Aesthetics of evil : Adorno vs. the ethical turn

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Publication Details
Author list: Johansson, Anders S
Publisher: Inter-Disciplinary Press
Place: Oxford
Publication year: 2008
Book title (if part of a book): Framing evil : portraits of terror and the imagination
Start page: 3
End page: 12
Number of pages: 10
ISBN: 978-1-904710-76-9


The outset for the paper is the widespread notion that literature is better suited than philosophy for understanding and relating experiences of evil. A problem with this supposedly post-metaphysical notion, exemplified by an essay written by María Pía Lara, is that it implies a metaphysical conception of an inherent goodness in literature. To find a more critical approach, the paper turns to Theodor W. Adorno and his comments on poetry after Auschwitz. From his perspective evil is just as present in the interior of every artwork, as in society in general - literature is no less evil than anything else. Due to its material character, however, every artwork does harbour a possibility of understanding and reconciliation that philosophical thinking lacks. Finally, two examples are used to illustrate Adorno’s points: Michael Haneke’s film Funny Games, and the Swedish novel Äldreomsorgen i övre Kågedalen by Nikanor Teratologen. Both could be seen as two extremely cruel narrations of evil, totally lacking all reconciliation. The point is that a reconciliation can be found in the interior of the works, however. In that way, the two works demonstrate a sensibility of the immanent violence of their own form.

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