Truth in Theatre – Part 2 Drama

Neither Hegel nor Heidegger nor Adorno apply the concept of truth to theatre. They are concerned with art in general, and in Hegel’s case with drama in particular. The side of theatre that is not identical with the word, the visualisation of text in a theatre performance or the non-linguistic side of theatre, are not essential for its truth content. The work of art is the work of words.

Theatre text and theatre performance

Hegel completely devalues the non-linguistic side of theatre 1 and if a theatre performance succeeds, it is only because the theatre poet has created the right conditions for it in the text.2.
For Heidegger, even all art is ultimately poetry.3 As for Hegel, language has a superior role in art4. If Heidegger mentions theatre once in passing, then in a pejorative sense as a machine of experience, as a medium of showmanship5.
Adorno, on the other hand, describes himself as “half a theatre child.”6. But by “theatre” he always means either drama or opera. His “Notes on Literature” contain the influential essays on dramas by Goethe, Beckett, Brecht, Horvath, etc. In the lovingly ironic essay “Natural History of the Theatre”, which is more a collection of aperçus about the audience and the various premises of a theatre building, it is also only about the opera audience and opera houses.7 He thinks nothing of opera directors who try to save operas “through the mise en scene” or try to “modernise it somehow” 8. Thus, one can expect little enlightenment from Adorno on the relationship of theatre (not drama and not opera) to truth.

One of the few theatre practitioners who dealt with the concept of truth was the director Adolf Dresen 9. He emphasises that the truth of art is a new truth, thus, similar to Heidegger, Adorno and Badiou, he sees truth as something developing, emerging, not as something fixed that art must achieve10. For him, the truth of art is always a “new truth”, and – entirely in the Heideggerian idiom – a truth that reveals itself11. But he too only explains his understanding of the truth of “art” in general, not of the particular role of truth in theatre.

The truth of the theatre text

If one now tentatively agrees to understand truth on the theatre only as the truth of drama, i.e. the theatre text, – what can be said about it using the example of Jon Fosse’s drama “Dream in Autumn” addressed by Ivan Nagel?12

Let’s take the first sentence of Jon Fosse’s text:

“MAN: No is it you”13

No criterion of truth can be applied to this sentence: it is the beginning of a dialogue (between a man and a woman), it is spoken in a specific situation (reunion at the cemetery), it is fictional (part of a text that constructs its own reality), it is an interrogative sentence. Let’s try another sentence:

“MOTHER: Nothing stays / everything moves / like clouds / A life is a cloudy sky /before it gets dark.”14

This looks like a propositional sentence, but how are we to judge that it is true? It contains a metaphor and judges something as general as “a life”. Metaphors cannot be true. Nor is the truth of a theatre text to be sought at this level. There are only a few such life-like sentences in Fosse’s work. He also immediately devalues them with sentences like:

“MAN: We’re just talking /Actually all nonsense /What we say /Just talk/ Yes”15.

Fosse himself also sees the truth of his texts not in the individual sentences but, quite Hegelian, in the whole:

“Didn’t someone say here: Truth is always concrete? … I am concerned with the whole of a text, and the world in the text speaks of the whole and is therefore present in every part, in every detail of the text.”16

The truth of a drama, or its participation in truth, cannot therefore lie in individual propositions, but only in the drama as a whole. The drama as a whole speaks a non-discursive language (although it also consists of many discursive sentences). So what this truth is that the drama expresses or conveys cannot be discursively formulated. But nevertheless it is supposed to exist, this trans-subjective something, the truth of the work of art. For Adorno, then, critique would have to work out this truth, although it cannot be squeezed out of the drama as a statement (see Adorno’s remark about “Hamlet”17).

The example of “Dream in Autumn”

So what would be true about “Dream in Autumn”? The experience of time, for example, how past and present mix in consciousness. In Fosse’s play, the time levels mix imperceptibly, forwards and backwards. Of course, in real life we can distinguish past and present, but in our consciousness current perceptions, memories and plans for the future do mix. Only these expanded temporal dimensions give meaning and significance to our perceptions in the here and now. Would that be the truth of this play? If so, – it has been worked out, it is the result of the reflections of an individual recipient. It is trans-subjective at most as an imposition on others to agree with this truth (cf. Kant’s judgement of taste) 18. Of course, “Dream in Autumn” has a part in the “untruthfulness of the age”: the characters are not happy, their communication is unconsciously instrumental, the image of women that the three female characters portray is pitiful, even if at the end they march into the future as a surviving, seemingly reconciled trio.

What is crucial, however, is that what is called “truth” in Heideggersch-Adornitic diction emerges from a communicative act between artwork and recipient. Viewed soberly, this “truth” is different in every head – and thus loses the justification of a supra-individual validity. If everyone has their own truth, there is no point in ascribing truth to these different thoughts of different individuals. That these many thoughts are stimulated by a single object, the work of art, or in theatre by a common experience, is the essence of art. Art is communication, not truth, that is the insight of hermeneutics19. Gadamer does take up the question of the truth of art, but then resolves it in the back and forth of the playful conversation between the work of art and the art recipient. The claim of “lifting {so-called} reality to its truth” through art 20 becomes in the end only the “truth of play” 21. This overstretches the concept of truth beyond its possible meanings.

