Lectures on Negative Dialectics: Fragments of a Lecture Course 1965/1966
Theodor W. Adorno
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This volume comprises one of the key lecture courses leading up to the publication in 1966 of Adorno's major work, Negative Dialectics. These lectures focus on developing the concepts critical to the introductory section of that book. They show Adorno as an embattled philosopher defining his own methodology among the prevailing trends of the time. As a critical theorist, he repudiated the worn-out Marxist stereotypes still dominant in the Soviet bloc – he specifically addresses his remarks to students who had escaped from the East in the period leading up to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Influenced as he was by the empirical schools of thought he had encountered in the United States, he nevertheless continued to resist what he saw as their surrender to scientific and mathematical abstraction. However, their influence was potent enough to prevent him from reverting to the traditional idealisms still prevalent in Germany, or to their latest manifestations in the shape of the new ontology of Heidegger and his disciples. Instead, he attempts to define, perhaps more simply and fully than in the final published version, a ‘negative', i.e. critical, approach to philosophy. Permeating the whole book is Adorno’s sense of the overwhelming power of totalizing, dominating systems in the post-Auschwitz world. Intellectual negativity, therefore, commits him to the stubborn defence of individuals – both facts and people – who stubbornly refuse to become integrated into ‘the administered world’.
These lectures reveal Adorno to be a lively and engaging lecturer. He makes serious demands on his listeners but always manages to enliven his arguments with observations on philosophers and writers such as Proust and Brecht and comments on current events. Heavy intellectual artillery is combined with a concern for his students’ progress.
foundation and result the primacy of the subject or, in the words of the celebrated phrase from the Introduction to the Logic, the ‘identity of identity and non-identity’.5 The determinate particular should therefore let itself be defined by spirit because its definition is nothing but spirit. Without this supposition philosophy would in his view no longer be capable of recognizing essential matters of substance unless the concept (3) of dialectics that was derived from idealism harboured
thing, and with that the justification of the world, even when it summarily insists on the dependence of consciousness on being. The theodicy of history, together with its overtones of apologia, was not alien to Marx. Thinking that is not based on any immutable fundamental principle soon has the concept of synthesis in its sights. The latter subjects method both as the telos of philosophy and as the model of its individual operations to what idealism called the identity of subject and object: it
its own yardstick. I explained this to Brecht on one occasion. It did not occur to Brecht to take this idea at all seriously. Instead, he remarked that there already existed a book that was, so to speak (he often expressed himself in such terms), a classical book – he meant Lenin's book on empiriocriticism. In it all that work had already been done; this was a book that had authority, and if anyone were to undertake this philosophical chore once again it would simply be a wasted effort. … And I
commonly levelled at Adorno and Critical Theory as a whole – primarily by neo-Marxist critics, but not by them alone. Adorno himself never quite endorsed unreservedly. Marx's remorseless demolition of the historical Left Hegelians in The German Ideology. He might have said of himself, as he said of Kierkegaard, that ‘he did not take a dim view of the Left Hegelians’ (Negative Dialectics, p. 129). Whereas Marx, ‘preserving the heritage of classical German philosophy’, argued ‘against Feuerbach and
instance a complete set of Adorno's own notes, it was decided to print his notes even in the first ten lectures where the transcripts are to hand. Obviously if at some time in the future the missing transcripts, or even a reliable set of notes from among those attending the lectures, were to come to light, it would become necessary to replace the current edition. LECTURE 1 9 November 1965 The Concept of Contradiction Notes Begun on 25 October 651 The special relationship of research and