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or The Birth of Postmodernism from the Spirit of the Avant-garde

David Roberts
from: New German Critique, n.38, 1986 p.112-130


Peter Bürger's Theory of the Avant-garde (1974) (1) drew its critical energy from the failure of the May'68 revolt in Paris and the collapse of the student movement in West Germany at the beginning of the 1970s. 1968 became the historical vantage point which sharpened Bürgers perception of the connections between the avant-garde movements of the 1920s and the revolutionary impulses of the 1960s. The momentary fusion of Surrealist slogans and political action in May '68 pointed to the renewed actuality of the Surrealists' call to "pratiquer la poésie" at the same time as the proclamation of the "end of art" in West Germany articulated a deep dissatisfaction at the impotence of art to change the world. If the revolts of the Tate 1960s failed and the utopia of cultural revolution faded, the old question of the end and the ends of art remained. And this is the question posed by Bürger: what is the function of art in contemporary society, given that the avant-garde's project of cancelling the separation, the alienation of art from life has become doubly historically viewed through the prism of '68? In his most recent book on the critique of idealistic aesthetics, (2) Bürger has retreated from the impasse of his position in The Theory of the Avant Garde. Just as for Adorno the moment of practicing philosophy had passed, for Bürger the moment for practicing poetry the historical moment of the avant-garde in the 1920s was behind us. If this left Adorno with nothing but the hibernation of negative dialectics, it left Bürger in the situation of a suspended aesthetics. The end of art which was no end had revealed art as the prisoner of its impotent autonomy, safely neutralized within the "Institution of art," as Bürger termed it. Bürgers argument went as follows: the historical process of differentiation the immanent logic of development of autonomous art had run its course by the end of the 19th century. The subsequent reaction of the avant-garde movements impelled not least by the impact of the World War and revolution led not to the overthrow of autonomous art but to the laying bare of the "Institution of art" itself. This paradoxical result is reflected in the paradox of Bürger's position. On the one hand the avant-garde challenge created the possibility, indeed the inescapability of a system transcending criticism, which invalidates the categories of the autonomous work of art, enshrined in idealistic aesthetics (the internalization of the Institution "art"), an the other hand, this very System transcending criticism is incapable of proceeding beyond the theory of the historical avant-garde. The caesura of the avant-garde is pronounced the decisive historical event in the development of art in bourgeois society, but what Bürger presents as a consequence is purely negative. Post avant-garde art is characterized by a plurality of styles and tendencies in the face of which aesthetic theory can offer no valid aesthetic norms (A 122). In this sense art has entered for Bürger the stage of post history with the laying bare of the Institution. The legacy of the failure of the avant-garde is thus the imaginary museum of modernity, in which the free disposition over all the elements of tradition defines the playground of post avant-garde art.

Accordingly, Bürger is led to the following resigned conclusion to his Theory of the Avant-garde: "Whether this condition of the availability of all traditions still permits an aesthetic theory at all, in the sense in which aesthetic theory existed from Kant to Adorno, is questionable, because a field must have a structure if it is to be the subject of scholarly or scientific understanding. Where the formal possibilities have become infinite, not only authentic creation but also its scholarly analysis become correspondingly difficult. Adornos notion that late capitalist society has become so irrational that it may well be that no theory can any longer plumb it applies perhaps with even greater forces to postavantgardist art" (A 94). The impasse of Bürger's theory can be stated most succinctly in his own words: "The meaning of the Break in the history of art that the historical avant Barde movements provoked does not consist in the destruction of art as an Institution, but in the destruction of the possibility of positing aesthetic norms as valid ones" (A 87).

The alternative open to theory, which Bürger raises but does not exemplify, is that of functional analysis: "The normative examination is replaced by a functional analysis, the object of whose investigation would be the social effect (function) of a work, which is the result of the coming together of stimuli inside the work and a sociologically definable public within an already existing institutional frame" (A 87). The purpose of such empirical analyses, which could be multiplied indefinitely, is far from evident. It is not even clear that functional analysis is the necessary consequence of the abandonment of normative aesthetics, if its purpose is simply to accumulate historical specifications of the social effects of art within existing institutional frames, since these historically given frames already determine in Bürger's view the production and reception of works of art. The pre-emptive metanorm of the institution replaces aesthetic norms. Functional analysis does not appear to be the way out of the impasse, which Bürger now defines in Zur Kritik der idealistischen Ästhetik as the abstract alternative of either reviving the avant-garde project of reuniting art and human practice or confirming the ruling institution of art. The critical task as he now sees it is to find a way between these abstract alternatives by seeking out the potentials of contemporary art. In The Theory of the Avant-garde Bürger had already spoken of the need for concrete investigation through the analysis of individual works. In his recent book he proposes a specific work, Peter Weiss' novel The Aesthetic of Resistance, but without the analysis required to substantiate his claim that it offers a way out of the impasse. The claim is this: Weiss' novel indicates the possibility of a non auratic reception (use) of works of art (if only in fictional form) through its presentation of a group of anti fascist proletarian youths, whose appropriation of works of the past is significant for their social practice. The novel goes beyond the false alternatives outlined above, because it is neither completely removed from everyday life nor completely absorbed by it. By assimilating avant-garde intentions in altered form The Aesthetic of Resistance can serve as both a sensuous and conceptual medium of experience and interpretation of the world (C 190).

