Applying Philosophy of Art in a Global World
Edited By Zoltan Somhegyi and Max Ryynänen
22 Autonomy and Society with Hito Steyerl and Ryoji Ikeda: How to Use Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory Now? (Petteri Enroth)
AbstractTheodor W. Adorno’s aesthetics keeps attracting interest in the 21st century. In this chapter I defend what I take to be its most central theme: the view that aesthetic autonomy is important for artworks’ societal sting. On the other hand, I claim that many of Adorno’s points – including this dialectical notion of autonomy – can and should be separated from the rather abstract and, frankly, out-dated premises of his social philosophy and its grand anti-Hegelian narrative. These points include, but are not limited to, the “enigmatic” character of art (Rätsel); the idea that everything in an artwork must be mediated or “refracted”; and that art’s mimetic or expressive element needs to be configured through its growing dehumanization and technicality. These notions can be applied in interesting and illustrative ways, for example, to digital and media artworks.
The chapter begins with an explication of the ways in which Adorno’s social theory and aesthetics are intertwined. Based on this analysis, I offer a brief critique and then sketch a view of how Adorno’s aesthetic theory could be read in our day. I then illustrate my point by proposing some Adornoian angles into Hito Steyerl’s (b. 1966) and Ryoji Ikeda’s (b. 1966) artworks. The overall argument is that the social-philosophical elements in Adorno’s aesthetics can be quite validly criticised, but that there are also interesting topical points about art and its social relevance that can be thought and applied outside the negative anthropological matrix that Adorno offers...
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