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Adorno and the Need in Thinking

Adorno and the Need in Thinking: New Critical Essays

Donald A. Burke
Colin J. Campbell
Kathy Kiloh
Michael K. Palamarek
Jonathan Short
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Adorno and the Need in Thinking
    Book Description:

    At a time when Adorno scholarship is on the rise, this collection sheds light on new areas of critical research, adding another dimension to the existing literature on this most important intellectual.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8399-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-32)

    The introduction to any edited collection finds itself faced with a characteristic predicament: not only must it justify the existence of the volume itself in relationship to existing scholarship in the field, but even more dauntingly, it is charged with ‘summarizing’ the contents of the contribution as a whole, of showing that each piece contributes to some version of an ‘expressive totality’ serving to justify its existence. This double task appears especially difficult, even impossible, in a collection whose subject’s own life’s work pointedly rejects all attempts at systematization, schematics, or even thematic centring. In this respect, perhaps, it might...


    • 1 Theses on the Language of the Philosopher
      (pp. 35-40)

      1. The distinction between form and content in philosophical language is not a disjunction in an eternity without history. It belongs specifically to idealist thought and corresponds to the idealist distinction between the form and content of knowledge. It is based on the view that concepts and, with them, words are abbreviations of a multiplicity of characteristics whose unity is constituted solely by consciousness. If the unity of the manifold is subjectively imprinted as form, such form is necessarily thought as separable from content. In the realm of objects such separability is denied, because the things themselves are supposed to...

    • 2 Adorno’s Dialectics of Language
      (pp. 41-77)

      When Adorno insisted in ‘Theses on the Language of the Philosopher’ on a critique of language as the key to deciphering the presuppositions and commitments of the philosophy of his day, he could not possibly have foreseen in what ways his words would become prophetic. While idealist and ontological conceptions of language constitute the principal targets in this early, unpublished essay from the 1930s, the terms of Adorno’s critique in this work already offer an important counter-weight to, and a kind of prospective critique of, the various guises of the ‘linguistic turn’ in contemporary philosophy. In the historical development of...

    • 3 The ‘Aesthetic Dignity of Words’: Adorno’s Philosophy of Language
      (pp. 78-102)

      There can be little doubt that Jürgen Habermas has decisively set the terms of the reception of Theodor W. Adorno’s work. Indeed, Habermas’s elaboration of critical theory as a theory of communication rests on the claim that in Max Horkheimer and Adorno critical theory reaches a fatal impasse, insofar as it represents ‘the exhaustion of the paradigm of the philosophy of consciousness.’¹ By philosophy of consciousness Habermas means a philosophy that is grounded in the essentially monological relation between representing subject and represented object, which, having passed through post-Kantian idealism, is both canceled and preserved in what he calls the...

    • 4 The Linguistic Image: Mediation and Immediacy in Adorno and Benjamin
      (pp. 103-130)

      This essay addresses what I am arguing is a common misconception concerning the relationship between the work of Theodor W. Adorno and that of Walter Benjamin. The conventional reading of this relationship assumes an easy comparison between the two thinkers, leading to a judgment colouring Adorno’s position as elitist and despairingly pessimistic,¹ while painting Benjamin’s work as a positivistic program for social change. Perhaps even more problematic is the relatively recent adoption of Benajmin’s themes and ideas as ‘techniques’ or ‘methods’ by the fields of cultural and visual studies, in which we have witnessed a (perhaps unintended, yet nevertheless troubling)...


    • 5 Metaphysics after Auschwitz: Suffering and Hope in Adorno’s Negative Dialectics
      (pp. 133-162)

      Suffering and hope sustain Theodor W. Adorno’s vision of philosophy. Not simply suffering, and not merely hope, but suffering and hope in their negative dialectical entwinement. And not simply Adorno’s own philosophy, but any philosophy he would consider worth pursuing ‘after Auschwitz.’ His successors do not share his passions (Leidenschaften). In the polite language of critical theory after the communicative turn, they find Adorno’s philosophy inappropriately ‘metaphysical’ or ‘theological’ or ‘utopian.’ And this is not merely a generational difference of purely sociological interest. It goes to the heart of philosophy’s tasks in contemporary society.²

      A first approximation of two different...

    • 6 From the Actual to the Possible: Non-identity Thinking
      (pp. 163-180)

      Recently J.M. Bernstein and Yvonne Sherratt have sketched mutually incompatible versions of what Adorno once described as ‘cognitive utopia’: a mode of cognition that would ‘unseal the nonconceptual with concepts, without making it their equal.’¹ If philosophy ‘must strive, by way of the concept, to transcend the concept’ (ND, 15), Bernstein takes this to mean that its concepts must exhibit both a ‘logical axis through which thought identifies different particulars … as belonging to the same concept ... and a material axis composed of the mediating moments of object, image, language, and tradition.’² The normative impetus behind negative dialectics is...

    • 7 Experience and Aura: Adorno, McDowell, and ‘Second Nature’
      (pp. 181-200)

      A common concern for both older and more recent social theory is the impact of the scientific revolution, specifically the impact of what Weber called ‘disenchantment,’ on modern societies. Thus, it is not surprising that philosophers with an interest in the work of first-generation critical theorist Theodor W. Adorno have recently been drawn to the work of contemporary Anglo-American philosopher John McDowell. J.M. Bernstein, in particular, has written an important account of the affinities and differences to be found in the respective works of Adorno and McDowell, and it is the theme of experience in Bernstein’s essay that this paper...