If there were one or more “truths” in “Dream in Autumn”, they must surely have been noticed by someone. In the reviews of the world premiere at the Schaubühne Berlin and in those of the production of the Münchner Kammerspiele invited to the Theatertreffen, the word “truth” is not to be found, not even the adjective “true”. The judgements of the play, the theatre text as distinguished from its performance, are cautiously positive in the premiere, but negative in the Munich production. The relationship between the evaluation of the theatre text and the production is reversed. Günther Grack in the Tagesspiegel only notes at the premiere that Fosse’s play abstains from “any message pointing beyond it” 22. Eva Corino criticises “flight into false simplicity” 23, Barbara Villiger-Heilig complains on the occasion of the Munich performance that the text “cannot hide its weak points where it becomes philosophical” 24. Marietta Piekenbrock immediately hands out “the sour pickle for the weakest play of the season” 25. The production of the world premiere is benevolently depreciated (“schade” Dirk Pilz 26, “remarkably successful in extracting a maximum of atmospheric appeal and psychological tension from the diffuse web”, Günther Grack27), the Munich production unambiguously praised: “wonderful” (Dirk Pilz), “wonderful” (Rüdiger Schaper28), “great” (Simone Meier 29).
If you look for truth-apt sentences in these reviews that go beyond the description of what happens on stage and the reproduction of the audience’s feelings, the most you will find are sentences like the one by Dirk Pilz:

“To live is to prepare for death, to love is to practice saying goodbye.” 30

Or Christopher Schmidt’s:

“Two things, death and love, take you off your feet.” 31

However, as in many theatre reviews, these sentences deliberately remain in limbo between the reproduction of views attributed to the theatre text or production and general statements by the critic. They are part of the game. Such statements do not claim general validity, they are subjective attempts to mediate between the theatre text or the experienced performance and the spectator, are tentative generalisations that are aware of their unalterable subjectivity. 32.

Interim result 2

The application of the concept of “truth” to a theatre text is thus only possible if truth is something absolute, the idea, the whole, being or the like. Truth as propositional truth is not applicable to texts of theatre literature. Empirically, the use of the term “truth” as an evaluative concept of art reception seems to have died out sometime in the 1970s. Only the philosophical fossil Alain Badiou still uses it.

 

Part 3 (The Actor’s Truth) and Part 4 (Truth and Representation) will (hopefully) follow soon.

