In Aesthetic Theory Adorno refers to Schubert as “the mimic par excellence.” The connection between Adorno's conception of mimesis and his notion of Schubert has remained unexplored. In his essays “Schubert” and “Franz Schubert: Grand Rondo in A Major for Piano Four-Hands, op. 107” Adorno developed concepts and drew conclusions about Schubert's formal procedures that had a formative influence on his later understanding of mimesis.
Adorno's mimesis is supposed to be a creative synthesis of two dichotomies: the life and death instincts (Freud) and the instincts of self-preservation and letting go (Caillois). In Dialectic of Enlightenment Adorno equates mimesis to the death instinct and development to the life instinct, but only to disguise his departure from both dichotomies. He links every notion of progress to “domination” and reduces it to the mimesis of the “nonorganic,” that which is dead. But Adorno did not purge his mimetic theory of every residue of Freud's and Caillois's dualism. Instead, he constructed a new opposition within mimesis itself: mimicking that which is dead and that which is living. The roots of this change can be found in his essays on Schubert. Mimicking that which is dead may be understood as an elaboration of the idea of “the landscape of death” in Schubert's music, embodied in a “crystalline form” through which the wanderer moves aimlessly. Mimicking that which is living would resemble Schubert's landscapes in which nature is “reconciled and blissful,” landscapes that open up the prospect of regeneration. Schubert's music embodied the irrational hope of all those whom Adorno perceived as mimics—from Schubert to all freedom-loving “wanderers” through the world at the end of history—that one day the hour of regeneration would come and life once more defeat death.
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