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Tag: horkheimer

The Value Form, Reification, and the Consciousness of the Collective Worker (Milchman, 2010)

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Alan Milchman (Mac Intosh) 1940-2021


Internationalist Perspective
Issue 57: Fall/Winter 2010 [PDF]


Marx’s critical theory exposed a mode of production, a civilization, based on value, which he described as a “deranged” or “perverted form” [verrückte Form], in which social relations between persons are inverted and appear as relations between things. It is the abstract labor of the working class that produces and reproduces this deranged form. As Max Horkheimer, in 1937, put it in “Traditional and Critical Theory”: “[H]uman beings reproduce [erneuern], through their own labor, a reality which increasingly enslaves them.”1 It was Georg Lukács, in his essay “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,” in the collection History and Class Consciousness (1923), who had first elaborated a theory of reification through which the effects of the value form, that perverted form, and the commodity fetishism that was integral to it, seized hold of society. Lukács’ accomplishment, even before many of Marx’s own vast “economic” manuscripts had been published, was a theoretical breakthrough upon which Marxism as a negative critique of capitalism is still based.

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The Authoritarian State (Horkheimer, 1942)

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The historical predictions on the fate of bourgeois society have been confirmed. In the system of the free market economy, which pushed men to labor-saving discoveries and finally subsumed them in a global mathematical formula, its specific offspring, machines, have become means of destruction not merely in the literal sense: they have made not work but the workers superfluous. The bourgeoisie has been decimated, and the majority of members have lost their independence; where they have not been thrown into the ranks of the proletariat, or more commonly into the masses of unemployed, they have become dependents of the big concerns or the state. The El Dorado of bourgeois existence, the sphere of circulation, is being liquidated. Its work is being carried out in part by the trusts which, without the help of banks, finance themselves, eliminate the commercial intermediaries and take control of the stockholders organizations. Part of the business sphere is handled by the state. As the caput mortuum of the transformation process of the bourgeoisie there remain only the highest levels of the industrial and state bureaucracy. “One way or another, with or without the trusts, the official representative of capitalist society, the state, must finally take over the management of production… All social functions of the capitalists are now discharged by salaried civil servants… And the modern state is once again only the organization which bourgeois society creates for itself to maintain the general external conditions for the capitalist means of production against encroachments either by the workers or by individual capitalists… The more productive forces the state takes over as its own property, the more it becomes a collective capitalist, the more citizens of the state it exploits. The workers remain wage laborers, proletarians. The relationship to capital is not abolished but becomes far more acute.” In the transition from monopoly to state capitalism, the last stage offered by bourgeois society is “the appropriation of the large productive and commercial organisms, first by joint-stock companies, later by trusts and then by the state.” State capitalism is the authoritarian state of the present. . . [READ PDF / Deutsch]


see also: The Philosophy of History and the Authoritarian State (1971) by Hans-Jürgen Krahl

‘It only needs all’: re-reading Dialectic of Enlightenment at 70

by Marcel Stoetzler (opendemocracy)

Seventy years ago, Querido Verlag published a densely written book that has become a key title of modern social philosophy. Underneath its pessimistic granite surface a strangely sanguine message awaits us.

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Horkheimer left, Adorno right, Habermas background right, running hand through hair. Max Weber-Soziologentag, Heidelberg,April,1964. Wikicommons/Jeremy J.Shapiro. Some rights reserved.

How do you make an argument against social domination when the very terms, concepts and languages at your disposal are shaped by, and in turn serve that same social domination? Probably in the way you would light a fire in a wooden stove. How would you write a book about the impossibility of writing just that book? Like a poem about the pointlessness of poems. What if your enemies’ enemies are your own worst enemies? Can you defend liberal society from its fascist enemies when you know it is the wrong state of things? You must, but dialectics may well ‘make cowards of us all’ and spoil our ‘native hue of resolution’.

Dialectic of Enlightenment¹ is a very strange book, and although it was published, in 1947, by the leading publishing house for exiled, German-language anti-fascist literature, the Querido Verlag in Amsterdam, alongside many of the biggest literary names of the time, no-one will have expected that it gradually became one of the classics of modern social philosophy.