  1. see my contribution “Hegel and the Theatre” https://theatermarginalien.com/en/2019/08/17/hegel-and-the-theatre/
  2. see my contribution “With Hegel in the Theatre” https://theatermarginalien.com/en/2021/05/10/with-hegel-in-the-theatre/
  3. “All art, as letting happen the arrival of the truth of being as such, is in essence poetry.” „Alle Kunst ist als Geschehenlassen der Ankunft der Wahrheit des Seienden als eines solchen im Wesen Dichtung.“ Martin Heidegger, Der Ursprung des Kunstwerks. Mit der „Einführung“ von Hans-Georg Gadamer und der ersten Fassung des Textes (1935) Frankfurt/M: Klostermann, 2012, p.59
  4. “Nevertheless, the linguistic work, poetry in the narrower sense, has a distinguished position in the whole of the arts.” “Gleichwohl hat das Sprachwerk, die Dichtung im engeren Sinne eine ausgezeichnete Stellung im Ganzen der Künste.“ Heidegger, Der Ursprung des Kunstwerks, op. cit. p.61
  5. “Everything to be represented should only act as foreground and surface, aiming at the impression, the effect, the wish to impress and stir up: ‘theatre’.” „Alles Darzustellende soll nur wirken als Vordergrund und Vorderfläche, abzielend auf den Eindruck, den Effekt, das Wirken- und Aufwühlenwollen: ‚Theater‘.“ Martin Heidegger, „Nietzsche I“ in: Gesamtausgabe Bd. 6,1. Frankfurt/M: Klostermann, 1996, S.85. Quoted by Marten Weise, „Heideggers Schweigen vom Theater“, in: Leon Gabriel, Nikolaus Müller-Schöll (Hg.) Das Denken der Bühne. Szenen zwischen Theater und Philosophie. Bielfeld: Transkript, 2019. Weise fictionalises a vision of theatre  that Heidegger should have written but did not
  6. “After all, I consider myself half a theatre child.” “Ich betrachte mich ja selber als ein halbes Theaterkind.“ Theodor W. Adorno, „Theater, Oper, Bürgertum“ in: Egon Vietta (Hg.), Theater. Darmstädter Gespräch 1955. Darmstadt: Neue Darmstädter Verlagsanstalt, 1955, p.139
  7. Adorno, Musikalische Schriften I-III. Gesammelte Werke Vol. 16, pp.309-320. The individual texts first appeared in the “Blättern des Hessischen Landestheaters, Darmstadt” 1931-33.
  8. Adorno, Darmstädter Gespräch 1955, op. cit. p.139
  9. Adolf Dresen (1935-2001) was a theatre director first in the GDR at the Deutsche Theater, then at the Burgtheater in Vienna, in Frankfurt am Main and later an opera director at various European theatres
  10. “The truth of art is {…} the new truth, it depends on the real discovery of truth. When truth is discovered, it is in contradiction with the previous image of the world, with the previous truth, the old truth. The truth of art takes truth seriously as a historical category.” „Die Wahrheit der Kunst ist {…} die neue Wahrheit, es kommt ihr an auf die wirkliche Entdeckung der Wahrheit. Wenn die Wahrheit entdeckt wird, ist sie im Widerspruch mit dem bisherigen Bild der Welt, mit der bisherigen Wahrheit, der alten Wahrheit. Die Wahrheit der Kunst macht Ernst mit der Wahrheit als einer historischen Kategorie.“ Adolf Dresen, „Wahrheitsagen“, in: Siegfrieds Vergessen. Kultur zwischen Konsens und Konflikt. Berlin: Christoph Links Verlag, 1992 {auch in Sinn und Form 1992}, p.212
  11. “It is this crust of self-evidence that art breaks through. {…} Truth is a performance. It is the reality behind reality, the other reality not of the existing, the recognised, the established, but of the astonishing, the astounding, even the miraculous. {…} The truth of art is the new truth, but it is also the new truth. It is neither a flat imitation nor pure aestheticism, but cognition. It is neither the existing truth nor the ignored truth, but the truth that has been unknown until now, the truth that is revealing itself.” „Es ist diese Kruste der Selbstverständlichkeit, die die Kunst durchbricht. {…} Die Wahrheit ist eine Leistung. Sie ist die Wirklichkeit hinter der Wirklichkeit, die andere Wirklichkeit nicht des Bestehenden, Anerkannten, Festgestellten, sondern des Erstaunlichen, Verblüffenden, ja des Wunderbaren. {…} Die Wahrheit der Kunst ist die neue Wahrheit, aber sie ist eben auch die neue Wahrheit. Sie ist weder der platte Abklatsch noch der pure Ästhetizismus, sondern Erkennen. Sie ist weder die bestehende noch die ignorierte, sondern die bis eben unbekannte, die sich offenbarende Wahrheit.“ Adolf Dresen op. cit., p.222f.
  12. An excellent, methodologically very conscious and detailed work on Jon Fosse’s “Dream in Autumn” is the thesis by Marion Titsch, Das Ungesagte im Gesagten. Dramaturgische Untersuchungen zu Jon Fosses Theatertexten Draum om hausten und Svevn sowie deren Inszenierungen von Luk Perceval und Michael Thalheimer. Diplomarbeit Universität Wien 2009. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/11585761.pdf
  13. „MANN: Nein bist du das“ Jon Fosse, Traum im Herbst und andere Stücke. Reinbek: Rowohlt, 2001 p. 91
  14. “MUTTER: Nichts bleibt / alles zieht / wie Wolken / Ein Leben ist ein Wolkenhimmel /bevor es dunkel wird“ p.135
  15. „MANN: Wir reden ja nur / Eigentlich alles Unsinn /was wir sagen /Nur Gerede/ Ja“ p.115
  16. „Sagte nicht jemand hier: Die Wahrheit ist immer konkret? … Es geht mir um das Ganze eines Textes, und die Welt im Text spricht vom Ganzen und ist daher in jedem Teil, in jedem Detail des Textes präsent.“ Programme booklet for “Traum im Herbst” Münchner Kammerspiele. Premiere 29 November 2001. The someone Fosse is referring to is probably Hegel, although the quote was subsequently attributed to Lenin and Brecht. “The true, the spirit, is concrete {…} Only the concrete is the real, which bears the differences.” „Das Wahre, der Geist, ist konkret {…} Nur das Konkrete ist das Wirkliche, welches die Unterschiede trägt.“ Hegel, WA vol. 18 Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie , p.45 u. 53
  17. “Keine Aussage wäre aus *Hamlet* herauszupressen; dessen Wahrheitsgehalt ist darum nicht geringer.“ Ästhetische Theorie, p. 193
  18. That was roughly the meaning of my awkward answer to Ivan Nagel, that I consider truth to be something objective, whereas the critical appraisal of a play depends on the justification of a subjective judgement
  19. “For the dialectic of question and answer which we have exhibited makes the relation of understanding appear as an interrelation of the kind of a conversation. It is true that the text does not speak to us in the same way as a you. We, the understanders, must first make it talk to us. But it has been shown that such an understanding making it speak is not an arbitrary use of its own origin, but is itself related as a question to the answer expected in the text. {…} This is the truth of effect-historical consciousness.” „Denn die Dialektik von Frage und Antwort, die wir aufwiesen, lässt das Verhältnis des Verstehens als ein Wechselverhältnis von der Art eines Gesprächs erscheinen. Zwar redet der Text nicht so zu uns wie ein Du. Wir, die Verstehenden, müssen ihn von uns aus erst zum Reden bringen. Aber es hatte sich gezeigt, dass solche verstehendes Zum-Reden-Bringen kein beliebiger Einsatz aus eigenem Ursprung ist, sondern selber wieder als Frage auf die im Text gewärtigte Antwort bezogen ist. {…} Das ist die Wahrheit des wirkungsgeschichtlichen Bewusstseins.“ Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1960,, p.359
  20. “Aufhebung der {sogenannten} Wirklichkeit zu ihrer Wahrheit“ Gadamer op. cit., p. 108
  21. Gadamer op. cit., p. 465
  22. „jeder über es hinausweisenden Botschaft“ https://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/traum-im-herbst-liebe-auf-dem-totenacker/264256.html
  23. „Flucht in die falsche Einfachheit“ in: “Fjord Idyll. Das Phänomen Jon Fosse” Berliner Zeitung 18.12.2001
  24. „da wo er philosophisch wird, seine Schwachstellen nicht verbergen“ in: “Leben vor dem Tod. München mit Traum im Herbst” Neue Zürcher Zeitung 1.12.2001
  25. “die saure Gurke für die schwächste Spielvorlage der Saison“ Marietta Piekenbrock, “Heilige Hedda! In München eilt Luk Perceval durch den ‘Traum im Herbst'” Frankfurter Rundschau 1.12.2001
  26. “Verfall, Verlust und Niedergang. Elegisch: Wulf Twiehaus versetzt an der Schaubühne mit Jan Fosse’s Trauerspiel ‘Traum im Herbst’ sein Publikum in einen anhaltenden Zitterzustand”, die tageszeitung 1. 2.2001 https://taz.de/Verfall-Verlust-und-Niedergang/!1145941/
  27. „bemerkenswert gelungen, aus dem diffusen Gespinst ein Maximum an atmosphärischen  ein Maximum an atmosphärischen Reizen und psychologischen Spannungen herauszuholen“ Der Tagesspiegel 17.10.2201
  28. “Das Wunder einer Stunde. Luk Perceval illuminiert Jon Fosses ‘Traum im Herbst’ an den  Münchner Kammerspielen” Der Tagesspiegel 1.12.2001 cf. Wolfgang Behrend’s wonderful Nachtkritik column “Wunderbar wegkürzen!” https://nachtkritik.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19662:kolumne-als-ich-noch-ein-kritiker-war-wolfgang-behrens-ueberlegt-welche-formulierungen-er-fuer-die-theaterkritik-auf-den-index-setzen-wuerde&catid=1503&Itemid=100389
  29. “Mehr November war selten auf einer Bühne. Trauerarbeit in den Münchner Kammerspielen: ‘Traum im Herbst’ von Jon Fosse, inszeniert von Luk Perceval”, Tages-Anzeiger 1.12.2002
  30. „Leben heißt Vorbereitung auf den Tod, Lieben Einübung in den Abschied.“die Tageszeitung 1.2.2001
  31. „Zwei Dinge, Tod und Liebe, holen einen von den Beinen.“ Christopher Schmidt, “Ist ein Cutter, der heißt Tod. Lachender Moribund: luk Perceval inszeniert Jon Fosses ‘Traum im Herbst’ an den  Münchner Kammerspielen”, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 1.12.2001
  32. After twenty years, it is touching to read  these sentences about death by the two great theatre critics Dirk Pilz ✝︎2018 and Christopher Schmidt ✝︎2017 who died so too soon, one vacillates between shuddering and indignation at death or at life.

