Negative Dialectics by Theodor W. Adorno
Views. 0. CrossRef citations to date. 1. Altmetric. Listen Pages | Published online: 30 Apr Pages 1 Mediation as the Core- element of Adorno's New Method 31 Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik, p. Negative Dialectics (German: Negative Dialektik) is a book by Theodor W. Adorno. Original title, Negative Dialektik. Translator Publication date. Keywords security, critical theory, Adorno, emancipation, the ineffable, security constellation Adorno, TW (a) Negative Dialektik [Negative Dialectics].
The all-consuming engine driving this process is an ever-expanding capitalist economy, fed by scientific research and the latest technologies. Contrary to some interpretations, Horkheimer and Adorno do not reject the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. They summarize this double perspective in two interlinked theses: The first thesis allows them to suggest that, despite being declared mythical and outmoded by the forces of secularization, older rituals, religions, and philosophies may have contributed to the process of enlightenment and may still have something worthwhile to contribute.
The second thesis allows them to expose ideological and destructive tendencies within modern forces of secularization, but without denying either that these forces are progressive and enlightening or that the older conceptions they displace were themselves ideological and destructive.
A fundamental mistake in many interpretations of Dialectic of Enlightenment occurs when readers take such theses to be theoretical definitions of unchanging categories rather than critical judgments about historical tendencies. In fact, what they find really mythical in both myth and enlightenment is the thought that fundamental change is impossible. Such resistance to change characterizes both ancient myths of fate and modern devotion to the facts.
Two Hegelian concepts anchor this project, namely, determinate negation and conceptual self-reflection. Beyond and through such determinate negation, a dialectical enlightenment of enlightenment also recalls the origin and goal of thought itself.
Such recollection is the work of the concept as the self-reflection of thought der Begriff als Selbstbesinnung des Denkens, DE Conceptual self-reflection reveals that thought arises from the very corporeal needs and desires that get forgotten when thought becomes a mere instrument of human self-preservation.
It also reveals that the goal of thought is not to continue the blind domination of nature and humans but to point toward reconciliation.
- Negative Dialectics
His most comprehensive statement occurs in Negative Dialectics, which is discussed later. Adorno reads Marx as a Hegelian materialist whose critique of capitalism unavoidably includes a critique of the ideologies that capitalism sustains and requires. According to Marx, bourgeois economists necessarily ignore the exploitation intrinsic to capitalist production.
Theodor W. Adorno
Like ordinary producers and consumers under capitalist conditions, bourgeois economists treat the commodity as a fetish.
They treat it as if it were a neutral object, with a life of its own, that directly relates to other commodities, in independence from the human interactions that actually sustain all commodities.
Marx, by contrast, argues that whatever makes a product a commodity goes back to human needs, desires, and practices. Significant changes have occurred in the structure of capitalism since Marx's day. This requires revisions on a number of topics: Rather, commodity exchange has become the central organizing principle for all sectors of society.
This allows commodity fetishism to permeate all social institutions e.
The root cause, Adorno says, lies in how capitalist relations of production have come to dominate society as a whole, leading to extreme, albeit often invisible, concentrations of wealth and power ND — Society has come to be organized around the production of exchange values for the sake of producing exchange values, which, of course, always already requires a silent appropriation of surplus value.
Adorno's diagnosis of the exchange society has three levels: Politically and economically he responds to a theory of state capitalism proposed by Friedrich Pollock during the war years. An economist by training who was supposed to contribute a chapter to Dialectic of Enlightenment but never did Wiggershaus—19Pollock argued that the state had acquired dominant economic power in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and New Deal America.
Rather, such exploitation has become even more abstract than it was in Marx's day, and therefore all the more effective and pervasive.
The social-psychological level in Adorno's diagnosis serves to demonstrate the effectiveness and pervasiveness of late capitalist exploitation. Adorno's cultural studies show that a similar logic prevails in television, film, and the recording industries. In fact, Adorno first discovered late capitalism's structural change through his work with sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld on the Princeton University Radio Research Project. Once marketability becomes a total demand, the internal economic structure of cultural commodities shifts.
Instead of promising freedom from societally dictated uses, and thereby having a genuine use value that people can enjoy, products mediated by the culture industry have their use value replaced by exchange value: His main point is that culture-industrial hypercommercialization evidences a fateful shift in the structure of all commodities and therefore in the structure of capitalism itself.
