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Adorno on Mimesis in Aesthetic Theory


Amresh Sinha
as257@nyu.edu In Briel, Holger and Andreas Kramer, eds., In Practice: Adorno, Critical Theory and Cultural Studies. Bern: Lang, 2000, pp. 145 15!.

Art is imitation onl" to the e#tent to $hich it is o%&ecti'e e#pression, (ar remo'ed (rom ps"cholog". )here ma" ha'e %een a time long ago $hen this e#pressi'e *+alit" o( the o%&ecti'e $orld generall" $as percei'ed %" the h+man sensor" apparat+s. It no longer is. ,#pression no$ada"s li'es on onl" in art. )hro+gh e#pression art can keep at a distance the moment o( %eing (or other $hich is al$a"s threatening to eng+l( it. Art is th+s a%le to speak in itsel(. )his is the reali-ation thro+gh mimesis. Art.s e#pression is the antithesis o( .e#pressing something.. /imesis is the ideal o( art, not some practical method or s+%&ecti'e attit+de aimed at e#pressi'e 'al+es. 0hat the artist contri%+tes to e#pression is his a%ilit" to mimic, $hich sets (ree in him the e#pressed s+%stance.1 !" Adorno.s criti*+e o( mimesis proposes a method o( dialectical re(lection $hich goes against the grain o( the positi'istic tendenc" o( modern conscio+sness, $hich has a tendenc" to s+%stit+te means (or ends. 1Art.s e#pression is the anti thesis o( e#pressing something,1 (or Adorno, implies that it remains non identical to a tendenc" that is related to the e#igenc" o( commodit" e#change. It resists the (+nctional aspect o( %eing (or other $hich 1threaten2s3 to eng+l(1 its e#istence. Artistic e#pression cannot %e s+%stit+ted (or something else. It cannot %e a%sor%ed into the identit" o( something that can %e s+%stit+ted (or itsel(. Artistic e#pression resists a%sorption into a method. According to Adorno, %oth Hegel.s Phenomenology of Spirit and /ar#.s Capital, the 1great dialectical te#ts o( modern dialectics,1 +se the methodolog" o( re(lection, %+t it is a method $hich per(orms a 'er" di((erent p+rpose. )he method to $hich the o%&ect is no$ %eing s+%&ected is deri'ed (rom the positi'istic s"mptoms o( modern methodolog", $hose aim is to s+%stit+te means (or ends. Instead o( rel"ing +pon the (+nctional aspect o( description as a method p+rported %" positi'istic scientism, Adorno adheres to the Hegelian mode o( dialectical re(lection comprising %oth description and +nderstanding, %+t onl" to the e#tent that the latter $o+ld soon take precedence o'er the (ormer in almost e'er" sense o( the $ord. 2" )he +nderstanding o( mimesis, (or Adorno, lies in the (act that as a sel( identical entit", the art$ork is not prod+ced in relation to the identit" o( a $orld or a method, %+t it is sel( identical to its mimetic moment, that is, it is identical to itsel( and not to the other. )his helps him to theori-e the a%sence o( the notion o( s+%&ecti'it" in relation to the mimetic moment $hich $ithdra$s or at least remains 1at a distance1 (rom the moment o( %eing (or another. Art does not re(lect the 1mood1 o( the artist, is not a 1replica1 or 1a (+--" photograph1 o( the 1ps"chic content,1 it is a contri%+tion to e#pression, an a%ilit" that is transmitted thro+gh mimesis. 4+rthermore,

the artistic contri%+tion also %rings to e#pression the immanent categor" o( the tr+th content $hich is the o%&ect o( +nderstanding. /imesis, there(ore, is not a%o+t replicating the content5 rather it is a (orm o( e#pression. )he mimetic moment in art is not (o+nd in the artistic intention, it o+tlines the (eat+res o( e#pression, in other $ords, it e#presses e#pression itsel( and nothing else. 4or Adorno the resignation o( 6ch+%ert.s m+sic cannot %e located in the so called 1p+rported .mood.1 o( its composer, (or that is not $hat his art e#presses. 0hat it e#presses is rather the post+re o( sl+mping itsel( that mimics the resignation o( his m+sic. Adorno, ho$e'er, esta%lishes a di((erence %et$een the ling+istic medi+m o( art and lang+age as s+ch. )he ling+istic aspect o( lang+age is mani(ested thro+gh mimetic e#pression $hich itsel( is repressed in the medi+m o( lang+age inso(ar as this repression o( mimesis is e#pressed %" the lang+age, $hich has 1disgraced1 itsel( %" (alling into the 1pit(alls1 o( e#change lang+age that determines the separation o( s+%&ect and o%&ect. )he ling+istic medi+m o( art is delineated in the (eat+res o( the artistic e#pression, in its a%ilit" to mimic e#pression, or to lend a gest+re or post+re to a (eat+re $hich is %ro+ght a%o+t to e#press itsel(, or 1to speak in itsel(51 on the other hand, lang+age as a medi+m o( art does not e#press its mimetic a%ilit" %+t merel" replicates the meaning, the content o( the art$ork. )he ling+istic is a medi+m in itsel(5 lang+age is a medi+m (or another. In an attempt to recall Ben&amin.s doctrine o( mimesis, Adorno in'okes 7ames 7o"ce, and his ling+istic e#periments $hich go %e"ond the scope o( lang+age, in order to stress the di((erence %et$een comm+nicati'e and mimetic lang+age. Art has a d+al or 1do+%le character.1 #" It is %oth constit+ti'e and constit+ted. Art, as a ling+istic e#pression o( (orm, as in 7o"ce.s prose, sets aside the disc+rsi'e model o( lang+age5 it constit+tes its o$n essence. 