The Sovereignty of Art
Aesthetic Negativity in Adorno and Derrida
Translated by Neil Solomon
The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England This work originally appeared under the title Die Souveränität der Kunst: Ästhetische Erfahrung nach Adorno und Derrida, ? 1988 Athenäum Verlag, Frankfurt, Germany.
Introduction: Autonomy and Sovereignty vii I On the Negative Logic of Aesthetic Experience
1. The Concept of Aesthetic Negativity 3 2. Aesthetic Deferral 29 3. The Aesthetics of Negativity and Hermeneutics 71 4. On the Concept of Beauty 107 II An Aesthetic Critique of Reason
5. Aesthetic Sovereignty 161 6. Problems in Grounding the Critique of Reason 181 7. The Aesthetic Experience of Crisis 215 8. Romantic and Modern Aesthetics: The Place of Art 241
in the "Philosophical Discourse of Modernity" Notes 255 Bibliography 281 Index 299
Introduction: Autonomy and
1Characteristic of modern reflection on aesthetic experience is an unresolved ambivalence.
It manifests itself in the two lines of tradition that have shaped modern aesthetics from its outset. In one tradition, aesthetic experience represents just one element among the various discourses and modes of experience making up the differentiated realm of reason. In the other, aesthetic experience is ascribed a potential that exceeds the limits of reason
of nonaesthetic discourses. Already intertwined in Kantian aesthetics, these two lines of tradition are even more enmeshed in their most recent confrontation: in Adorno's 2Aesthetic Theory. In his central thesis on the "antinomy of aesthetic semblance," Adorno
claims that the clarification of this relationship is the real problem confronting aesthetics today. Moreover, he believes resolution of this relationship requires doing justice to the duality (Doppelpoligkeit) of aesthetic experience, without subordinating either of its two defining features to the other.
On the one hand, the antinomy of the aesthetic is defined by the concept of autonomy. Following Kant and Weber, we can take this term to describe the status of aesthetic experience generated by the modern differentiation of experiential modes and discourses. It is a phenomenon adhering to its own internal logic, and its autonomy vis-à-vis nonaesthetic discourses implies that it occupies its own place alongside these discourses within the pluralistic structure of modern reason. Accordingly, the validity of that which is experienced aesthetically is necessarily particular in nature: it is relative to the sphere of
experience that is delimited by its orientation toward the specifically aesthetic value of the beautiful. The nature and object of our aesthetic experience possess no negating or affirming powers over the object of our nonaesthetic experience and representation. That the autonomous form of the aesthetic is but one element within differentiated modern
reason is demonstrated by the fact that it takes its place alongside, rather than above or below, the other discourses, each unfolding its own distinctive internal logic. Only a theory that links this first model of the modern form of aesthetic experience, oriented as it is around the concept of autonomy, with a second one can satisfy the antinomy of the aesthetic. The core of this second model is defined by the concept of sovereignty. It reformulates the characteristic of differentiated aesthetic experience emphasized in the first tradition of modern aesthetics into a claim extending from Romanticism through the surrealist avant‐ garde movements: in Adorno's words, the 3promise that in art "the absolute is present." On this view, aesthetic experience is
sovereign insofar as it does not take its place within the differentiated structure of plural reason, but rather exceeds its bounds. Whereas the autonomy model confers relative validity upon aesthetic experience, the sovereignty model grants it absolute validity, since its enactment disrupts the successful functioning of nonaesthetic discourses. The sovereignty model considers aesthetic experience a medium for the dissolution of the rule of nonaesthetic reason, the vehicle for an experientially enacted critique of reason. The central task facing philosophical aesthetics, once the two lines of its modern development are understood, is to connect these two lines in a logically consistent and comprehensive manner. By characterizing the relationship between aesthetic autonomy and sovereignty in terms of the Kantian concept of antinomy, Adorno links this task with a twofold claim: an adequate conceptualization of aesthetic experience must avoid sacrificing either of these two elements while simultaneously finding a comprehensive resolution of the tension between them.
The modernity of aesthetic reflection is defined by this refusal to sacrifice either side of the antinomy, and indeed by the insistence on granting full expression to both in all their mutual tension. This thesis stands in contradiction to a widely held view that—since one of
its two defining features is not compatible with the modern situation of the aesthetic, but is rather an expression of uncritical nostalgia—the antinomy resolves itself on its own.
