any borrowing of procedures or arbitrary approximation between the particular arts, much less suspicious syntheses of the arts in the wake of the total Wagnerian work of art. The phenomenon is certainly a crossing of borders, but only as a consequence of the internal logic of particular means. In other words, appropriating musical serialism as a principle of literary construction is legitimate in the context of a reflection immanent in the novel itself about the decline of story and action, while the connection between painting and three-dimensional space is significant as a critical consideration. about the relationship between the surface and the illusionism provided by perspective techniques.

Adorno's examples go in this direction. In this context, the imbrication is not a step backwards in relation to the autonomy conquered by the media, nor a redirection of Adorn's reflection towards hybrid, intermedial works or on the margins of the historical development of the media, such as the Happening. Although the essay has already been read as a flexibilization by Adorno's late aesthetics of the autonomy of the artistic means that he so defended, the overlapping phenomena do not indicate any rupture with the logic of autonomy; on the contrary, he understands them as a possible consequence of the internal dynamics that lead the arts to the determined negation of previously conquered positions.

If changes in the conditions of artistic production demanded new considerations about modern art, it is notable that Adorno has reacted to them with a radicalization of his conception of autonomy, inscribed in the very situation of the arts. The development of electronic music in the post-war period, for example, in particular with Stockhausen, stemmed from a position towards the Second Viennese School and generated a mode of production that a composer alone could not afford. The availability of collective electronic means of production could be understood as a discontinuity in relation to the previous one, but simultaneously as a consequence extracted from the problems bequeathed by Schönberg.

In the same way, the new production conditions conferred an unprecedented role on the production organizer, as Adorno well describes in the moving obituary of Wolfgang Steinecke, responsible for bringing together key figures from the post-war musical avant-garde of Stockhausen in Kranichstein's summer courses. to Pierre Boulez and Luigi Nono. Adorno does not hesitate to state that the unity of the Darmstadt School was the merit of its organizer.

Although Adorno associates “imbrication phenomena” with the immanent development of artistic means, he in no way maintains that there would only be art in the circumscribed domain of particular arts. This is what differentiates Adorno from defenders of the autonomy of artistic circles such as the American critic Clement Greenberg. Adorno sticks to the means because it would not be possible to return to a state of undifferentiation between them, prior to the specialization of the arts. Simultaneously, its development implies a dialectic of artistic progress in which a medium can be impelled to go beyond its borders, rebelling against the constituted meaning in the well-marked territories of each art. The possible result is not only a connection with dimensions of other arts, but also works in which one no longer recognizes what placed them in a particular field. In this direction, Adorno mentions the atmospheres by Georg Ligeti, who no longer have particular sounds that can be distinguished according to traditional criteria; or else the nameless by Beckett, a prose text that, due to the indistinction between narration and reflection on the narrative, could only be polemically called a novel.

As the history of the autonomy of art is also the history of the specialization of the arts, when a work challenges the boundaries established between them, it also pushes the limits that differentiate it from reality. In Adorno's words: “The imbrication of the arts is the enemy of an ideal of harmony that presupposes, so to speak, that the pre-ordained relations within the genres are guarantees of meaning; it intends to break with the ideological imprisonment of art that affects it even in its constitution as art, as an autonomous sphere of the spirit. It is as if artistic genres, by denying their rigidly drawn boundaries, corrode the very concept of art”.

♦ It is not only in montage techniques, from Dadaism to cinema, with his intention to introduce empirical reality in the most direct way into art, that Adorno observes such a shaking of the boundaries between art and life, but above all – and in a more coherent way for he – in the critique of the appearance of art, carried out by the most advanced autonomous art, from writers like Beckett to representatives of new music. But even there, in the dissolution of the meaning constituted in tradition, art does not give up the production of meaning by its own The critique of appearance, after all, is an achievement with an aesthetic sense.

♦ In the last movement of the essay, Adorno maintains that the suppression of meaning in the domain of art would only be possible with the extinction of art itself, a limit situation before which art itself assumes a dialectical position. By its mere existence, it already polemicizes against its abolition, but its utopian aspiration would ultimately be to overcome the conditions that make it necessary as a consciousness of As a product of the social division of labor, art has always walked hand in hand with barbarism. : “it is as if the end of art threatened the end of a humanity whose suffering requires art, an art that neither softens nor mitigates it. Art presents humanity with the dream of its downfall so that it can wake up, become master of itself and survive”.

♦ A tireless defender of the autonomy of art, Adorno is not attached to art. He understands it as the product of a non-reconciled society that could very well disappear, or assume other functions, if that society were to emancipate itself. The autonomy of art would have telos the joint extinction of art and the suffering that engenders it. As the prevailing order prohibits this suppression, the imbrication of the arts is not just the advanced expression of autonomy. It is also an index of the social block to overcoming the difference between art and non-art.

*Luciano Gatti He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at Unifesp. Author, among other books, of Constellations: criticism and truth in Benjamin and Adorno (Loyola).


Theodor W. Adorno. No guideline: Parva aesthetica. Translation, presentation and notes: Luciano Gatti. São Paulo, Unesp, 2021, 272 pages.


See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank