Theodore Adorno, Between Utopia and Dystopia. Minima Moralia.

Practice in theory to be updated.

Txts in Minima Moralia to be evaluated as relevant rather than too abstract… See tutor..

The Critical Role of Art: Adorno 

between Utopia and Dystopia 

In the drama of conscious existence, it is not theory and 

practice that encounter each other, but enigma and 

transparency, phenomenon and insight.  If enlightenment 

does occur, it does so no through the establishment of a 

dictatorship of lucidity but as the dramatic self-

illumination of existence. – Peter Sloterdijk1 

Sloterdijk, Peter, Thinker on the Stage: Nietzsche’s Materialism, trans. by Jamie 

Owen Daniel (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989). 

Reading or hearing about Theodor Adorno’s ideas always results in

quibbles.  He strikes many as a naïve philosopher because of his

reversal of concept and object; some see him as an anarchist because of

his relentless critique of rationality; while to others he simply does not make

sense, and especially a critique of society based on negative dialectics simply

does not make sense to many!  These points, however, are precisely some of

the key elements of his thought; without a deeper apprehension of these main

themes, it would be impossible to arrive at a level-headed appraisal of his


Adorno’s philosophy revolves around the idea that the history of

rationality has relapsed into barbarism; that irrationality itself inheres in

rationality.  In Minima Moralia, he writes, “Our perspective of life has passed

into an ideology which conceals the fact that there is life no longer.”2  What

modernity or Enlightenment promises are the liberation of men from fear and

the establishment of their sovereignty through the disenchantment of the

world and the dissolution of myths;3 this is how we are seduced by

Enlightenment.  It was through the triumph of knowledge over our caprices

that liberation was supposedly achieved.  For Adorno, however, this promise

of liberation is but another caprice, and a subtle one.  The promise hides

behind the façade of rationality—of enlightened knowledge—but its real

nature is one that contradicts its façade.  “There is to be no mystery” in

knowledge, “which means, too, no wish to reveal mystery.”4  Society’s blind

and blanket acceptance of the promise of Enlightenment distorts the faculty of

perception.  Enlightenment promises the “good life” while in fact, as a veil,

masks the very possibility of life.

Adorno’s seemingly bleak view of a reified society might be

misinterpreted as sheer pessimism.  However, I will argue in this paper that

through Adorno’s “aesthetics of redemption,” it is possible to conceive of art

as a medium of creating a dimension of imagined freedom.  An artwork can

present itself as an opposition to the present and thereby open up the present

to the future.

Ibid., 5. 

This passage of literature to date is among the most inspiring I have read. I immediately identified with Adorno’s somewhat elusive point of view. This ambiguity, I believe being key to Adorno’s base philosophy. Now unless I have miss understood it, relates directly to philosophical concepts such as phenomenology and absurdism. The Kadampa Buddhist order refer to such phenomenology as ’emptiness’.

Phenomenology, in Husserl’s conception, is primarily concerned with the systematic reflection on and study of the structures of consciousness and the phenomena that appear in acts of consciousness. This phenomenological ontology can be clearly differentiated from the Cartesian method of analysis which sees the world as objects, sets of objects, and objects acting and reacting upon one another.  .

It is simply the truth in perception which ultimately concerns me and will continue to inform my practice. How can art and design evolve further to reveal a clearer perception. To allow its participant to engage in multi dimensional open ended thinking, rejection of thought all together even?..

I think, basically, what Adorno is saying is that the world of art is based on Neuro Linguistic and Semiotic Programming. Whereby society’s operate, artistically, from a base structure of understanding of the world, learned understanding.

Thus, artistic endeavour is rendered stagnant from the off. In so far as it is not a pure act of creativity. It is mearly a means to an end which has ended before it has even begun. Reactionary. I question, how does human nature evolve under such pretense?.. I would argue it evolves in the way of reproduction only.

Life (cf. biota) is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes(i.e., living organisms) from those that do not,[1][2] either because such functions have ceased (death), or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate.[3][4] Biology is the science concerned with the study of life.

Do human beings truly possess self sustaining skills?.. On basic levels yes. Is it enough for us to simply get by? How do we look to really advance? Are we concerned with a more universal approach to life, as life itself, not merely an end in itself, not death, but deathlessness.. ?

Death is the term used to describe the cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism.Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predationmalnutritiondiseasesuicide,murder and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury. All known organisms inevitably experience death.[1] Bodies of living organisms begin to decompose shortly after death.

I find intriguing, this definition of death, that it does not mention ‘preconception’ ‘presupposition’, ‘predetermination’ as termination of life in itself, before it has chance to grow. The definition does not include the mental well being of the subject, whether said subject is awake to possibility, engaged, enthused, alive. Or whether opposite, sedated, reactionary, absolute, dillusionary, static, stagnant and lifeless.

Enlightenment in a secular context often means the “full comprehension of a situation”,[1] but in spiritual terms the word alludes to a spiritual revelation or deep insight into the meaning and purpose of all things, communication with or understanding of the mind of God, profound spiritual understanding or a fundamentally changed consciousness whereby everything is perceived as a unity.

Some scientists believe that during meditative states leading up to the subjective experience of enlightenment there are actual physical changes in the brain.[2] .

I feel it can be arts role to act as catalyst to socially accepted systems of belief. Not to aim to alter, yet to aim to allow for further understanding of the systems of life everyday, systems which we mostly take for granted and accept as the only ways.

Thus far my artistic endeavour has been concerned with Etymology, socially accepted norms, Phenomenology, Absurdism, Buddhist values to name a few sources of enquiry. These concepts have begun to manifest themselves within my products by way of aiming to showcase them for what they are, to allow insight via materials, functions, metaphor, symbolism and so on.

As example, mirrors are beginning to feature in my practical experiments. A mirror, I feel, offers a distorted view of life, derogatory to nature and mankind. The true nature of perception I believe, is ever changing, not static. The mirror could be argued to be a powerful metaphor for the ills of a society.. Vanity. Fixed viewpoints. The self, crystal clear ego and defect exaggerated. etc.

Lacan’s Mirror Theory will become relevant to all of the above.. TBC


About generalmagnetic

Designer Maker / Technician 3D Design - Architecture
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