THE AMOEBA WEEPS

On antinomies

October 10, 2017

Why would thinkers of a primarily analytic bent feel uncomfortable toward the idea of something on the order of what Adorno calls a magical residue or substrate in art, in music, in language? To what extent are they justified in dismissing this as mystical mumbo-jumbo?

 

The discomfort likely stems from a slippage that takes the non-provability of the non-rational, non-quantitative,  non-discursive (all non's?) elements in art to constitute non-existence of these elements. The claim of non-existence is not necessarily expressed discursively. Rather, it is expressed through internalized social norms that discourage these sorts of questions from even being asked. Underlying this is a slippage from regulative to constitutive use of concepts. Regulative avoidance of the question becomes constitutive of social practices that ultimately foreclose on our ability to ask it.

 

Such a situation can arise when in the face of the antinomic deadlock resulting from the non-provability either way that such elements do or do not exist, one takes the strategy of simply ignoring the question in favor of other questions and approaches. The implication here is that if such questions result in antinomies then there must be something wrong with the questioning itself. And so, rationality remains intact. The particular formulation of the problem is what is put into question. 

 

In the face of such antinomies one can take two approaches. One can simply avoid the question; this is the path Kant takes in restricting knowledge of the noumenal. Alternatively, one can go down the path of instability and negation with Adorno and Derrida, a path that resides between the antinomic poles. This is a path that puts the closure of rational systems into question. It is a path that brings us startlingly close to Schrödinger and Gödel. It is here that we might glimpse the inadequacy of reason to exhaustively apprehend the world. Here we may encounter a residue, a surplus beyond the dichotomy of truth and falsity. This is the domain of art.

 

Art’s liberating potential lies in its incommensurability with the true/false disjunction. Art gives the lie to this fallacious either/or, it is what is left over after the world has been divided up into falsities, myths, illusions on one side and the truth-bearing facts, upon which knowledge is based, on the other. Thus, art can act as an antidote to the rapacity of knowledge, incarnated as a tool by which to control the world and the people in it. It is not that art is truth revealed through illusion, to paraphrase Picasso. Rather, as Adorno puts it, “art is magic set free from the lie of being truth.” (Minima Moralia, p. 222)

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