Abstract

Black aesthetics and Adornian aesthetics both articulate and embody what Hortense Spillers calls the “critical edge” of culture and art, and there is a recent history of black aestheticians engaging creatively with Adorno. Today, however, any constructive dialogue between these aesthetic traditions depends on whether Adorno's aesthetics can be decoupled from the anti-black racism in the genealogy of Western aesthetics and whether Adorno's negative dialectics can be reconciled to the transformative force of art, as that force is as central in black aesthetics as is the negative dialectics of art. Critically focusing on Adorno's discussion of “the ideal of blackness” in Aesthetic Theory, this article will argue that such decoupling remains incomplete, that he resolutely did not believe in the transformative force of art, and that these issues are connected, at least in Adorno's case. This article simultaneously demonstrates how black thinkers—Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Angela Y. Davis, Fred Moten, Fumi Okiji, and Spillers—have long offered exemplary accounts of art that combine its negative dialectics, critical edge, and transformative force while defying the anti-black racism in Western aesthetics.

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