Adorno’s Philistine: the Dialectic of Art and its Other

in Historical Materialism
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Abstract

Theodor Adorno’s philistine functions as the other of art, or as the ideal embodiment of everything that the bourgeois aesthetic subject is not. He insists on the truth-content of the derogation, while recognising its unjust social foundation, and seeking to reflect that tension in a self-critical turn. His model of advanced art is negatively delimited by the philistinism of art with a cause and the philistinism of art for enjoyment, which represent the poles of the aesthetic and the social. The philistine is also the counterpart to the connoisseur, with the interplay between them pointing to his preferred approach to aesthetics, in which an affinity for art and alienness to it are combined without compromise. However, Adorno fails to realise fully the critical potential of the philistine as the immanent negation of art and aesthetics.

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