Adorno on Politics after Auschwitz
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.
dimensions of this predicament. The closure of the subject toward its own nature, its materiality, desires and feelings is not simply a closure. The material dimension of the subject, and the hopes to which this dimension gives rise, are assaulted as the enemy of rationality and a threat to self-preservation. The identity principle prevents the acknowledgment of materiality within the subject, and so materiality is viewed as external to reason and opposed to the principle of self-preservation. As
Racism is social through and through. The modern subject itself is structured in such a way that racism is a perennial possibility for it. While there are contingent historical reasons for why the Jews were singled out for annihilation by the Nazis, 16 Adorno points out that Judaism is not the sole or the necessary target of annihilation by the modern subject 17 . Insider-outsider hostility is capable of taking on a variety of different objects, just as, depending on the constellation, the
proofreading, checking citations and serving as a sounding board for the first draft of the manuscript. Michael Schwartz provided generous research guidance during my visit to the Adorno Archive at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. Lisa Portmess’s careful reading and suggestions helped to transform a clunky manuscript into a book. I am one of many Gettysburg College faculty members who owe the success of their scholarship to Lisa’s superlative mentoring. Lastly, I would like to acknowledge an
take hold of the most destructive capacities of the subject, warping moral sensibility and perception. This phenomenon is not limited to instances of mass killing but is coextensive with the general use of propaganda to turn the public against itself, to graft social frustration onto a vulnerable population. The study of genocide plays a role in reshaping sensibility and cultivating an awareness of the precarious situation of the individual in the contemporary world. Genocide cannot be studied
spiritualization of nature masters spiritless nature only by imitating its rigidity, disintegrating itself as animistic. Imitation enters the service of power when even the human being becomes an anthropomorphism for human beings. 35 Along with the death of nature as a bearer of meaning (i.e., along with the despiritualization of nature) nature within the subject—desires, impulses, feelings—becomes deadened. Adorno writes, “[T]he regression of the masses today lies in their inability to hear