    • 8 Mystical Kernels? Rational Shells? Habermas and Adorno on Reification and Re-enchantment
      (pp. 203-217)

      Whatever their very substantial differences, for both Habermas and the Frankfurt School the problem of reification and its relation to reason and disenchantment is at the core of critical theory. According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the ‘true concern’ of the spirit ‘is the negation of reification’ (DE xv).¹ Habermas’s theory of communicative action is given its overall shape not so much by his concern for simply drawing out whatever rationality might be embedded in the universal pragmatics of speech as it is by his fear that the resistance to reification, now reformulated as ‘colonization of the lifeworld,’ will be understood...

    • 9 Politics beyond Speech: Communication and the Non-identical
      (pp. 218-232)

      According to Habermas’s well-known critique of Adorno, the communicative potential contained in the wordless gesture of art can never be sufficiently clarified to serve the purposes of a critical theory that maintains a clear link between the cognitive (Erkenntnis) and action. The good sociality that has been repressed, damaged, and distorted by instrumental reason and capitalist reification can be recovered only indirectly, for to name or identify it would immediately reify it. While Adorno always maintained that a proper experience of the non-identical was still possible and indeed essential for any adequate critical theory, he did so obliquely, performing the...

    • 10 Adorno’s Aesthetics of Reconciliation: Negative Presentation of Utopia or Post-metaphysical Pipe-Dream?
      (pp. 233-260)

      Since the inception of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt in 1923,¹ members of the institute such as Leo Lowenthal, Walter Benjamin,² Herbert Marcuse, and Theodor W. Adorno have investigated the relationship between art and politics. For second-generation critical theorists such as Jürgen Habermas and Albrecht Wellmer, artistic production and reception, together with professionalized art criticism, constitute one of three differentiated spheres of cultural modernity. Adorno claims that art possesses a cognitive character insofar as it is able to present a truth that exceeds the false totality, that is, the fully administered society (verwaltete Welt). Whereas Adorno operates within...


    • 11 On Adorno’s Aesthetics of the Ugly
      (pp. 263-277)

      Disparaging the seductiveness of classical beauty, modern art depicts human alienation and indicts contemporary society. Yet Adorno attests that, through its autonomy and radical truth content, such art witnesses to a world that can and should be other than it is (AT 177). ‘Works of art, even literary ones, point to a practice from which they abstain: the creation of a just life.’² The ugly, deployed as a technique of resistance, has afforded modern art the potential to articulate political truths. It has raised an ethical consciousness of objective needs repressed by the administered society.

      Challenging the liberal notion of...

    • 12 ‘Three-Minute Access’: Fugazi’s Negative Aesthetic
      (pp. 278-295)

      In other chapters in this volume, the question is raised of the meaning of the ‘communicative turn’ Habermas and his followers have introduced with regard to the critical theory of Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin, and Marcuse. For the Habermasian Albrecht Wellmer, Adorno’s rejection of popular music as a potential medium for liberating praxis is symptomatic of his larger rejection of the goal of achieving communicative praxis through art and philosophy.¹ Adorno, it is implied, did not approve of popular music forms, did not permit popular music artists the high honour of being included, with Schoenberg, in the salons of ‘true resistance’...

    • 13 A World of Difference: Adorno and Cultural Studies
      (pp. 296-315)

      Adorno’s work on mass culture has not fared especially well in recent years. As the star of cultural studies rose in the 1980s and 1990s, the culture-industry thesis was abandoned as an arrogant, embittered, and irrelevant polemic, exemplary of an elitist mode of critique ill suited for exploring the diversity of contemporary culture. These days it largely survives as a kind of intellectual relic within cultural studies, routinely included within many anthologies and survey courses as the ‘classic’ (i.e., outdated) critique of mass culture. Its tone, method, and conclusions have acquired negative pedagogical significance as illustrations of hownotto...

    • 14 ‘On the Morality of Thinking,’ or Why Still Adorno
      (pp. 316-342)

      In ‘Aspects of Hegel’s Philosophy,’ Theodor Adorno offers a salutary corrective to the conventional academic ‘appreciation’ that presumes to ‘assign the dead person his place’ in the pantheon of philosophers ‘because one has the dubious good fortune to live later.’¹ The centenary of Adorno’s birth, which was celebrated in 2003, has, predictably enough, resulted in a spate of scholarly reflections designed to take stock of Adorno’s intimidatingoeuvrein light of the pressing concerns of the present. It is precisely this sort of routine academic gesture that Adorno condemns as ‘arrogance’; instead, the proper question (his own subject is Hegel)...


    • 15 Adorno and Ecological Politics
      (pp. 345-362)

      In her influential surveyEnvironmentalism and Political Theory: Toward an Ecocentric Approach, Robyn Eckersley discusses what she calls the ‘failed promise’ of the critical theory of the Frankfurt School. Eckersley notes that ‘Critical Theory has not had a major direct influence in shaping the theory and practice of the Green movement.’¹ This might seem surprising, she continues, given that ‘two of its [critical theory’s] central problems – the triumph of instrumental reason and the domination of nature – might have served as useful theoretical starting points for the Green critique of industrial society.’² Eckersley then suggests some possible reasons for the Frankfurt...

  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 363-365)