The Performance and Philosophy working group @ PSi 18 in Leeds, UK
I am delighted to announce that the Performance and Philosophy working group has had all three of its proposals accepted for PSi 18 in Leeds: two panels on ‘The Actuality of Adorno: Theatre, Performance, and the Culture Industry Reconsidered (again)’ convened by Will Daddario and Karoline Gritzner; and one shift, 'Work Songs: Exploring Immaterial and Emotional Labour as Performance Material' convened by Broderick Chow with Louise Owen.
Please do support these events at the conference.
Full details are below,
‘The Actuality of Adorno: Theatre, Performance, and the Culture Industry Reconsidered (again)’
Panel convenors: Will Daddario and Karoline Gritzner
Chair: Dr Will Daddario (Assistant Professor)
Dr Liz Tomlin (Lecturer)
Christina Schraml (ES)
Marc Nicolas Sommer (GS)
Chair: Dr Will Daddario (Assistant Professor)
Rebecca Daker (GS)
Rebecca Clare Dolgoy (GS)
Christopher Gontar (GS)
Dr Karoline Gritzner (Lecturer)
The aim of these two panels is to revisit and interrogate Theodor W. Adorno’s seminal critique of the ‘culture industry’, which he articulated in his collaborative work with Max Horkheimer (Dialectic of Enlightenment) as well as in numerous studies of cultural criticism that explore the status of art in the administered world of advanced capitalism.
We have invited paper presentations that pursue Adornian perspectives and compositional stylistics in order to re-engage with his dialectical critique of the culture industry through specific sentences, phrases, and ideas composed by Adorno himself. As such, the panel organisers have asked that those interested in contributing to this panel build a paper around a specific Adorno quotation that deals with the culture industry. Or, in other words, we have suggested that proposals treat Adorno quotations as fragments through which to re-view the workings of the culture industry as it extends into the realms of theatre and performance in the present.
Dr Liz Tomlin (Lecturer at the University of Birmingham)
“The autonomy of works of art, which of course rarely ever predominated in an entirely pure form, and was always permeated by a constellation of effects, is tendentially eliminated by the culture industry, with or without the conscious will of those in control” (Adorno)
This paper examines the rising popularity of interactive and participatory performance events across the UK and Europe over the past few years. Such practice, in many ways, is diametrically opposed to Adorno’s notion of autonomy as it can only be realised within a ‘constellation of effects’, but this very fact has led to the conviction that, at this point in history, such practice alone can disrupt the possibility of the commodification of the art object which was so central to Adorno’s critiques.
The paper will, however, question the claims that the notion of event, rather than object, can necessarily evade commodification, an argument which is often underpinned by Nicolas Bourriaud’s notion of relational aesthetics. Far from remaining autonomous from the marketplace, interactive performance is now a prime product within the marketplace of the international new work industry, or festival/touring circuit. Furthermore, I will argue that this particular trend in contemporary performance is an ideological reflection of the marketplace of global capitalism whereby the notion of experiential identification has now replaced desire for the object in the leading corporate branding campaigns.
Through this exploration I will examine the wider constellation of effects that permeate the relational work, preventing it from transcending the commodity culture of capitalism. In addition to looking at the shift in marketing strategies within global brands and the use of ‘innovative’ performance as economic product for international export, I will conclude by examining the role of the universities as compliant incubators for work which is destined to be subjected to the ideological demands of the international marketplace. I will suggest that ‘with or without the conscious will of those in control’, the experimentation with new forms of theatre in our universities no longer leads to an avant garde marching in advance of the cultural industries, which are then required to re-adjust to incorporate the momentarily radical, but rather is undertaken with the explicit aim of serving the cultural industries’ current tastes and economic requirements by encouraging the design of ‘new’ products only within the framework of existing marketplace demands.
