Art, Immanence, and Critique

[Dr. Halley was kind enough to let me take a look at this manuscript and do some editing. I’m always a fan of Adorno, so the pleasure was surely mine.]

“The relationship of art to bourgeois society, was, at first, emancipatory for art. In the decline of religious domination, and prior to the industrial revolution and the subsequent emphasis on mass production, art enjoyed new levels of autonomy. On one hand, this autonomy permitted art the freedom of non-rational and individualized expression. On the other hand, under late capitalism, totalizing mass markets and technologies ushered in the means to align cultural production with mass consumption. Radio, television, film, and now the internet have at one point faced the same opportunities and limitations that other large industries had to confront and who found their answers in economies of scale. Each was capable of delivering cultural material to millions, provided the millions were able to access the content. Since the 1990’s neoliberalism has accelerated and intensified this trend.

The artistic content available via broadcast, digital, or analog mediums and the hardware necessary to access this content became inseparable. In other words, art, artist, technological device, and the mass production of each were essentially identical, operating under the same imperatives of standardization, calculation, repetition, and efficiency that were the hallmarks of all other industries. Thus, the Culture Industry represents a final state in the transformation of culture under modern forms of domination where culture is reduced to rationalization and consumption, subject to the same principles as modern industrial production, modern warfare, and modern politics. To wit:

The basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest. A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself. Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together until their leveling element shows its strength in the very wrong which it furthered ([Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. ]121).

It was indeed more than a bit prophetic that Adorno and Horkheimer linked, in 1944, no less, the destructive capabilities of automobiles, advertising, and film to those of propaganda and bombs.

The propaganda at stake is fascist, which, from this point of view, is not hyperbole but a matter of fact. We have access to art, primarily, via powerful organizations (political, economic, or military) dedicated first and foremost to the modern imperatives of rationalization. This is more a matter of power than influence, and it aims to control the intersection of all values to quantifiable options and the sort of mass society in which individuals and groups are defined by their functions. This is the context in which the autonomy of art is either an illusion or a disguise that makes obscure its contribution to the master’s dream of a one-dimensional society based on fidelity rather than social justice and progress.”

Halley, Jeffrey. 2016. “Art, Immanence, and Critique: A Dialogue between Alain Badiou and Theodor Adorno.” Logos 15(2-3).

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