It is a book that commits all the sins editors tend to warn against: its chapters are about wildly differing subject matters; the writing is repetitive, circular and fragmented; no argument ever seems exhausted or final and there are no explicitly stated conclusions, and certainly no trace of a policy impact trajectory. Arguments start somewhere, suddenly come to a halt and then move on to something else. If this sounds like the script for a Soviet film from the revolutionary period, then that is not totally coincidental: it is an avant-garde montage film, transcribed into philosophy.

Unsurprisingly, given that it was written during WW2 in American exile and published at the beginning of the Cold War, it does not carry its Marxism on its sleeves, but it gives clear enough hints: in the preface, Horkheimer and Adorno state that the aim of the book is ‘to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism’. This addresses the dialectic referenced in the title of the book. The important bit here is the ‘instead of’: the reality of barbarism was undeniable and clearly visible, but the originality of the formulation lies in its implication that humanity could have been expected to enter ‘a truly human state’ sometime earlier in the twentieth century, leaving behind its not so human state.

The promise of progress towards humanity, held by socialists (and some liberals), blew up in their faces. It would have been easy and straightforward then to write a book arguing against the holding of such hope, but this would not have been a dialectical book; Dialectic of Enlightenment undertakes to rescue this hope by looking at why progress tipped over into its opposite.
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What is Orthodox Critical Theory?

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by Fabian Freyenhagen / [pdf]

In 1919, Lukács posed the question, “What is orthodox Marxism?” Even for Lukács, there was an undertone of irony: if by orthodoxy we mean devoutness, then “the most appropriate answer [is] a pitying smile.” But Lukács also points out that the question can be understood and asked in such a way that it invites or even requires a different kind of answer. If we understand it as a question about quintessence, Lukács’ answer is as follows: The quintessence of Marxism does not reside in the results of Marx’s research or a “‘belief’ in one or another proposition,” nor in the “exegesis of a ‘holy book.’” Rather, “orthodoxy in matters of Marxism refers exclusively to method.”1

In this essay I want to reapply Lukács’ question to Critical Theory: What is orthodox Critical Theory? And I’d like to advocate an approach that could be called orthodox in three respects.

First, if we understand orthodoxy to mean quintessence, then my question—as Nancy Fraser puts it in the title of her well-known paper—is: “What’s critical about Critical Theory?” For criticism is the quintessence of Critical Theory, as its very name tells us. According to the prevailing response to the question about quintessence, Critical Theory can be critical only if it includes a program of justification [Begründungsprogramm].2 For Critical Theorists are entitled to operate only with criteria that can be justified as acceptable to all (or, at least, all affected). My position is diametrically opposed: Critical Theory needs no program of justification in order to be critical. In fact, only without such a program of philosophical justification can Critical Theory be adequately and appropriately critical.

I speak of orthodoxy also because I think we need to revive the views of the first generation of the Frankfurt School—the trend is currently either to neglect these views entirely or to overlook their broader significance. Thus, in arguing for a reorientation of Critical Theory as I will do below, I will frequently rely on Horkheimer’s writings of the 1930s.

Thirdly, it will turn out that orthodox Critical Theory actually does have something to do with devoutness in the end—irony (and secularism) notwithstanding.

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Marx’s Influence on the Early Frankfurt School

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by Chad Kautzer

The early Frankfurt School’s theoretical tendency is best described as Western Marxism, while its institutional origin was the Institute of Social Research (Institut fur Sozialforschung), founded in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1923. Marx’s influence on the early Frankfurt School was profound, uneven, and largely filtered through a revived Hegelian Marxism that broke with the economistic and mechanistic doctrines of the Second International (1889-1916). From the beginning, the members and financiers of the Institute explicitly understood its research program as Marxist, although there was no general agreement about what it meant to be Marxist. A few years before the Institute’s founding, Georg Lukács wrote: “Great disunity has prevailed even in the ‘socialist’ camp as to what constitutes the essence of Marxism,” and who has “the right to the title of , Marxist'” (Lukács 1971: 1). The competing Marxist tendencies in the early twentieth century informed both the internal development of the Institute of Social Research and the contours of Western Marxism more generally. . . [continue reading]

