Art as commodity: Godzich on Adorno

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Again, Godzich wrote this book 20 years ago, but it’s an interesting statement: “…the situation of art today is, in Adorno’s own term, ‘aporetic.’ For if, in the past, art had been in the service of rituals or other religious beliefs and practices, its achievement of autonomy in the age of Enlightenment was but the prelude to a new enslavement. Our society, which Adorno sees as ruled by instrumental reason, whose institutional hallmark is the bureaucracy, is totally, and structurally, unwilling to let art have its autonomy to give it the motility of a commodity, which becomes subject to the operations of a market, and thus functions as the vehicle of dominant ideology. The market itself is the object of controls, among which is the scholarly study of art, which serves to establish hierarchies of (marketable) values and thus provides the ground for market strategies.

Turning art into a commodity leads to a valorization of concepts that insists on its form as closed, on its aspect as finished or polished product. Such closure is achievable, under present socioeconomic circumstances, only by doing violence to the form of the art object, which otherwise necessarily reproduces the conflicts and contradictions of society. True art resists commodification by refusing this closure. It insists on its unfinished character, and on its overall uselessness, its incapacity to serve any end, for, in the radical affirmation of its uselessness, it calls into question the claims to harmonious totalization that our society advances ideologically. In practice, this signifies that the study of art, and a fortiori of literature, should not take the form of a traditional aesthetics but rather than of an analytics which, in the immediate study of individual art objects, would elicit the mode of their apprehension of history, that is, the way in which they reproduce the social agonistics of their moment. This requires a strong denunciation of all approaches to art that wish to reestablish an ideal and separate position for it. What matters most, in Adorno’s view, is that each individual analysis bring out the fundamentally critical moment in the artefact, whereby it stands in opposition to, and negates, the order and ideology of its society.” (p.44)

Ref: Wlad Godzich (c1994) The Culture of Literacy. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachussetts and London, England.

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