As we can see, Bürger has modified his original radically negative diagnosis. On the one hand he seeks a way forward by a critical reconsideration of idealistic aesthetics and their categories of autonomy (the genius, the auratic concept of the work of art and of contemplative reception), an the other he turns tentatively to contemporary art for alternatives to the abstract alternative opened up by The Theory of the Avant-garde.

The appeal to The Aesthetic of Resistance cannot of course take the place of either theory or analysis. It remains a pointer in the direction of a concrete theory of post avant-garde art, or, as I would prefer to call it, postmodernist art. (The reason I prefer to speak of postmodernism is not simply that this specter haunts contemporary consciousness, as Hans Robert Jauss has observed (3), but that Bürger's theory is the product of a post-68 horizon of perception, and shares with "postmodernism" the sense of the historicity of modernism. (4) That is to say, if the beginnings of modernism can be identified and here it is indifferent whether it be 1848, the 1880s or the years prior to the First World War - the end of modernism can only be dated from the consciousness of its end. In this sense postmodernism defines itself negatively as the yet indeterminate consciousness of a paradigm change. It is a consciousness in search of a content, for which Bürger's search from his premises for a post avant-garde position is symptomatic.) What is significant for Bürger or for Jürgen Habermas (5) in Weiss' novel is the thematization of a life altering reception of art works. But as this is already the explicit theme of Don Quixote this can hardly be a sufficient condition for defining the possibilities of post avant-garde art, for, if the avant-garde inaugurates the stage of the self criticism of art through its exposure of the "institution of art," then the question must be given that art is still with us since the avant-garde: in what way can or does the self criticism of art, as the altered consciousness of the institution, enter into the contemporary work of art? This is the question which is not posed by Bürger and which cannot be answered by The Aesthetic of Resistance, or at least only indirectly by means of a detour.

Peter Weiss' novel presents, Bürger argues, the possibility of a nonauratic reception of works of art but only in fictional form. Bürger's proviso precisely misses the point. That this or any novel can only explore the possibilities of reception in fictional form is self evident and needs no apology. Rather the apology should be turned around to focus on the fact that Weiss' novel, like so many novels since Cervantes, discusses the reception of works of art. Indeed we owe the birth of the novel to the spirit of reception. Don Quixote (like his author) is first of all a highly impressionable reader of romances before he can become the quintessential figure of the novel, the "problematic individual" (Lukács) seeking to overcome the gulf between the soul and the world, between art and life. At this point we may recall Bürger's definition of the "institution of art" as the art producing and distributing apparatus and the given ruling conceptions of art which determine reception (A 22). Despite the sociological gesture inherent in the term "institution" Bürger's interest is confined in practice to the concepts or norms, e.g., the doctrine of autonomy, which govern reception. Cervantes and his successors Fielding, Sterne, Wieland owe their importance for the history of the novel to the fact that their reflexions an the conditions of production and reception are integral to the constitution of this new genre. But already 2000 years earlier Aristophanes, by placing Euripedes on stage, gives not only a practical criticism of a fellow artist but a criticism of the institution of the theater. Similarly, from Shakespeare to Tom Stoppard the play within the play has remained a favorite device for the exposure of the conventions, the "fictionality" of the stage action. What all such critical and self critical reflections an the status (production and reception) of the literary work of art have in common is not only the awareness of the artifice of art, i.e., its nonidentity with life, but more significantly, for the purposes of our argument, the awareness contained therein of the institution of "art." The point here is that literature as an institution, understood not as individual works but as the norms governing their production and reception, has always possessed its own self criticism in the form of parodistic self reflection. The function of parody may be defined as the critique of the representation of life in literature and as such as the immanent self consciousness of literature as Institution, for parody must necessarily foreground and estrange both the forms of production and the norms of reception. It is not surprising that Idealist aesthetics, which privileges the autonomy of the work of art, has remained indifferent or blind to the practice of parody as the critique of "authenticity" and aura. What is surprising is that Bürger's Theory of the Avant-garde should be so blind to the parodistic impulse the assault an the autonomous work and the provocation of the norms of reception in Dada and Surrealism. Parody as the self criticism of the institution "art" is identical, however, with neither Bürger's system-immanent criticism nor the self criticism realized by the avant-garde: "Examples of system immanent criticism would be the criticism the theoreticians of French classicism directed against the Baroque drama, or Lessing’s of the German imitations of classical French tragedy. Criticism functions here within an institution, the theater . . . . There is another kind of criticism and that is the self criticism of art: it addresses itself to art as an institution and must be distinguished from the former type" (A 21). As opposed to the exclusive alternatives set up by Bürger the confirming or negating of the institution the estrangement of the work of art undertaken by parody is dialectical, because it involves the simultaneous negation and affirmation of the specific status of art this applies as much to a "conventional" Virgile travesti of the 17th century as to the provocations of Dada or Duchamp's celebrated Fountain, to which Bürger refers (A 52). In this sense Dada and Surrealism do not inaugurate the "imaginary museum" of postavant-garde art, they signal rather the moment when the creative possibilities of parody are released in the energy of destruction, which sets free all the elements of tradition. The avantagarde thus becomes the extreme against which the parodistic symbiosis of "authenticity" and "inauthenticity" in modernism, in which the stylistic consciousness of non identity plays out its Endgame, may be measured.

