Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) from “Commitment: The Politics of Autonomous Art,” New Left Review (1962)

  • Lee Morrissey


The type of literature that, in accordance with the tenets of commitment but also with the demands of philistine moralism, exists for man, betrays him by traducing that which alone could help him, if it did not strike a pose of helping him. But any literature which therefore concludes that it can be a law unto itself, and exist only for itself, degenerates into ideology no less. Art, which even in its opposition to society remains a part of it, must close its eyes and ears against it: it cannot escape the shadow of irrationality. But when it appeals to this unreason, making it a raison dêtre, it converts its own malediction into a theodicy. Even in the most sublimated work of art there is a hidden “it should be otherwise.” When a work is merely itself and no other thing, as in a pure pseudo-scientific construction, it becomes bad art—literally preartistic. The moment of true volition, however, is mediated through nothing other than the form of the work itself, whose crystallization becomes an analogy of that other condition which should be. As eminently constructed and produced objects, works of art, even literary ones, point to a practice from which they abstain: the creation of a just life. This mediation is not a compromise between commitment and autonomy, nor a sort of mixture of advanced formal elements with an intellectual content inspired by genuinely or supposedly progressive politics. The content of works of art is never the amount of intellect pumped into them: if anything it is the opposite. Nevertheless, an emphasis on autonomous works is itself socio-political in nature.


United States Structural Geology Formal Element Social Research Literary Theory 
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© Lee Morrissey 2005

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  • Lee Morrissey

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