The article sets out from a debate between Theodor W. Adorno and Walter Benjamin about how to conceive of the critical and liberating function of art. First, it reconstructs Adorno’s critique of Benjamin’s conception of art in the age of its technical reproducibility as dialectically insufficient and as ignorant of the primacy of the object that is always implied in aesthetic experience. Second, it revisits Benjamin’s conception itself and argues that one can find elements in it for a notion of critical art that is more consistent than Adorno’s purely negative aesthetics. Third, against this background it develops two different notions of critique, and shows why only one of the two can be thought consistently. Finally, the article turns to Hegel’s aesthetics as the common background of Adorno’s and Benjamin’s positions, and outlines the conceptual requirements for a new understanding of art as critical practice.
Although art always takes place in time, its manifestations – actual works of art – can be characterized by the specific and close connection they maintain between contemporaneity and timelessness. Their relation to time must be differentiated in a twofold manner: on the one hand, there is the relation to the time in which they are embedded, and, on the other, the relation to the time that they themselves create. In particular historical conditions a specific temporality of the artwork emerges. Both temporalities are superimposed on by one another, namely as a timelessness of artworks as such. The book assembles a variety of thinkers that confront one of the most crucial questions when dealing with the very definition, concept and operativity of art: How to link art to the concept of the contemporary?