Politics and the Aesthetic Animal: Aristotle and Adorno
Basnett, Caleb John
MetadataShow full item record
This study examines the neglected role of other animals and art in Aristotle’s classic conception of the human being, and argues that the work of T.W. Adorno can be drawn upon to recover this conception’s neglected promise. By reading Aristotle’s oft-cited claim that ‘the human being is by nature a political animal’ in light of his works on biology and poetics, I find that Aristotle displaces ideas concerning the role of human being in the cosmos prominent in the Ancient Greek world, binding the self-understanding of human beings to other animals and the arts. This self-understanding can be summarized as follows: 1) Aristotle recognizes that humans are not the only political animals, and provides the rudiments of a theory concerning how nonhuman politics might be possible; and 2) Aristotle’s theory of nature is unintelligible without artistic metaphors that suggest the creative power of the arts to produce what we understand to be human, not simply in terms of revealing natural human capacities, but in creating these capacities in the first place. Though largely unappreciated by his descendants, detractors, and even Aristotle himself, I argue these insights can be recovered through Adorno’s critical theory. Adorno enables us to grasp the creative power of art in the construction of the human being and the distance it can place between humans and other animals while at once allowing us to see how a turn toward the repressed possibilities upon which the emergence of the human depends is also a turn toward animality. In this sense, the promise of humanity and its legacy concerns less a defense of the classical humanism being eroded by the vicissitudes of history, than the possibility of uncovering the paths not followed by this tradition that might inform posthuman subjective possibilities more able to confront the challenges of the present. In this way, Adorno enables the theorization of an aesthetic animal, the subject of a radically transformed society.