There are really two versions of this view, and each assumes that the antinomial conceptualization of aesthetic experience is no longer relevant: the shape of post-avant-garde art and its experience has shown, according to these positions, that aesthetics can
only survive by opting for one of its two modern strands. The first variant opposes any insistence on an autonomous logic of aesthetic experience that radically distinguishes it from nonaesthetic experience. It considers such a logic to be a reifying way of cutting
aesthetic experience off from nonaesthetic discourses, a path that manifests a nostalgic orientation toward a bourgeois ideal of aesthetic autonomy. It claims that this idealwhich has always been in contradiction with aesthetic practice—has been definitively overcome,
moreover, by art in its avant-garde and postmodern forms. The second variant of the view that the antinomy of the aesthetic is based on a nostalgic projection challenges any insistence on a postulate of aesthetic sovereignty that ascribes to aesthetic experience the potential to mount a critique of reason. It sees this as a heteronomous overburdening of
art that manifests a nostalgia toward idealistic truth claims, which, being irredeemable in nonaesthetic terms, are projected on aesthetic experience. According to this view, we have finally been freed from the pressure of these expectations, which have always placed too great a burden on aesthetic experience, by the failure of the avant-gardists in their hopes 4 to transcend the realm of art.
Each variant considers one of the two defining poles of the antinomy of aesthetic experience to be a nostalgic projection, that is, to be incompatible with the modern constitution of aesthetic experience as it has emerged out of the failure of the avant-garde movements as such. In claiming that the definition of aesthetic experience in terms of both autonomy and sovereignty no longer corresponds to the post-avant-garde situation, however, they both put forth a structural argument. They argue, namely, that aesthetic experience cannot be defined by both autonomy and sovereignty, since there is no way to coherently conceive of both of these qualities holding at the same time. Both lines of criticism start with the assumption that any program claiming to provide a twofold definition of aesthetic experience via autonomy and sovereignty actually subordinates one of the defining qualities to the other. In the face of such criticism, it is not enough simply to characterize their interrelationship as one of antinomy. The twofold definition of the aesthetic by both autonomy and sovereignty can only be considered an adequate model, even for its most recent manifestations, if it can be shown in detail that the apparent contradiction between these two terms can be resolved without illegitimate compromises: that is, that it is indeed possible to conceive of the autonomy and the sovereignty of art at one and the same time. This, in turn, necessitates an account of the concept of the autonomy of the aesthetic that gives full due to its internal logic while leaving it compatible with the concept of aesthetic sovereignty. At the same time, it necessitates an account of the concept of the sovereignty of the aesthetic that gives force to its potential to provide a critique of reason without committing a heteronomous violation of the autonomy of that aesthetic. Only by successfully carrying out both of these tasks is it possible to defend the twofold definition of aesthetic experience against the charges of nostalgia brought against it.
Adorno's aesthetics can provide an orientation for the formulation of this antinomy of sovereignty and autonomy, which is central to modern art and its theoretical discourse. It is not so clear, however, that Adorno fully realized the urgency of providing an argumentative resolution to the antinomy he himself had formulated; the Aesthetic Theory
largely holds to this antinomy without giving any real plausibility to the paradoxically 5formulated thesis that the autonomous semblance of art is precisely its sovereign truth.
But an even more serious problem is the lack of clarity in Adorno's efforts toward resolving the antinomy of the aesthetic. For his central aesthetic category, that of negativity, is much too imprecisely defined to serve as a convincing basis for redeeming this program. Nonetheless, a reconstruction of Adorno's antinomy of the aesthetic and its resolution can start with this category. For, when adequately conceived, aesthetic negativity is capable of completing the twofold task: by reformulating the internal logic of aesthetic experience in its full scope, it gives force to the potential of aesthetic experience to provide a critique of reason without reshaping this experience to meet extrinsic ends. The concept of aesthetic negativity is the key to understanding the twofold definition of modern art in Adorno, of art as both one of several autonomous discourses and a sovereign subversion of the rationality of all discourses. If the realization or enactment of aesthetic experience is conceived as aesthetic negativity, it takes on a sovereign import that is premised on the autonomy of the aesthetic, rather than its curtailment.