Christina Schraml (ES, Vienna)
‘(In)dependence?! - Reconsidering the Question of the Autonomy of Art in the Contemporary Age’
The paper considers the actuality of Adorno's brilliant account on the dialectic relation of autonomy and commodifcation in today's postmodern consumer society. Building on Kant's concept of disinterested contemplation and Marx's "commodity fetishism", Adorno advocated autonomous art, i.e. subversive, dissenting cultural production outside mainstream capitalist interest; non-instrumentalised art that has as its "purpose" the creation of something without direct purpose. However, following Adorno, with the rise of the "Culture Industry", culture loses autonomy and fetishises "instrumental reason" thereby killing the necessary preconditions for providing a critical standpoint and thus fostering a democratic society. That is to say, while capitalism emancipated artists from the feudalist system where all art was for the sake of social means (state control), on the other hand, commodifcation forges new chains of its own. Based on the example of theatre and performance, the paper poses the question of the possibility and limits of artistic autonomy in the face of contemporary commercial and ideological pressures (boom of the creative industries): autonomy versus being subject to capitalism and/or (in)dependence of public benevolence (subsidies). Hence, the notion of value, i.e. culture being used as an end in itself versus being exploited for other means, is addressed and running like a leitmotiv through the discussion. Contemporary tensions experienced in the cultural sector owing to the blurring of culture and economy leading to a potential diminishing of artistic autonomy, i.e. culture being exploited for profit-driven purposes versus genuine cultural production with the potential to progress and change society, are at the core of attention. With the rise of neo-liberalism and related threats of budgetary cuts in the cultural sector, it is argued, a tendency towards measuring artistic performance in terms of instrumental impacts is identifiable rather than supporting culture "per se", relating to the great positivism dispute (the value of culture being quantified; administered world). Accordingly, the paper suggests that Adorno's theses are highly applicable in today's complex hybrid environment with more stakeholders being involved; where artistic values/ideals, public bodies' interests and profit-driven interests by private parties are likely to clash and economic values increasingly tend to subsume all other values.
Marc Nicolas Sommer (GS, University of Basel, Switzerland)
‘Mass Culture or Culture Industry? Reconsidering the Constellation of Culture and Consumer under Late Capitalism’
“The masses are not the measure but the ideology of the culture industry, even though the culture industry itself could scarcely exist without adapting to the masses” (Adorno, ‘Culture Industry Reconsidered’, p. 99)
In my talk I want to focus on the relationship between the masses and the culture industry and the consequences of this relationship for theatre and performance arts. First, I want to develop the aporia that is staged in Adorno’s sentence. The culture industry is on the one hand not primarily catering to the taste of the masses. This taste is rather shaped by the culture industry and its products. This is most obvious in the development of popular film in the last decades; but the consequences of this conditioning of taste and consciousness are perceptible in other branches of the culture industry, especially in performing arts and among these even in art forms traditionally classified as high art, such as theatre, ballet and opera.
The performing arts do not so much exemplify the first part of the aporia, but the second part. They can only survive by adapting to the taste of the masses that has been conditioned by more popular art forms, predominantly film. Like all branches (even film) of the culture industry, the performing arts have to adapt to the taste and the consciousness conditioned by the workings of the culture industry and are thereby conforming and strengthening that taste.
The performing arts can either give in to this diabolical mechanism or – in their more sophisticated forms – retreat to the realm of high art and completely sever themselves from the masses thereby being dependent on funding and reaching only a very limited audience. In my opinion, neither option is satisfactory. Instead, the performing arts would have to achieve the almost impossible feat of reaching the masses without catering to their conditioned taste.
Rebecca Daker (GS, Royal Holloway, University of London)
‘Adorno versus sociology: the 'intractable problem' of instrumentalism’
“Once art has been recognized as a social fact, the sociological definition of its context considers itself superior to it and disposes over it. Often the assumption is that the objectivity of value-free positivistic knowledge is superior to supposedly subjective aesthetic standpoints. Such endeavors themselves call for social criticism. They tacitly seek the primacy of administration, of the administered world even over what refuses to be grasped by total socialization or at any rate struggles against it.” (Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (London: The Athlone Press, 1997, p. 250)
In this paper, I propose to give a brief introduction to the problems encountered by social scientists attempting to produce concrete proof of the social and economic impact of theatre under New Labour and the way that this research has already been criticised by academics working within the field of cultural policy studies. This will give a context to my subsequent discussion of the selected quotation from Aesthetic Theory and its relevance to arts funding policy during and since the Blair government.