Bürger's resigned conclusion to his Theory of the Avant-garde stems from the loss of aesthetic norms, that is, the loss of the criteria for determining the paradigmatic work of art the essential theoretical function of Lukács' and Adorno’s aesthetics. The dialectic of authenticity and inauthenticity, of the autonomous work of art and its parodistic Aufhebung offers, I suggest, an alternative to Bürger's abstract alternative of the affirmation or negation of the "institution of art," in that parody practices the simultaneous negation and affirmation of the institution, a practice, whose significance for a theory of modernism (Picasso, Stravinsky, Joyce, Brecht, Beckett, etc.) (6) finds an additional critical focus through Bürger's theory of the avant-garde. Nevertheless, this only partially answers the question as to how the self criticism Bürger sees effected by the avant-garde challenge to the Institution can be taken into the post avant-garde work of art. In proposing The Aesthetic of Resistance as one answer Bürger is implicitly granting Weiss' novel paradigmatic status, without sufficiently acknowledging the retrospective quality of this work, a testament and process of "Erinnerung," which appears to me more adequately accounted for by the aesthetic theories of Lukács and Herbert Marcuse than by the caesura of the avant-garde. This is not an objection to Peter Weiss' novel but to its relevance for the problem posed by The Theory of the Avant-garde, which I believe can be addressed concretely in terms of Bürger's own premises. Bürger is an the right track when he turns to Peter Weiss, whose early work stands in a direct line of descent from Surrealism, but it is not Weiss' novel which provides a way out of the impasse but his play Marat/Sade. If Beckett's Endgame marks the limits of Adorno's aesthetic of modernism, then Marat/Sade represents in relation to Bürger's theory of the avant-garde the paradigmatic work of the post avant-garde (which can be assimilated to neither Adorno's nor Lukács' aesthetics) in that it poses the central question of the function of art in bourgeois society since the French Revolution and the possibility of the self transcendence of art. It must be added, however, that the postmodernist dimensions of Marat/Sade have become apparent only in the light of a post 68 consciousness. In the context of the 1960s the play was received as the revolutionary renewal of the avant-garde of the 1920s, and as an important contribution to the repoliticization of the public sphere in West Germany. The anarchic "revolutionary" impact of Marat/Sade prior to the Student revolt calls now for another reading, for we can now see that it was the answer pre 1968 to questions posed only in the wake of 1968. The play has acquired a different kind of actuality, which is revealed in its contradictory fusion and suspension of the avant-garde impulse to abolish the gulf between art and life a suspension (Aufhebung) which is paradigmatic of the postmodernist situation in that the question of the ends and the end of art has found an as yet unsurpassed aesthetic objectification.


Above I suggested that the practice of parodistic self reflection escapes Bürger’s exclusive alternatives of system immanent or systemtranscendent criticism, which reproduce what he now Sees as the abstract alternative of affirmation or negation of the institution of art. The theater as institution has not simply produced system immanent aesthetic and ideological debates (e.g., Lessing or Brecht), but also since Aristophanes a practical self reflection, whose object is the critical examination of the representation of life in the drama and whose effect is the simultaneous exposure and acknowledgment of the institutional parameters of the theater. Marat/Sade is no exception. The remarkably complex representation of the interferences and interactions between art and life makes this play, in Bürger’s terms, a functional analysis, an analysis, that is, of the social effect "which is the result of the coming together of Stimuli inside the work and a sociologically definable public within an already existing frame" (A 87). The stimuli inside the work and the public within an institutional frame are foregrounded in a particularly significant fashion in Marat/Sade, for this is a play in which institutional containment is demonstrated an a double level: not only the theatrical institution itself e.g., "art" (the play within the play) as aesthetic illusion but also the social institution of the asylum. Behind the audiences within Marat/Sade, the invited audience of the play, written and directed by Sade and performed by inmates of the asylum, who are also its primary audience, are the audiences of Peter Weiss' play, who in turn form within an already existing institutional frame the spectators of this theater within the theater. A play which is at the same time a functional (self) analysis necessarily operates an the level of the "institution of art": stimuli and public come together for each of the three audiences as three versions of the containment of social effects within the institution.