The twofold achievement of Adorno's suggested concept of aesthetic negation in linking autonomy and sovereignty cannot be reconstructed simply in terms of an interpretation of Adorno's writings. The latter do pose the problem—in terms of the thesis of the antinomy
of aesthetic semblance—and point to a possible direction for resolving it—in terms of the
concept of aesthetic negativity. It is not possible, however, to solve the central problem left us by Adorno's aesthetics solely in terms of the conceptual and argumentative tools that this aesthetic theory supplies. For it does not provide us with a consistent way of conceiving of both autonomy and sovereignty in terms of an account of aesthetic negativity. Instead, a systematic reconstruction of this theory's basic concepts needs to be undertaken in light of and with the help of other theoretical approaches. Those positions with conclusions strictly at odds with Adorno's aesthetics of negativity but with very similar intentions can be expected to offer the most support in this effort. For confrontation with them allows one to give a more precise account of the basic idea underlying the concept of aesthetic negativity and, above all, to free it from misconceptions. Those theories collected under the rubric of deconstruction and marked especially by the formative influence of Jacques Derrida meet these two criteria. By coming to terms with them, one can help explicate the concept of aesthetic negativity in two ways.
The first gain involves the power of the concept of negativity to give an account of the autonomous process of aesthetic experience (see Part I). Deconstructive theories point out that aesthetic negation has to be reformulated semiologically. As such, they criticize the conflation often found in Adorno between aesthetic negativity and types of nonaesthetic negation, especially that of social critique. In contrast, the basic thesis put forth by deconstruction is that the unique and peculiar logic of aesthetic experience can only be reconstructed if aesthetic negativity, which Adorno moved to the very center of his theory, is defined in terms of semiotic processes, in terms of the use and understanding of signs. Thus the first explanatory gain to be credited to the recourse to deconstructive theories consists in the freeing of Adorno's concept of negativity from its conflation with the negativity of social critique and in its explication as the subversion of understanding (chaps. 1 and 2).
Recourse to the deconstructive theory of the aesthetically enacted negation of successful semiosis, however, does not only remedy a deficiency in the explanatory model of the aesthetics of negativity: it also reveals a shortcoming of deconstructive theories. For the latter usually develop their basic theses in confrontation with inadequate countermodels. The most formidable counterthesis to a semiologically reformulated aesthetic of negativity is put forward by hermeneutics. Accordingly, the semiotic definition of aesthetic negativity achieved through reflections of deconstructive theory can only be defended by developing—on the basis of reflections from Adorno—both an immanent critique of
hermeneutic aesthetics and a countermodel to its theory of the interpretation and evaluation of aesthetic experience (chaps. 3 and 4).
Moreover, the explanatory gain promised by the recourse to Derrida's deconstructionism is not limited to the definition of autonomy. It also applies to the conceptualization of the sovereignty of the aesthetic provided by negativity (see Part II). Deconstructive theories point out that the potential of the aesthetic to provide a critique of reason can only be conceived of as an internal subversion of nonaesthetically functioning discourses and their forms of reason. Here they criticize the traditional, "romantic" conception of the aesthetic critique of reason, which views aesthetic experience not as the site of the deconstruction of reason, but as the site where reason is overcome. In what remains to me his most important book, Writing and Difference, Derrida demonstrates how the avant-garde view of aesthetic sovereignty (in Artaud and Bataille) is still marked by this romantic idea of the positive transcendence of reason. He goes on to show, though, that at the same time this
view contains starting points for overcoming the romantic model. At the margins of the (surrealist) avant-garde, it becomes clearer that art is not a utopian transcendence of reason, but rather represents a crisis for and a threat to reason.
