Monday, August 31, 2009

Adorno on the impossibility of political praxis

From the Prologue and Introduction to Negative Dialectics (1966):

The formulation “negative dialectics” transgresses against tradition. Already in Plato dialectics intended to establish something positive through the thought-means of the negation; the figure of a negation of the negation named this precisely. This book would like to emancipate dialectics from these types of affirmative essence, without relinquishing anything in terms of determinacy. The development of its paradoxical title is one of its intentions...

...Philosophy, which once seemed outmoded, remains alive because the moment of its realization was missed. The summary judgement that it had merely interpreted the world is itself crippled by resignation before reality, and becomes a defeatism of reason after the transformation of the world failed. It guarantees no place from which theory as such could be concretely convicted of the anachronism, which then as now it is suspected of. Perhaps the interpretation which promised the transition did not suffice. The moment on which the critique of theory depended is not to be prolonged theoretically. Praxis, delayed for the foreseeable future, is no longer the court of appeals against self-satisfied speculation, but for the most part the pretext under which executives strangulate that critical thought as idle which a transforming praxis most needs. After philosophy broke with the promise that it would be one with reality or at least struck just before the hour of its production, it has been compelled to ruthlessly criticize itself.


  1. And that inability, that paralysis remains - I'm especially troubled by Lyotard. Mostly in my inability to argue with much of his work (the most troubling being The Libidinal Economy)

  2. Dunno if you saw it, but there was a bit of a kerfuffle about Adorno on my blog a few years ago. Members of the English Rotten Elements group didn't like me slighting the great man:

  3. I'm familiar with the controversy surrounding the end of Adorno's career at the Frankfurt Institut, although less so with the work of The Rotten Elements so cheers for posting the links.

    I take your point that it is important not to rush in to making absolute or definitive pronouncements regarding the value of individual philosophers, however I still tend to think that the experience of recent history has (alas) tended to vindicate Adorno's pessimism regarding the possibility of revolutionary political praxis (at least in the advanced capitalist West).

    Also as far as the debate over dialectics and aesthetics goes I think Adorno had Lukács bang to rights - looking back now I can only shudder in horror at the recollection of those undergraduate essays that I wrote during my first enthusiastic phase of marxist activism while under the baleful influence of "Studies in European Realism"!

  4. Wotcha think of Heidegger? I think he's far more interesting than Teddy, and no more obscure...

  5. I haven't yet read Heidigger, however many of the writers/philosophers that I have been looking at recently as part of my studies (i.e. Unamuno, Ortega, Zambrano, Adorno) seem to be strongly influenced by his ideas so he certainly is someone I intend to get around to reading when I have time!