The Frankfurt School: Philosophy and (political) economy

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History of the Human Sciences: Vol 29, Issue 2, April 2016

The Frankfurt School: Philosophy and (political) economy

A thematic introduction by the editors

Matthias Rothe, Bastian Ronge

The following introduction has two parts: the first part provides a sketch of the Frankfurt School’s history, highlighting the circumstances under which the authors discussed in this issue engaged philosophically with matters of economy. We thereby follow the prevailing periodization, starting with the school’s foundation in 1924 and ending with Theodor W. Adorno’s death in 1969 and the school’s preliminary dissolution. The second part of the introduction explores the legacy of the Frankfurt School’s philosophical critique of economy. Max Horkheimer’s writings thereby serve as a model case for such a critique and become the point of departure for the discussion of contemporary critical theories of the economic.


The controversy over Friedrich Pollock’s state capitalism

Manfred Gangl

The critique of capitalism is the bedrock on which rests the reputation of Frankfurt School critical theory. Though critical theory has often been heralded – or criticized and rejected – as a reformulation of Marxian theory for our times, its relation with the critique of political economy, and in particular the economic treatises, has barely been studied. Friedrich Pollock, who was Max Horkheimer’s lifelong friend and close associate at the Institute for Social Research, was responsible for all administrative and financial questions, but he wrote few theoretical essays and Wiggershaus calls him ‘the last unknown member of the Frankfurt School’. Nevertheless this article asks whether not only has his influence on early critical theory been sorely underestimated, but also his impact on the late philosophies of Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse.


Henryk Grossman and Critical Theory

Rick Kuhn

In 1943, Henryk Grossman sent a draft of the study, eventually published in two parts as ‘The Evolutionist Revolt against Classical Economics’, to Max Horkheimer for comment. His very hostile response, Grossman’s drafts and the published study cast light not only on the changing relationship between Grossman and Horkheimer but also on the distance between Grossman’s classical Marxism and nascent mature Critical Theory. Grossman’s study identified the emergence of the idea of successive economic systems in the work of Condorcet, Henri Saint-Simon and Simonde de Sismondi in France, James Steuart and Richard Jones in England, culminating in Marx’s formulations which entailed the role of class struggle and capitalism’s tendency to break down. Hegel was not an influence on Marx’s conception of modes of production. In addition to a series of spurious and minor criticisms, Horkheimer objected that Grossman’s approach was positivist, that it misconceived Hegel’s philosophy, and that it amounted to a conventional history of ideas. In response, Grossman made some changes in his study, but these were designed to strengthen his main arguments and successfully reaffirmed his Marxist approach in the face of Horkheimer’s criticisms.


Negative dialectics and the critique of economic objectivity

Werner Bonefeld

This article explores Adorno’s negative dialectics as a critical social theory of economic objectivity. It rejects the conventional view that Adorno does not offer a critique of the economic forms of capitalist society. The article holds that negative dialectics is a dialectics of the social world in the form of the economic object, one that is governed by the movement of economic quantities, that is, real economic abstractions. Negative dialectics refuses to accept the constituted economic categories as categories of economic nature. Instead, the article argues, it amounts to a conceptualized social praxis [begriffene Praxis] of the capitalistically constituted social relations, which manifest themselves in the form of seemingly independent economic categories. Economic nature is a socially constituted nature, which entails the class antagonism in its concept. The article concludes that for negative dialectics the explanation of real economic abstractions lies in the understanding of the class-divided nature of human practice.


Subjectivity and its crisis

Commodity mediation and the economic constitution of objectivity and subjectivity

Frank Engster

Neither Critical Theory nor western Marxism ever understood crises as being solely concerned with the economy. Both saw them rather as necessarily involving consciousness and subjectivity as well. How does Critical Theory conceptualize economy and subjectivity as inseparable? This is the crucial question. Critical Theory claims, indeed, that it shows the inner connection between the economy and subjectivity. In its first generation, at any rate (Jay, 1996), Critical Theory meant to show that the economy is a constitutive part of subjectivity, while also being its blind spot; or even that the economy is its blind spot because it is essentially constructive of subjectivity. The article will specify the connection between the economy and subjectivity and then will indicate the blind spot. While Critical Theory does not fully pinpoint the blind spot in this connection, by tracing the discussion that followed its first generation we may better find out what this blind spot might be.


