Let us pretend one more time that the world can still be saved. Let us raise one more time the question of the emancipatory potential supposedly inherent in art. Let us ask what has happened to this potential, whether and how one can still attribute it to art. Let us do so at a time when the exhaustion of artistic form manifests itself in a ubiquitous perception since everything is perceived under the aspect of form, of design, of the display of commodities in so-called aesthetic capitalism. For this perception goes along with what appears to be opposed to it, or rather with what complements it, namely a moralistic codification of form that presents itself as progressive, as concerned with the emancipatory potential of art or with art’s liberating transformation of society.
Pretending one more time that the world can still be saved and asking whether art contains an emancipatory potential can be a meaningful endeavour only if illegitimate attempts at appropriating this emancipatory potential are thwarted. Its usurpation, which amounts to its abolition, must be prevented. Critique that deserves its name must first and foremost struggle against false pretenders, not against those who do not even claim to be pretenders. The efficiency of critique’s propaedeutic character should be sought in this struggle against false pretenders. If one fears that its negativity may entail a dangerous impotence and if for this reason one wishes to supplement it with a justifying and constructive “affirmationism”, mindful of the fact that it was once meant to prepare the outline of a metaphysics purged of precritical dogmatism, then one risks forgetting that critique ceases to hurt and can no longer trigger an impulse the instant that it needs to reassure and assert itself in a larger context in which pretenders continue to aspire to the emancipatory potential of art. There is always an unbridgeable gap between, on the one hand, the triggering of an impulse, in which the practical dimension of critique consists and on which its cognitive dimension ultimately depends, that is, the possibility of recognising something for what it is, and, on the other hand, the attempt to subordinate this impulse to a definite purpose. In short, the more critique reveals itself to be pertinent, the more it features an anarchic moment. This moment cannot be functionalised or instrumentalised. Otherwise chances are that critique will lose its critical edge.
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is a philosopher and translator of many philosophical books. He teaches at the Institute for Art History and Aesthetics at University of Arts in Berlin.