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By W. Abendroth
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Extra resources for A Short History of the European Working Class
But just as one can concentrate one’s attention on the structure of the window-pane, without paying any attention to the picture displayed on the other side of the window, so the work of art can be thought of as an independent formal structure existing for its own sake, as a coherent and significant entity, complete and perfect in itself, and in which all transgressing interpretations, all ‘looking through the window’, prejudices the appreciation of its spiritual coherence. The purpose of the work of art constantly wavers between these two points of view, between an immanent being, detached from all reality beyond the work itself, and a function determined by life, society and practical necessity.
Modern expressionism in art is premised on the idea that the artist must become a conduit for the base truths beneath the surface appearances of life in this corrupted age. Symbolism is another name for this project of ‘unmasking’ and the poets Rimbaud and Verlaine are two of the chief exponents of ‘the whole hallucinatory interpretation’ (vol. IV: p. 185). The artist has become a seer who must prepare himself [sic] ‘by systematically weaning his senses from their normal functions, by denaturalizing and dehumanizing them…the poet must overcome the natural man within himself, in order to discover the hidden meaning of things’ (vol.
65–6) ‘Art for art’s sake’ is partly a cause, and partly a consequence, of traditional art’s increasing social marginality in post-Renaissance Europe. The industrialization of production eventually leads to a bifurcation between ‘mass’ cultural forms in the novel, design, print, film (and later television) which could never be called ‘art’, as far as Hauser is concerned, and the dismal careers of the Romantic and post-Romantic avant-gardes, which produce extraordinary greatness aesthetically, but which are politically indifferent or reactionary.