8n the other hand, art as a medi+m o( lang+age is no longer an e#pression o( itsel(, %+t loses its character and is s+%ordinated to meaning $hich poses a threat to its identit". And here $e are at the cr+# o( the pro%lem. I( the meaning o( lang+age is e#pressed thro+gh comm+nicati'e lang+age then it in(licts danger to itsel(. Be(ore going into the Ben&aminian nat+re o( Adorno.s disco+rse o( lang+age, it might %e +se(+l to recall a signi(icant essa" Adorno $rote earl" in his career, 1)he Act+alit" o( 9hilosoph",1 in $hich he reiterates the logic o( the Hegelian interpretation o( the riddle o( the 6phin# in the Aesthetics, %" descri%ing the process o( ho$ in the presence o( meaning the riddle disintegrates. 6+ch is the (orm o( the threat that hangs o'er the 'er" e#istence o( art, and that is the reason $h" the indeciphera%ilit" or incomm+nica%ilit" in art is so precio+s and 'al+a%le (or him. )he 'er" e#istence o( the art$ork depends on the (act that it remains +ndeciphera%le, ins+rmo+nta%le, a+tonomo+s, and (ree. An e#pression is +ndeciphera%le, +nmastera%le5 it is +nrepresenta%le. In Adorno.s theor" o( mimesis the non signi(icati'e character o( lang+age is gi'en precedence o'er the signi(icati'e or comm+nicati'e aspect o( lang+age. )his is so %eca+se in Adorno.s consideration 1the tr+e lang+age o( art is speechless1 2A), 1:43. )his, incidentall", also makes +s re(lect on his pre'io+s statement that 1art is...a%le to speak in itsel(1 2A), 1:43. It might $ell %e a matter o( contention $hether speechlessness coincides $ith an inner speech, or $hether to 1speak in itsel(1 is merel" a logical categor" o( %eing in itsel( $hich resists the s+%lation o( %eing (or another. )he (act that

art does not speak o+t as a method does point to an important di((erence in that $e can o%ser'e that the lang+age o( art is %oth sel( contained and 1m+te.1 B+t, ne'ertheless, %" standing on its o$n, art proclaims a sel(hood that e#presses thro+gh its 1ga-e1 the %eing in itsel( inso(ar as it does not relin*+ish its sel( identit" %" %ecoming a part o( the totalit" o( an identi("ing tho+ght process. )he ga-e allo$s the $ork o( art to e#press itsel( thro+gh mimesis. /imesis presents the idea o( the primar" s+%&ect. Adorno.s 'ersion o( mimesis as the archaic holdo'er o( lang+age is an echo o( the Ben&aminian moti(. In his essa", 18n Lang+age as s+ch and the Lang+age o( /an,1 Ben&amin spec+lates on the Adamic lang+age %e(ore and a(ter the 4all. Ho$e'er a slight di((erence can %e percei'ed in their +se o( lang+age. Ben&amin sho$s a marked pre(erence (or the theological and messianic implications o( the lang+age, $hereas Adorno $orks (rom a more anthropological and phenomenological perspecti'e. )he phenomenological aspect o( Adorno.s thinking is %ro+ght to light %" his e((ort to (orm+late the disco+rse o( art in the (rame$ork o( the disco+rse o( %eing. 4or instance, he $rites, 1it is as i( art $orks $ere re enacting the process thro+gh $hich the s+%&ect comes pain(+ll" into %eing1 2A), 1:43. 4or as long as the memor" o( the primal histor" re'er%erates thro+gh the s+%&ect, the $ork o( art $ill %ear a((init" $ith it in its e#pression. $" )he point is not to integrate this e#pression into the identit" o( the s+%&ect, the ego, %eca+se despite the similarit" and resem%lance o( this e#pression $ith the s+%&ecti'e content, it sho+ld not %e (orgotten that the s+%&ecti'e element in the $ork o( art at the same time contin+es to %e an impersonal and non s+%&ecti'e e#pression. )he closest the $ork o( art comes to e#pressing is the non s+%&ecti'e impression o( the s+%&ect. Adorno $rites: /ore speci(icall" it is in art.s apparitional *+alit" or phenomenalit" 2das Erscheinende3 that the collecti'e essence %reaks (orth %eca+se apparition goes (ar %e"ond the mere s+%&ect. )he memory trace of mimesis +nearthed %" e'er" art $ork, among other things, anticipates a condition o( reconciliation %et$een the indi'id+al and the collecti'it". And this collecti'e remem%rance is not di'orced (rom the s+%&ect %+t act+ali-es itsel( thro+gh it. )he latter.s imp+lsi'e a'ersions are an indicator o( collecti'e modes o( response. )hat is $h" the philosophical interpretation o( tr+th content has to proceed thro+gh the partic+lar as $ell. )he s+%&ecti'el" mimetic and