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Fr. 429

November 3, 2013

In the work of both Deleuze and Adorno, one can easily remark the importance of attaining a decentering or eccentric perspective in matters related to theory.

In Adorno’s work and Aesthetic Theory in particular, as Jameson presents it, a peculiar relation must be entertained between the various extant works of art or aesthetic monads, i.e. expressive constellations of ideational content and socioeconomic, historical content and context. What is the nature of this relation for Adorno? The question arises with particular force for Jameson precisely when the time comes to consider the question of political art, art historicism or comparison in Adorno’s body of work.

To this end, Jameson begins by asking: why is so-called political art rejected out of hand by Adorno? The reason for this seems to owe initially to the way in which a political aesthetic ignores the works of art themselves as products of a particular time and place in favor of highlighting the processes, institutions and methods guiding their creation. It is this methodism, i.e. the formulation of a model to be implemented in the creation of any politically conscientious work of art, that draws Adorno’s scorn, for this emphasis suggests that works are inherently to be measured by the same criteria. Yet, for Adorno, this methodism could not be farther from the truth. Such methodism cannot make sense of the wild heterogeneity of even those works meeting the criteria for its political aesthetic and thus forgets a basic tenet of art, at least as it is to be understood on Adorno’s view: works of art admit of no comparison in that they are the unique articulation of their circumstances and context.

In other words, there are no sides to be taken in the history of art, nor are individual works of art to be ascribed to this team or that. On the contrary, each work entertains an antagonistic relation with all others, in what Adorno describes as a “bellum omnium contra omnes” (Aesthetic Theory, p, 47/60, cited in Late Marxism, p. 224.). This Hobbesist expression underscores the extent to which the understanding of the work of art cannot proceed in terms of the distinctions and categorizations with which aesthetic methodism works. This adversarial relation is perhaps best brought out by Jameson when he writes that:

“[I]t might be better to say that they [monads] somehow repel each other instinctively. Each one demands to exist as an absolute in terms of which the existence of others can scarcely be acknowledged. So Beethoven is not at war with Wagner, exactly, or with Greek tragedy, but each can reveal its absolute truth only by means of the eclipse of all the others. In much the same way the historical situation of each one is an absolute present – a present of struggle, praxis, suffering – whose claims on reality are sapped by any chronological historicism or relativism of the archive” (Late Marxism, p. 224).

Indeed, it is perhaps not entirely accurate to describe their relationship as antagonistic. Certainly, it bears with it an aspect of negation, but this is not in the sense that each monad would somehow diminish the existence or content of the other. Instead, negation is here to be understood in a limited, technical sense: that of exclusion. In short, monads necessarily exclude the content of the other insofar as they give rise to an “absolute present” and stand as an absolute to themselves, i.e. as that which is without relation to another being of the same order. Moreover, it is this necessarily mutual exclusion at the level of existence that entails their resistance to other relational forms such as comparison, metaphor, analogy, etc.

As with Deleuze, for whom the radical difference underlying the emergence of forms and configurations in Ideas and concepts (and in being, more generally) precludes their comparison, Adorno’s view of the monad cannot help but find that any comparison only serves to diminish the monad’s status and preclude the deeper understanding of the unique truth, i.e. ideational and socioeconomic, historical expression, that this monad bears within it. Accordingly, there can be no talk of centers from which to orient a comparison and ordering of the various monads: there can be no sensible ordering of Beethoven and Wagner in view of some ahistorical, political principle around which monads qua historical phenomena might then be arranged.

Yet it is not merely at the level of the interrelation of concepts that the notion of center is to be excluded, but, furthermore, within the monad’s structure itself. Jameson specifies on Adorno’s behalf that the constellation is an inherently modernist innovation, being:

“a mobile and shifting set of elements in which it is sheer relationship rather than substantive content that marks their structure as a whole. This means that in a constellation there can be no ‘fundamental’ features, no centers, no ‘ultimately determining instances’ or bottom lines, except for the relationship of all these contents to each other” (Late Marxism, p. 244).

This follows from what was set out above. Insofar as the monad is the unique articulation of ideational content and socioeconomic, historical content and context, there would be no principle falling out of an aesthetic methodism that could make sense of every instance and provide a model by which to measure them. In that there is no standard of which one might make use for comparison, it is a natural implication of the preceding that there is no standard model in the phenomena under consideration. Yet the focus changes here slightly as the question is no longer one of organizing monads into teams or sides in view of a political aesthetic but rather one of denying that one element in the constellation or monad might be considered primary, fundamental, basic or the ground of the others.

Instead, it is the simultaneity of their relation that accounts for the particular quality of the monad under consideration. If one might still be able to entertain notions of a “ground” within a monad from a purely heuristic perspective, the remarks above make clear to which point the structure of a monad itself eliminates or precludes any center or ground from which one would set out in its exposition. Again, a similarity with Deleuze suggest itself here, given the latter’s insistence on the concept’s being a relation of ideational components, none of them being sufficient in itself to give rise to the structure without the juxtaposition of those other parts. In other words, no element is primary such that its presence alone generates the relationship in question.

Wherefore another line of thought in which Adorno proves more similar to Deleuze than one might have otherwise suspected: no center in philosophy or art, nor in the monad or concept itself.


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