Common to all self reflections of the theater since Aristophanes is the unmasking of the production of illusion to reveal the (institutional) nexus between production and reception. On one level Marat/Sade repeatedly destroys illusion by insisting an the non-identity of actor and role in Sade's play. The "actors," that is the asylum inmates, constantly fall out of their roles, forget their lines, require prompting, physical support or coercion in order to produce the dramatic illusion for the benefit of the invited audience. But all these devices of estrangement (Verfremdung), which are multiplied by Sade's own sadistic dramaturgy of interruptus and punctuated by the spoken interventions of the master of ceremonies and the sung commentaries of the "people's" chorus, masquerading as comedia dell' arte, are compounded by the uncertainty as to what is within the "play" are for instance Roux's outbursts part of Sade's script or an effect of it? The institutional containment of Sade's play as aesthetic illusion, as a closed representation i.e., as the re presentation of Marat's persecution and assassination is impossible, precisely because we are not allowed to forget that it is presented within a closed institution. The constantly reinforced estrangement of the production within the setting of the asylum serves to destroy one level of illusion by creating a second level of illusion not Sade's play qua play but the actuality of its location and performance. On this level Roux, Coulmier and Sade are identical with their roles outside the "play," whereas the paranoic patient who plays Marat or the erotomane who plays Duperret are not. Location and performance take on a presence, a reality of illusion which uncovers the patient behind the role but not the actor behind the patient. All the devices of estrangement thereby become "stimuli" which transfer our attention from production to reception. By making the performance itself the reality of the illusion Marat/Sade actualizes the institution of the theater as an act of representation and reception, in which the three unities of the performance, place, time and act, are those of the theater itself and its audience. The dialectic of art and life an stage as a process of functional analysis is not confined, however, to the location of the asylum, with its repeated interventions and eruptions of the "real," but involves of course a third level of reception, the audience of each Performance of Marat/Sade, for whom the location is not the asylum but the theater. But this third level of reception only acquires its full significance by virtue of the second level of reception, which juxtaposes the two institutions asylum and theater (a juxtaposition in which the metaphors of the world as a stage or a madhouse regain their social reference). The refraction of the institution of the theater through the second level of the closed institution of the asylum brings the institution of "art" into focus in a way which goes beyond the traditional self criticism of the theater, whether in its general form of the play within the play or in the specifically "revolutionary" form of the tension of play and reality to be found in dramas of the revolution, a tradition which is of course relevant to Marat/Sade. (7) That is, Marat/Sade as a functional analysis provides not only the unity of demonstration and objectification, particular to the critical self analysis of art and its effects, but at the same time the objectification of the social institution itself which contains art and its effects. The decisive new dimension introduced by Weiss is that the play within the play has become a play within an institution of coercion. Sade's play is thus only a "play" of the Revolution because of its confinement within the institution, but by this very token a "play" which threatens to explode its containment. Art is presented here literally as a product of repression: Sade's play is not only a product of imprisonment (as of course historically Sade's work was born of his imprisonment) but equally transformed by its location into an enforced representation. Just as his play remains precariously poised between repression (censorship) and revolt, so too its author becomes the director of an experiment which necessarily provokes a contradictory reception. The ensuing interplay between stimuli and public (the inmates, the asylum authorities and their invited guests) necessarily provokes the confrontation of art and life, revolt and repression. The dynamic of this confrontation enacts a functional analysis, in which an the one hand art within the institution is revealed as the enforced non identity of art and life, i.e., a representation, whose function is to transmute the reality of the performance into the closed aesthetic autonomy of the play, while an the other hand the inescapable estrangement of the play as aesthetic illusion draws attention to the reality of the performance, thereby unmasking the (repressive) nonidentity of art and life as the conditio sine qua non of reception provoking and exciting in turn in the inmates (the primary audience) the desire for the violent realization of the identity of art and life through the break out from the institution. The play of the Revolution within the institution thus lives, through its dual realization as play (re presentation, repetition) and performance (difference), from the explosive tension of "aesthetic" sublimation and "revolutionary" desublimation.

Against this interference of art and life the impulse to "pratiquer la poésie" takes an all the urgency of the drive to "pratiquer la revolution." The form this interference is given derives from the model Weiss discerns in Sade's writings: "analytical and philosophical dialogues set against a scenery of bodily excesses." The relation between philosophical and political debates and their violent stage commentaries, between reason and the drives defines the thematic of Marat/Sade and a the Same time the contradictions of reception explored by Peter Weis The interaction between "philosophical dialogues" and "bodily excesses" means that what is at issue is the relation between words and their effects, above and beyond the debate between Marat and Sade. In Marat, Sade explores his own response to the Revolution, as the idea and reality of liberation, with the advantage of fifteen years' historical hindsight. Marat is the object of the Marquis' demonstration and the projection of his self analysis. This is not a real debate but the dramatic presentation of two possibilities of the same consciousness. We must therefore look to what Sade and Marat have in common rather than to their obvious differences. Both are outsiders, persecuted and driven into isolation for their radicalism in analyzing man and society. Cut off from the world, they pursue with ruthless logic the consequences of their thought. If Europe's history since the French Revolution provides the larger backdrop to their ideas and their consequences, it is the stage action itself which provides the commentary to their words. That is to say, the action an stage is the projection and realization of the fantasies of Sade "There is nothing I could not do and everything fill me with horror" (40) (8) and of the revolution within Marat's head "There is a rioting mob inside me" (24). Inner and outer reality form the one phantasmagoria in which the political and psychological sphere meet in terms of the one complex: the relationship and interference between ideas and action, theory and practice, mind and the body Both Sade and Marat are rationalists and materialists who seek to free man from his determination by nature, human and social. Marat' most important work was the treatise of 1773, De l'homme ou des principe et des lois de l'influence de l'äme sur le corps et du corps sur L'âme. In the play Roux refers to this work when he says of Marat:

You wondered how forces can be controlled
So you studied electricity
You wanted to know what man is for
So you asked yourself What is this soul
This dump for hollow ideals and mangled morals
You decided that the soul is in the brain
and that it can learn to think
For to you the soul is a practical thing
a tool for ruling and mastering life (77)

The Marquis too Sets out to conquer nature by bringing the instinctual drives to consciousness and by uncovering the processes of repression which turn the revolutionary ideal into bloody reality (Marat, Corday, the revolutionary crowd). He loses control of his experiment to this end his play produced for the asylum inmates and stands the mocking spectator of the anarchy he has released and its brutal suppression. The Four Singers say the same of Marat:

Poor old Marat you lie prostrate
While others are gambling with France's fate
Your words have turned into a flood
Which covers all France with her people's blood (91)

Why is this so, why can neither control the forces they release? Is it because man's nature is such in this mad world, because "man is a mad animal?" If this is the case it applies to Sade and Marat as well. They who want to bring enlightenment bow to the blind force of nature. They who want to enlighten, to liberate, also want to destroy. The Marquis' experiment in psychotherapy and Marat's belief in the powers of reason defeat themselves. The two succeed consciously and unconsciously, through their knowledge and their "art" (as excitement and as rhetoric) in setting free the irrational and destructive in man. These two versions of the same contradiction in each figure between ideas and reality, words and their effects reveal the identity of the extremes, but with the one vital difference that Sade understands Marat but Marat does not understand himself. Sade analyzes his figures; Peter Weiss analyzes the audience.