e#pressi'e moment o( $orks o( art terminates in o%&ecti'it". )he" are neither p+re imp+lse nor p+re (orm, %+t the congealment o( the process o( o%taining %et$een imp+lse and (orm. )his process is a social one. 2,mphasis mine3 2A), 1!03 As the primal histor" o( s+%&ecti'it", the mimetic imp+lses are themsel'es integrated and transposed thro+gh a process o( re enactment into the $orks o( art, and 1the" retain their *+alit" as plenipotentiaries o( e#tra aesthetic nat+re in the midst o( art, e#cept that the" cease to %e nat+re p+re and simple, %ecoming an a(ter image o( nat+re instead1 2A), 1:53. )he mimetic imp+lse, as 1plenipotentiaries o( e#tra aesthetic nat+re,1 is s+%lated in the $ork o( art and, conse*+entl", also preser'ed in its 1a(ter image1 as the o%&ecti(ication o( the artistic e#pression. In that sense the mimetic lang+age, the non comm+nicati'e aspect o( the lang+age, is no longer e#pressed in the lang+age o( nat+re, $hose 1speechlessness1 indicates the ca+se o( its o$n s+((ering, %+t is %eing no$ e#pressed as a lang+age that trans(orms the lang+age o( s+((ering into a lang+age o(

e#pression. )he $ork o( art, thro+gh its 1integrati'e machiner",1 manages to trans(orm and modi(" the original (orm o( mimesis into the constit+ti'e act o( spirit+ali-ation, a moment $hich comes prior to the re(lection o( spirit. )he e#pression o( mimetic lang+age in the $ork o( art is preser'ed and conser'ed in the artistic e#pression that speaks immanentl" (rom $ithin the art$ork itsel(. B+t it is no$ as a modi(ied, mediated 'ersion o( spirit+ali-ation that the mimetic imp+lse s+r'i'es in the o%&ecti(ication o( the artistic e#pression. In Adorno, the historici-ation o( mimesis remains in(ormed %" his rel+ctance to pro'ide a descripti'e or de(initi'e model o( mimesis $hich, incidentl", also ser'es as a criti*+e o( the Ben&aminian notion o( 1non sens+o+s similarit".1 /ichael ;ahn, in 16+%'ersi'e /imesis,1 arg+es that 1(or Adorno the relationship %et$een $ord and thing, as a negati'e dialectic $hich is not content $ith a simple similarit", has to a'oid the deadlock o( s"nthesis $hich Ben&amin.s non sens+al similarit" seems to impl".1 5" It is c+rio+s to (ind ;ahn.s insin+ation that there is a simplicit" or na<'et= to Ben&amin.s idea o( non sens+o+s similarit", %eca+se to man" readers it holds the ke" to his rather enigmatic and re'elator" concept o( lang+age. ;ahn implies that it is simple %eca+se it is not s+((icientl" historical. It is simple %eca+se it s"nthesi-es the archaic $ith the latest the m"thical $ith the technological. B+t $hat i( it is none o( that and conse*+entl" all o( that> Adorno remains, so to speak, in more than one sense, (aith(+l to Ben&amin.s non comm+nicati'e aspect o( lang+age. I( the mimetic relation %et$een $ord and thing has a (i#ed historical 'al+e in Ben&amin, then ho$ can $e e#plain his claim (or the 1decline1 o( the mimetic a%ilit", +nless $e completel" ignore the implication o( historical rei(ication> )o claim that mimesis in Ben&amin is more or less de historici-ed and th+s, to red+ce it e#cl+si'el" to his rather idios"ncratic onomatapoetical de(inition, is, +n(ort+natel", *+ite red+cti'e itsel(. According to ;ahn, 1Adorno emphasi-es the %eha'ioral and almost sens+al dimension o( mimesis in mimicr" and magic, and their primiti'e, anthropological *+alit" constit+tes the %asis (or other, less tangi%le .'ersions. o( the Adornian concept. B+t all o( these ha'e in common the (act that the" do not designate mere imitation.1 %" Adorno.s concept o( mimesis does not de(ine itsel( as imitation. B+t it nonetheless recogni-es the insidio+s am%ig+it" in the $ord mimesis, $hich at once ad'ances the concept o( a 1thinglike cop",1 and $hich 1might also re(er to the acti'it" o( a s+%&ect $hich models itself according to a gi'en protot"pe.1 7" Like 9lato, Adorno, too, is conscio+s o( the di((erence %et$een good and %ad mimesis. )he meaning o( the (irst t"pe o( mimesis re(ers to the str+ct+re o( %ad mimesis, $hereas the second t"pe, $hich is a model o( adapti'e 1and1 correlati'e %eha'ior, is marked as the proper mimesis. In a pec+liar (ashion, Adorno %oth cancels and preser'es, negates and a((irms, the Ben&aminian notion o( mimesis. 8n the one hand, he re&ects the n+ances o( imitation in Ben&amin.s +nrestrained cele%ration o( mass reprod+ction, $hich is limited and controlled %" its 'is+al a+ra, on the other hand, he $holeheartedl" em%races the Ben&aminian doctrine o( mimesis that o((ers 1similarit"1 as the %asic imp+lse o( mimesis. )his +ne*+i'ocal s+pport o( Ben&amin.s lang+age o( mimesis echoes in his tho+ght $hich claims that the original meaning o( mimesis consists in 1making oneself similar to an other.1 &"

