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Rainer Rumold:
NO!art and the Dialectic
of Enlightenment


SUMMARY: Theodor Adorno and Horkheimer had completed The Dialectic of Enlightenment in 1944, as exiles in the United States, Santa Monica, Cal. It was first published in 1947 by Querido, a major exile press in Amsterdam, one year after Boris Lurie emigrated to the States in the wake of his experience as an inmate of a camp associated with Buchenwald. Apparently not very grateful to the American host nation which had sheltered them as German Jews from the Nazis and protected them from Japanese imperialism (ultimately with the Atomic bomb!), Adorno/Horkheimer had come to view American capitalist society (less than a decade before the rise of McCarthyism) in dangerous relation to fascism.

They had thereby linked antisemitism with the capitalist mechanism to subjugate the weak, and to ostracize and eliminate the other and outsider as the "enemy." Horkheimer's/Adorno's hermeneutics of suspicion claimed that the capitalist commodification of every vital need and cultural expression had made a victim of individual authentic experience, had led to an unanalyzed discontent in civilization. Protest against the system had been displaced with hatred and aggression against outsiders, foremost the Jews viewed as the original modern entrepreneur without values, abused as scapegoats. The practice to manipulate the subject's comprehensive needs toward mere objects for mass consumption, Adorno and Horkheimer wrote, had been merely exploited by the Nazis in using "the training the culture industry has given (the masses), in order to organize them into its own forced batallions."

Some 15 or so years after Theodor Adorno and Horkheimer, exiles in the United States, had completed The Dialectic of Enlightenment in 1944, the works of “No!Art” would refocus on the issues of Jews as objects of ultimate violence and woman as sex objects. In the New York of the early 1960s, Boris Lurie and others brought these problematics into a proximity that would prove — in the space of the visual — to be so explosive that the main stream institution of art to this very day still has not quite absorbed its shock value.

The talk will analyze the problematics of “NO! art’s” negative aesthetics in comparison and contrast to the “classical” institutional nature of the “dark” philosophical discourse of Adorno/Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, George Grosz’s moral dialectic of political criticism and self-critique, and George Bataille’s aesthetics of transgressing  the moral and aesthetic. Compared also with recently provocative “Holocaust” shows in New York, the dilemma of an adequate or any significant reception of “No! Art” in the postmodern arena seems to lie in the circumstance that its moral claims are Marxist, and that its imagery is misunderstood as immoral. read full essay, 9 pages

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ABOUT RAINER RUMOLD: is Professor at Northwestern University, Department of German Literature & Critical Thought, Evanston, Illinois — The lecture was held on the occasion of the NO!art symposium at University for Graphic and Book Art in Leipzig (Germany) on the 21st June, 2002.

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