Mimesis Reconsidered: Adorno and Tarkovsky contra Habermas

Simon Mussell


In this paper, I offer a reconsideration of the complex concept of mimesis, as it is deployed in the critical theory of Theodor W. Adorno, which, I argue, provides some interesting and original avenues through which we may interpret some of the infinitely engaging if enigmatic films of Andrei Tarkovsky. The paper is divided into two parts. In the first, I explore Adorno's development and usage of the concept of mimesis, as well as the latter's fall into disfavour since Habermas's influential 'communicative turn'. In the second part, I undertake to read some of Tarkovsky's work in an Adornian vein, with the hope of reconfiguring mimesis as a valuable and fruitful concept in understanding the somatic and extra-discursive elements within communication. What I call Tarkovsky's 'mimetic method' can be seen to follow Adorno's epistemological principle of the 'preponderance of the object', while testifying to the mimetic potential of non-discursive communication. In so doing, Tarkovsky's filmic work - with Adorno's critical theory - refutes the purely linguistic/discursive grounds of Habermasian communication. This implicit refutation works on two levels. It enacts forms of mimetic construction, at the first level, and calls forth acts of interpretation and mimetic reception, at the second. I argue that these features are in need of greater attention and elaboration. The works of Adorno and Tarkovsky, in my view, provide useful grounds for challenging and enhancing existing understandings of aesthetic and philosophic communication, by more fully appreciating their interconnectedness and complementarity.


Adorno; Tarkovsky; Habermas; mimesis

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