Truth in Theatre – Part 1 Art

The primal scene

It was in 2002, in the mirror tent of the Berlin Theatertreffen, where the audience discussions following the performances took place at the time:

“This juror has no idea what truth is”1

the universally revered Ivan Nagel exclaimed from the auditorium. It was the evening after the performance of Luk Perceval’s production of Jon Fosse’s then new play “Dream in Autumn.” The Munich Kammerspiele were guests at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele with Dagmar Manzel and Stephan Bissmeier. And it had been my turn to present the reasons for the jury’s selection of this production2.

“What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate in a famous trial, and then rendered the most momentous miscarriage of justice in Western history. That bumbling juror on the podium was indeed somehow barking up the wrong tree, but he wasn’t quite as clueless as he seemed, even then. The tumult in the mirror tent and Franz Wille’s eloquent defense of my position prevented Ivan Nagel from explaining further what exactly he understood by truth. So what could Ivan Nagel have meant by truth in the theatre?

The concept of truth

Truth on the Theatre  is different from ordinary truth. The concept of truth, when used by theatre people, has a completely different meaning than in science. With the theories of truth in contemporary philosophy – semantic or representative concept of truth, evidential, consensual, or coherence theory of truth3 – it has nothing to do. In any case, modern philosophy of science gets along largely without the concept of truth.4 The concept of truth in theatre (and theatre theory) comes more from the Plato-Hegel-Heidegger-Adorno-Badiou line of tradition than from the Aristotle-Thomas Aquinas-Kant-Wittgenstein line.

There is no treatise on truth in Nagel’s writings; only once does he mention Alfred Kerr’s enthusiastic exclamation in the face of a guest performance of Stanislavsky’s production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” in 1906.

“It is the truth – the truth!” 5

It is obvious to assume that Ivan Nagel, as a student of Adorno, referred to his academic teacher’s concept of truth. But Adorno’s concept of truth must also be placed in the context of Hegel’s and Heidegger’s theories of truth in order to understand what the concept of truth can and cannot mean in its application to theater. This essay is not just a ridiculously vain effort to wipe an old slate clean, but also to shed some light on the current discussion of authenticity and representation in the theatre.

The truth of art

In order to be able to say something about truth in theatre, one must first clarify the concept of truth, then its application to art, and finally one must consider the special conditions of theatre as an art form. The following account is certainly simplified in layman’s terms and does not take into account the widely differing basic assumptions of the various philosophers, and remains on the surface of what is of interest to theatre theory, but is thereby perhaps understandable the general public.

The most common concept of truth is that first formulated by Aristotle:

“To say of something that is that it is not, or of something that is not that it is, is false; whereas to say of something that it is, and of something that is not, that it is not, is true.”6.

This correspondence concept of truth, or this adequation theory of truth, limits the application of the concept of truth to propositional sentences. From Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas and Ockham to Kant, there is agreement that truth is propositional truth, correspondence of thought and object. The circularity of this definition is noticed only in the 20th century and leads to various attempts to save (Tarski) or to replace (Habermas) this correspondence theory. Art has nothing to do with this business.

From Plato to Hegel

Plato, on the other hand, had related the concept to a higher reality: the ideas (forms) are true for him because they have a higher form of reality than empirical reality7. It is to this ontological-gnoseological concept of truth that Hegel links8 (following Fichte) when he devalues the correspondence concept of truth to mere “correctness” 9 and truth defined as “agreement of a content with itself.”10. For Hegel, truth is only the spirit that has come to itself, agreement of the absolute spirit with itself. So only the whole is the truth11, not a proposition, but the whole self-developing apprehension of reality.

In this process of the spirit’s coming to itself, art has a decisive role. Through the correspondence of the concept of a work of art with its concrete Dasein, through its combination of complete freedom of the parts and necessity of their correspondence, a work of art (“the beautiful”) has truth.

“For according to its essence, in the beautiful object both its concept, its purpose, and the soul of it, as well as its external determinateness, diversity, and reality, must appear as effected by itself and not by others, in that, as we saw, it has truth only as an intrinsic unity and as correspondence of determinate existence and genuine essence and concept. {…} Both must be present in the beautiful object: the necessity that its particular sides belong together which is set by its concept,  and the appearance of freedom of its particular parts as being produced for themselves and not only for the unity of the whole. {…} Through this freedom and infinity, which the concept of the beautiful bears in itself as well as the beautiful object and its subjective contemplation, the the area of the beautiful is wrested from the relativity of finite relations and elevated into the absolute realm of the idea and its truth.”12

Here, then, art receives a function in a process whose goal is truth, and only because it is part of this process can there be talk of the end of art in Hegel, namely when, in this process of self-development and self-understanding of the absolute spirit, art cedes its role as “front man” to pure reflection, i.e. philosophy.