Historical-sociology vs. ontology

The role of economy in Otto Kirchheimer and Carl Schmitt’s essays ‘Legality and Legitimacy’

Karsten Olson

The pre-1932 writings of Otto Kirchheimer are often described by researchers as the work of a young ‘left-Schmittian’, a radical Marxist who gave the anti-liberal critique and theoretical apparatus of his Doktorvater Carl Schmitt a new purpose for different ‘political ends’. The danger of this approach is that fundamental divisions between the societal conceptualizations of both theoreticians are ignored in lieu of apparent terminological similarity. Through the lens of economy, it is therefore the intent of this article to continue in the tradition of Alfons Söllner and Frank Schale, pushing against this assumed affinity and highlighting Otto Kirchheimer’s unique defense of liberal democracy.


Materialist Epistemontology

Sohn-Rethel with Marx and Spinoza

A. Kiarina Kordela

Sohn-Rethel’s theory undermines the line of thought that, from Kant to deconstruction, severs being or the thing from representation, by showing that the Kantian a priori categories of thought (representation) are a posteriori effects of the relations of things (being), to the point that it is ‘only through the language of commodities that their owners become rational beings’. This is the thesis of Marx’s theory of ‘commodity fetishism’, and Sohn-Rethel’s work develops the methodology that follows from it. ‘Realabstraktion’ means that the commodification of things amounts to their transformation into the language that provides the a priori categories of human thought. As a result, far from being inaccessible to representation, being is precisely that which reveals itself whenever the transcendental categories of representation are laid out. Therefore, Sohn-Rethel’s theory entails that not only can one not separate economy from thought but also economy and thought from being, so that there are no three distinct fields – economy, ontology and epistemology – but one: an economic epistemontology. Just as Marx’s ‘commodity fetishism’ introduced the unconscious in both subjectivity and economy – ‘they do this without knowing it’ – Sohn-Rethel analysed all economic, intellectual and practical spheres in terms of the fundamental distinction between consciousness and the unconscious. The article also points to certain corrections that Marx’s own theory indicates need to be made in Sohn-Rethel’s account, particularly regarding the source of abstraction, the role of coined money, and the difference between capitalist and pre-capitalist modes of production and exchange.

Needless Necessity: Sameness and Dynamic in Capitalist Society

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Marcel Stoetzler, Bangor University, UK (via Fast Capitalism)

In capitalist modernity, all that is fluid is frozen fast, and vice versa. Everything is at the same time solid and not. We need to do something. One must always produce.[1] But then, one must always produce the same. Production is always reproduction, no more, no less, albeit on an extended scale. Capitalist society is a treadmill:[2] “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that,” as the Red Queen asserted.[3] Society (re-)produces itself, using humans as its principal agents, as ever new and ever the same. Humans (re-)produce society as ever the same by making a fresh start every morning when the alarm bell tolls: a new morning promises gold – the matter of eternity – every single day anew. My consciousness is split on this matter: it tells me, on the one hand, that I have places to go (hooray!), I have some inner growing to do, but at the same time, I am proudly identical to myself (disregarding some metabolism-related corporeal change that one tries to keep separate from one’s sense of selfhood). I who took out the student loan yesterday will have to pay up tomorrow, although the intervening time – not least ‘the student experience’, as they say – will have made me a whole new person (with places to go, hooray!). Growing up, experience – going-beyond-and-through: ex-per-ire – or not, contracts are to be fulfilled. This is a rule society will enforce.