Nevertheless, recourse to the modifications made by deconstruction to the common romantic misunderstanding of the sovereignty of art also highlights the way in which the theory itself still shares in this misconception (chaps. 1 and 2). Deconstruction attempts to separate the subversion of the successful functioning of our nonaesthetic discourses that aesthetic experience achieves from the particular claim to validity involved in this
enactment. It attempts to conceive of this experience instead as the object of a cognitive process that has universal validity claims. It participates in the romantic misconception that art itself is the vehicle of a critique of reason. In truth, when the problems of a radicalized critique of reason are more deeply considered—problems of which no one was
more conscious than Adorno—it turns out that the potential for aesthetic experience to provide a critique of reason cannot be described as an implication of this experience, nor as contents separable from it, but only as an effect of it (chap. 3). Art is not sovereign in that it tears down the boundaries separating aesthetic and nonaesthetic experience, thereby proving itself to be the direct overcoming of reason. It is instead sovereign in that, as a discourse of merely particular validity, it represents a crisis for our functioning discourses. The aporias of the traditional romantic view of the sovereignty of art can only be resolved by combining two theses: (1) the deconstructive thesis that the aesthetic critique of reason is the subversion rather than the overcoming of reason; and (2) the thesis, which can be found in Adorno, that it is not the contents but the effects, consequences, or repercussions of art that are the foundations of this critique (chap. 4). Taken together, these two claims outline an understanding of aesthetic sovereignty—as an
aesthetically generated critique of reason—that not only does not violate the autonomy of
the enactment of aesthetic experience, but is actually premised upon it.
On the Negative Logic of Aesthetic
The Concept of Aesthetic Negativity
The basic thesis of the aesthetic of negativity rests on a simple equation: aesthetic difference, the distinction between the aesthetic and the nonaesthetic, is, in truth, aesthetic negativity. Only by conceiving of works of art in their negative relationship to everything that is not art can the autonomy of such works, the internal logic of their representation and of the way they are experienced, be adequately understood. The distinctiveness, the uniqueness of art, is that it sets itself apart, that it separates itself off. It is just as inadequate to explain the autonomy of art in terms of distinction, coexistence, or complementarity as it is to subordinate art to externally imposed ends. What art actually is, is contradiction, rejection, negation.
1Determinations of this kind are basic to Adorno's aesthetics. As soon as one takes up
Adorno's texts, however, it turns out that the seeming simplicity of this basic equation actually harbors an array of enigmatic conclusions that permit the most diverse of interpretations. The only way to decide among them is to test their ability to resolve the problem at hand, that is, to provide an adequate account of aesthetic autonomy. For in spite of all the difficulties that arise for modern art and aesthetic experience out of the successful unfolding of art's internal logic as it differentiates itself from other realms of society, it is solely its autonomy that allows its unique and peculiar achievements. Naturally, these achievements do not stop aesthetic theory from pointing out the losses suffered by art in the course of its modern differentiation or from speculating on the state of a postautonomous art. Nevertheless, the only adequate means of evaluating any theory of modern art is in terms of its success in grasping this autonomy. If Adorno's theory of aesthetics is viewed in terms of this question, it is quickly seen that even its basic explanations of the autonomy of the aesthetic in terms of its negativity are in danger of failing to satisfy this condition. For there are at least two different (though not equally explicit) conceptions of aesthetic negativity to be found in Adorno, neither of which is compatible with any effort to explain the concept of aesthetic autonomy. The first of these two (mis) conceptions deems the relationship between art and nonart as negative because it conceives of art as a critique of nonaesthetic reality. By contrast, the second characterizes the relationship as negative because it sees art as a place where the intensity of lived experience (Erleben) is increased vis-à-vis that of nonaesthetic reality. If the first of these misconceptions of aesthetic negativity can be termed the social-critical misconception, the second can be designated the purist misconception. Both have left—
with differing degrees of clarity—their traces in Adorno's Aesthetic Theory. Whereas the
social-critical misconception of aesthetic negativity represents the neo-Marxist legacy in 2Adorno's aesthetics, the purist misconception represents its aestheticist heritage. Out of
their contrast, two images of aesthetic difference arise, mutually complementary in their incompleteness. The former misconception distinguishes art from society as its critical negation; in doing so, it implies the idea of potentially overcoming aesthetic difference. According to this interpretation, art brings to bear potentialities, capabilities, and insights, which, though still unrealized in society, can, in principle, remove themselves from the esoteric reality of the aesthetic and become incorporated into social relations. The equation of aesthetic and critical negativity occurs within the framework of a potential identity of that which is distinguished, art and society. In contrast, the purist understanding of aesthetic negativity insists on the insurmountability of the divide between the two. On this view, the intensification of lived experience that art promises retains its purity only through its indifference to social reality. Whereas the social-critical misconception