Imitation is relegated to %ad or secondar" mimesis. ?et, (or Adorno, the concept o( mimetic ta%oo Bilder verbot ta%oo on gra'en images can also %e seen as an e#ample o( mimesis itsel(. ;ahn arg+es that Adorno.s criti*+e o( mimesis 1as a categor" o( art m+st not %e red+ced to imaging representation,1 not %eca+se he is primaril" interested in m+sic and other non representational arts, %+t rather 1(or him mimesis is a %eha'ior $hich reaches to$ards the o%&ect, stands in a re(lected immediac" to it, and th+s it implies the archaic a((init" %et$een s+%&ect and o%&ect. '" 6imilarl", in Late Marxism, 7ameson makes the arg+ment that the introd+ction o( the concept o( mimetic ta%oo also represents a moment o( dialectical possi%ilit" %et$een mimesis and rationalit". !(" 8nl" no$, according to him, 1the t+rn o( so called 0estern science $ill...%e seen as a res+lt o( the anti mimetic ta%oo and o( anti mimetic regression that is to sa", the passage (rom a percept+al .science. %ased on the senses and on *+alit" to notations and anal"sis %ased on geometr" and on mathematics.1 !!" Both the anti mimetic ta%oo and anti mimetic regression ha'e preser'ed the memor" o( a 1science,1 1the mimetic prehistor" o( rationalit".1 !2" Historicall" one can percei'e in the enlightened repression o( mimesis a contin+ation o( the same imp+lse. Art is a re(+ge o( mimetic %eha'ior. In art the s+%&ect, depending on ho$ m+ch a+tonom" it has, takes +p 'ar"ing positions vis- -vis its o%&ecti'e other (rom $hich it is al$a"s di((erent %+t ne'er entirel" separate. Art.s disa'o$al o( the magical practices art.s o$n antecedents signi(ies that art shares in rationalit". Its a%ilit" to hold its o$n !"a mimesis in the midst o( rationalit", e'en $hile +sing the means o( that rationalit", is a response to the e'ils and irrationalit" o( the rational %+rea+cratic $orld. 2A), @!3 )he critical potential o( art maintains itsel( !"a mimesis in the midst o( the irrationalit" o( the $orld and is still rele'ant, despite the loss o( the s+%&ect, to the priorit" o( the o%&ect. Art s+r'i'es (irst o( all %" adapting to the rational %eha'ior o( the mimetic imp+lse, and secondl" %" remaining distinct (rom the all em%racing identit" o( rationalit". )o p+t it slightl" di((erentl", the mimetic imp+lse in art s+r'i'es d+e to its correlati'e, adapti'e %eha'ior. Art takes re(+ge in mimesis in order to escape (rom the irrationalit" o( the death like intensit" o( the rei(ied $orld5 this leads to Adorno.s m+sings on the 1posth+mo+s1 character o( art in Aesthetic Theory. /imesis, in Adorno, mediates %et$een t$o elements: li(e and death. In s+ch a dialectical conte#t, i( $e ass+me that art.s s+r'i'al in the midst o( its potential annihilation %" the %+rea+cratic irrationalit" o( the $orld depends on the (act that it m+st partake in the process o( rationalit", $hich itsel( is the reason (or its irrationalit", then its relation to death is $hat is mani(ested as its relation to li(e. Aespite the historical (act that art emerged grad+all" (rom the (etters o( magical principles, it cannot simpl" go %ack to its nat+ral origin, $hen (aced $ith the rational composition o( the irrational, rei(ied, %o+rgeois $orld. It is alread" a part o( it. Art.s emergence (rom the shackles o( the magic $orld testi(ies to its rational principle. B+t it does not (+ll" indicate the separation o( s+%&ect (rom the o%&ect. 4or Adorno, the 1'ar"ing positions1 o( art signi(ies t$o distinct (eat+res. In the (irst place, the $ork o( art is endo$ed $ith the principle o( rationalit", $hich indicates its separation (rom the dominance o( the magico m"thical realm5 secondl", art also stands in opposition to the rationalit", the real domination. In %oth

instances the act+al process o( art is 1ine#trica%l" intert$ined $ith rationalit"1 2A), B03. ?et, the traditional aesthetic reception tends to %e s+rprised at the 1mo%ili-ation1 o( technological, rational element o( artistic prod+ction that $orks 1in a di((erent direction than domination does.1 Both art and rationalit" mo%ili-e technolog": one emplo"s it (or the sake o( the s+r'i'al o( its magical heritage, the other pa"s no attention to it. )he di((erence lies in the direction o( mo%ili-ation itsel(. )he dialectic o( mimesis, Adorno claims, is a%sol+tel" 1intrinsic1 to art, a proposition mostl" mis+nderstood %" the 1na#vet$1 o( modern aesthetic tho+ght. 4or it (ails to appreciate the progressi'e disenchantment o( the $orld in the $ork o( art as a means (or sec+ring, ho$e'er thro+gh technolog", the li(e o( magical heritage o( art. )he dialectic o( mimesis and rationalit" re'eals the compati%le %+t irreconcila%le tendenc" o( one to the other. Art.s mimetic character is re'ealed in its disenchantment (rom and sec+lari-ation o( magic (rom the archaic period. It th+s con'e"s the rational side o( art, as $ell as its re(+sal to allo$ the domination o( rationalit" to t+rn it into a technological per(ect %eing. In art the resistance is (elt in %oth directions as nothing %+t the m+te s+((ering o( its e#pression. 