Adorno on Politics after Auschwitz
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In the minds of many critical theorists, Theodor W. Adorno epitomizes the failure of critical theory to provide any concrete guidance for political practice. His name is almost synonymous with the retreat of the progressive intellectual from the creeping totalitarianism of contemporary mass democracy. This book endeavors to disrupt this misconception by offering a close reading of Adorno’s philosophical confrontation with the Holocaust and the modern conceptions of history, morality and subjectivity that are complicit in genocide. By rethinking the relationship between reason and remembrance, morality and materiality, mimesis and political violence, Adorno’s work offers not only incisive criticism of modern political ideas and institutions, it also shows us intimations of a different political practice.
38. David Held, Introduction to Critical Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), p. 403. 39. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 32; Gesammelte Schriften III, p. 58. 40. Adorno, Against Epistemology, p. 39. Critical reason is grounded in the “mindfulness of the suffering that sedimented itself in concepts” (ibid.). 22 Chapter 1 41. See the discussion of Adorno’s interaction with the student movements in chapter 7. 42. Cf. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit.
as foe. Impulses which are not acknowledged by the subject and yet are his, are attributed to the object: the prospective victim. 51 Humanity is not in a position to be able to shed projection. The fatal flaw in the contact between thought and object lies in false projection. Adorno writes, “In a certain sense, all perception is projection. The projection of sense impressions is a legacy of animal prehistory.” 52 In our responses to the environment we cannot help reacting to the environment
employs eschatology to keep history from becoming the property of the victor. While there were substantial disagreements between Benjamin and Adorno on the potential of the masses to become the political agent of this “weak Messianic power,” and to effect the revolutionary break with bourgeois society, their agreement on the critical potential of eschatology is significant. 32 In so far as both Benjamin and Adorno understood aesthetics as a repository of eschatological hope—of hope for a break
his lifelong friend and colleague Max Horkheimer during his years of exile in the United States. While it has become one of the most seminal and scandalous works of critical theory, it was disseminated mostly through pirated versions until its republication in 1970. 5 The Dialectic of Enlightenment expresses the fundamental philosophical outlook from which Adorno never departed in his later works. The text has led a paradoxical existence and has been labeled as falling within every category along
possibilities for happiness that have been lost in the shaping of the present. This thought would be despair in the extreme were it not for the hope that the lost possibilities for happiness are not lost forever, but the very thinking of them gives rise to the discernment, the knowledge that things could indeed be different. 18 To think any object is to think the history locked within it. 19 It is fundamentally thinking the relationship (Adorno uses the phrase “field of forces”) between the