Aesthetic Theory Philosophical and sociological studies of the arts and literature make up more than half of Adorno's collected works Gesammelte Schriften. All of his most important social-theoretical claims show up in these studies. Adorno rejects any such separation of subject matter from methodology and all neat divisions of philosophy into specialized subdisciplines.
This is one reason why academic specialists find his texts so challenging, not only musicologists and literary critics but also epistemologists and aestheticians.
All of his writings contribute to a comprehensive and interdisciplinary social philosophy Zuidervaart First published the year after Adorno died, Aesthetic Theory marks the unfinished culmination of his remarkably rich body of aesthetic reflections. It casts retrospective light on the entire corpus. It reconstructs the modern art movement from the perspective of philosophical aesthetics.
It simultaneously reconstructs philosophical aesthetics, especially that of Kant and Hegel, from the perspective of modern art.
From both sides Adorno tries to elicit the sociohistorical significance of the art and philosophy discussed. Adorno's claims about art in general stem from his reconstruction of the modern art movement. The book begins and ends with reflections on the social character of modern art.
Two themes stand out in these reflections. One is an updated Hegelian question whether art can survive in a late capitalist world. The other is an updated Marxian question whether art can contribute to the transformation of this world.
But Adorno combines this Kantian emphasis on form with Hegel's emphasis on intellectual import geistiger Gehalt and Marx's emphasis on art's embeddedness in society as a whole. The result is a complex account of the simultaneous necessity and illusoriness of the artwork's autonomy. Adorno regards authentic works of modern art as social monads.
The unavoidable tensions within them express unavoidable conflicts within the larger sociohistorical process from which they arise and to which they belong.
These tensions enter the artwork through the artist's struggle with sociohistorically laden materials, and they call forth conflicting interpretations, many of which misread either the work-internal tensions or their connection to conflicts in society as a whole. Their complete resolution, however, would require a transformation in society as a whole, which, given his social theory, does not seem imminent. As commentary and criticism, Adorno's aesthetic writings are unparalleled in the subtlety and sophistication with which they trace work-internal tensions and relate them to unavoidable sociohistorical conflicts.
One gets frequent glimpses of this in Aesthetic Theory. Typically he elaborates these categories as polarities or dialectical pairs. One such polarity, and a central one in Adorno's theory of artworks as social monads, occurs between the categories of import Gehalt and function Funktion.
Adorno's account of these categories distinguishes his sociology of art from both hermeneutical and empirical approaches. A hermeneutical approach would emphasize the artwork's inherent meaning or its cultural significance and downplay the artwork's political or economic functions. An empirical approach would investigate causal connections between the artwork and various social factors without asking hermeneutical questions about its meaning or significance.
Adorno, by contrast, argues that, both as categories and as phenomena, import and function need to be understood in terms of each other. On the one hand, an artwork's import and its functions in society can be diametrically opposed. On the other hand, one cannot give a proper account of an artwork's social functions if one does not raise import-related questions about their significance.
So too, an artwork's import embodies the work's social functions and has potential relevance for various social contexts. In general, however, and in line with his critiques of positivism and instrumentalized reason, Adorno gives priority to import, understood as societally mediated and socially significant meaning.
Stefan Breuer, Adorno’s Anthropology | reificationofpersonsandpersonificationofthings
The social functions emphasized in his own commentaries and criticisms are primarily intellectual functions rather than straightforwardly political or economic functions. This is consistent with a hyperbolic version of the claim that modern art is society's social antithesis: Because of the shift in capitalism's structure, and because of Adorno's own complex emphasis on modern art's autonomy, he doubts both the effectiveness and the legitimacy of tendentious, agitative, or deliberately consciousness-raising art.
Yet he does see politically engaged art as a partial corrective to the bankrupt aestheticism of much mainstream art. Under the conditions of late capitalism, the best art, and politically the most effective, so thoroughly works out its own internal contradictions that the hidden contradictions in society can no longer be ignored.
The plays of Samuel Beckett, to whom Adorno had intended to dedicate Aesthetic Theory, are emblematic in that regard. Adorno finds them more true than many other artworks. To gain access to this center, one must temporarily suspend standard theories about the nature of truth whether as correspondence, coherence, or pragmatic success and allow for artistic truth to be dialectical, disclosive, and nonpropositional.
