Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Responsibility of Form

Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension (Die Permanenz der Kunst) (ch III):

"The artist's desperate effort to make art a direct expression of life cannot overcome the separation of art from life. Wellershoff states the decisive fact: 'unbridgeable social differences exist between the can factory and the studio of the artist: Warhol's factory'; between action painting and the real life which is going on around it. Nor can these differences be bridged by simply letting things happen (noises, movements, chitchat, etc.) and incorporating them, unaltered, into a definite 'frame' (e.g., a concert hall, a book). The immediacy thus expressed is false inasmuch as it results from a mere abstraction from the real-life context which establishes this immediacy. The latter is thus mystified: it does not appear as what it is and does—it is a synthetic, artistic immediacy.

"The realease and desublimation which occur in anti-art thus abstract from (and falsify) reality because they lack the cognitive and cutting power of the aesthetic form; they are mimesis without transformation. Collage, montage, dislocation do not change this fact. The exhibition of a soup can communicates nothing about the life of the worker who produced it, nor of that of the consumer. Renunciation of the aesthetic form does not cancel the difference between art and life—but it does cancel that between essence and appearance, in which the truth of art has its home and which determines the political value of art. The desublimation of art is supposed to release spontaneity—of both the artist and the recipient. But just as, in radical praxis, spontaneity can advance the movement of liberation only as mediated spontaneity, that is, resulting from the transformation of consciousness—so also in art. Without this dual transformation (of the subjects and their world) the desublimation of art can lead only to making the artist superfluous without democratizing and generalizing creativity.

"In this sense, renunciation of the aesthetic form is abdication of responsibility. It deprives art of the very form in which it can create that other reality within the established one—the cosmos of hope."


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