This article explores the dialectic of a twofold compulsion characteristic of modern bourgeois society: on the one hand the dynamism grounded in the compulsion to expand production, to never stand still, relax and enjoy, always to increase the labors of self-preservation, on the other hand the static, sameness and identity that are produced by the ‘real-abstracting’ processes equally central to the capitalist mode of production, the locking down of humans in their identities, including those of sex and race. The article examines these matters through the prism of Adorno’s late essay on the concepts of ‘static and dynamic’ that is taken as a vantage point for a reading of ‘The concept of enlightenment’ in Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. The last part of the essay argues that capitalist society’s needless necessities impose themselves on society through abstracting practices in everyday life but also produce an equally contradictory set of social movements that have now opened up a fragile prospect for the revolutionary overcoming of capitalist society. The key point of the argument is that Horkheimer and Adorno’s unique emphasis on the critique of ‘the economic’ beyond that of ‘the economy’ is crucial to this radical perspective.

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A Conversation with Theodor W. Adorno (Spiegel, 1969)

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– Interview in Der Spiegel, 1969, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Gerhard Richter, Monatshefte, Vol. 94, No. 1, 2002

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“Philosophy, which once seemed passe,” Theodor W. Adorno’s Negative Dia­lectic begins, “remains alive because the moment of its realization was missed” (“Philosophie, die einmal überholt schien, erhält sich am Leben, weil der Augenblick ihrer Verwirklichung versäumt ward“). (1) This perspective encrypts the double movement of a simultaneous resignation or lament and a productive, enabling force. It is only because the philosophy of which Adorno speaks— negative dialectics—was not realized that its actualization is yet to come. That it once existed without becoming an actuality means that it still remains to be thought, as both a failure and a promise. The erratic traces of this double movement not only name but also enact Adorno’s notion of a negative dialec­tic. The movement of the negative dialectic of failure and promise has strongly marked the reception of the English translations of his writings. After all, Adorno’s German, and the thought that it enacts, is rigorously and infamously resistant to translation. His writing is both strange and foreign—fremd—even in its “original” German.

To acknowledge this strangeness is also to acknowledge that what Adorno says cannot be separated from how he says it. As Samuel Weber, one of Adorno’s earliest translators so apodictically and incontrovertibly puts it in his 1967 “Translating the Untranslatable,” the “specificity of Adorno’s thought is inseparable from its articulation,” so that “conceptual concreteness may be measured by the density with which thought and articulation perme­ate each other.” (2) For this reason, any translator who, in spite of these difficul­ties, attempts to translate Adorno’s sentences runs the risk of constructing an Adorno who. in the words of one of his most astute American translators, Rob­ert Hullot-Kentor, appears “dubbed rather than translated.” (3) Thus, as Hullot-Kentor points out, while many admirable English translations of Adorno’s texts exist, others deserve to be retranslated. (4) The process is now well under way, with, for instance, Hullot-Kentor’s responsible retranslation of Aesthetic Theory which replaces the problematic British version of 1984. (5)

The following interview with Adorno has not received the attention that it deserves. It originally appeared on 5 May 1969, three months before the phi­losopher’s death, under the title “Keine Angst vor dem Elfenbeinturm” in the widely circulating German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel (6) Shortly after it appeared in Germany, an English translation, which has been virtually ig­nored in the American context, was published in a British journal. (7) In a very real sense, then, the “moment of its realization was missed.” To present this important document today in an entirely new translation, in agreement with Der Spiegel, means to take seriously—with a bit of Blochian non-syncronicity—the critical potential that it still may hold for readers interested in the relation between aesthetics and politics. But the re-presentation of the docu­ment today also requires an explanation of historical contexts and political ref­erences, glosses that culturally aware readers in 1969 may not have required and that were provided neither in the British translation nor by Adorno’s Ger­man editors, who later included the text in his collected writings (Gesammelte Schriften). (8) I have therefore provided explanatory footnotes to clarify histori­cal references for today’s readers.