conceives of aesthetic difference in terms of its po tential surmountability, the purist model
rigidly establishes it as representing a static unrelatedness of distinct spheres. The question is thus raised: to what extent do these two interpretations involve an inadequate explanation, an undercutting of the concept of aesthetic difference or autonomy? If Adorno's Aesthetic Theory is regarded in terms of this question, the answer
is initially unclear. For it is certainly true that both conceptions are continuously present in 3 it; in fact, their combination creates the basic framework for Adorno's later aesthetics. Adorno's effort to link them, however, is based on an explicit critique of both positions. The way this critique is mounted, though, provides no direct indication of a concept of aesthetic negativity that could avoid both pitfalls. For though Adorno's critique of aestheticism is directed against the separation of the aesthetic from the societal sphere, this critique is itself premised on a mirrorlike reversal, namely, the reduction of aesthetic difference to social critique. Similarly, when Adorno criticizes the equation of art with critical cognition, he does this in the name of a motif he finds exemplified in aestheticism: the irreducibility of the intensified character of the lived experience of art and the aesthetic pleasure associated with it. The relationship of Aesthetic Theory to both the social-critical and the
purist conception of aesthetic difference appears to seesaw back and forth, a movement by which Adorno's writings typically allow inadequate positions to criticize, correct, and supplement each other. This makes the question raised even more urgent: does Adorno's adoption of different motifs from the pure aestheticist and social-critical positions involve merely an aporetic linking of their opposing definitions of the structure of aesthetic negativity, or does it suggest a deeper understanding of aesthetic negativity that avoids their complementary deficiencies?
This question, in turn, raises a further question: can Adorno's objections to the social-critical and purist misconceptions of aesthetic negativity be understood as outlining the basic and necessary conditions of a concept of aesthetic autonomy that any useful concept of aesthetic negativity must, at the very least, satisfy? If we put the question this way, the motifs that Adorno musters (in his attacks against the respective deficiencies of the positions put forth by the social-critical and purist conceptions of aesthetic negativity) at the same time designate the elements of a concept of aesthetic negativity that can be understood as an elucidation rather than an undercutting of the concept of aesthetic autonomy. For Adorno brings to bear the processuality of aesthetic difference against the
purist conception and the importance of aesthetic pleasure against the social-critical
conception. His critique of deficient interpretations of aesthetic negativity thus represents more than just a rejection of them on the basis of equally inadequate countermodels; it can also be understood as an exposition of the basic conditions of aesthetic autonomy that the aesthetics of negativity must also satisfy.
This initial chapter aims to give a somewhat more precise account of this reading of Adorno's critique of deficient aesthetic positions. It is, however, imperative from the outset to make clear the sole possible result of such an account: its purpose is to uncover from this critique, drawn from Adorno's writings, indications of the basic features of aesthetic autonomy. Thus this interpretation takes the critique to ascertain some of the basic conditions that any aesthetics must satisfy, including one oriented toward the concept of negativity. By doing so, the critique merely sketches a program for an aesthetics of negativity under conditions of aesthetic autonomy. The defining features that it draws upon have long been known: they are a variation on Kantian motifs. Nevertheless, there is good reason to bear this in mind when studying the Aesthetic Theory. For the most cogent
objections to the basic equation underlying Adorno's aesthetics of negativity are made in 4the name of Kantian positions. Their proponents are convinced that Adorno's aesthetics
of negativity does not satisfy the basic conditions of a theory of autonomous art, but is instead "heteronomous" ( Bubner). This is indisputably true of many of Adorno's formulations and theorems. It is, however, false to attribute these inadequacies to the basic thesis of the aesthetics of negativity. Instead, if we proceed on the basis of a 5"stereoscopic reading," we can discern different layers in Adorno's texts, allowing us to draw the following conclusions: it is rash to critique the aesthetics of negativity in the name of an adequate (Kantian) understanding of aesthetic autonomy; such a critique only holds for individual, inadequate developments of its basic theses; Adorno himself criticizes deficient conceptions of aesthetic negativity in the name of a Kantian understanding of
aesthetic autonomy; and in doing so, he presents the aesthetics of negativity as a position
that does not undercut the basic conditions of the Kantian understanding of autonomy, but, on the contrary, specifically satisfies them.
