Lectures on Negative Dialectics: Fragments of a Lecture Course 1965/1966
Theodor W. Adorno
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.
Being and Time, that his project of ‘a philosophizing subject preserved something of the freedom of thought against mere positivity’ (The Jargon of Authenticity, p. 103), ought surely to apply to Sartre. Admittedly, it is no less true that The subjectivity that [since Kierkegaard] had been really incapacitated and internally weakened in the meantime is isolated and – complementing Heidegger's hypostasis of its counter-pole, Being – hypostasized. Unmistakably in the Sartre of Being and
standstill simultaneously and to fetishize them, much as happens with the headlines in advertisements, that this tendency is all the more damaging as its universal prevalence prevents people from becoming properly aware of it. And I would take the view that the work of philosophy is concerned not so much with negativity as such – I shall have something to say on this question shortly – as that each person should keep his own thinking under surveillance and regard it with a critical eye in order
fixed element in thought; we shall in due course, I hope, come to discuss the meaning of such a fixed element in dialectical logic in very concrete terms. But the fixed, positive point, just like negation, is an aspect – and not something that can be anticipated, placed at the beginning of everything. You may well ask me about what I said earlier on: if you admit that the positive, like the negative, is no more than an aspect, and that neither may be regarded as an absolute – why then do I
provide some answers by developing further my line of thought and which I would ask you to think of as thematic in these lectures. The first question is: is a negative dialectics at all possible? Can we speak of a dialectical process if movement is not brought into play by the fact that the object that is to be understood as distinct from spirit turns out itself to be spirit. Where then are we to look for the source of determinate negation in the absence of the positive postulate to accompany it
extremely difficult to overstep, on account of their far-reaching significance. But the ancient philosophers were in a different position. They were men who lived wholly in the perceptions of the senses, and who, after their rejection of mythology and its fancies, presupposed nothing but the heavens above and the earth around. In these material, non-metaphysical surroundings thought is free and enjoys its own privacy, cleared of everything material, and thoroughly at home. This feeling that we