In his new book, art observer Syakieb Sungkar delves into the mind of the philosopher – Books

Radhiyya Indra (The Jakarta post)

Jakarta ●
Tue 15 March 2022


Launching one of the few books in Indonesian on the philosopher Adorno, art observer Syakieb Sungkar brought examples from the art world into the discussion.

An influential figure in critical theory, the German thinker Theodor W. Adorno was many things: he was a philosopher, sociologist, psychologist, musicologist and composer. It was therefore logical that the author Syakieb Sungkar invites a professor of philosophy as well as a musician to the launch of his book on Adorno.

Gathered at Komunitas Utan Kayu, East Jakarta, under cloudy skies on Friday afternoon, Syakieb sat with Driyarkara College of Philosophy (STF Driyarkara) professor Simon Petrus Lili Tjahjadi and contemporary jazz pianist Sri” Aga” Hanuraga. The book launch was also streamed online on Teater Utan Kayu’s YouTube channel. Writer Ayu Utami moderated the event.

“Until now, [Adorno] remains a material that enriches the thinking of artists when they talk about the role of art in society,” said Ayu Utami.

Title Seni Sebagai Pembebasan: Sebuah Telaah tentang Estetika Adorno (Art as Liberation: A Study of Adorno’s Aesthetics), Syakieb Sungkar wrote the book to reconstruct the great thinker’s perception of art in his seminal 1970s book aesthetic theory. It serves as a reference for those interested in philosophy in general, especially for readers already familiar with the revered Frankfurt School thinker, who want to learn more about Adorno’s visions of art.

Syakieb himself is an art observer and editor of Jurnal Filsafat Dekonstruksi (Journal of Philosophy of Deconstruction). He pursued his higher studies at STF Driyarkara in 2020 due to his love for art and philosophy.

“With clear, focused, yet still fluid language, the author reconstructs Adorno’s thoughts on art […] Not only that, but he also gives his critical response to Adorno’s thoughts at the end, beyond the reconstruction he had done before,” said Simon Petrus in his review of Syakieb’s book.

Discussions of Adorno began to enter philosophical and artistic circles in Indonesia in the 1980s after Sindhunata and his book Dilema Usaha Manusia Rasional (The Dilemma of Rational Human Effort). Then Goenawan Mohamad, to whom Syakieb gave this book, began systematically involving Adorno in debates about the role of art in society in the 1990s.

During the discussion, Simon spoke of Frankfurt School thinkers, who were mostly Jewish and had endured a period of terrible persecution in Nazi Germany. Some ended up fleeing to the United States.

“[The Frankfurt School thinkers] had a question: why did humanity, instead of entering a more human era thanks to modernity and enlightenment, sink deeper into a new barbarism? This new barbarism manifested itself in German racism,” explained Simon.

Simon shared how the Frankfurt School and Adorno’s thoughts influenced new leftist and anti-establishment movements.

The discussion moved to more musical aspects and the relationship between Adorno and his criticism of representative music, particularly of the 19th century.

“Basically, music is like language,” said Aga, a senior lecturer and head of the jazz and pop department at Pelita Harapan University’s School of Music.

“Musical material exhibits certain convention-based meanings and emotions that develop over time,” Aga said.

Syakieb explained that Adorno, who was very anti-pop and popular culture in general, heard music on the radio when he was in the United States and hated it. The songs were repetitive and only lasted three minutes.

“He was angry because such a culture existed. He compared America to [Germany’s] Hitler, whose entire culture, art, music and cinema was intended to control their people. ‘What is the difference between America and Germany?’ he thought,” Syakieb said.

Adorno believed in his writings that art should be the antithesis and critique of society, and that only good art could help people “regain” consciousness, the three speakers concluded.

Christopher S. Washington