4or neither does its mimetic rationalit" permit it to regress to the magical realm, in order to separate itsel( (rom that t"pe o( cognition $hich aims at a sing+lar concept+al grasp o( the $orld, nor the kno$ledge o( the 1magical essence1 let it slide to$ards the destr+ction o( its sel( identit". Art.s sec+lari-ation (rom magic is sec+red $ithin the antinom" o( li(e and death. )he art$ork.s s+r'i'al depends on its adhering to the mimetic imp+lse, $hich is (oremost a 1-oological1 or 1%iological1 imp+lse, designed a(ter the perse'erance o( the species, a nat+ral, anthropological imp+lse that s+r'i'es in the (ace o( death %" (eigning death itsel(. In the (ace o( death, man" animals ha'e %een (o+nd to imitate death, their enem". )heir s+r'i'al res+lts (rom the assimilation to the other. B" pla"ing dead in the presence o( e#treme danger, %" gi'ing +p the characteristic o( li(e, %" pla"ing dead, in the presence o( e#treme danger, the animal gi'es itsel(, assimilates itsel( to death. In other $ords, the presence o( death mimeticall" marks the absence o( %oth li(e and death. )his rit+al, or, i( "o+ pre(er, the dialectic, o( li(e and death points to a moment in the histor" o( art that is indisting+isha%le (rom the dichotom" o( the rational and the irrational. Art is $itho+t do+%t irrational, or at least, its origin cannot %e e#tricated (rom the horror that al$a"s disting+ishes it (rom the other, %+t it is also, at the same time, rational, to the e#tent that it m+st not deteriorate to the s+perstitio+s m"thological le'el. 10hat mimetic %eha'ior responds to,1 sa"s Adorno, 1is the telos o( cognition,1 $hich is to sa" that the tendenc" o( modern scientism to red+ce all means (or its o$n ends $ill not do &+stice to the mimetic re*+irements. )he telos o( cognition, ho$e'er, signi(ies the e#pansion o( this concept into the non e#istent, non concept+al area the domain o( mimesis. )his %rings +s to that moment in Adorno.s doctrine o( mimesis that per(orms the task o( criti*+e. )he critical mimesis responds, more or less, in a manner o( a 1criti*+e o( criti*+e.1 !#" According to Adorno, 1art is rationalit" critici-ing itsel( $itho+t %eing a%le to o'ercome itsel(1 2A), B13. Art is critical o( rationalit", "et cannot %e identi(ied $ith it, despite the (act that rationalit", too, is a critical (actor. )he complimentar" nat+re o( this dialectical tension is %est o%ser'ed in the cases $here the ideological concerns o( positi'istic thinking are most %latantl" e'ident. )ho+gh Adorno himsel( does not hesitate to incorporate materials (rom

other academic (ields, he nonetheless o%&ects to that t"pe o( the 1rationalist criti*+e1 that, in order to make a point a%o+t art, applies the 1criteria o( e#tra artistic logic and ca+salit"1 2A), B13. Caming it an 1ideological mis+se1 o( criti*+e, he pro'ides an e#ample: 10hen a latecomer in the tradition o( the realistic no'el o%&ects to ,ichendor((.s 'erse, $hich sa"s that .clo+ds are (loating like hea'" dreams,. pointing o+t that one ma" $ell compare dreams to clo+ds %+t not clo+ds to dreams, then poetr", (aced $ith the homel" pers+asi'eness o( this o%&ection, &+stl" retreats into its o$n realm1 2A), B13. It is almost +n%eara%le to lea'e the poetic and mimetic con(ig+rations and constellations in $hich the e#ternal nat+re resem%les the inner state o( almost sentimental longing in the hands o( rationalist criticism. Dationalit" is immanent to art, and this rationalit" is in man" $a"s similar to the rationalit" o( the o+tside $orld, %+t it is also, at the same time, di((erent (rom the rationalit" o( the concept+al order. Co artistic $ork can e#ist in complete isolation (rom the 1rationalit" go'erning the $orld o+tside,1 "et it ma" not reprod+ce or imitate the strict+res o( the go'erning logic that condemns it (or ha'ing irrational (eat+res. 0hat appears as irrational e#pression in art in the 1e"es1 o( the concept+al ordering is act+all" the e#pression o( the 1(orgotten e#periences1 that themsel'es cannot %e +nderstood %" 1rationali-ing them.1 )he de(ense o( irrationalism, in Adorno, is prompted %" a desire to de(end e#pressionism and s+rrealism (rom the attacks o( the propagandist apparatchiks like Ehdano' and his (ollo$ers. Adorno maintains that 1to mani(est irrationalit" the irrationalit" o( the ps"che and o( the o%&ecti'e order in art thro+gh a (ormati'e process, th+s making it rational in a sense, is one thing: to preach irrationalit", $hich more o(ten than not goes hand in hand $ith a s+per(icial rationalism in the +se o( artistic means, is *+ite another1 2A), B23. )his leads to a criti*+e o( 0alter Ben&amin: 10alter Ben&amin pro%a%l" did not take cogni-ance o( this in his theor" a%o+t the $ork o( art in the age o( mechanical reprod+ction. 