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Tag: Philosophy

Critical theory and experience: Interview with Detlev Claussen (2019)

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Detlev Claussen and Jordi Maiso – RP 2.06 (Winter 2019)
Translated by Alex Alvarez Taylor

[See Claussen’s biography of Adorno: One Last Genius (2008)]

Detlev Claussen (b. 1948) is Professor Emeritus of Social Theory, Culture and Sociology at Leibniz Universität Hannover. In the mid-sixties he moved to Frankfurt to study with Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, where he was actively involved in the protest movements associated with the political upheavals of 1968. In the seventies, Claussen worked as Oskar Negt’s assistant, with whom he shared the common project of opening up new avenues for critical theory without renouncing the thought of their intellectual mentors. Since then, Claussen has argued that instead of offering an overarching theory that can be applied from ‘outside’ of existing social reality, critical theory offers a variety of strategies that allow us simultaneously to disentangle and invigorate present experience. Claussen has written on a wide range of themes, including social theory, psychoanalysis, the sociology of science and culture, as well as anti-Semitism, racism, nationalism and migration. His biography of the legendary Jewish coach and footballer Béla Guttmann, yet to be translated into English, offers a prime example of how his published work cannot be separated from the wider context of his intellectual biography. Both an essayist and Adorno’s biographer, Claussen is one of the leading lights of critical theory today.

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A Lecture on Ethics (Wittgenstein, 1929)

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by Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1929

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My subject, as you know, is Ethics and I will adopt the explanation of that term which Professor Moore has given in his book Principia Ethica. He says: “Ethics is the general inquiry into what is good.” Now I am going to use the term Ethics in a slightly wider sense, in a sense in fact which includes what I believe to be the most essential part of what is generally called Aesthetics. And to make you see as clearly as possible what I take to be the subject matter of Ethics I will put before you a number of more or less synonymous expressions each of which could be substituted for the above definition, and by enumerating them I want to produce the same sort of effect which Galton produced when he took a number of photos of different faces on the same photographic plate in order to get the picture of the typical features they all had in common. And as by showing to you such a collective photo I could make you see what is the typical–say–Chinese face; so if you look through the row of synonyms which I will put before you, you will, I hope, be able to see the characteristic features they all have in common and these are the characteristic features of Ethics. Now instead of saying “Ethics is the enquiry into what is good” I could have said Ethics is the enquiry into what is valuable, or, into what is really important, or I could have said Ethics is the enquiry into the meaning of life, or into what makes life worth living, or into the right way of living. I believe if you look at all these phrases you will get a rough idea as to what it is that Ethics is concerned with.

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The Social Function of Philosophy (Horkheimer, 1939)

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WHEN the words physics, chemistry, medicine, or history are mentioned in a conversation, the participants usually have something very definite in mind. Should any difference of opinion arise, we could consult an encyclopedia or accepted textbook or turn to one or more outstanding specialists in the field in question. The definition of any one of these sciences derives immediately from its place in present-day society. Though these sciences may make the greatest advances in the future, though it is even conceivable that several of them, physics and chemistry for example, may someday be merged, no one is really interested in defining these concepts in any other way than by reference to the scientific activities now being carried on under such headings.

It is different with philosophy. Suppose we ask a professor of philosophy what philosophy is. If we are lucky and happen to a specialist who is not averse to definitions in general, he will give us one. If we then adopt this definition, we should probably soon discover that it is by no means the universally accepted meaning of the word. We might then appeal to other authorities, and pore over textbooks, modern and old. The confusion would only increase. Many thinkers, accepting Plato and Kant as their authorities, regard philosophy as an exact science in its own right, with its own field and subject matter. In our epoch this conception is chiefly represented by the late Edmund Husserl. Other thinkers, like Ernst Mach, conceive philosophy as the critical elaboration and synthesis of the special sciences to a unified whole. Bertrand Russell, too, holds that the task of philosophy is “that of logical analysis, followed by logical synthesis.” He thus fully agrees with L. T. Hobhouse, who declares that “Philosophy … has a synthesis of the sciences as its goal.” This conception goes back to Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, for whom philosophy constituted the total system of human knowledge. Philosophy, therefore, is an independent science for some, a subsidiary or auxiliary discipline for others.

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What is a Western? (Pippin, 2009)

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What is a Western? By Robert Pippin

It is generally agreed that while, from the silent film The Great Train Robbery (1903) until the present, well over seven thousand Westerns have been made it was not until three seminal articles in the nineteen fifties by Andre Bazin and Robert Warshow that the genre began to be taken seriously. Indeed Bazin argued that the “secret” of the extraordinary persistence of the Western must be due to the fact that the Western embodies “the essence of cinema,” and he suggested that that essence was its incorporation of myth and a mythic consciousness of the world. He appeared to mean by this that Westerns tended to treat characters as types and narrative as revolving around a small number of essential plots, offering various perspectives on fundamental issues faced by any society, especially the problem of law and political authority. Bazin expressed great contempt for critics who thought that Western plots were “simple” and insisted that the right way to understand such simplicity was by reference to the “ethics” of epic and tragic literature, and he called the great French playwright Corneille to mind as a worthy forerunner. The Western, he said, turned the Civil War into our Trojan War, and “the migration to the West is our Odyssey.” One could go even further, paraphrasing a German commentator. The Greeks have the Iliad; the Jews, the Hebrew Bible; the Romans, the Aeneid; the Germans, the Nibelungenlied; the Scandinavians, the Njáls saga; the Spanish have the Cid; the British have the Arthurian legends. The Americans have John Ford.


