I have selected these quotes from Adorno’s “The Essay as Form”
The person who interprets instead of unquestioningly accepting and categorizing is slapped with the charge of intellectualizing as if with a yellow star; his misled and decadent intelligence is said to subtilize and project meaning where there is nothing to interpret. Technician or dreamer, those are the alternatives. Pg 152
Proust attempted, by means of a scientifically modelled technique, a sort of experimentation, to save or reproduce a form of knowledge that was still considered valid in the days of bourgeois individualism when the individual consciousness still trusted itself and was not yet worried about organizational censure: the knowledge of an experienced man, that extinct homme de lettres, whom Proust once again conjures up as the highest form of the dilettante! Pg 156
Since the airtight order of concepts is not identical with existence, the essay does not strive for closed, deductive or inductive, construction. It revolts above all against the doctrine deeply rooted since Plato that the changing and ephemeral is unworthy of philosophy; against that ancient injustice toward the transitory, by which it is once more anathematized, conceptually. Pg 158
I am a Media Artist whose plan is to unite histories, synthesising the human and the natural, through the lens of cultural paradigms, and all this in a speculative way. I am aware of how risky this is, and how much I will be putting myself on the line. Like Adorno, I am very aware of the big divide that has been erected between the poetic and the practical. I am intimidated in general by the expectations of non-fiction media audiences and the gatekeepers in funding and distribution in the media industry. Both expecting the hard facts and clear linearity of a BBC journalistic style of documentary… Especially seeing that I want to move from imperial politics to fossil-hunting, continental drift to the writings of Swift, Hobbes and Rousseau.
Adorno says about Proust, that few could succeed with today what that man could take for granted in his day. It was as if in the 20th century, the right to observe and speak had become reserved for empiricists of a myriad of specialist fields; a sort of intellectual real estate system of hotly contested turf. The essayist if they are worth their mettle, has engaged with and gained insight from a gamut of experiences, both in action and discourse. They are to play the role of the “wise-folk” of preliterate times with the ability to see unnamed connections. It is the raw perception, lucid pondering, and a syzygy between object and subject that gives the essay its piquancy.
How often do we see this in Non-Fiction film… Not often… The Essay film is rare and this is in part because it is such a juggling act of considerations. Object to subject, transmitter to receiver, proclamation and speculation. And it is my suspicion that whilst there is a desire amongst audiences to get a bit of this subjective pondering in the text, there is a limit to which the Media-maker can push it, or risk losing an audience. A small temporary corner of the field awaits for those who go off the deep end without an adequate panache, that is, if they go anywhere at all.
This is also the crisis of literary essay. Those set of choices that makes a text relevant to an audience, and the verve of its execution is the criteria in regular fiction, fact and poetry alike. The essay is risky because it is can simultanously function as fiction, fact and poetry. Some essayists are un-selfconscious because their work is secondary to them, intentionally personal, or its publishing is posthumous. Others are aristocrats for whom immortality beckons. How is it that the pure Essayist finds a form and quality in their text that endures as literature. It is no accident when the right balance is reached, but it is difficult to predict this outcome from the beginning. However, ignominy is the reward for the solipsist whose voice is not somehow universal or graceful. So it seems that the binary and the bind of all text-making is as follows. Be possessed of what will fascinate others to an adequate degree, and express it with fearless candour.
His final point reminded me of the classical complaint of “gendered knowledge” the criteria that men and women place on things. The imperial and the empirical masculine mind is a functionary of patriarchal values. This is the anti-relativist universe, and the architectonic view of culture. As Adorno points to Plato, and thus to a western tradition in which there is a paucity of a language for dealing with states of being in transition, liminal spaces, interzones. Of becoming and unbecoming, the nuances of time consciousness, memory, transverse and parallel hierarchies, whereby one is powerful and weak, great and small, wise and foolish simultaneously.
In this article it seems as if Adorno is rebutting the Academic circles of his time, and in a sense making a swipe at a German intellectualism that insists on a fairly stultifying empiricism in social thought or philosophy. Do I think he makes his case well? Well I do think he is demonstrating his own tensions with this freedom in the very form of his writing in this piece. He seems to yearn for a freedom in writing his thoughts just as he would make music, but it gets caught midway. Dangerously dangling between an essayists wildness and an incredibly codified and rarefied abstract . Perhaps he should have engaged more with that essayistic freedom rather than justify or defend it in an academic sense, however its easy to underestimate the courage it takes to create any text. There are few critics that truly appreciate that, and I get the impression from what I have read that Adorno was not one of them.