4or one thing, Ben&amin.s dichotom" %et$een a+ratic and mass prod+ced art, (or simplicit".s sake, neglects the dialectical relation o( these t$o t"pes. 4or another, he %ecomes the 'ictim o( a perspecti'e on art that h"postati-es photograph" as a model, $hich is &+st as atrocio+s as the 'ie$, sa", o( the artist as creator1 2A), B23. 8ne o( Adorno.s main criticisms o( Ben&amin hinges on his di((erence (rom Ben&amin.s endorsement o( mass reprod+ction, $hich has (or him a negati'e connotation. Adorno.s (orm+lation o( mimesis disa'o$s an" a((init" to imitation, since imitation or 1cop" realism1 cannot acco+nt (or the critical moment in art. )he concept o( the mimetic ta%oo is introd+ced, in e((ect, to pre'ent mimesis (rom regressing to its archaic mode. Adorno traces the origin o( the mimetic ta%oo to the ps"choanal"tical phenomenon o( the ret+rn o( the repressed. He ret+rns in the %ialectic of Enlightenment to con(ront the *+estion o( the 1ret+rn o( the repressed1 in the chapter on anti 6emitism. !$" )h+s, in one sense, he manages to demonstrate the contin+it" o( the 1(orms o( domination1 %et$een the mimetic imp+lse and the process o( enlightenment, $hich also signals the displacement o( the disco+rse o( the 1speci(icit" o( science1 onto its representation and its lang+age. As a post+late o( an archaic mode o( %eha'ior the mimetic capacit" re(ers to a state prior to the distinction %et$een s+%&ect and o%&ect5 it lacks the instr+mentalit" o( e#pression $hich is con'e"ed thro+gh the means o( representational lang+ages and, there(ore, remains

imm+ne to the representations o( the instr+mental reason to en(orce a concept+al opposition to it. 1)he capacit" o( representation,1 according to Adorno and Horkheimer, 1is the meas+re o( domination, and domination is the most po$er(+l thing that can %e represented in most per(ormances, so the capacit" o( representation is the 'ehicle o( progress and regression at the same time.1 !5" )he process o( enlightenment as (orms o( domination is itsel( nothing %+t a contin+ation o( science and rit+al. )he 1enigmatic stat+s1 o( mimesis is e#pressed in the dialectical possi%ilit" o( %oth regression and progression. !%" )his also re(lects the progress o( narrati'e in its historical (orm as a repression o( mimesis. I( the str+ct+re o( narrati'e, o( the instr+mental reason, ca+ses the domination o( mimesis, i( mimesis is repressed, dominated and tamed %" instr+mental reason, then, it also, ironicall", s+r'i'es thro+gh the e#istence o( the m"th o( enlightenment itsel(. )h+s mimesis.s 1aggression1 is p+rel" %o+nd +p in its e((orts (or s+r'i'al. /imesis and narrati'e are the (orces o( dialectical possi%ilit", %+t onl" in so m+ch as the" remain in opposition to each other. At one point Adorno speaks o( the distinction %et$een the ling+istic and the lang+age o( mimesis. 4or Adorno the latter does not e#ist. /imesis is not a lang+age, a s"stem o( representation. I( one m+st speak o( the mimetic lang+age, it sho+ld onl" %e an e#pression o( the 1+topia o( lang+age1 !7" %et$een the relation o( $ord and thing. ;ahn interprets this shi(t in Adorno %" s+ggesting that Adorno 1separates mimesis (rom the crisis o( representation and instead %rings it to %ear on the crisis o( criti*+e.1 !&" /imesis is ne'er mimesis o( this or that. /imesis is not constit+ted in relation to the s+%&ect o%&ect d+alism, since it is nothing %+t the expression o( that d+alism. )his d+alism re(ers to a state $hich originates prior to the di'ision o( s+%&ect and o%&ect, and historicall" one can locate it as 1an attit+de to$ards realit" prior to the (i#ed 2fixen3 opposition o( s+%&ect and o%&ect.1 !'" 10hat is not (i#ed in art seems to %e closer to the mimetic imp+lse,1 sa"s Adorno 2A), 14@3. )he distance %et$een s+%&ect and o%&ect pres+pposes a clear line o( demarcation, an a%straction that mostl" ser'es the interest o( enlightenment rationalit", $hich, in other $ords, 1li*+idates1 its o%&ect. 1,#pression in art is mimetic, &+st as the e#pression o( li'ing creat+res is the e#pression o( s+((ering. )he lines o( e#pression that are engra'ed in a $ork, ass+ming the" are clear and sharp, sim+ltaneo+sl" ser'e as lines o( demarcation to keep o+t ill+sion. ,'en so, $orks o( art contin+e to %e ill+sor". )here(ore the con(lict %et$een ill+sion (orm in the most general sense and e#pression remains +nresol'ed, raging %ack and (orth in the co+rse o( histor". Depresenting a stance to$ard realit" that is di((erent (rom the rigid &+#taposition o( s+%&ect and o%&ect, the mimetic mode o( %eha'ior in art has %een progressi'el" in(iltrated %" ill+sion the organ o( mimesis since the archaic ta%oo on mimesis, &+st as (orm has %ecome the 'ehicle o( a+tonom"1 2A), 1:23. 