From Heidegger to Adorno

This emphatic concept of truth, that truth is the whole and cannot be attributed to a single proposition, will – in spite of all Nietzsche’s polemics against the concept of truth13 – be crucial to philosophical aesthetics and art theory in the 20th century . Both Heidegger and Adorno see the task of art in this process of unfolding a truth. The similarities are striking despite all political, and stylistic contrasts, despite all different basic assumptions – if one reduces them to the aspect of the relation of art to truth – and ignores what the two great thinkers each understand by truth14.

The work of art relates the individuals, the recipients of art, to something super-individual. The reception of a work of art is not only an individual experience, not only a process of excitation in the consciousness of the recipients, but the mediation of a connection to something supra-individual, which both Heidegger and Adorno call “truth.”

Heidegger:

“…does not degrade the work into the role of an catalyst of excitement. The preservation of the work does not isolate people to their experiences, but engages them into affiliation of the truth happening in the work….” 15

Adorno:

“The truth of the work of art, however, cannot be imagined in any other way than that in the subjectively imagined An sich something trans-subjective becomes legible. Its mediation is the work.” 16

For Heidegger as for Adorno, truth is nothing static, nothing existing. For both, art is a becoming, a happening, and truth then a Gewordenes, something that has happened:

Heidegger:

“Art is the establishing of truth setting itself up in the form (Gestalt).{…} So art is the creating preservation of truth in the work. Then art is a becoming and happening of truth.” 17

Adorno:

“Art is interpretable only by its law of motion, not by invariants. It determines itself in relation to what it is not. {..} Axiomatic for a reoriented aesthetics is the insight, developed by the late Nietzsche against traditional philosophy, that what has evolved can also be true. The traditional view demolished by him would have to be turned upside down: Truth only exists  as something that has evolved (Gewordenes).” 18

Both Heidegger and Adorno emphasize the ambiguity, the paradox of art’s relation to truth:

Heidegger:

“To the essence of truth as the unconcealed belongs this denial in the manner of the twofold concealment.”
“The essence of truth is in itself the primordial dispute, in which that open middle is contended for, into which being enters and from which it withdraws into itself.” 19

Adorno:

“Art is true insofar as that which speaks from it and it itself is ambivalent, unreconciled, but this truth is granted to it when it synthesizes the split and thereby determines it only in its irreconcilability. Paradoxically, it has to testify to the unreconciled and at the same time tend to reconcile it; this is possible only to its non-discursive language.” 20

Because truth is not simply present in art, it depends on the right way of dealing with works of art in order to unfold truth. Heidegger calls this unfolding of the truth of the work of art “preservation”; for Adorno it is “philosophical reflection” and “critique.”

Heidegger:

“To follow this dislocation means: to transform the habitual references to the world and to the earth and henceforth to hold back all familiar doing and valuation, knowing and looking, in order to dwell in the truth happening in the work. […] To let the work be a work, we call the preservation of the work.” 21 Das Werk ein Werk sein lassen, nennen wir die Bewahrung des Werkes.“ Heidegger op. cit., p.53.]
“The very reality of the work, on the other hand, comes into play only where the work is preserved in the truth that occurs through it.” 22

Adorno:

“The truth content of the works of art is the objective resolution of the riddle of each individual work. By demanding the solution, it points to the truth content. This can only be gained through philosophical reflection. … No statement could be squeezed out of Hamlet; its truth content is therefore no less.” “Grasping the truth content postulates criticism. Nothing is apprehended whose truth or untruth is not apprehended, and that is the critical business.” 23

Here, from the point of view of theater criticism, in search of the instruction manual for dealing with the artworks of theater, lies the crucial difference: according to Heidegger, the artwork is to be “preserved” in its reception; according to Adorno, it is to be critically reflected upon.
In Adorno’s “Early Introduction” to his Ästhetische Theorie, there is a passage that perhaps captures what Ivan Nagel would have wanted to reproach the uninformed juror back then in 2002, had he been allowed to finish:

“Works of art are understood only where their experience reaches the alternative of true and untrue or, as its preliminary stage, that of right and wrong. Criticism is not external to aesthetic experience, but immanent to it. Understanding a work of art as a complexion of truth brings it into relation with its untruth, for there is none that does not participate in the untruth apart from it, that of the world age. Aesthetics, which does not move in the perspective of truth, slackens before its task; most often it is culinary. Because the moment of truth is essential to works of art, they participate in cognition and thus the legitimate relation to them (participates in cognition).” 24

Badiou’s scheme

Alain Badiou has attempted to organize theories about the relationship between art and truth into three schemes:

  1. The didactic schema (Plato): art cannot produce truth. It is only the deceptive appearance of truth. Truth exists only outside art. Therefore art must be regulated.
  2. the romantic scheme: truth exists only in art (and in philosophy, but art truth is the completion of philosophical truth by embodiment).
  3. the classical scheme (Aristotle): there is no truth in art, but that is not bad. It has other tasks.

