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Under Suspicion
For Thomas Kratz

Text by
Marcus Steinweg, 2012

“Shouldn’t we be suspicious of suspicion itself now and then?” Michel Serres (1)

   I   Suspicious suspicion—is that the rescinded suspicion cancelled out by Hegelian synthesis? Suspecting suspicion at least disrupts complacency. We push suspicion to and beyond its limits, and use the model—should we say ideology?—to break an all-to-simple critical gesture that interprets itself as ideological criticism while remaining blind to its own implicit affirmations. Suspicion that does not suspect itself can hardly be more than an interest that denies its own motives. Like enlightenment that refuses to shed light on itself and criticality that evades self-criticism, suspicion under suspicion is ideology par excellence.

   II   The art of today is doubtlessly tied to the dialectic of criticism and affirmation. How critical does art have to be for it not to be stupid; how much affirmation is necessary to prevent the positivity of its inherent decisions and formal implementations from dissolving into suspicion? Critical suspicion is only critical when it operates against itself. Adorno was aware of these complications. His Aesthetic Theory could be defined as the manifest awareness of these complications as a theory of the implicit inner tension and ambiguity (Gegenwendigkeit) of the artwork, which shows itself to be the scene of a negative dialectic in actu. “The attitude of authentic artworks toward extra-aesthetic objectivity,” Adorno writes, “is not so much to be sought in how this objectivity affects the process of production, for the artwork is in-itself a comportment that reacts to that objectivity even while turning away from it.” (2) Critical art is that which is sensitive to its factical codification, which implies analytical vigilance and reflection on its own situation, or the multiplicity of contexts within it moves. No production is untouched by facts.

   III   Like any activity, artistic activity is subject to codification. To be critical is to confront this codification, or the false familiarity and feeling of certitude that it suggests,(3) which is why the task of criticism—or “intelligence,” as Heiner Müller puts it—is to “throw all illusions, all coalitions, all alliances into question.”(4) Clearly, this throwing-into-question expresses itself both analytically and destructively. It is a questioning of the still most reliable certainties, as long as these are not anchored in a principle of absolute certainty. And yet: no art exhausts itself in criticism. Even the most critical art has affirmative traits. How, then, should we think about the compossibility of criticism and affirmation? What is criticism in the first place, and what does affirmation mean?

   IV   Criticism disrupts the ordered field of facts. It churns and confounds our evidence, opinions and convictions. It breeds chaos and exposes the fundamental insecurity of all of the possible constants that appear to stabilize the subject’s situation while obscuring the basic inconsistencies of its realities. The task of intelligence, according to Müller, “is to create chaos, to destroy ideas of order, which are always illusionary and always narrowed points of view.”5 We know from the well-known passage in his Aesthetic Theory that for Adorno, too, art (critical art being the only kind worthy of the name) “should introduce[s] chaos into order rather than the reverse.”6 What connects art to philosophy, perhaps, is that it is a thinking that strives to be a chaos-creating practice, not just a theory. If anything, philosophy is the complication of this all-too-simple contradiction: practice versus theory. Not only because theory implies an action, but because every action—implicit or explicit—is tantamount to a theory. Art and philosophy’s implicit resistance to theory must be a double resistance: resistance to a notion of theory without the performative dimension on the one hand; resistance to the concept of practice or performativity that ignores its theoretical implications on the other. What connects art and philosophy is that both articulate this twofold resistance by turning to the inconsistent parts of constituted reality (our “world”) in order to destabilize the established reality model in a way that is as practical as it is theoretical.

   V   The self-assertion of art does not exhaust itself in the negative. Art is not a reaction. Rather than react and respond to its situation, art is an assertion of form: it crosses and surpasses its own economic, political, biological and cultural situation. An absolute condition of art is its transgression of relative conditions. The exceeding of relative conditions is affirmative, because it opens itself to that which lies beyond both realities and that which is possible. This opening tears the subject from the reality to which it is fused without sacrificing the fiction of the ideal. The affirmation acknowledges the inconsistency of its own conditions. Art was never anything other than an acceptance of the fragility of its time. Art does not come from a stable situation; it is an experience of the instability of the existing, continually-reproduced, generally proclaimed and archived realities and evidences. Art is the affirmed experience of the porosity of the system of facts. Because of this, art has no alliance with facts and therefore constitutes resistance to actualities, which is not to say that art misrecognizes the power and efficiency of factual claims. But art does not exhaust itself in the demonstration of this non- misrecognition, or the analytical power that is also immanent within it. If art does not go beyond its knowledge, it is not art. It would be nothing other than a form of self-affirmation of subject in the web of its (either critically or uncritically) commented situation. It is only through assertion of form—which bypasses the sensibility of this self-affirmation by articulating the transience of all factual certainties—that the confrontation with universal inconsistency (the actual time and scene of the subject) can be successful.