The "dialectic of the enlightenment" inherent in this dialectic of the rational and the irrational manifests itself in the contradictions of reception. Weiss sets out to influence the audience simultaneously in two diametrically opposed ways through the spoken word and through the stage action. Marat/Sade is both analytic, epic theater, which continues Brecht's project of enlightenment, and a play of Sensation and shock, which continues Artaud's"theater of cruelty" and ends in chaos and uproar. The connection between Weiss and Artaud is much older than Weiss' interest in Brecht. (9) The influence of Strindberg, whom he has translated, his acknowledgment of the importance of Artaud's theater manifestoes, his admiration and indebtedness to the Surrealist cinema, especially Bunuel, confirm that Weiss was originally drawn to a fantasy world of violence and dream, as his early play The Insurance (Die Versicherung), written in 1952 but only published in 1967 makes clear. The Insurance is a spectacle of Sex and sadism, absurc obscene, anarchic its refrain is "catastrophes, revolutions" presented as a series of film like sequences. The ferst scene, for instance very soon turns into an orgy, the second shows an operation during which all present undress, and so an to the final catastrophe.

The confrontation of Brecht and Artaud is undoubtedly central to the disturbing power and fascination of Marat/Sade and has been widely acknowledged by critics. What has not been recognized, however is that Weiss is confronting here the two most radical theatrical form of the avant-garde project of cancelling the Split between art and life The rationalist theater of didactic estrangement and the theater of madness, crime and revolt are each intended as practical critiques of the autonomous, closed representation and of the theater as institution, for each seeks to break out of the institutional containment of a by crossing the boundaries separating representation and reality, stage and audience. But of course in sharply opposed ways, for their conceptions of the ends of art derive from mutally exclusive anthropological premises. Thus, for instance, the function of the play within the play in Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle is to demonstrate rational liberation from "natural" prejudice, just as the practically desirable social effect are displayed in the reception by the play's "audience," the decision o the peasant collective to depart from tradition. Artaud chooses the other path of liberation not cool distance but sensuous immediacy The logical and rational intentions of discourse are to be subordinated to the living presence of the body. This concept of the theater as incorporation and not representation (Derrida) (10) finds its most telling moment in Marat/Sade in Sade's presentation of Charlotte Corday to Marat. Behind the role, behind the sleepwalking patient, behind the actor is the other reality of the body. This other reality is the goal of Artaud's theater, life itself as the unrepresented before and beyond discourse: the Dionysian intoxication behind all Apollonian individuation what Derrida calls the humanist representations of man in the metaphysics of classical theater. (11)

The two genealogies of the avant-garde - Marx and Freud, Brecht and Artaud - through which we read the Marat and Sade of Weiss' play, are confronted as the two versions of the interference of art and life, which subverts the closed ideology of classical representation. But in turn we can only read Brecht and Artaud through the dialectic of revolutionary liberation incorporated in Marat and Sade. The avant-garde project can only unfold its full significance, intensity and complexity through the historical perspectives of Weiss' play. Art as liberation and the liberation of art - this is the "avant-garde" question which has been an the agenda of bourgeois society since the French Revolution. Just as Sade's and Marat's revolutionary challenges lay bare the repressive institutions of society, so parallel to this the avant-garde challenge lays bare the repressive institution of art by setting the avant-garde "revolution in the theater" against the play of the Revolution. That is, Marat/Sade replays an unfinished history: it is this tension of historical repetition and living difference which enables Peter Weiss to pose the question of the ends and the end of art in dialectical confrontation which goes beyond the abstract alternatives of Bürger's impasse.
Through the foregrounding of performance and location, Weiss can present Sade's play as an act between repetition and difference: the historical predetermination of the script calls forth the dimension of the aleatory. (12) This field of interferences becomes the testing ground of the radical and radically opposed projects of the avant-garde. The result is Aufhebung in the threefold form of negation, preservation and suspension.

Art cannot escape the containment of the institution, neither the "rational" agitation of Marat nor the "irrational" incitement of Sade leads to liberation. Brechtian "philosophical dialogue," with its clash of thesis and antithesis, and the "bodily excess" of Artaud cancel each other. The voice of reason - Roux: "When will you learn to see/ When will you ever understand" - is engulfed by the blind hysteria of the marching and chanting inmates. Liberation collapses into a prison revolt. The Revolution and its reenactment degenerate into an orgy of un-freedom, a sadistic compulsion to repetition - "revolution, copulation" - which reverses the Revolution into re-volution, as the inmates march in circles in ever greater frenzy, while Sade triumphs at the "success" of his aesthetic experiment.

