[KS] Re: More on HKT

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at fas.harvard.edu
Tue Feb 29 10:32:07 EST 2000

Dear Walter:

Below you are summarizing (as you say yourself) what Adorno and 
Horkheimer say about "truth" -- a very good summary. I, however, was 
confused by Professor Baker's use of the word "radical" in the term 
"radical interpretation."  "Radical interpretation" seems like a very 
odd marriage to me, unless there exists a definition of "radical" 
that am not aware of. You wrote:
>I took Don Baker to be signaling a
>conventional distinction between whatever might be "inherently" radical in
>a work and how it is used in particular situations in need of radical
>narratives, (...)
I do understand what you say -- but then we speak about the work, not 
its interpretation.
Please, I am not trying to be whimsical, it is just that I once 
learned that all interpretations have to be radical to be valid.


>re yr response to Don Baker:
>>What is your definition of "radical" and "a radical interpretation"?
>>If I go with Adorno and Horkheimer, radical simply means true, not
>>compromising in what we understand to be true. But "radical
>>interpretation" confuses me.
>You read German and my knowledge of the Frankfurt School is very limited.
>So I hesitate to complain abt how you "go w Adorno and Horkheimer," but
>don't you think they wd reject (or find uninteresting) the concept that
>anything "simply means true, not compromising in what we understand to be
>true"?  As you well know, A & H sought to always maintain (whether
>successfully or not) sociohistorical and economic considerations when
>dealing w such processes as collective trauma, dehumanization, the
>functions of modernist art and poetics, and the loss and/or trivialization
>of "individuality."  There is a hierarchy of "truths" in _Dialectic of
>Enlightenment_--largely reorganized according to their sense of the limits
>of rationalism, 20th-century horror/banality, and late industrial
>capitalism's commodification of experience--in which self-deception is
>assumed to be the norm.  This, of course, does not mean that truth cannot
>be arrived at or that it cannot be deeply personal.  All this is obvious
>and I hope that it is not an insult that I so blithely summarize it.
>Our context was discussion of a literary work, especially its modern
>reinterpretations.  My main point is that if A & H are going to be cited in
>this connection as authoritative pronouncements, it behooves us to consider
>the specific ways in which A & H dealt w such topics.  If there is anything
>exciting in how A & H discuss aesthetics (and I actually haven't found them
>that useful for my own work), it is their attention to
>historically-specific socio-psychological processes (mass culture,
>commodification, etc.); thus, their frequent association w Marcuse among
>readers in the 60s.  HOW one arrives at "knowledge," "truths," etc. through
>a series of negations is one of their major concerns and it is in that
>context that the discussion of aesthetics becomes unique, since it leads
>them to posit, among other things, that one function of high art is not its
>direct statement of or dedication to truths but its "purposelessness,"
>which lends it a certain capability for resisting circuits of advertising,
>commercialized sentimentality, etc.
>My dissatisfaction, therefore, is twofold: you have invoked A & H in a
>manner that makes them sound no different from, say, Ayn Rand (sorry, I've
>just watched the ending of "The Fountainhead" and I read _Atlas Shrugged_
>in high school for all the wrong reasons) and it's such a long leap from
>their critique of rationalism, fascism, and highly technologized capitalism
>to the questions raised here that even Hong Kil-tong might find it puzzling
>(for a moment, at least) as to where to land.
>Re: "radical interpretation," I took Don Baker to be signaling a
>conventional distinction between whatever might be "inherently" radical in
>a work and how it is used in particular situations in need of radical
>narratives, especially since the latter might base its interpretations on
>what others might consider secondary or minor details of a text (or its
>author, history, etc.).  It doesn't appear to be a distinction that you wd
>find useless to make, given the highly contextual sense of aesthetic value
>in your earlier posts.
>Respectfully, Walter K. Lew
>Walter K. Lew
>11811 Venice Blvd.  #138
>Los Angeles, CA  90066

Frank Hoffmann * 4903 Manitoba Dr.#202 * Alexandria, VA 22312 * USA
E-MAIL: hoffmann at fas.harvard.edu  *  FAX: (520) 438-4890
W W W : http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hoffmann/


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