Let us begin the process of securing the aesthetics of negativity against both its own misconceptions and the critique just cited by taking a closer look at Adorno's relationship to the social-critical interpretation of aesthetic negativity. At first glance, Adorno appears to endorse this conception and even to radicalize it to a previously unequaled extent. This leads to the following, often-repeated charge: Adorno's negative-aesthetic elucidation of art as a critique is not capable of grasping that moment basic to all aesthetic experience: 6 In emphasizing the fundamental importance of aesthetic pleasure for aesthetic pleasure.
theories of aesthetics, this critique of the aesthetics of negativity is overtly in agreement with the historical deployment of philosophical aesthetics. For such programmatic, antinegativist maxims of aesthetic pleasure or enjoyment appeal to those formulations of aesthetic autonomy that are found in the debate on aesthetics in the late eighteenth century, especially in the resurrection of the Aristotelian question about the basis of pleasure elicited by the aesthetic representation of those contents "that are distressful to 7see in reality." The modern answer to this question finds programmatic expression in Kant's concept of "free" or disinterested pleasure: ugly and tragic subjects can be aesthetically enjoyable since what is involved is not (dis) pleasure arising directly from these subjects themselves. That aesthetic pleasure is not a quality of the subjects depicted per se also means that the pleasure elicited by these subjects cannot be experienced and described nonaesthetically that is, "in reality" ( Aristotle). This creates an inherent link between the question of aesthetic pleasure and that of aesthetic difference. Aesthetic difference is exemplified by our ability to derive pleasure in the medium of aesthetic experience from subjects that would arouse displeasure outside of this medium. If, for the time being, one keeps to this roughly sketched conception, the question of aesthetic pleasure is more than just a question regarding secondary aspects of our response to works of art; instead, it is inherently linked to the question of aesthetic difference or autonomy. For this reason, the very core of the definition of the latter is affected by Adorno's frequent rejection of aesthetic enjoyment in the name of a sociocritically charged understanding of art: by defining art as "a plaintive cry or lament" 8(Klage) or committing it to "the primary color of black," he robs its viewers of their
constitutive distance or detachment from the object or content viewed. But people who respond only plaintively to the aesthetic representation of the deplorable forfeit their specifically aesthetic perspective: by lamenting the deplorable, they view art from the perspective of moral judgment. In short, the conception of aesthetic negativity as a morally based critique of society disputes the possibility of aesthetic pleasure, levels the difference between aesthetic and moral experience, and thus fails to grasp a defining feature of aesthetic autonomy.
Rejections of aesthetic enjoyment based on social criticism or morality cannot be overlooked in Adorno's aesthetic writings. He seems to find aesthetic pleasure justified only when it is charged with utopian contents. As long as aesthetic negativity is reduced to critical negativity, aesthetic pleasure can only be conceived as the anticipation of the sublation of negativity. As such, aesthetic pleasure functions as the aesthetic correlate to the normative, historico‐ philosophical basis of critique, namely, reconciliation: art "measures its profundity by whether or not it can, through the reconciliation that its formal 9law brings to contradictions, emphasize the real lack of reconciliation all the more." In a
feeble, historico-philosophical interpretation of the Stendhalian maxim that aesthetic pleasure is a "promesse de bonheur," which Nietzsche had already misleadingly set against 10Kant's discussion of disinterested pleasure, Adorno subjects the autonomous significance
of aesthetic pleasure to the functional requirements of a logic of critique. This demonstrates that in Adorno's social-critical understanding of aesthetic negativity aesthetic pleasure can only be understood—whether it be rejected or accepted—at the price of being
subsumed under moral judgment: either it is rejected for obscuring the true task of art—
which is to indict present social ills—or it is accepted as an anticipation of a future
reconciliation of those ills.