Preservation: The very failure of liberation from the institution preserve art as the expression of needs (Freud) and the need to change the world (Marx). Just as the failure of the Marxian Aufhebung of philosophy in praxis preserves the need for radical philosophy, so the failure of the avant-garde the need for radical art. In this sense the revolutionary potential of Brecht and Artaud is preserved within the institution in Marat/Sade. The art of liberation and the liberation of art remain the project and the passion of an unfinished history, opened by the French Revolution.

The simultaneous negation and affirmation of the project of the avant-garde opens up a new dialectic between art and its institutionalization which is integral to the Aufhebung of the avant-garde in Marat/Sade. It is an this level the self-reflection of the "institution of art" through the medium of the repressive institution of the asylum that the status and function of art in bourgeois society can be made explicit. This demonstration of the institutional containment of art not only translates Bürger's self criticism of art into a concrete functional analysis, it transforms the alternatives of Bürger into the dialectic of the "institution of art" itself. More exactly, Bürger's alternatives, the containment of art within the institution and the break out from the institution are the ground from which the post avant-garde (post modernist) dialectic of Marat/Sade arises.

The manifest dialectic of art and the institution (whose internalized form is "art," autonomy, the non identity of art and life) raises the question of the ends of art (its function) to the level of the question o the end of art. The possibility of the cessation of Sade's play poses in concrete form the question of the end of art - and so Marat/Sade play through the alternative endings of the "play." The end of "art" (the play within the institution) can be 1) revolution as the liberation from external and internal imprisonment; 2) anarchy and desublimation the return of the repressed, as the liberation from all external an (internal norms, not least the repressive norms which institutionally, define and enclose madness, in an orgy of destruction; 3) the collapse of liberation into the reinforcement of the institution Napoleon's order as the outcome of the Revolution. All these endings are "contained" in Marat/Sade as an historical reality (2 and 3) or as unfinished history, that is, as utopian possibility (1). But of course the true end of art can only be utopia, that alone would be the real end of the play, the real break out of history, the cessation of the repetitions of revolt and repression. It is for this reason that the utopian end of art can only be expressed in art and that means within the institution. Between and beyond the alternatives of the destruction of the institution the desublimation of art and its reinforcement the re enforced "autonomy" of art is the dialectic held in suspense by Peter Weiss. Marat/Sade as "work" hovers therefore an the edge of self destruction. The avant-garde's attempt to cross the boundary between the institution and life is held in suspension through the contradictory tension of representation and its deconstruction, with its dramatization of simultaneous estrangement and shock. This suspension shows art as definable only in relation to the institution. It is both the product and the negation of the institution, just as the institution defines the necessity and the impossibility of the self transcendence (Aufhebung) of art. If, as we have suggested, parody serves as the immanent self criticism of art the simultaneous negation and affirmation of the aesthetic sphere in relation to life then the level of consciousness of the explicit self-criticism of art is attained in Marat/Sade by means of the social institution (the asylum) as the "dramatic" mediation which objectifies the contradictory status of art.

By means of this mutual interference of Brecht and Artaud, Marat/Sade is able to both actualize and historicize the avant-garde's program. just as the avant-garde challenge only gains its full significance through its revolutionary pre history, so this historical framework reveals at the same time the Parameters of art in bourgeois society. This historicization has a double consequence: 1) the self reflection of the "institution of art," made explicit as the dialectic of art and the institution, permits, as we have seen, the functional analysis of the possibilities of art in bourgeois society; 2) this analysis of art within the institution provides in turn the setting and testing ground for the replaying of the avant-garde project of the Aufhebung of art. This replaying is simultaneously actualization and historicization, i.e., a suspension between representation and cessation, repetition and difference.
If we consider the possibilities of art within the institution Marat/Sade presents us with a Gesamtkunstwerk of words, mime and music, a phantasmagoria of tableaux and happenings, philosophical discourse and political rhetoric, improvisations and interventions, commentary and pantomime. It is oratorio, passion play, commedia dell' arte. It is Psychodrama and "scientific" experiment, sadistic incitement and excitement a complex totality, actualized through the setting and the dynamics of Performance, which stands, we must recall, under the sign of the Enlightenment. As Coulmier informs us in his welcoming address:

To one of our residents a vote
of thanks is due Monsieur de Sade who wrote
and has produced this play for your delectation
and for our patients' rehabilitation (13)

