Thursday, October 21, 2010


"[An Artwork's] ridiculousness is, however, also a part of a condemnation of empirical rationality: it accuses the rationality of social praxis of having become an end in itself and as such the irrational and mad reversal of means into ends. The ridiculousness in art, which philistines recognize better than do those who are naively at home in art, and the folly of a rationality made absolute indict one onther reciprocally; incidentally, when viewed from this perspective of the praxis of self-preservation, happiness-sex-is equally ridiculous, as can be spitefully pointed out by anyone who is not driven by it. Ridiculousness is the residue of the mimetic in art, the price of its self-enclosure. In his condemnation of this element, the philistine always has an ignominious measure of justification. The ridiculous, as a barbaric residuum of something alien to form, misfires in art if art fails to reflect and shape it. If it remains on the level of the culture industry. By its very concept, art implies kitsch, just as by the obligation it imposes of sublimating the ridiculous it presupposes educational priviledge and class structure; fun is art's punishment for this. All the same, the ridiculous elements in artworks are most akin to their intentionless levels and therefore, in great works, also closest to their secret. Foolish subjects like those of The Magic Flute and Der Freischutz have more truth content through the medium of the music than does the Ring, which gravely aims at the ultimate. In its clownishness, art consolingly recollects prehistory in the primordial world of animals. Apes in the zoo together perform what resembles clown routines. The collusion of children with clowns is a collusion with art, which adults drive out of them just as they drive out their collusion with animals. Human beings have not succeeded in so thoroughly repressing their likeness to animals that they are unable in an instant to recapture it and be flooded with joy; the language of little children and animals seems to be the same. In the similarity of clowns to animals the likeness of humans to apes flashes up; the constellation animal/fool/clown is a fundamental layer of art"...

-Theodor Adorno, 'Enigmaticalness, Truth Content, Metaphysics', in Aesthetic Theory, Continuum, 1997

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