Negativity, iconoclasm, mimesis: Kristeva and Benjamin on political art

Idealistic Studies 38 (1-2):55-74 (2008)
I argue that in Julia Kristeva’s concept of negativity, conceived of as the recuperation, through transformation, of a traumatic remnant of the past, we can find a parallel to what Theodor Adorno, following Walter Benjamin, calls a mimesis that in its emphasis on non-identity is able to remain faithful to the ban on graven images interpreted materialistically rather than theologically. A connection between negativity and the theological ban on images is suggested in Adorno’s claim that a ban on positive representations of utopia leads to a practice of negating the negative, that is, of exposing the injustices of modern life. Both Adorno and Kristeva discern in contemporary art a capacity to critique modernity and envision a better world, but insist that this art must not represent what it indicates. I also examine Benjamin’s writings on photography in order to argue that a mimesis that respects the ban on graven images moves us beyond the systematic optimism of the Hegelian dialectic, and extends the philosophy of history into the unknown of the unconscious
Keywords Continental Philosophy  History of Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 0046-8541
DOI 10.5840/idstudies2008381/25
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