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New Left Review I/184, November-December 1990

Peter Bürger

Aporias of Modern Aesthetics

A garden gnome is no longer a garden gnome. This is the dilemma facing contemporary art, that is circumscribed by the unhappy concept of post-modernity. [*] This article uses the analyses in my Prosa der Moderne (Frankfurt am Main 1988) in order to draw some conclusions from the contemporary debate in aesthetics. It was first given as a lecture, organized by Oxford English Limited, in Oxford on 1 June 1990, and subsequently at the conference ‘The Concept of Modernity in Aesthetics’ at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London on 2 June 1990. The article will be included in Andrew Benjamin and Peter Osborne, eds., Thinking Art: Beyond Traditional Aesthetics, ica, London forthcoming February 1991. Up until a certain moment (let us take 1969, the year of Adorno’s death, as a marker) a garden gnome was still a garden gnome. In the fifties Fritz Bürger could sing of the reappearance of this respected horticultural ornament as a sign that German life had returned to normal:

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