see also: Hollywood Westerns and American Myth by Robert Pippin (2010)

Gillian Rose (1947-1995)

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The Melancholy Science An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno

Hegel Contra Sociology

Dialectic of Nihilism: Post-Structuralism and Law

Judaism and Modernity

Love’s Work

Mourning Becomes the Law: Philosophy And Representation

Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: A Reappraisal (ed. Browning)

Gillian Rose died on the evening of 9 December 1995 after a long and courageous struggle with cancer. The hour of her death coincided with the closing moments of a conference dedicated to her work at Warwick University. Although her rapidly deteriorating health prevented her from attending as planned, the conference was inspired by the presence of her work, above all by its questioning of the division between the political and theological faces of Hegelianism.

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In Praise of Idleness (1932)

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by Bertrand Russell (Harpers 1932)

Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Every one knows the story of the traveler in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. This traveler was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

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All Things Are Nothing to Me: The Unique Philosophy of Max Stirner (2018, Zero)

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We think we have the measure of Stirner’s egoism: it is too tempting to dismiss it as a provocation whose political upshot is either reactionary libertarianism or infantile anarchism. Whether anarchist or libertarian in temper, Stirner’s egoism is assumed to be inimical to Marx’s communism. Jacob Blumenfeld’s dazzling reconstruction of Stirner’s philosophy overthrows this received wisdom. Blumenfeld does not just interpret Stirner’s thought; he appropriates it, thereby exemplifying its most radical injunction. In Blumenfeld’s memorable formulation, Stirner’s egoism is communism seen from the first person singular perspective. But the perspective of the singular is precisely what nullifies the bourgeois subject. Far from sanctifying the individual, Stirner seeks to unleash the nihilating power of the unique beyond the ego. This annihilating power follows from the unique’s productive consumption of every property, including itself. The point is not to replace the sovereignty of the state with that of the individual but to bring about a union of singularities capable of annulling “the thing-like quality of the world”, together with the phantoms of self, society, state, and God. Blumenfeld’s Stirner is the precursor of contemporary insurrectionists and secessionists, but one who refuses to subordinate insurrection to community or secession to identity. The result is an anarchist who subverts the elevation of groundlessness into another law and a separatist who destroys the ontological grounds of separation. What is generated through the union of the uncommon is communism as what Marx called the “fraternization of impossibilities.” – Ray Brassier, author of Nihil Unbound

Max Stirner is the bad boy, the black sheep of post-Hegelian philosophy. Often derided and dismissed, his philosophy of ‘egoism’ and his powerful critique of the ‘spooks’ of modernity have continued to resonate with those who are at odds with the world around them. In this brilliant book, Blumenfeld discovers that the ghosts of Stirner are alive and well, and that his message of nothingness and indifference speaks particularly to us today, living as we do at the end of history. Yet, as this book shows, rather than being the nihilist he is often characterised as, Stirner guides us along the path of a new ethical and political sensibility based on singularity rather than identity – something urgently needed today. Blumenfeld’s original and heretical reading shows Stirner’s undoubted contemporary relevance. – Saul Newman, Goldsmiths University

Max Stirner has been presented in many ways, but never as a punk rock philosopher. This is a refreshing take on a highly controversial thinker. – Gabriel Kuhn, author of Anarchismus und Revolution

Stirner argued that thoughts can and should be violently appropriated and made our own, if they are to be of any use. This is what Jacob Blumenfeld does in this book: provide an interpretation of Stirner’s philosophy that can make it truly our own. In doing so, not only does he illuminate neglected aspects of Stirner’s philosophy, but, most importantly, make it breath and palpitate for our times. – Chiara Bottici, New School for Social Research 

(order from: amazon  / uk / indiebound)

Destruction as the Determination of the Scholar in Miserable Times (J. Agnoli)

by JOHANNES AGNOLI (1990)

The determination of scholarly work as destruction originated with Johann Gottlieb Fichte; Holderlin drew widespread attention to the misery of the period. Fichte’s determination was based on the belief in the emergence of a new era; Holderlin, in contrast, found the period to be one of such misery that he asked himself what role, if any, was left for a poet . .  . READ PDF


[translated by Werner Bonefeld; first published in english in Common Sense 12, republished in Revolutionary Writings ed. Bonefeld 2003]

Can We Believe The Error Theory?

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by Bart Streumer (2013)

According to the error theory, normative judgements are beliefs that ascribe normative properties, even though such properties do not exist. In this paper, I argue that we cannot believe the error theory, and that this means that there is no reason for us to believe this theory. It may be thought that this is a problem for the error theory, but I argue that it is not. Instead, I argue, our inability to believe the error theory undermines many objections that have been made to this theory.