8nce again mimetic %eha'ior is contrasted $ith the notion o( imitation and de'eloped more along the lines o( e#pression. )he $orks o( art do not 1imitate the imp+lse o( an indi'id+al in the medi+m o( e#pression, m+ch less those o( the artist himsel(15 the mimetic imp+lse, on the other hand, constit+tes e#pression that is rei(ied to the e#tent that in it the non aesthetic e#perience o( the real is e#pressed thro+gh the (ictitio+s *+alit" in art. Art no longer e#presses the 'al+e o( a li'ing s+%stance. Aesthetic e#pression aims at the 1o%&ecti(ication o( the non o%&ecti'e1 2A), 1:F3. And

since the o%&ecti(ication o( the non o%&ecti'e alread" re*+ires a (orm o( e#pression that no longer e#presses the 'al+e o( a li'ing s+%stance in the o%&ecti'e s+%stance o( the arte(act that 1raises its 'oice to speak: sadness, strength, "earning1 2A), 1:F3. 4or Adorno 1mimetic %eha'ior does not imitate something %+t assimilates itsel( to that something1 2A), 1:F3. /imesis and its relation to the other, its assimilation to the other, is also indicati'e o( a relation %ased on similarit" and a((init". /oreo'er, the dialectical relation %et$een mimesis and rationalit" can also %e e#tended to ho$ e#pression is diametricall" opposed to concept+ali-ation. In mimesis the relation to the other, 1$hich e#ceeds the limit o( histor",1 is one o( similarit" and a((init". 2(" As an e#pression mimesis is related to the other as a sel( identical concept and there(ore resists the po$er o( o%&ecti(ication thro+gh concept+ali-ation. In other $ords, the regression o( mimesis $hich, %eing a part o( that histor" $hich itsel( is anterior to the polarit" o( s+%&ect and o%&ect, is ne'er act+all" a regression, constit+tes its opposition thro+gh $hich it escapes the po$er o( concept+ali-ation in the process o( identi("ing $ith something. Art %ecomes conscio+s o( the other $hen it recogni-es its o$n non %eing. As long as art identi(ies itsel( $ith the image o( nat+re, and that is e#actl" $hat instr+mental reason red+ces it to, it remains non identical $ith the tr+th content, $hich is immanentl" e#pressed thro+gh the historical de'elopment o( the arte(act. And since Adorno most emphaticall" declares that 1tr+th content cannot %e an arte(act,1 there(ore, tr+th, in its immediac", is necessaril" posited %" its presence as ill+sion, as the ill+sion o( tr+th 2A), 1!13. 1)he mark o( a+thenticit" o( $orks o( art is the (act that their ill+sion shines (orth in s+ch a $a" that it cannot possi%l" %e pre'aricated, and "et disc+rsi'e &+dgement is +na%le to spell o+t its tr+th. )r+th cancels the art$ork along $ith its ill+sion. )he de(inition o( art in terms o( ill+sion is onl" hal( correct: art is tr+e to the degree to $hich it is ill+sion o( the non ill+sor" 2Schein des Scheinlosen31 2A), 1!13. )he non ill+sor" is not the (+nction o( criti*+e (or art, %eca+se as itsel( it is nothing %+t the ill+sion o( the other, the non %eing, $hose longing is translated in the (orm o( image in relation to nat+re. 4or nothing than this sheer longing o( art to assimilate itsel( to the other, nat+re, %oth $ithdra$s it (rom the rationalit" o( the identi("ing thinking, the po$er o( concept+ali-ation, and a((irms its mimetic capacit" (or sel( identit". In its relation to tr+th art (+nctions as the principle o( non identit", $hich in(orms its separation (rom an all em%racing identi("ing tho+ght, and releases its mimetic a%ilit" to (+nction as a criti*+e $hich does not imitate the characteristics o( instr+mental rationalit" thro+gh $hich domination is instit+tionali-ed. Aesthetic tho+ght, Adorno maintains, +nlike Kant, is +na%le to (+l(ill the re*+irement o( tr+th, $hich can onl" %e e#perienced i( it passes thro+gh philosoph". )he art$orks posit $hat is man made, 1the act+alit" o( the non e#istent,1 and its o$n realit" testi(ies to the 1(easi%ilit" o( the +nreal1 2A), 1!23. )h+s thro+gh contradictoriness and negati'it" the art$ork s+ggests a %o+ndar" %e"ond $hich its claim to tr+th is normall" ascri%ed in the (alse claim that it can transcend these limits. Artistic tr+th represents onl" hal( tr+th as (ar as it is presented as a criti*+e o( reason, the other hal( is s+pplemented %" the mimetic imp+lse that seeks identit" $ith itsel( 2A), 15F3. I( it is presented merel" as an e#pression that is critical to$ards reason then its o$n o%&ecti'e ideal is 'irt+all" (orgotten. As something other than itsel(, as a criti*+e o(