To appropriate the conceptual content of the discussion with Adorno for our time also requires some contextualization in the tensions of its own time. The immediate occasion for the highly visible interview was Adorno’s can­cellation of his University of Frankfurt lecture course “Introduction to Dialec­tical Thinking” during the summer semester of 1969, following confrontations with student activists who disrupted his lectures with heckling. During the pre­vious semester, Adorno’s decision to involve the police in clearing student oc­cupiers from the Institute for Social Research (the Frankfurt School’s depart­mental unit at the University of Frankfurt) had caused controversy. While some regarded Adorno’s reliance on the authorities as a betrayal—a siding with the enemy against the common cause of social progress—others tended to agree with Adorno’s assessment of the radical activism of some students as misguided or even, in the words of his former research assistant, Jurgen Habermas, as a form of “left-wing fascism.” (9) On the day that the Spiegel in­terview appeared, Adorno writes to his friend and Frankfurt School colleague Herbert Marcuse: “One should refrain from |… | demonizing the police whole­sale. I can only repeal that they treated the students much more gingerly than the students treated me. That was beyond description.” He continues: “The other day I was told by Mr. Cohn-Bendit during a departmental town meeting that I only had the right to call in the police if people actually wanted to beat me up with metal rods. I answered that then it would be too late.” (10)

The irony of the tensions between Adorno and some student activists are legible enough. On the one hand, his theories had contributed to the es­tablishment of the first general wave of political activism in Germany after Word War II and to a general critical engagement with the legacies of Ger­man fascism, a subject that had largely remained taboo after 1945. Examples of Adorno’s theoretical interventions that were especially significant in this regard included his and Horkheimer’s analysis of the culture industry, his dis­section of the authoritarian personality, his subversive reflections on what it means to be German, his meditations on education “after Auschwitz,” and his anti-fascist reflections, among many others. But on the other hand, more con­crete signs of solidarity were expected of Adorno after December 1966, es­pecially on the part of the “APO.” “APO” stands for “Außerparlamentarische Opposition” (“Extraparliamentary opposition”), the collective name of the German student and New Left movements, along with a variety of smaller op­positional groups that were not presented in the German parliament. The APO came into existence in 1967, in response to the “Grand Coalition” formed between Kurt Georg Kiesinger’s conservative CDU/CSU and Willy Brandt’s social-democratic SPD on 1 December 1966, that is, when almost no opposi­tion remained within the German parliament itself. Many in the APO now looked to Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt School for practical po­litical leadership, often in vein.

In a patricidal reversal that pitted parts of the Student Protest Movement and the New Left against one of their theoretical fathers, Adorno was sub­jected to a series of institutional and personal attacks at least since 1967, and leaflets proclaiming that “Adorno as an institution is dead” (“Adorno als In­stitution ist tot“) were circulated during his lectures. For instance, when he was invited by Peter Szondi and Wilhelm Emrich on behalf of the Depart­ments of German and Comparative Literature at the Free University of Berlin to deliver a lecture in July 1967 on “The Classicism of Goethe’s Iphigenie,” a meditation that was later included as an essay in his Notes to Literature, Adorno was greeted with heckles on the part of some. Adorno had earlier re­fused to write a letter of support exculpating the activist Fritz Teufel, whose controversial hand-outs and leaflets had been read by his accusers not as a sat­ire but as a concrete incitement to arson and violence. Because Adorno refused to conduct a political discussion instead of delivering his lecture as planned, his detractors regarded his decision to speak on Goethe as a retreat from po­litical intervention into classicist aesthetics.

But the most notorious incident was yet to come. During an April 1969 assault, an instance of “planned tenderness” which has come to be known as the “breast action” (Busenaktion), three female sociology students wearing long leather jackets invaded the lecturer’s podium, sprinkled rose and tulip petals over Adorno’s head, attempted to plant lipstick kisses on his cheeks, ex­posed their naked breasts to him, and provoked him with erotic pantomimes. Adorno, attempting to protect himself with his briefcase, proceeded to exit “Hörsaal V” (“Lecture Hall V”). This attempt to embarrass Adorno publicly was a sign of the larger structure of misunderstanding between Adorno and those student activists who had grown increasingly impatient with their theoretically-minded teacher’s reluctance to engage in street interventions and other forms of political activism.

The tension and misunderstanding between Adorno and some of the student activists was by no means universal. Indeed, many found the public provocations of Adorno by a minority of students misplaced and embarassing. Those critical of the activities to which Adorno was subjected must have re­called not only their indebtness to the theoretical apparatus for a critical analy­sis of society and culture that he had supplied, but also Adorno’s general in­terest in being a public intellectual open to discussion and to a sustained engagement in concrete political causes. For instance, after the so-called German-American friendship week had been marred by severe street violence and clashes between protesters and the police in May 1967, Adorno, along with his colleague Max Horkheimer and others, on 12 June 1967 engaged in a pub­lic discussion with students and activists regarding the relationship between Critical Theory and political praxis. Similarly. Adorno spoke out publicly against the German Notstandsgesetze (Emergency Laws).