   VI   Part of the affirmative moment of art is the admission of the affirmations that passively or also actively go along with it, though affirmation should not be mistaken for approval. Whether or not I am given approval (whatever that means!) at the time in which I live and am artistically active does nothing to change the fact that I live in that time. It is the no-alternative element that is inescapable for me, at least in my lifetime. Wittgenstein refers to the subject’s embeddedness in a language-game, so that even the most extreme skepticism, criticism and doubt are predicated on the affirmation of a system or frame of reference: “All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments; no it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which our arguments have their life.”(7) The system as a “life element” or “stream of life” refers to the consistence-milieu that the human subject swims in. It is the element we rely on with a certain unquestionability before we begin to test its consistency and reliability: “It is only in a current,” Martin Seel writes, “that one can swim against it.”8 Before I can behave critically toward a situation, condition or system, I have to engage with it—I have to presume a kind of minimal consistency, a minimum of reliability and dependability in my own situation that would enable me to question its reliability and dependability.

   VII  Critical distance to the world of options, evidences and valences is intrinsic to art. Art marks a distance to the socio-symbolic factual realities, but that does not repudiate its facticity. The artwork participates in this reality by evading its authority to an infinitesimal degree. It has to oppose it if it is to remain art, but it cannot deny its link to socio-empirical realities in order to indulge in idealistic aloofness from the world.(9) In fact, the work only opens up to the space of facts so that it can close it, so that it can indicate the impossibility at the heart of the optional texture by occupying the place of the impossible itself. Thus it points out the narrowness of this idea of the endless possibilities of a dynamized universe. It articulates a point that appears only as a borderline case within it, a problematic situation that cannot arrive at any stable presence in that context. The exceptional nature of the work refers to this: that there is this point—the weak spot in the system of facts—that it has to skip over and repudiate in order to present itself as the lucent architecture it misunderstands itself to be. What kind of point is that? It is the point of non-sense, of collapsing meanings, of the divide or void; it is the point every subject must skip over in the act of sense constitution or meaning-production, as it marks the frontier of sense and meaning.


1)  Michel Serres, Kleine Chroniken. Sonntagsgespräche mit Michel Polacco, Berlin 2012, p. 11. (Petites chroniques du dimanche soir : Entretiens avec Michel Polacco, Paris 2006)

2) Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, London 2004, p. 236.

3)  “Stupidity,” Heiner Müller says, “is also certainty, and art disrupts stupidity [...] and thus disrupts certainty as well.” See: Heiner Müller, Gespräche 3: 1991–1995, Werke 12, Frankfurt a. M. 2008, p. 171.
4)  Ibid., p. 294.

5)  Ibid.

6)  Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 122.

7)  Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty (Über Gewissheit), J. & J. Harper Editions, New York, 1969, p. 105.

8)  Martin Seel, Theorien, Frankfurt a. M. 2009, p. 117.

9)  Cf. Adorno: “The insufficient relationship of an art to that which lies outside of it, to the non-art elements within it, threatens its inherent constitution, while the social will that claims to heal it from this unalterably damages the best parts of its nature: independence, consequence, integrity.” See: Theodor W. Adorno, Einleitung in die Musiksoziologie. Zwölf theoretische Vorlesungen, Frankfurt a. M. 1992, p. 146f.

Text by Marcus Steinweg for the publication:


80 pages, English/ German, Softcover, 27 x 20 cm,

Texts by Martin Germann, Marcus Steinweg and Thomas Thiel,

With Mousse Publishing, 2012, Milan IT

For the occasion of the solo show LOVE, curated by Thomas Thiel @Bielefelder Kunstverein, DE, 2012

ISBN 978-8-86749-081-3

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