realit", art itsel( cannot attain its o$n tr+th content $hich is mani(ested %" 1the la$1 that it resem%les, here in the sense o( similarit" to itsel(, rather than imitation o( an other, its o$n o%&ecti'e ideal. 2!" Art carries the principle o( contradiction to its e#treme. 4or instance, as a man made s+%stance it is not p+rel" 1o%&ecti'e,1 and its ideal in its %eing is to become $hate'er it aspires to. Adorno capt+res the real tension %et$een the o%&ecti'e and the ideal in the process o( the artist making the art$ork. 4or the artist to capt+re the essence o( the o%&ecti'e ideal, he or she m+st acco+nt (or an o%&ecti'it" that is not 1posited1 %" him or her, and an ideal that is reminiscent o( the mimetic trace that e'er" art $ork seeks to resem%le. Adorno.s dialectic o( mimetic identit" and instr+mental rationalit" incorporates a sense o( "earning and longing (or the non e#istent. 1B" their presence,1 sa"s Adorno, 1art $orks signal the possi%ilit" o( the non e#istent5 their realit" testi(ies to the (easi%ilit" o( the +nreal, the possi%le. /ore speci(icall", in art longing, $hich posits the act+alit" o( the non e#istent, takes the (orm o( remem%rance1 2A), 1!23. )hat $hich does not e#ist, i.e., the past, no$ e#ists in o+r memor". )hro+gh remem%rance the present is &oined $ith the past. )he notion o( +topia in art is, there(ore, preser'ed in the act o( recollection, in the spec+larit" o( anamnesis, in the potential o( the "et to come. )hat $hich thro+gh remem%rance remains potentiall" possi%le in the realm o( the art$ork does not necessaril" mean a %etra"al o( the realit" o( the empirical $orld. Dather the imager" o( art, thro+gh m$moire involontaire, 1%rings to li(e the e#istence o( empirical $orld.1 And precisel" along this line that $e m+st ackno$ledge the importance o( Adorno.s criti*+e o( 1cop" theor",1 o( mimesis as imitation o( realit". Adorno re'erses the adage o( art imitating realit"5 instead he proposes that 1realit" o+ght to imitate art1 2A), 1!23. )he art$orks reach the highest stage o( their '+lnera%ilit" at the moment $hen the" seek to transcend the limit set %" their o$n principle o( negati'it", a %o+ndar" that e#presses the negation that 1each and e'er" $ork...seems to sa": non conf"ndar1 2A), 1!23. Adorno claims that the 1tr+th content o( art $orks, as a negation o( their %eing, is mediated thro+gh them, %+t the" do not comm+nicate it an" $a" $hatsoe'er1 2A), 1!F3. )hat the strength o( art$orks lies in the (act that the" can transcend the limit also makes them, at that point, the most '+lnera%le to their o$n deception and (ictitio+sness. 4or the art$ork.s tr+th content lies not in comm+nicating something other than itsel(5 rather it is a mediation, a 1participation,1 in histor". )he great $orks o( art do not transcend the %o+ndar" o( their o$n ill+sion, %eca+se their ill+sion represents their tr+th, an ill+sion o( tr+th, i.e., their (alsit". Aesthetic tr+th transcends ill+sion, %+t the art$orks themsel'es are ill+sor". )his is the parado#: the" cannot lie, and "et the" remain (alse. )*+,S !" )heodor 0. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. ;. Lenhardt 2London: Do+tledge G Kegan 9a+l, 1!B43, 1:4. All s+%se*+ent re(erences $ill %e gi'en $ith page n+m%ers in the te#t as A).

2" 6ee H. ). 0ilson.s criti*+e o( scientism and positi'ism, 1;ritical )heor".s ;riti*+e o( 6ocial 6cience: ,pisodes in a ;hanging 9ro%lematic (rom Adorno to Ha%ermas, 9art I G II,1 in &istory of E"ropean 'deas, Hol. @, Cos. 2 G F, 1!B:. #" L+cian Ioldman, C"lt"ral Creation in Modern Society 28#(ord: Basil Black$ell, 1!@@3, 1FF. $" 1Art possesses e#pression not $hen it con'e"s s+%&ecti'it", %+t $hen it re'er%erates $ith primal histor" o( s+%&ecti'it" and enso+lment1 2A), 1:53. 5" /ichael ;ahn, 16+%'ersi'e /imesis: )heodore 0. Adorno and the modern impasse o( criti*+e,1 Mimesis in Contemporary Theory( An 'nterdisciplinary Approach, ed. /ihai 6parios+, Hol. I 29hiladelphia: 7ohn Ben&amin.s 9+%lishing ;ompan", 1!B43, FB. %" ;ahn, F4. 7" ;ahn, F4. &" ;ahn, F4. '" ;ahn, 45. !(" 4redric 7ameson, Late Marxism 2London: Herso, 1!!03, 105. !!" 7ameson, Late Marxism, 105. !2" ;ahn, 45. !#" ;ahn, 50. !$" Horkheimer and Adorno, %ialectic of Enlightenment, 1:B 20B. 6ee also /artin 7a", The %ialectical 'magination 2Boston: Little, Bro$n and ;ompan", 1!@F3, 2:! 2@0. !5" Adorno G Horkheimer, %ialectic of Enlightenment, F4 F5. !%" 7ameson, Late Marxism, 104. !7" ;ahn, F! !&" ;ahn, F2. !'" ;ahn, F5. 2(" ;ahn, F5.

2!" 6ee Lam%ert E+ider'aart, Adorno)s Aesthetic Theory( The *edemption of 'll"sion 2;am%ridge: /I) 9ress, 1!!13, 1B1 1BF. return to the top o- the page