Notes to Literature, Volume 1 by Theodor W. Adorno

By Theodor W. Adorno

An excellent selection of brief essays on literary matters e.g. Beckett, Balzac, Proust, Thomas Mann, Dickens, Goethe, Heine, the lyric, realism, the essay, and the modern novel.

“Adorno’s Notes to Literature, which starts with the excessive bounce of his nice essay ‘The Essay as Form,’ units an inimitable, continually exhilarating normal. A quantity of Adorno’s essays is reminiscent of an entire shelf of books on literature.” —Susan Sontag

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But the mani festations i n earlier periods of the speci fically lyric spirit familiar to us are only isolated Rashes, just as the backgrounds in older painting occasionally anticipate the idea of landscape pai nting. They do not establish it as a form. The great poets of the distant past- Pi ndar and Alcaeus, for i nstance, but the greater part of Walther von der Vogelweide's work as well - whom literary history classifies as lyric poets are uncommonly far from our pri mary conception of the lyric.

Instead, it must ON 39 LYRIC POETRY AND SOCIETY discover how the entirety of a society, conceived as an internally contra­ dictory unity, is manifested in the work of art , i n what way the work of art remains subject to society and in what way it transcends it. In phi losophical terms, the approach must be an immanent one. Social concepts should not be applied to the works from without but rather drawn from an exacting examination of the works themselves. Goethe's statement in his Maxims arId Refoctions that what you do not understand you do not possess holds not only for the aesthetic attitude to works of art but for aesthetic theory as well; nothing that is not in the works, not part of their own form , can legiti mate a determination of what their sub­ stance , that which has entered into their poetry, represents in social terms.

No mere contradictions may remain unless they are established as belonging to the object itself. But the essay does not develop its ideas in accordance with discursive logic. It neither makes deductions from a principle nor draws conclusions from coherent i ndividual observations. It coordinates elements instead of sub­ ordinating them , and only the essence of its content, not the manner in which it is presented, is commensurable with logical criteria. In compar­ ison with forms in which a preformed content is communicated indiffer­ ently, the essay is more dynamic than traditional thought by virtue of the tension between the presentation and the matter presented.

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