Anne Eusterschulte

Apparitiones. Appearance and Expression of the Work of Art in Theodor W. Adorno

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Keywords: Aesthetic Experience; Apparition; Epiphany; Constellation; Immanence/Transcendence; Critics; Suddenness; Écriture.

In his Aesthetical Theory Theodor W. Adorno raises the question of «what it means to appear». The conceptualization of «appearance» becomes crucial in order to describe the specific immediate presence of aesthetic phenomena. Adorno is dealing with an ambiguous term of «apparition» to emphasize the epiphanic character of artworks. The objective dimension of coming into light and the subjective dimension of aesthetic experience are inseparably intertwined. Refering to the cultural-historical backgrounds of interpretating celestial apparitions as well as to theological, literary and metaphorical connotations in terms of a starlight appearing in the sky the article tries to show how Adorno establishes a paradoxical concept of aesthetic presentness and experience. The concept of apparition implies a certain temporality of aesthetic experience: the simultaneity of a sudden emergence and an immediate disappearance like a comet or a firework. This epiphanic character alludes to historico-political and eschatological implications. It sheds light on a messianic perspective of a future fullfillment. In Adorno the religious or re- velatory meaning of epiphany is transposed to the aesthetic sphere. The moment of aesthetic appearance is characterized by abruptedness as a sudden imaginative realization of transparency, like a rapture. This instantaneous visionary experience of a fullness of meaning provoked by an artwork suspends the time continuum. It's a moment of deviation from the common view of things. So the artwork opens the mind's eye for a latent promise but at the same time this indication of possibilities extinguishes. With this dialectical figure of appearance and disappearance, pointing out a moment of suddenness and vanishing like the sudden flash of an insignificant écriture Adorno emphasizes the negative character of aesthetical appearance. Artworks are testifying to a possible praxis but the «it could be otherwise» only appears in a non-affirmative mode through a constellation of fragments of the given material socio-historical world. By this fragmentary re-composition and dislocation artworks evoke a momentary suspense of everyday life fungibility and rationality. They reveal a transcendence that comes into light throughout the manifestation of the fragmentariness of the existing reality, i.e. through the ruins of violence and annihilation. But by confronting with the immanence of a tacit potential of the material world of things and their unredeemed past artworks evoke an intense, deeply shattering aesthetical experience. For Adorno art by denying any affirmative explication witnesses to an ineffable hope: It reveals a critical agency through the transparency of collapsing figures - like a falling star.

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