While cultural policy scholars like Eleonora Belfiore and independent analysts like Sara Selwood have criticised instrumentalism-driven research into the impact of theatre for failing to establish direct causal links between projects and measurable results, this research (much as it may embrace utopian left-wing rhetoric) is also antithetical to the perspective of the Frankfurt School. For Adorno, in Aesthetic Theory even more than in Dialectic of Enlightenment, the utopian dimension of the artwork (and thus its social power) lies in its inherent negativity: it stands for something which does not yet exist and cannot be articulated other than through the imaginary. Art's relationship with social change has to be indirect because the authentic artwork (a term also used by Marcuse) contains both indicators of the ideology surrounding its production and an undesignated space of what Fredric Jameson calls the 'free play' of the utopian imagination.
By bringing Adorno into direct confrontation with this instrumentalist research and its critics, I will make the controversial suggestion that in attempting to establish art, and particularly theatre, as social capital, some of the most influential empirical research advocating subsidised arts is unintentionally jeopardising the political potential of British theatre.
Rebecca Clare Dolgoy (GS, University of Oxford)
‘The Work of Enlightenment: On the dialectic of blindness and (in)sight in Adorno’
“Cultural criticism shares the blindness of its object.” (Adorno)
From the prophet Tiresias to Beckett’s Hamm, the figure of the blind man has often been one synonymous with great insight. However, not all cases of blindness are associated with enhanced perception. The curing of blindness by the acquisition of sight/insight/truth is also a popular phenomenon. Nevertheless, we can see that blindness and insight figure in a complex relationship. By examining the dialectic of blindness and (in)sight in Adorno, my presentation will try to see if a form or practice of cultural criticism may break through the blindness of its object: in other words, can cultural criticism be other than a commodity within the culture industry? To answer this question, I will turn to an object Adorno privileges above all others, namely the work of art. For Adorno, the work of art is able to express the suffering and negative of a particular socio-historical moment by virtue of it being both autonomous and a fait social. My presentation addresses the following questions: for Adorno, can cultural criticism attain its autonomy in a manner similar to the work of art? Can the double characterization of the work of art (as both autonomous and a fait social) be extended to cultural criticism?
Adorno seems to think that dialectical critique would be able to sublate culture in a manner analogous to the work of art’s capacity to sublate the socio-historical moment in which it was created. While this doesn’t solve the dialectic of blindness and (in)sight in Adorno, by shedding light on this dialectical process, I will be able to outline a type of cultural criticism that, while blind, shares the insight of Tiresias and Hamm as opposed to the blindness that awaits its enlightenment.
Christopher Gontar (GS, Loyola University Chicago)
‘Artistic Autonomy Primordial and Modern and The Culture Industry’
I want to consider the culture industry in relation to two senses of aesthetic autonomy, in order to clarify the ways in which the culture industry upsets autonomy. If an artwork is “provokingly useless” and “extinguishes the subject [of the viewer],” it has these features first and foremost because it is, as Adorno also mentions in Aesthetic Theory, an “expression” and a “semblance” of its own being. An artwork has this kind of autonomy inasmuch as it internally exhibits the relation of copy and model or exemplar. This primary sense of autonomy of art absorbs its viewer or leads the viewer to conform to the work. “Culture industry” refers to a situating of art within economic production, resulting in a weakening of art’s autonomy and truth content. But there is a more mature and modern sense of “autonomy” of art which may at first appear to reverse the classical separation of art and life: Romanticism.
In this paper, I wish to argue that 1) the contemporary autonomy of art has both a psychic and a structural aspect, and 2) the culture industry is more or less pernicious to the extent that autonomy prevails in artworks. Adorno, for example, writes that there is a “complicity of the artwork’s thing-character with social reification and thus with its untruth.”
First, although romanticism means a radical return of life and experience to artworks, it is not simply an eradication of the solitude and autonomy in classicism and its legacy. Second, although the culture industry will sanction and adopt a basic language of theory, it will focus on the more predictable and accessible moments within classical art and music. And these are elements which are retained, even, by romantic and modern art. The culture industry, then, appears to be sustained, and yet at the same time curtailed, by art’s structures of style, variation, and spontaneity.
