Exact Imagination, Late Work: On Adorno's Aesthetics (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought)

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Most English-language writing on Theodor Adorno has attempted to place him in various contexts and to differentiate him from other thinkers. Such work, while important, marks our failure to appropriate Adorno's ideas imaginatively. In Exact Imagination, Late Work, Nicholsen proposes such an appropriation through a focus on the centrality of the aesthetic dimension in Adorno.

Adorno uses the term "exact imagination" to mark the conjunction of knowledge, subjective experience, and aesthetic form. Exact imagination, as distinct from creative imagination, thus describes a form of nondiscursive rationality. According to Adorno, exact imagination discovers or produces truth by reconfiguring the material at hand; thus, knowledge is inseparable from the configurational form imagination gives it. "Late work" is characterized by the disjunction of subjectivity and objectivity. In its attempt to grasp late phenomena, Adorno's oeuvre itself takes on the form of late work.

Exact imagination and late work mark the bounds of Nicholsen's exploration. The five interlocked essays, based on material from Adorno's "aesthetic writings," take up such issues as subjective aesthetic experience, the historicity of artworks and our experience of them, Adorno's conception of language, the nature of configurational or constellational form in Adorno's work, and the relation between the artwork, aesthetic experience, and philosophy. A subtext is the unraveling of Adorno's use of the ideas of his colleague Walter Benjamin. Nicholsen's essays themselves can be perceived as a constellation of their own around the central issue of the inseparability of form in its aesthetic dimension and nondiscursive rationality.

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About the Author:

Shierry Weber Nicholsen teaches environmental philosophy and psychology in Antioch University Seattle's M.A. Program on Environment and Community and is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in Seattle. She has translated several works by Theodor Adorno and Jürgen Habermas.

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Nicholsen (environment and community, Antioch Univ.) contends that Adorno's work has suffered neglect, as compared with that of his colleague Walter Benjamin. This neglect stems from the failure of critics to consider adequately the form and method of Adorno's writing. For him, imagination was the key tool to study aesthetic activity. Through "exact imagination" Adorno tried to portray the work of diverse writers and musicians. In these exercises, Adorno devoted particular attention to his subjects' "late work." A careful study, valuable for students of literary theory.?David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., Ohio
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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