According to Adorno, each artwork has its own import Gehalt by virtue of an internal dialectic between content Inhalt and form Form. This import invites critical judgments about its truth or falsity. To do justice to the artwork and its import, such critical judgments need to grasp both the artwork's complex internal dynamics and the dynamics of the sociohistorical totality to which the artwork belongs. The artwork has an internal truth content to the extent that the artwork's import can be found internally and externally either true or false.
Such truth content is not a metaphysical idea or essence hovering outside the artwork. But neither is it a merely human construct.
It is historical but not arbitrary; nonpropositional, yet calling for propositional claims to be made about it; utopian in its reach, yet firmly tied to specific societal conditions. Truth content is the way in which an artwork simultaneously challenges the way things are and suggests how things could be better, but leaves things practically unchanged: Negative Dialectics Adorno's idea of artistic truth content presupposes the epistemological and metaphysical claims he works out most thoroughly in Negative Dialectics.
These claims, in turn, consolidate and extend the historiographic and social-theoretical arguments already canvassed.
Adorno says the book aims to complete what he considered his lifelong task as a philosopher: This occurs in four stages. Part Two ND — works out Adorno's alternative with respect to the categories he reconfigures from German idealism.
Like Hegel, Adorno criticizes Kant's distinction between phenomena and noumena by arguing that the transcendental conditions of experience can be neither so pure nor so separate from each other as Kant seems to claim.
As concepts, for example, the a priori categories of the faculty of understanding Verstand would be unintelligible if they were not already about something that is nonconceptual. Conversely, the supposedly pure forms of space and time cannot simply be nonconceptual intuitions. Not even a transcendental philosopher would have access to them apart from concepts about them. Genuine experience is made possible by that which exceeds the grasp of thought and sensibility.
The concept of the nonidentical, in turn, marks the difference between Adorno's materialism and Hegel's idealism. Although he shares Hegel's emphasis on a speculative identity between thought and being, between subject and object, and between reason and reality, Adorno denies that this identity has been achieved in a positive fashion.
For the most part this identity has occurred negatively instead. That is to say, human thought, in achieving identity and unity, has imposed these upon objects, suppressing or ignoring their differences and diversity. Such imposition is driven by a societal formation whose exchange principle demands the equivalence exchange value of what is inherently nonequivalent use value. Whereas Hegel's speculative identity amounts to an identity between identity and nonidentity, Adorno's amounts to a nonidentity between identity and nonidentity.
Adorno does not reject the necessity of conceptual identification, however, nor does his philosophy claim to have direct access to the nonidentical. Under current societal conditions, thought can only have access to the nonidentical via conceptual criticisms of false identifications.
Through determinate negation, those aspects of the object which thought misidentifies receive an indirect, conceptual articulation. The motivation for Adorno's negative dialectic is not simply conceptual, however, nor are its intellectual resources. Another resource lies in unscripted relationships among established concepts. In insisting on the priority of the object, Adorno repeatedly makes three claims: Under current conditions the only way for philosophy to give priority to the object is dialectically, Adorno argues.
He describes dialectics as the attempt to recognize the nonidentity between thought and the object while carrying out the project of conceptual identification. To think is to identify, and thought can achieve truth only by identifying.
So the semblance Schein of total identity lives within thought itself, mingled with thought's truth Wahrheit.
The only way to break through the semblance of total identity is immanently, using the concept. Accordingly, everything that is qualitatively different and that resists conceptualization will show up as a contradiction. By colliding with its own boundary [Grenze], unitary thought surpasses itself. But thinking in contradictions is also forced upon philosophy by society itself. Society is riven with fundamental antagonisms, which, in accordance with the exchange principle, get covered up by identitarian thought.
The only way to expose these antagonisms, and thereby to point toward their possible resolution, is to think against thought—in other words, to think in contradictions. The point of thinking in contradictions is not simply negative, however. It has a fragile, transformative horizon, namely, a society that would no longer be riven with fundamental antagonisms, thinking that would be rid of the compulsion to dominate through conceptual identification, and the flourishing of particular objects in their particularity.