Against this Badiou puts his own theory of truth25. There is no such thing as truth, only truths. Truth, for Badiou, is not a property of a judgment, but a process in reality through which something new emerges. There are four different truth processes: Science, Politics, Love (!) and Art. The truths of art are immanent to it, found only in it, and they are singular, existing nowhere else26. For Badiou, however, it is not the artworks themselves that are the truths, but:

“A work of art represents an inquiry into the truth that is actualized in the work of art as its locus, or whose finite fragment it is.” 27

For Badiou, artistic truth is also not the individual work, but an “artistic configuration” that goes back to a triggering event, an upheaval. By configuration, Badiou means something like an artistic paradigm, an epoch, or a dominant style. He cites as examples of modernism: “serialism, romantic prose, the age of poets, a break with pictorial representation.” 28

For Badiou, Heidegger’s theory of art clearly belongs to the Romantic schema. This should also be true for Adorno’s theory, if one wants to follow Badiou’s somewhat crude scheme. After all, for Adorno, philosophical reflection is only an aid to disentangling the truth content of the work of art.

Interim result 1

Preliminary result thus: Ivan Nagel had a Romantic-Adornite conception of truth and now wanted to demand of the critic that he justify the selection of the production as one of the most “remarkable” of the vintage with its “truth.”

  1. In the following annotations you will find English translations of the German original, which are my own, followed by the original quotation in German.
  2. Franz Wille called it a scene of “Homeric power” and took it as the occasion for his season essay in the yearbook of “Theater heute”: Franz Wille, „Im Auge des blinden Flecks. Über das Theater der Repräsentationen und seine Matrix, über Schwierigkeiten mit der Wahrheit von Nietzsche bis Nagel und manche andere Perspektive.“ Theater heute Jahrbuch 2003, pp. 102-113
  3. For a clear, brief account of modern theories of truth, see Thomas Grundmann, Philosophische Wahrheitstheorien. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2018. Grundmann considers the clarification of the concept of truth to be an urgent political task. A more detailed, older account is L. Bruno Puntel, Wahrheitstheorien in der neueren Philosophie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1983. The main basic texts can be found in Gunnar Skirbekk (ed.), Wahrheitstheorien. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1977.
  4. Karl Popper does hold to the “idea of absolute truth,” but only as a limiting concept to refer to our infinite fallibility: “The idea of absolute truth is necessary so that we live incessantly in the consciousness of our fallibility.” Karl Popper, „Interview mit l’Express“ 1982, dt. in: Aufklärung und Kritik 2/1994, pp. 38ff
  5. „Manchmal, {…} sagt man sich: nun ja, die einzelnen sind Darsteller, bescheidene Einzelwerte … aber das Ganze gefaßt, glaubt man, wie der Diable boiteux in abgedeckte Häuser zu blicken … Es ist die Wahrheit – die Wahrheit.“  English: “Sometimes, {…} one says to oneself: well, the individuals are performers, modest individual values … but the whole taken together, one thinks one is looking, like the Diable boiteux, into covered houses … It is the truth – the truth.” Alfred Kerr, “Ich sage, was zu sagen ist” Theaterkritiken 1893-1919 (Werke Bd. VII.1) ed. Günther Rühle. Frankfurt/M: S. Fischer 1998, p.267
  6. „τὸ μὲν γὰρ λέγειν τὸ ὄν μὴ εἶναι ἢ τὸ μὴ ὂν εἶναι ψεῦδος, τὸ δὲ τὸ ὂν εἶναι καὶ τὸ μὴ ὂν μὴ εἶναι ἀληθές” „Von etwas, was ist, zu sagen, dass es nicht ist oder von etwas, was nicht ist, dass es ist, ist falsch; hingegen ist wahr, von etwas zu sagen, dass es ist und von etwas, das nicht ist, zu sagen, dass es nicht ist.“ Metaphysics IV,7 1011b
  7. Jan Szaif proves that even the late Plato formulated this correspondence concept of truth in his Sophistes: Jan Szaif, „Die Geschichte des Wahrheitsbegriffs in der klassischen Antike“ in: Markus Enders & Jan Szaif (Hg.), Die Geschichte des philosophischen Begriffs der Wahrheit. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2006, p.16f
  8. “Hegel’s doctrine of truth thus appears at first glance as a dynamized variant of Christian Platonism.” „Hegels Lehre von der Wahrheit erscheint somit auf den ersten Blick als dynamisierte Variante des christlichen Platonismus.“  Herbert Schnädelbach, Antrittsvorlesung 26. Mai 1993. https://edoc.hu-berlin.de/bitstream/handle/18452/2275/Schnaedelbach.pdf?sequence=1
  9. “Correctness and truth are very often regarded as synonymous in common life, and accordingly the truth of a content is often spoken of where mere correctness is concerned. Correctness only refers to the formal agreement of our conception with its content, whatever else this content may be. Truth, on the other hand, consists in the agreement of the object with itself, i.e., with its concept.” “Richtigkeit und Wahrheit werden im gemeinen Leben sehr häufig als gleichbedeutend betrachtet, und demgemäß wird oft von der Wahrheit eines Inhalts gesprochen, wo es sich um bloße Richtigkeit handelt. Diese betrifft überhaupt nur die formelle Übereinstimmung unserer Vorstellung mit ihrem Inhalt, wie dieser Inhalt auch sonst beschaffen sein mag. Dahingegen besteht die Wahrheit in der Übereinstimmung des Gegenstandes mit sich selbst, d.h. mit seinem Begriff.” G.W.F. Hegel, Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften I. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1970 (WA Bd.8), S. 323, §172 Zusatz