The Director's "enlightened" view of the function of art takes the form of an experiment in aesthetic education. Schiller's program, designed to open the path to freedom between the Scylla of despotism and the Charybdis of anarchy (the antinomy of the Revolution), is entrusted to the less than disinterested intentions of Sade. His play of aesthetic therapy, which is at the same time the self interrogation of the revolutionary, is a psychotherapy which unchains the impulses it is supposed to prophylactically discharge. The program of aesthetic education and the cynical manipulations of "enlightened" reason (Coulmier) are mutually exposed by the experiment which runs out of control, uncovering in the process through its effects the interests bound up in the work of art. This then is the experimental setting and testing ground for the avant-garde challenge, rationalized in the theater of estrangement and embodied in the theater of cruelty.
Brecht and Artaud, as we have seen, both constitute a revolutionary critique and practice directed against the classical theater of representation. Marat/Sade "suspends" their critique not only by revealing the antagonistic one sidedness of each but by intensifying it to the point that their method becomes its own critique. Thus Artaud's attack an the logic of representation, that it is division, the separation of mind and force, the exclusion of the spectators and the actors from the creative act, serves as Brecht's contrary starting point. His techniques of estrangement set out to foreground and make transparent this logic of representation in order to liberate the spectator and actor from identification. The epic theater is precisely not an act of presence but the unmasking of representation as re presentation in order to transform it into the experimental specification of the laws of social behavior, subject to the scrutiny of "scientific" investigation. This one sided rational division by means of estrangement is estranged in its turn, however, by the presence of its suppressed other the difference of the unpresentable. This estrangement is both the objectification of Brecht's method and its critique, for this process of objectification demonstrated in Marat/Sade the patient behind the actor behind the role opens up a transparency which reverses into its opposite: the opaqueness of the body and its drives. But by the Same token Artaud's project the assertion of living presence against representation, where representation is to be understood in all its institutional and ideological dimensions as absent authority and Power is realizable only by virtue of its other. That is to say, difference can only be actualized as a process of interference. Pure difference is impossible. Here too, Marat/Sade is the simultaneous objectification and critique of Artaud's dream of difference. Life, the aleatory and unpresentable, is glimpsed as the threatening other of representation. Thus paradoxically and necessarily, Marat/Sade becomes the only possible incorporation of Artaud's theater of cruelty at the same time as it remains the critical objectification of Brecht's rationalism. It is this confrontation of Brecht and Artaud which defines the paradigmatic status of Peter Weiss' play, for this confrontation is a true Aufhebung negation, intensification and objectification of the avant-garde's critique of representation and its two opposed poles of the overcoming of the separation of art and life.


The question which follows is what does Marat/Sade "represent." The answer, I suggest, is the "institution of art," for the objectification of the avant-garde's critique of representation is accomplished by laying bare the institutional frame of representation. It is from this point the self criticism of art that we can briefly reconsider (following Bürger's trajectory) the categories of idealistic aesthetics organic work, subject, illusion (Schein), reception through the prism of deconstructed representation. Since Marat/Sade constitutes a functional analysis, reception becomes a central category, and as we have seen, it is split into the sharpest contradictions through the juxtaposition of the immediacy and presence of the performance and the distance of historical mediations. The ideal spectator is called upon to be both Dionysius and Socrates. This tension is not resolved. Peter Weiss' play permits neither resolution nor integration, for his subject matter is unfinished history and this history has no subject. The identity and autonomy of the work and of the subject is decomposed into the tensions of conflicting levels. The utopia of liberation is confronted by its other, the pathology of bourgeois society since the French Revolution. The locus of this pathology is the lunatic asylum and its topology repeats the Freudian drama of the super ego (Napoleon, Coulmier, the law, the censor, the institution) and the id (the patients), between which the alter egos Sade and Marat conduct their altercation. Their scene of reason and rationalization is the narrow sphere of discourse menaced from below by the obscene, in its double sense of the repressed and the unrepresentable, and from above, by the interventions of the censor, who is not God presiding over this passion play, but the representative of the State as inheritor and Liquidator of the Revolution. Instead of the teleological integration of the organic work of art we have vertical conflict (the simultaneity and interference of the conflicting levels). This vertical structure of the institution (Freud's topology) relates representation not only to the institution but also to its other excluded and incarcerated madness. That is, the unveiling of the institution behind representation calls forth at the same time the other of representation. This is the very logic of the avant-garde's project of "practicing poetry," whose complementary and Split halves are the Brechtian unmasking o the institution and Artaud's dream of the pure difference of life an< "madness." Marat/Sade yokes the antagonistic halves together in an act of Aufhebung, which is at the same time the Subversion and decomposition of the categories of aesthetic autonomy into their conflicting elements; the traditional idealistic categories are thus polarized within the field of forces Set up between the poles of institutionalized representation and its other. The unity of the autonomous work is dissolved into the interferences and contradictions of play and performance, representation and difference, determination and chance. The identity of the subject is split into the conflicting classes of the social subject, which are confronted at every level state institution, revolutionary reason (Sade, Marat, Roux) the people's chorus, the agitation of the inmates by their other. Illusion (Schein) presents itself a; its own negation in the form of the play within the play. Reception is split into the effects of simultaneous attraction and repulsion, immediacy and estrangement, rational and irrational responses. Similarly, the historical mediations of the time levels of the play are constantly broker through by the actualizations of the performance. In Marat/Sade all the traditional aesthetic categories stand under the contradictory sign of the .institution and its other as the post avant-garde (postmodernist paradigm of the situation and Status of art. This polarization of the categories defines the situation of art which can choose neither institutional "autonomy" nor its own destruction, but lives from their contradiction, a contradiction which suspends the project of the avant-garde in the "total" contradiction of actualization and historicization.

The vertical axis of time is of the greatest importance for this "totalization," for the interference of the time levels presents us with the paradox of an unfinished history: that Marat/Sade is both the future o the past and the past of the future. The dialectic of revolution and repression, liberation and pathology is played through once again, for the "subject" of the play is unfinished history. And it is at this point that we can define what constitutes the post modernism of Marat/Sade. Insofar as it is a revolutionary play, not only a debate on but a continuation of the revolution, it is part of the project of modernity. This was the face of the play which was turned to us in the 1960s, this was the project that Peter Weiss himself espoused. Marat/Sade is postmodern, however and this is the post 68 face of the play in that it imprisons the revolution within the institution, in that the confrontation of the theater of reason and the theater of the body can find no issue. And above all, it is postmodern in that the un-freedom of an unfinished history is the compulsion to repetition which compels the return to the origins, the replay of the Revolution as a passion play. (13) As the unfinished history, which is behind us and which repeats itself and yet is always actual, always threatening the other, living from the possibility of cessation, it is the complement and opposite of the absurdity of the endless last act of Beckett's Endgame. Endgame is the endgame of modernism and the terminal focus of Adorno's aesthetics, Marat/Sade is the new stage of postmodernism: the paradoxical presence of the past, the unfinished history contained within the institution, which poses once again the question of the ends and the end of art in a rich and explosive act of self-criticism.