Because Adorno is convinced that contemporary society has the resources to alleviate the suffering it nevertheless perpetuates, his negative dialectics has a utopian reach: This idea of reconciliation sustains Adorno's reflections on ethics and metaphysics. Ethics and Metaphysics after Auschwitz Like Adorno's epistemology, his moral philosophy derives from a materialistic metacritique of German idealism.
There he asks whether and how philosophy is still possible. Adorno asks this against the backdrop of Karl Marx's Theses on Feuerbach, which famously proclaimed that philosophy's task is not simply to interpret the world but to change it.
In distinguishing his historical materialism from the sensory materialism of Ludwig Feuerbach, Marx portrays human beings as fundamentally productive and political organisms whose interrelations are not merely interpersonal but societal and historical. Although Adorno shares many of Marx's anthropological intuitions, he thinks that a twentieth-century equation of truth with practical fruitfulness had disastrous effects on both sides of the iron curtain.
The Introduction to Negative Dialectics begins by making two claims. First, although apparently obsolete, philosophy remains necessary because capitalism has not been overthrown. Second, Marx's interpretation of capitalist society was inadequate and his critique is outmoded. Hence, praxis no longer serves as an adequate basis for challenging philosophical theory. In fact, praxis serves mostly as a pretext for shutting down the theoretical critique that transformative praxis would require.
Having missed the moment of its realization via the proletarian revolution, according to early Marxphilosophy today must criticize itself: A central feature of dialectical anthropology is the complete absence of a first nature. In contrast to those anthropologists who study primitive societies, Adorno devotes no time to the task with which such anthropologists usually begin, i. Modern society, at any rate, has subjugated and domesticated first nature to such a degree that theory may disregard it.
Corresponding to the conditions of a highly industrialized order, however, Adorno located these elementary structures not as does Levi-Strauss in kinship relations, but in the commodity form. According to the Marxian analysis, capitalist society is above all a society of commodity producers, who produce their goods in isolation from one another, and first experience their social relation in the marketplace.
There, however, their products do not appear as what they immediately are: Instead, they appear in a mediated form: The fundamental fact of modern society is exchange and thus abstraction.
The primary consideration is profit. Indeed, it dies off, as Adorno put it as early as in a letter to Benjamin. The forces and relations of production enter into a new synthesis, in which the moment of mediation is clearly determined by the latter. The structural differences between production, circulation, and consumption, which in the early bourgeois period denoted distinct spheres within the social whole which was only outwardly bound together by the money form, while in truth being determined by productionbecome obsolete.
Their boundaries which once truly separated the spheres from one another, despite their mutual dependency within the total process, and thus respected their qualitative differencesdissolve. Although he vacillates in the derivation of this rationality, Adomo portrays quite clearly the inner relation between its modern form for which the contents of knowledge are insignificant, while the transcendental categories count for everything and bourgeois social structuration.
The abstractness of formal rationality, its logical absolutism as Adorno argues, for example, against Husserl points back to the commodity form, thereby however pointing to the abstractness of the functions which, under bourgeois conditions of production, mediate the formation of the social synthesis. Research has yet to sufficiently uncover the stages of mediation by which this has occurred. The technical labor process forms the subjects who serve it, and occasionally one is tempted to say that it quite literally produces them.
And can one even speak of an anthropology any longer in the proper sense of the word, when this process is defined by its abstraction from all that is genuinely human? For this it is not necessary to go back to the highly speculative and justifiably criticized comments found, e. On the one hand, individuality rests upon affect control and suppression of instincts, upon the denial and repression of the natural dimension for the purpose of self-preservation: The individual develops anthropological qualities such as foresight and self-responsibility, autonomy and spontaneity.
He acquires a certain continuity of consciousness which organizes itself on the basis of a concrete-qualitative sense of time and its manifestations: And he achieves a balance — precarious though it may be — between the demands of the instinctual economy and the requirements of reality.
But this remains only a possibility. For the same structure which gives rise to the bourgeois individual — the process of social structuration via the category of value — also brings about, according to Adorno, his abolition.
The first to suffer this are the workers who, under the compulsion of the profit principle, are granted only limited chances for the development of a differentiated individuality. Concrete and individual time, in which the mediation between the working subject and the natural material took place, disappears from the rationalized labor process. However, it is not only the workers who suffer under the destructive effects of the modern rationalization process.