  10. “In the philosophical sense, on the other hand, truth, expressed abstractly in general, means agreement of a content with itself. {…} Untrue then means as much as bad, in itself inappropriate. {…} the bad and untrue in general consists in the contradiction that takes place between the determination or the concept and the existence of an object.” „Im philosophischen Sinn dagegen heißt Wahrheit, überhaupt abstrakt ausgedrückt, Übereinstimmung eines Inhalts mit sich selbst. {…} Unwahr heißt dann soviel als schlecht, in sich selbst unangemessen. {…} das Schlechte und Unwahre überhaupt besteht in dem Widerspruch, der zwischen der Bestimmung oder dem Begriff und der Existenz eines Gegenstandes stattfindet.“ G.W.F. Hegel, WA Bd.8, S. 86 §24 Zusatz 2 . Rainer Schäfer sets out the reasons for this change in the definition of truth. They lie in the idealistic basic conception of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. Cf. Rainer Schäfer, „Das holistisch-systemische Wahrheitskonzept im deutschen Idealismus (Fichte-Hegel)” In: Enders & Szaif (eds.) op. cit. S. 251
  11. “The true is the whole…. But the whole is only the being completing itself through its development.” „Das Wahre ist das Ganze.. Das Ganze aber ist nur das durch seine Entwicklung sich vollendende Wesen.“ G.W.F. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, Einleitung. (WA Bd. 3) Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1970, p. 24
  12. “Denn dem Wesen nach muss in dem schönen Objekt sowohl der Begriff, der Zweck und die Seele desselben wie seine äußere Bestimmtheit, Mannigfaltigkeit und Realität überhaupt aus sich selbst und nicht durch andere bewirkt erscheinen, indem es, wie wir sahen, nur als immanente Einheit und Übereinstimmung des bestimmten Daseins und echten Wesens und Begriffs Wahrheit hat. {…} Beides muss im schönen Objekte vorhanden sein: die durch den Begriff gesetzte Notwendigkeit im Zusammengehören der besonderen Seiten und der Schein ihrer Freiheit als für sich und nicht nur für die Einheit hervorgegangener Teile. {…} Durch diese Freiheit und Unendlichkeit, welche der Begriff des Schönen wie die schöne Objektivität und deren subjektive Betrachtung in sich trägt, ist das Gebiet des Schönen der Relativität endlicher Verhältnisse entrissen und in das absolute Reich der Idee und ihrer Wahrheit emporgetragen.“ G.W.F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik I. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1970 (WA Bd. 13), p.156f
  13. The hackneyed quotation may not be missing here: “So what is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations, which, poetically and rhetorically enhanced, have been transmitted, adorned, and which, after long use, seem to a people fixed, canonical, and binding: the truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are any, metaphors which have become worn out and sensually powerless.” „Was ist also Wahrheit? Ein bewegliches Heer von Metaphern, Metonymien, Anthropomorphismen, kurz eine Summe von menschlichen Relationen, die, poetisch und rhetorisch gesteigert, übertragen, geschmückt wurden und die nach langem Gebrauch einem Volke fest, kanonisch und verbindlich dünken: die Wahrheiten sind Illusionen, von denen man vergessen hat, dass sie welche sind, Metaphern, die abgenutzt und sinnlich kraftlos geworden sind.“ Friedrich Nietzsche, „Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außenmoralischen Sinne“, https://www.projekt-gutenberg.org/nietzsch/essays/wahrheit.html
  14. Heidegger deals extensively and repeatedly with the concept of truth, e.g. in “Being and Time” §44: “The statement is true, means: it discovers the being in itself {…} Wahrsein (truth) of the statement must be understood as entdeckend-sein (discovering).” „Die Aussage ist wahr, bedeutet: sie entdeckt das Seiende an ihm selbst {…} Wahrsein (Wahrheit) der Aussage muss verstanden werden als entdeckend-sein.“ Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 15th ed. 1979, p.218. Here Heidegger tries to ground the traditional correspondence-theoretical concept of truth existentially ontologically in the structure of human existence: “Truth in the original sense is the the state of being discovered of human existence, to which the discovering of the inner-worldly being belongs.” “Wahrheit im ursprünglichen Sinne ist die Erschlossenheit des Daseins, zu der die Entdecktheit des innenweltlichen Seienden gehört.“op. cit. S.223.
    Adorno refuses to define truth for good reasons. Even in his lecture “Philosophical Terminology” (1962/63) the term “truth” does not appear as a terminus of philosophy to be explained, but it is nevertheless constantly used. After all, there is a definition of philosophy: “This is how I would define {…} philosophy: as the movement of the mind whose own intention is truth, without imagining to have this truth as an already finished thing in one of its own propositions or in any shape of immediacy.” „So würde ich {…} Philosophie definieren: als die Bewegung des Geistes, deren eigene Intention Wahrheit ist, ohne dass sie wähnte, nun in einem ihrer eigenen Sätze oder in irgendeiner Gestalt der Unmittelbarkeit dieses Wahrheit als ein bereits Fertiges zu haben.“ Theodor W. Adorno, Philosophische Terminologie I und II, Hg.v. Henri Lonitz. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2016, p.114. And a concise determination of the relationship between art and philosophy: “If in art the truth or the objective or the absolute becomes entirely expression, then conversely in philosophy expression, at least according to its tendency, becomes truth.” P. 113. Adorno, of course, is not uncritical of Hegel: “Spirit, which is supposed to be totality, is a nonsense.” Geist, der Totalität sein soll, ist ein Nonsens.