Nothing would be more misleading than to dispute that Adorno's work in its basic features is marked by such moralization of aesthetic pleasure and that this is a consequence of interpreting aesthetic negativity as social critique. On the other hand, the above-cited
relationship between the aesthetic concepts of pleasure and negativity supports the notion that changes in the conception of aesthetic pleasure directly affect the concept of aesthetic negativity. Such shifts in the concept of aesthetic pleasure can already be found in Adorno. His polemic against a moralization of the Kantian concept of free or disinterested pleasure 11 cannot be overlooked and makes it rather dubious to simply attribute to Adorno such a moralization. If, however, a general rejection of aesthetic pleasure, the category central to the theory of autonomous art, cannot be ascribed to Adorno, how is his indisputable critique of this category to be understood? Does Adorno's critique of the prevailing conception of aesthetic enjoyment contain an insight that gives expression to, rather than contradicts, the recognition of its autonomy?
A more discerning view discovers that Adorno's critique of the lightheartedness (Heiterkeit)
and pleasure of art primarily applies to the way in which such notions are opposed to the "seriousness of life," as in the repeatedly cited declaration to this effect in the prologue to Schiller's Wallenstein. This opposition, the epitome of traditionally conceived aesthetic 12difference, defines art as "leisure and celebration or at least a festival." Adorno's critique
is thus directed against a conception of aesthetic enjoyment that—in keeping with
Nietzsche's concept of "minor" art "in the age of work"reduces it to "recreational activity" 13in the "evening hours" of the working day. The "established and popular distinction
between work and leisure" is reproduced and affirmed in the "edifyingly noncommital 14character" of this form of aesthetic pleasure. This critique of aesthetic enjoyment made
by Adorno does not target the explanation of such pleasure in terms of the structural conditions of aesthetic experience, that is, in terms of the specific distance or detachment from the object that aesthetic experience provides. Instead, it is directed against its equation with a type of pleasure that he analyzes as part of the culture industry. This interpretation is immediately plausible, given a deficit found in many theories of aesthetic
pleasure. For though the latter take into account and emphasize the distinction between aesthetic experience and the moral evaluation of the contents of aesthetic representation, they nevertheless identify aesthetic pleasure with socially functional leisure. The validity of Adorno's critique thus involves the underdefined character of aesthetic pleasure in any explanation that calls attention to the inviolable distinction between the aesthetic and the moral, but which lacks any means of distinguishing between aesthetic and nonaesthetic forms of pleasure. It is precisely this second distinction that Adorno seeks to recover (with rather one-sided emphasis in the Aesthetic Theory) by polemicizing against the philistine 15definition of art as a vehicle for the satisfaction of needs or desires. Only this twofold
distinction of aesthetic pleasure, from the moral sentiments that accompany the normative-critical assessment of aesthetic contents and from the pleasure of the direct
satisfaction of needs, is adequate to the concept of free aesthetic pleasure in Kant. For this pleasure is not only free from all moral justification or grounding (as provided in catharsis theory, for instance), but it is also free of the "sensuous" (sinnlich) satisfaction of needs:
"We may say that, of all these three kinds of pleasure [of the good, the agreeable, and the beautiful], only the pleasure involved in taste for the beautiful is disinterested and free, since we are not compelled to give our approval by any interest, whether of sense or of 16reason." Thus Adorno's critique of aesthetic pleasure qua compensatory recreation has the legitimate function of pointing to the customary failure to distinguish aesthetic from sensuous pleasure. This still leaves open the question as to which argument is to be advanced by emphasizing this distinction. It seems reasonable to suspect that Adorno is only able to give force to the distinction between aesthetic and sensuous pleasure by appealing to a concept of aesthetic enjoyment charged with utopian or moral contents. This is exemplified by Adorno's critique of the culture industry: he criticizes its "prescribed fun" as the "transposition of art into the sphere of consumption" and as the degradation of 17aesthetic pleasure into purely sensuous enjoyment. One way to carry out this critique
would be to point out the structural difference between the two forms of pleasure, as does Kant. For the most part Adorno does not choose this course, however; instead, he denounces in moral or social-critical terms their crude amalgamation in the culture industry: "But the natural affinity, between business and amusement is seen in the real purpose of the latter: as an apology for society. Being amused means being in agreement.... Amusement always means: not having to think about it, to forget suffering, 18even where it is shown." By condemning the culture industry's disregard for the
distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasure for moral rather than aesthetic reasons, however, Adorno makes himself an advocate of the supposed social-critical or moral contents of aesthetic pleasure rather than a defender of its autonomy.