Adorno captures the psychodynamic aspects of this development with the theorem of the increasing organic composition of man. This theorem alludes to the Marxian law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit, according to which capitalist competition leads to a constant revolutionizing of production techniques and to an increase of constant capital, while in contrast to this the share of capital which is engaged for living labor decreases. Although Adorno remained quite skeptical about the theory of economic collapse connected with this law,34 he carried the basic idea over into anthropology.
This change in the technical composition of capital, writes Adorno in Minima Moralia, continues within those who are enmeshed in and actually first constituted by the technological structure of the production process. Here, too, the proportion of living and dead components shifts in favor of the latter. Its complete organization requires the coordination of the quasi-dead. Its position becomes precarious. On the one hand, even advanced capitalist society demands from the individual an abundance of adaptation and balancing achievements which are necessary for the social survival of the individual.
On the other hand, the same social order makes these ego accomplishments tendentially superfluous: It was made by men, it is the final result of an historical process in which men made men into appendages of an opaque machinery. To see through this machinery, to know that the appearance of the inhuman conceals human relations, and to gain control of these relations themselves are stages in a counter-process, a healing process.
When social basis for this rigidity is truly exposed as appearance, then the rigidity itself may disappear. The spirit shall return to life in that moment when it no longer hardens itself in isolation but instead resists the hardness of the world. Of far greater comparative significance are the theorems which point out the system-functionality of even those moments which appear not to belong to the system. The rationalization process, he argues, fails to remove the irrational moments and institutions only because it needs them as putty, or, to change the metaphor, as a veil to mask the irrational principle of social organization.
Simultaneously, however, this process neutralizes these moments, amalgamates itself with them, or shunts them off onto sidetracks where they will not disturb the workings of the overall mechanism.
The disaster takes place not as the radical extermination of that which was: In the midst of the standardized and administered human units, the individual wastes away. According to this argument, the social structuration process does not exhaust itself in the domination of the exchange abstraction over production, which occurs as extension of the living and dead machinery on the one hand, as a repression and marginalization of the non-exploitable moments on the other.
What gets consumed, particularly in the realm of the culture industry, are pure fetishes whose specific qualities are not even consciously registered by the consumers. It is desire exclusively for the confirmation and maintenance of the endangered self, which can find no footholds within social reality as a basis for achieving realization and thus is constantly thrown back upon itself.
It corresponds to the behavior of the prisoner who loves his cell because he has been left with nothing else to love. The ego, which is no longer able to achieve an equilibrium between libidinal needs and the demands of self-preservation, regresses under the pressure of the outside world to ego-libido, or fuses its conscious functions with its unconscious ones.
But he did work out the social consequences which result from the replacement of object-libido by primary narcissism. His thesis is that this artificial regression to ego-libido fails to solve any problems, indeed quite the contrary: That the individual under existing social conditions is forced to turn his unused instinctual energies back onto himself only increases his difficulties. With the increase of narcissistic energies rise the pretensions to omnipotence and grandiosity which develop within the unconscious out of archaic mother representationsbut along with these grows the potential for narcissistic insults, which the weakened ego is incapable of mastering.
To overcome the threatening split between the archaic ego-ideal which undergoes a diffusive, cosmic expansion, striving for omnipotence and the desolation and hopelessness of the real ego, the individual escapes into substitute formations which compensate for his real powerlessness imaginatively through self-projection. This is the root of collective narcissism: To this being they attribute all the qualities which they themselves lack, and from this being they receive in return something like a vicarious participation in these qualities.
Collective narcissism does not first manifest itself in certain empirical mass formations: Collective narcissism celebrates its triumph in the countless forms of prejudice and superstition, of the rumors and systems of collective delusion which dominate the everyday life of the masses in advanced capitalist society: His systems are seamless.
As astrologist he endows the stars with the power to destroy anyone who is incautious: As philosopher, he turns world history into the executrix of inescapable downfalls and catastrophes. As completely insane or absolutely rational he annihilates those bearing the mark through the individual act of terror or the well-considered strategy of genocide … He is malevolent, driven by compulsion, and as weak as his own strength.
As it is said of God Almighty that he draws the creature unto himself, the satanic, fantasized omnipotence draws everything into its own impotence.