This essay explores the works of German artist Gustav Metzger as a potential response to Theodor W. Adorno’s dictum “Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch” (“To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”). It argues that culture, as understood in the Adornian sense, is inextricably barbaric as a result of simply being after Auschwitz. Culture must acknowledge the finitude in its own ability to live up to an ethical demand in response to justice, whose arrival is infinitely deferred. In spite of this, culture, and art in particular, must not refrain from the very act of writing. Metzger’s works are discussed as aesthetic responses to the “new categorical imperative” of Adorno, who addresses art’s failure in light of Auschwitz by pointing to aporias that constitute the inescapable condition of “barbarism.” This essay suggests that Metzger’s aesthetic articulations are nonbarbaric ruptures, in that they challenge our living on irresponsibly within the condition of barbarism via a constant confrontation with complicity.
Art After Auschwitz: Responding to an Infinite Demand: Gustav Metzger’s Works as Responses to Theodor W. Adorno’s “New Categorical Imperative”
Anna-Verena Nosthoff is an independent writer and a regular contributor to various magazines with a focus on arts, aesthetics, and cultural theory. She holds an MA in critical and creative analysis (with distinction) from the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is currently completing a second MA in political theory at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main. Her current research focus is on French philosophy and in particular its relation to the first generation of the Frankfurt School, as well as the exploration of the intersection between performativity, aesthetics, and sociopolitical change.
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Anna-Verena Nosthoff; Art After Auschwitz: Responding to an Infinite Demand: Gustav Metzger’s Works as Responses to Theodor W. Adorno’s “New Categorical Imperative”. Cultural Politics 1 November 2014; 10 (3): 300–319. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-2795693
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