If the "institution of art" marks a new level of historical reflection, which is given concrete form in Marat/Sade, Weiss' play makes it clear that the caesura of the avant-garde must be seen within the context of bourgeois art since the French Revolution. If for Bürger the situation of post avant-garde art is defined by the end of normative aesthetics from Kant to Adorno, this end also remains that of an unfinished history, which now is to be reviewed under the sign of the institution, that is, from the perspective of the self criticism of art. This self criticism involves the silenced other of idealistic aesthetics: historically it has taken the form of parody as the critique of identity and representation. By foregrounding the non identity of art and life parody is the critical practice of difference, the "differential" of art and life, which allows the possibility of the full differentiation of the categories of idealistic aesthetics which would uncover their repressive unity. The dialectic of representation and its other in Marat/Sade offers a concrete model for this contradictory "differentiation." The failure of the avant-garde to cancel the gap between art and life points not only to the significance of the "institution" but also to the need for revision of the synthetic categories of traditional aesthetics in the search for the paradigmatic work of Postmodernist consciousness.

1. Peter Bürger, Theorie der Avant-garde (Frankfurt am Main, 1974). Quotations from Bürger, Theory of the Avant-garde, tr. Michael Shaw, Foreword by Jochen Schulte Sasse (Minneapolis, 1984). Hereafter cited in the text as A.

2. Peter Bürger, Zur Kritik der idealistischen Ästhetik (Frankfurt am Main, 1983). Hereafter cited in the text as C.

3. Hans Robert Jauss, "Der literarische Prozess des Modernismus von Rousseau bis Adorno," in Ludwig von Friedeberg, Jürgen Habermas (eds.), Adorno Konferenz 1983 (Frankfurt am Main, 1983), pp. 95 132.

4. See Peter Bürger, "Das Altern der Moderne," in Adorno Konferenz 1983, pp. 177197.

5. Jürgen Habermas, "Modernity versus Postmodernity," New German Critique, 22 (Winter 1981), 12 ff. For a more critical view of Die Ästhetik des Widerstands See Ferenc Feher, "The Swan Song of German Krushchevism," New German Critique, 30 (Fall 1983), 157 170.

6. Cf. Arnold Hauser on Picasso, Stravinsky, Dada and Surrealism in the chapter "The Film Age" of his Social History of Art.

7. Reinhold Grimm, "Spiel und Wirklichkeit in einigen Revolutionsdramen," Basis, 1 (1970).

8. Quotations from the English translation of Marat/Sade by Geoffrey Skelton an~ Adrian Mitchell, London 1965.

9. Cf. Marianne Kesting, "Verbrechen, Wahnsinn und Revolte. Peter Weiss' Marat/de Sade Stück und der französische Surrealismus," in Walter Hinck (ed.), Geschichte und Schauspiel (Frankfurt am Main, 1981), pp. 304 321.

10. Jacques Derrida, "Le theatre de la Cruaute et la clöture de la representation,' in Derrida, L'Ecriture et la difference (Paris, 1967), pp. 341 368.

11. The Nietzschean strain in Artaud's Le theatre et son double points back to the opposition in The Birth of Tragedy of the Dionysian and the Socratic (Aeschylus an( Euripedes), which Reinhold Grimm sees as adumbrating the polar possibilities o drama since Nietzsche, e.g., Strindberg and Shaw, or Artaud and Brecht, R. Grimm "The Hidden Heritage: Repercussions of Nietzsche in Modern Theatre and it: Theory," Nietzsche Studien, 12 (1983), pp. 355 371.

12. Cf. Peter Weiss' comment: "One theme is the sober clarifying description of universally valid events, the counter theme: the indeterminate and fluid nature of all events and the autistic dream world . . . . Orte theme is the absolute moment . . . in which something unexpected, unpredictable arises through improvisation (psychodrama, happening, role playing) . . ." Quoted from Karlheinz Braun (ed.), Materialien zu Peter Weiss'Marat/Sade (Frankfurt am Main, 1967), p. 97.

13. On Marat/Sade as a revolutionary passion play see Ferenc Feher, "The Swan Song of German Krushchevism,"New Gerrnan Critique, 30 (Fall 1983), 162: "What is the fundamental world view which generates the Passion play as something distinct from habitual drama or dramatic parable? Its main tenet is the emphatic and explosively contradictory conviction that cast plot, and final outcome have already been inalterably set by a superior power (God or History). In this sense fate reigns supreme over the protagonists. Nevertheless, they have to act out their roles (their martyrdom) as if they were free agents, while in fact they are mere ornamental representatives of an order higher than their autonomy. This is how both of Bach's Jesus figures, the citoyen (in St. John's Passion) and Man (in St. Matthew's Passion) appear before us with serene dignity and in `bound freedom' as Kierkegaard would say. This is how both Marat and Sade, these sublime captives of an already miscarried history, struggle against a Situation which offers them only the imitation of action, not action itself"