The Cult of the New and the Work of Critique

By Angeliki Spiropoulou.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper complicates 'the cult of the new', which has replaced art’s auratic tradition in modernity, drawing on the work of Baudelaire, Valéry, Adorno and
Benjamin and argues for a kind of criticism that introduces a reflexive and politically inflected notion of ‘novelty’. Such a qualified notion of novelty evades the typical conflation of the ‘new’ with technical innovation,
chronological progression or sensation, which would result in the mere banality of the new. The new is produced instead in the very act of critique at the moment of its encounter with the specific artwork. This notion of newness
can be derived from the theory of criticism suggested by Walter Benjamin, in turn inspired by the work of the early German Romantics, such as Schlegel and Novalis. Benjamin’s critical model equally avoids empiricism and formalism and
allows for the concern of the mutually constitutive relationship between specific art forms, the Idea of Art and criticism to become the focus of attention by suggesting a relationship of mutual transformation between
the work and its criticism. What Benjamin called ‘immanent critique’ transforms its object by selecting each time to activate certain potentialities latent in the work while in the process it becomes itself reflexively transformed by
the specific work which imposes its own criteria of criticism. This is a type of criticism that acknowledges the surplus of historical and artistic possibilities inscribed in the work, thus opening the work to potential
future critiques as well as the past ones which constitute tradition. In this respect, criticism is not so much about ‘judging’ the work as about knowledge and understanding, liking the world of language with that of specific spatio-temporal experience inscribed in the work. The ‘newness’ of the artwork then is related with the activation of its past and future potentialities in the
moment of criticism rather than simply with the application of the external criterion of technical novelty which is concomitant with the myth of progress modernity propagates.

Keywords: The Cult of the New, Modernity, Immanent Critique of the Artwork, Destruction of Tradition, Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, Charles Baudelaire

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 5, pp.217-226. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.224MB).

Dr. Angeliki Spiropoulou

Lecturer in Modern European Literature and Theory, Theatre Studies Department, The University of the Peloponnese, Nafplio, Greece

ΑNGELIKI SPIROPOULOU holds a BA in English from the University of Athens; an MA in Critical Theory and a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Sussex, UK. She is Lecturer in Modern European Literature and Theory at the Theatre Studies Department of the University of the Peloponnese, Greece. She has previously taught at Athens University and she also has been teaching European Literary History at the Hellenic Open University since 2001. Her research interests focus on literary and cultural theory, and 19th - 20th C European literature, especially modernism. She has published numerous articles in both Greek and English in refereed journals and collective editions, and she has edited 4 collective volumes, the most recent of which are: Culture Agonistes; Debating Culture, Rereading Texts (co-edited, Peter Lang: Bern, 2002); and Walter Benjamin; Images and Myths of Modernity (Alexandreia Publ.: Αthens, 2007). She has also co-authored the textbook History of European Literature, 18th-20thC (The Hellenic Open University: Patras 2008); and published the monograph Virginia Woolf, Modernity and History: Constellations with Walter Benjamin (Palgrave-Macmillan: London and Νew York, 2010).


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