Aesthetic Autonomy and Praxis: Art and Language in Adorno and Habermas

International Journal of Philosophical Studies 19 (2):155-175 (2011)
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Aesthetic autonomy has been given a variety of interpretations, which in many cases involve a number of claims. Key among them are: (i) art eludes conventional conceptual frameworks and their inherent incompatibility with invention and creativity; and (ii) art can communicate aspects of experience too fine‐grained for discursive language. To accommodate such claims one can adopt either a convention‐based account or a natural‐kind account. A natural‐kind theory can explain the first but requires some special scaffolding in order to support the second, while a convention‐based account accommodates the second but is incompatible with the first. Theodor W. Adorno attempts to incorporate both claims within his aesthetic theory, but arguably in his aesthetic theory each is cancelled out by the other. Art’s independence of entrenched conceptual frameworks needs to be made compatible with its communicative role. Jürgen Habermas, in contrast, provides a solution by way of his theory of language. I draw upon the art practice of the contemporary Icelandic‐Danish artist Olafur Eliasson in order to demonstrate this.

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Jennifer A. McMahon
University of Adelaide


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