[KS] Re: More on HKT

Walter K. Lew Lew at HUMnet.UCLA.EDU
Tue Feb 29 09:21:15 EST 2000


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


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