Monday, 8 February 2010

textual interlude


Delight in nature was bound up with the conception of the subject as being-for-itself and virtually infinite in itself; as such the subject projected itself onto nature and in its isolation felt close to it; the subject's powerlessness in a society petrified in a second nature becomes the motor of the flight into a purportedly first nature. In Kant, as a result of the subject's consciousness of freedom, the fear of nature's force began to become anachronistic; this consciousness of freedom, however, gave way to the subject's anxiety in the face of perennial unfreedom. In the experience of natural beauty, consciousness of freedom and anxiety fuse. The less secure the experience of natural beauty, the more it is predicated on art. Verlaine's "la mer est plus belle que les cath├ędrales" is intoned from the vantage point of a high civilization and creates - as is the case whenever nature is invoked to throw light on the world human beings have made - a salutary fear.
Just how bound up natural beauty is with art beauty is confirmed by the experience of the former. For it, nature is exclusively appearance, never the stuff of labor and the reproduction of life, let alone the substratum of science. Like the experience of art, the aesthetic experience of nature is that of images. Nature, as appearing beauty, is not perceived as an object of action. The sloughing off of the aims of self-preservation - which is emphatic in art - is carried out to the same degree in aesthetic experience of nature. To this extent the difference between the two forms of beauty is hardly evident. Mediation is no less to be inferred from the relation of art to nature than from the inverse relation. Art is not nature, a belief that idealism hoped to inculcate, but art does want to keep nature's promise. It is capable of this only by breaking that promise; by taking it back into itself .... Once it no longer serves as an object of action, appearing nature itself imparts expression, whether that of melancholy, peace, or something else. Art stands in for nature through its abolition in effigy; all naturalistic art is only deceptively close to nature because, analagous to industry, it relegates nature to raw material. The resistance to empirical reality that the subject marshals in the autonomous work is at the same time resistance to the autonomous appearance of nature.

Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, tr. Robert Hullot-Kentor, 'Natural Beauty'

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