These Emergency Laws were to enable the German government to suspend certain basic demo­cratic citizens’ rights when protests and concrete opposition threatened to destabilize the basic order of the state. The proposed bill that would make Emergency Laws legal in Germany was passed on 30 May 1968. Two days earlier, Adorno had made a last-minute effort to derail the passing of these laws, formulating a firm rejection of these curtailments of civil liberties in an address entitled “Gegen die Notstandsgesetze” (“Against the Emergency Laws”) in the “Große Sendesaal” of the Hessischer Rundfunk (Hessian Broad­cast Service). (11) And as Adorno reveals in a November 1968 letter to the writer Günter Grass, he maintained friendly relations with the Social Democratic politician Gustav Heinemann—then West Germany’s Minister of Justice and later, from 1969 through 1974, President of the Federal Republic—whom he closely advised regarding West Germany’s progressive criminal law reform. Similarly, Adorno was instrumental in helping to work out a compromise agreement between the “IG Metall”, West Germany’s Metal Workers’ Union, and their companies. But while he supported these and other political causes, such as then Foreign Minister and Vice Chancelor Willy Brandt’s concrete at­tempts to loosen the iron collar of Cold War ideologies through a new politi­cal relationship with countries to West Germany’s East, he remained suspicious of certain “aporias of the politics of reconciliation” (“Aporien der Versöh­nungspolitik’’).

These included the politics that he feared would disguise the ways in which the Soviet Union’s gestures of political reconciliation with its satellite states could also be read as attempts at even greater domination of these slates. Here, he feared, the questionable and deeply problematic politi­cal interests represented by both Washington and Moscow found a possible way of supplementing one another in their expansivist quests for world domi­nation. Rejecting what he often denounced as “erpreßte Versöhnung” (“forced reconciliation”), Adorno confesses to Grass his “mounting aversion to any kind of praxis in which my natural disposition and the objective hopelessness of praxis in this historical moment may meet each other.” (12) Between the writ­ing of these lines and his death some ten months later, this aversion may have grown ever more pronounced in light of the heightening intensity with which the personal attacks against him were carried out.

In the interview reproduced below, Adorno explains, in more lucid and conversational terms than is characteristic of his formal writings, his concep­tualization of the political relevance that his theoretical work may have. For Adorno, the political impact of his work is not to be measured by the extent to which it enables unmediated social praxis but rather by the extent to which it effects a broad change in consciousness. Here, the oppositional pair of thought and action itself is suspended. The text belongs in the general orbit of similar meditations that Adorno devoted to this subject in the late 1960s, such as his texts “Resignation” and “Marginalia on Theory and Praxis,” and his conversation regarding Critical Theory and the Protest Movement with the Südeutsche Zeitung. (13) Indeed, there is no sentence in Adorno’s mature work that is not touched by the political implications of the thoughts that he expresses in the Spiegel interview.

In my English translation, I have attempted to capture some of the in­formal conversational tone of Adorno’s sentences, a tone that may strike some readers as belonging to a surprisingly different register than that found in the formal and rigorous precision of his written works, where his German prose, in its persistent self-reflexivity and performativity, often appears, quite strate­gically, to resemble no living language. The sinewy lucidity of Adorno’s spo­ken and improvised language in this interview cannot be explained fully by Der Spiegel’s editorial practices, as listeners to the recently published collec­tion of five compact disks containing a variety of his speeches and interviews can attest. (14) Adorno’s fluid style as a live interlocutor and public speaker—es­pecially as he developed it for his various radio, television, and mass print ap­pearances soon following his return to Germany from American exile in 1949 —should be placed into a dynamic constellation with his written language to assess the shifting contours of his imagined relationship to the audience.

I wish to thank Der Spiegel for kindly granting me permission to trans­late and reprint this interview.

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