“ (Adorno, Negative Dialetik. Jargon der Eigentlichkeit. Gesammelte Schriften Bd. 6, Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1984, p.199.) Adorno’s dialectic is the negative one, therefore, for him, “The whole is the untrue.” „Das Ganze ist das Unwahre.“ Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia. Reflexionen aus dem beschädigten Leben. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1980 (= Bibliothek Suhrkamp 236) Nr. 29, S. 57 The whole is the “spell, the negative” ( p.161): “The calamity lies in the conditions which condemn people to impotence and apathy and yet could be changed by them.” „Das Unheil liegt in den Verhältnissen, welche die Menschen zur Ohnmacht und Apathie verdammen und doch von ihnen zu ändern wären.“ (p.191). Against this only “determinate negation” (bestimmte Negation) helps
  15. „…setzt das Werk nicht herab in die Rolle eines Erlebniserregers. Die Bewahrung des Werkes vereinzelt die Menschen nicht auf ihre Erlebnisse, sondern rückt sie ein in die Zugehörigkeit zu der im Werk geschehenden Wahrheit….“ Martin Heidegger, „Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes“ in: Holzwege. Frankfurt/M: Klostermann, 6th ed. 1980, p.54
  16.  „Die Wahrheit des Kunstwerks aber kann nicht anders vorgestellt werden, als dass in dem subjektiv imaginierten An sich ein Transsubjektives lesbar wird. Dessen Vermittlung ist das Werk.“ Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie. (=Gesammelte Schriften Bd. 7). Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1970, p. 421
  17. „Kunst ist das Feststellen der sich einrichtenden Wahrheit in die Gestalt.{…} Also ist die Kunst: die schaffende Bewahrung der Wahrheit im Werk. Dann ist die Kunst ein Werden und Geschehen der Wahrheit.“ Heidegger op. cit. p. 57.
  18. „Deutbar ist Kunst nur an ihrem Bewegungsgesetz, nicht durch Invarianten. Sie bestimmt sich im Verhältnis zu dem, was sie nicht ist. {…} Axiomatisch ist für eine umorientierte Ästhetik die vom späten Nietzsche gegen die traditionelle Philosophie entwickelte Erkenntnis, dass auch das Gewordene wahr sein kann. Die traditionelle, von ihm demolierte Ansicht wäre auf den Kopf zu stellen: Wahrheit ist einzig als Gewordenes.“ Adorno op. cit. p. 12.
  19. „Zum Wesen der Wahrheit als der Unverborgenheit gehört dieses Verweigern in der Weise des zwiefachen Verbergens.“
    „Das Wesen der Wahrheit ist in sich selbst der Urstreit, in dem jene offenen Mitte erstritten wird, in die das Seiende hereinstellt und aus der es sich in sich selbst zurückzieht.“ Heidegger op. cit., p.40f
  20. „Wahr ist Kunst, soweit das aus ihr Redende und sie selber zwiespältig, unversöhnt ist, aber diese Wahrheit wird ihr zuteil, wenn sie das Gespaltene synthetisiert und dadurch erst in seiner Unversöhnlichkeit bestimmt. Paradox hat sie das Unversöhnte zu bezeugen und gleichwohl tendenziell zu versöhnen; möglich ist das nur ihrer nicht-diskursiven Sprache.“  Adorno op. cit. p. 251.
  21. „Dieser Verrückung folgen heißt: die gewohnten Bezüge zur Welt und zur Erde verwandeln und fortan mit allem geläufigen Tun und Schätzen, Kennen und Blicken ansichhalten, um in der im Werk geschehenden Wahrheit zu verweilen. […
  22. „Die eigenste Wirklichkeit des Werkes kommt dagegen nur da zum Tragen, wo das Werk in der durch es selbst geschehenden Wahrheit bewahrt wird.“ Heidegger op. cit., p.55
  23. „Der Wahrheitsgehalt der Kunstwerke ist die objektive Auflösung des Rätsels eines jeden einzelnen. Indem es die Lösung verlangt, verweist es auf den Wahrheitsgehalt. Der ist allein durch philosophische Reflexion zu gewinnen. … Keine Aussage wäre aus *Hamlet* herauszupressen; dessen Wahrheitsgehalt ist darum nicht geringer.“ „Den Wahrheitsgehalt begreifen postuliert Kritik. Nichts ist begriffen, dessen Wahrheit oder Unwahrheit nicht begriffen wäre, und das ist das kritische Geschäft.“ Adorno op. cit., p. 193f.
  24. „Verstanden werden Kunstwerke erst, wo ihre Erfahrung die Alternative von wahr und unwahr erreicht oder, als deren Vorstufe, die von richtig und falsch. Kritik tritt nicht äußerlich zur ästhetischen Erfahrung hinzu, sondern ist ihr immanent. Ein Kunstwerk als Komplexion von Wahrheit begreifen, bringt es in Relation zu seiner Unwahrheit, denn keines ist, das nicht teilhätte an dem Unwahren außer ihm, dem des Weltalters. Ästhetik, die nicht in der Perspektive der Wahrheit sich bewegt, erschlafft vor ihrer Aufgabe; meist ist sie kulinarisch. Weil Kunstwerken das Moment von Wahrheit wesentlich ist, partizipieren sie an Erkenntnis und damit das legitime Verhältnis zu ihnen.“ Adorno op. cit. p. 515f.
  25. See also Badiou’s lecture “Event and Truth” at the symposium “Event in Artistic and Political Practices” (26-28 March 2013) in Amsterdam; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE97dwA8wrU (part 1; parts 2-4 also on YouTube
  26. “What makes art unique among truth processes is that the subject of truth in it is taken from the sensuous.” “Was die Kunst unter den Wahrheitsprozessen einmalig macht, ist, dass das Subjekt der Wahrheit bei ihr dem Sinnlichen entnommen wird.” Alain Badiou, Dritter Entwurf eines Manifestes für den Affirmationismus. hg. und um ein Gespräch mit Alain Badiou erweitert von Frank Ruda und Jan Völker. a.d. Frz.v. Ronald Vouillié. Berlin: Merve, 2007, S. 26
  27. „Ein Kunstwerk stellt eine Untersuchung über die Wahrheit dar, die im Kunstwerk als ihr Ort aktualisiert ist oder deren endliches Fragment es ist.“ Alain Badiou, Kleines Handbuch der Inästhetik, Berlin: Turia + Kant, 2+2012 (first French 1998), p.25
  28. Badiou op. cit. p.29