Dr Karoline Gritzner (Lecturer at Aberystwyth University)
Paper title: ‘The Janus Face of Subjectivity’
“Judgement on subjective expression is not passed from the outside, in political and social reflection, but within immediate impulses, every one of which, shamed in face of the culture industry, averts its eyes from its mirror image.” (Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, aphorism 95, trans. Jephcott, 1974)
This quotation - taken from an aphorism entitled ‘Damper and Drum’ in Adorno’s Minima Moralia - touches on the difficult status of subjectivity and subjective expression in the culture industry. Adorno’s thinking about subjectivity is complex and ambiguous: he fully acknowledges the historical conditioning of the self in bourgeois society and late-capitalism, and claims that authentic subjective expression is impossible in the post-Auschwitz cultural landscape which he calls the culture industry. Yet, at the same time his writings on art and aesthetics draw a lot on the consciousness of freedom and the (never fulfilled) promise of redemption that are contained in notions of subjectivity, artistic expression and the experience of intimacy that belongs to the encounter with the work of art. This paper seeks to explore Adorno’s ambivalent attitude to the self in the ‘context of blinding’ (Verblendungszusammenhang) and reification which for him characterise modern existence. His request that we recognise the self as an anachronistic, indeed impossible, category in our pseudo-individualistic society constitutes the anti-humanism of his philosophical project; yet, to completely dismiss the notion and value of subjective expression would mean to endorse the ‘brutal compulsion of collectivization’ (Minima Moralia, p. 146) in modern ‘damaged’ life. This paper will explore Adorno’s conceptualisation of expression in the context of dramatic theatre (contemporary forms of tragedy, such as the work of Howard Barker) where the staging of erotic self-loss, tragic excess, and dramaturgies of exaggerated self-reflection epitomise the Adornian oscillation between the truth and untruth of the ‘subjective act’ (MM, p. 225).
Work Songs: Exploring Immaterial and Emotional Labour as Performance Material
• Performance: Dr Broderick D.V. Chow (Lecturer in Theatre, Brunel University) (ES)
• Response and Provocation: Dr Louise Owen (Lecturer in Theatre, Birkbeck University) (ES)
• Chair: Dr Will Daddario (University of Minnesota, USA) (ES)
This shift explores and critiques the conditions of immaterial and material labour in performance practice. In Empire, Hardt and Negri define immaterial labour as labour in the production of ‘service, a cultural product, knowledge, or communication,’ which ‘results in no material or durable good’ (290). But contrary to post-Fordist economic accounts of an information or service economy, there are materials involved, not least the somatic material of the body. In her sociological analysis of the working day of flight attendants Hochschild notes the psychophysical nature of managing emotions, consumables, and smiles, and relates this work to the method of Stanislavski. ‘In the world of the theatre,’ she argues, ‘it is an honourable art to make maximum use of the resources of memory and feeling in stage performance. […] when we enter the world of profit-and-loss statements […] it is then that we look at these otherwise helpful separations of “me” from my face and feeling as potentially estranging’ (37). But in what way can theatre and performance be isolated from ‘profit-and-loss’? This shift is aimed at considering the peculiar estrangements from labour in the performance industries.
The workshop will begin with an extract of the performance Work Songs, by Broderick Chow and the centre for dangerology, which employs extensive documentation of office work and the administration of collegiality (counting the minutes spent on the phone, the number of times a drawer is opened, paper clips) to create a physical performance language. This is followed by a series of group exercises and discussion in which participants will consider their own material and immaterial labour in further detail.
We will consider the following questions:
1) In an economy in which production and consumption is geared towards the commodification of shared experience, how does artistic practice involving performers and spectators mark out its individual autonomy?
2) How does the individual performer perceive his/her labour and work (both material and immaterial)?
3) How can performance critique its own conditions of labour and work (both material and immaterial)?
4) What is the cost (economic, psychological or otherwise) of the commodification of emotion, face, style and presentation of self?