Charles River

Charles River
Upper Limit Cloud/Lower Limit Sail


"Messianicity is not messianism ... even though this distinction remains fragile and enigmatic." (Jacques Derrida)

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Shudder

In my last post, I offered a somewhat clumsy overview of Adorno's notion of spirit, contrasting it with Hegel's. What drew me to the passages from Adorno's work was not so much his conception of spirit, but his insistence that art must become darkened, and enigmatic so as to protect "the shudder." A few more words then, on the shudder, which Adorno places at the heart of this theory about the origins of art and with which he concludes Aesthetic Theory. I find this passage perhaps the most forceful, if not exactly the most eloquent, apologia for the necessity of art among all I've read. It restores to art its original Dionysian violence and strangeness, its sheer uncannyness.

"Ultimately, aesthetic comportment is to be defined as the capacity to shudder, as if goose bumps were the first aesthetic image. What later came to be called subjectivity, freeing itself from the blind anxiety of the shudder, is at the same time the shudder's own development; life in the subject is nothing but what shudders, the reaction to the total spell that transcends the spell. Consciousness without shudder is reified consciousness. That shudder in which subjectivity stirs without yet being subjectivity is the act of being touched by the other. Aesthetic comportment assimilates itself to that other rather than subordinating it. Such a constitutive relation of the subject to objectivity in aesthetic comportment joins eros and knowledge" (AT 331).

What the shudder delivers to us is not only the strangeness of the other, but the intimacy of our bond with him; an empathetic link that both confirms and overcomes our essential strandedness and fraility. The shudder is anti-classical. It does not confer unity, it does not offer clarity, it makes no parade of symmetry or balance; none of the traditional consolations of art. And yet, it is erotic, touched perhaps with jouissance; ecstatic, maybe; corporeal, certainly; absolutely radical.

1 comment:

  1. Adorno's deployment of the 'original shudder' should probably be read within the dialectic of the enlightenment, and reification; the loss of human perception of that 'original' awe in the face of nature.