Expressing his ambivalence about the legacy of psychoanalysis, Adorno criticized Freud's claim that artists sublimate their desires in their works, which he argued undermined the potential of the artwork to transcend its creator's emotional life and challenge the consolations of affirmative culture. But at the same time, he himself employed the idea of sublimation in characterizing the ways in which what he called "talent" could channel rage against suffering and "thought" resist the imperative to be immediately practical. In addition, his defense of the posterior aesthetic transfiguration of devotional objects from traditional religious practices and the formalist redescription of "primitive" artifacts as universally valid artworks demonstrates that his critique of aesthetic sublimation, often taken to be solely antagonistic, also contained a subtle acknowledgment of its critical potential.
We are now approaching the 50th anniversary of Aesthetic Theory
(first published posthumously in 1970), the final masterpiece of the
philosopher and social theorist Theodor W. Adorno.This lecture
contributes to the semester-long series of scholarly presentations that
reflect on the legacy and actuality of this major work.