This shows that it is not sufficient to understand Adorno's critique of aesthetic pleasure as a one-sided emphasis of the difference between aesthetic and sensuous pleasure and to integrate it into the Kantian model. What is relevant is the basis of this critique. Here, too, a more precise, "stereoscopic" reading results in a more differentiated picture than the one initially sketched. Admittedly, Adorno always criticizes, from the standpoint of the negativity of the aesthetic, the crude amalgamation of aesthetic and sensuous pleasure in the culture industry. The concept of negativity begins to free itself from its misleading equation with critique, however, in Adorno's description of the structure of experience from which the nonaesthetic, sensuous pleasure of the culture industry arises. Adorno explains the pleasure of amusement as an "identity," "imitation," or "repetition" experienced in a "state of diversion"; it is the pleasure aroused by the "automatic" recognition of something 19 The negativity of the aesthetic is directed toward this basic feature of already known.
automatic repetition or identity in sensuous pleasure and not toward its contents or functions: the "threshold between artistic and preartistic experience" is the negation of the 20"rule of the identification mechanism." In such formulations, Adorno criticizes the
amalgamation of aesthetic and sensuous pleasure not because the two modes of experience confounded in it are of different moral magnitude, but because they are structurally different: whereas sensuous pleasure is marked by the "rule of the identification mechanism" or "automatic repetition," aesthetic pleasure arises in a negative process.
Though such a structural distinction between aesthetic and sensuous pleasure on the basis of the conceptual opposition between negativity and (automatic) identification still has moral or social‐ critical connotations, this is no longer the substance of the distinction. On the contrary: from its perspective, the affinity between aesthetic and moral pleasure often asserted in Adorno is dropped in favor of an affinity between the two forms of nonaesthetic pleasure, the moral and the sensuous. In contrast to aesthetic pleasure, in which there is "a playing with elements of reality without any mirroring," both sensuous and moral 21pleasure equally appear to be efforts to gain a "positive meaning of negativity."
Understood in this way, the meaning of the concept of aesthetic negativity no longer consists in disputing—on moral grounds—the autonomous logic of aesthetic pleasure, but
in securing it vis-à-vis the two forms of nonaesthetic pleasure: according to Adorno, the uniqueness of aesthetic enjoyment is based on pleasure from that which does not let itself be recognized or identified.
Thus Adorno's discussion of aesthetic negativity vis-à-vis the concept of aesthetic pleasure has two practically opposed functions. On the one hand, aesthetic negativity is ascribed the task of providing aesthetic pleasure with a moral value—be it positive or negative. This
results in either identifying aesthetic pleasure with sensuous pleasure and criticizing it in moral terms, or, conversely, equating it with moral pleasure and then rejecting on moral grounds the way it is taken to be linked to sensuous pleasure. Both of these variants are based on a conception of aesthetic negativity as social critique, and both fail to satisfy the Kantian program of securing the autonomy of aesthetic pleasure. On the other hand, a second concept of aesthetic negativity marks aesthetic pleasure off from both moral and sensuous pleasure by distinguishing between the different experiential structures out of which aesthetic and nonaesthetic pleasure respectively arise. Whereas the latter is based on a process of automatic recognition or identification, the former results from an aesthetic negation of this process. Thus no "apologia" is required for aesthetic experience and its pleasure vis-à-vis the aesthetics of negativity (Jauß)—if the latter is correctly understood,
it itself represents this very apologia.
Only the second concept of aesthetic negativity, which distinguishes it from automatic identification, can satisfy the task of explicating the autonomy of aesthetic pleasure; the first concept, by equating aesthetic negativity with the negativity of social critique, must fail to do so. This holds, however, not just by the second concept's ensuring an account of aesthetic pleasure as dually differentiated, that is, from both sensuous and moral pleasure. A further link to Kant exists in Adorno's establishment of the structural interconnection between aesthetic negativity and pleasure—a link which provides Adorno with a second
means of securing the concept of aesthetic negativity from any purist misconception. For by conceiving of aesthetic pleasure as the effect of aesthetic negativity, he takes up a notion central to the Kantian theory of aesthetic pleasure, that such pleasure arises not in direct confrontation with an object, in our rationally or sensuously testing its qualities, but