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Capitalism: Concept & Idea (audio)

The Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) presents:

Capitalism: Concept & Idea

150 Years of Marx’s Capital: The Philosophy and Politics of Capital today

As a counterpoint to the retreat of the concept of communism from history to ‘idea’, this conference will mark the 150th anniversary of the first volume of Karl Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy by asking the question of the meanings of ‘capital’ and ‘capitalism’ today as at once (explanatory structural-historical) concepts and (political) ideas.

In particular: What is the current standing of the different philosophical interpretations of Marx’s Capital? What light do they thrown on capitalism today? How have historical developments since Marx’s day changed the concept of capitalism? Has ‘neo-liberal’ capitalism rendered the concept of crisis redundant, for example? Is capitalism governable? Or is capital itself now the main form of governmentality? What is the precise character of Capital as a text – in terms of theory and in terms of literature? What does it mean to be ‘against capitalism’ today?

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The Failure of the Recognition Paradigm in Critical Theory

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by Michael J. Thompson (PDF)

Critical theory has been decidedly transformed over the past thirty years by the influence of ideas that, in many basic ways, run counter to the initial set of ideas and propositions that defined and shaped the first generation of critical theorists. Now, critical theorists deal with questions of human rights, dignity, justification, and theories of democracy. They have broken with a more robust, more insightful, and more radical project of understanding the mechanisms of social domination, the deformation of character and the deformations of cognitive and epistemic powers that explain the increasing acceptance of the prevailing social order and the increasing integration and legitimacy of pathological forms of social life. The break was effected with a move toward pragmatist themes on the one hand and toward a concern with neo-Idealist ideas rooted in Kant and Hegel. This reworking of critical theory has been centered on the elimination of ideas rooted in Marxism and into a kind of system building that champions the supposed self-transforming powers of intersubjective social action. Indeed, whereas Habermas has been highly successful at promoting a Kantian-pragmatist paradigm based in discourse, Axel Honneth’s work has been premised on a neo-Idealist return to Hegelian themes fused to pragmatist ideas about social action and self- and social transformation. I believe that this move has been lethal for the actual political relevance of critical theory, that it has drained it of its potency even as it has allowed for more professionalized success within mainstream intellectual and academic circles. The price paid for winning this acceptance, however, has been dear and it has compromised the very methodological and philosophical commitments of critical theory . . . [continue]

 A Note on Dialectics (Marcuse, 1960)

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[In 1941, Herbert Marcuse published Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory. In 1960, he added this new preface, which briefly explains the underlying basis of Hegel’s philosophy, and why Marcuse considers dialectics such a powerful approach to theory and politics. All genuine progress, he insists, requires the recognition of the negative as a social force and reality.]

By Herbert Marcuse

This book [Reason and Revolution] was written in the hope that it would make a small contribution to the revival, not of Hegel, but of a mental faculty which is in danger of being obliterated: the power of negative thinking. As Hegel defines it: “Thinking is, indeed, essentially the negation of that which is immediately before us.” What does he mean by “negation,” the central category of the dialectic?

Even Hegel’s most abstract and metaphysical concepts are saturated with experience—experience of a world in which the unreasonable becomes reasonable and, as such, determines the facts; in which unfreedom is the condition of freedom, and war the guarantor of peace. This world contradicts itself. Common sense and science purge themselves from this contradiction; but philosophical thought begins with the recognition that the facts do not correspond to the concepts imposed by common sense and scientific reason—in short, with the refusal to accept them. To the extent that these concepts disregard the fatal contradictions which make up reality, they abstract from the very process of reality. The negation which the dialectic applies to them is not only a critique of conformist logic, which denies the reality of contradictions; it is also a critique of the given state of affairs on its own ground—of the established system of life, which denies its of promises and potentialities.

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Critical social theory and the challenge of neoliberalism

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by Roger Foster Capital & Class November 2016

 

My article offers a sustained critique of the idea of critical social theory presented by Axel Honneth in Freedom’s Right: The Social Foundations of Democratic Life. My article articulates three specific criticisms: (1) the focus on normative relations of recognition obscures the class-based forms of power that pervade contemporary advanced democracies, (2) the method of normative reconstruction cannot make sense of the open-ended nature of class struggle that drives social change in capitalist societies, and (3) Honneth’s political and social prescriptions ignore the consequences of the failure of traditional progressive politics. My article makes an important and original contribution to the literature on Honneth’s recent work in two major respects. First, I argue that Honneth’s descriptions of the fate of the family and the market today betray a failure to understand the configuration of class power in contemporary neoliberal societies. Second, I make the case that the basis for a more successful theory of class power, identity formation, and social change can be found in the ‘first-generation’ critical social theory of Erich Fromm.

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I that is We, We that is I

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Hegelian Resources for Contemporary Thought

by Italo Testa

The demand for a “contemporary” reading of Hegel, through a translation of his vocabulary, and thus through a theoretical reform of the dialectic, was powerfully voiced in the first half of the twentieth century in Europe by Italian neo-Hegelianism, with the work of Giovanni Gentile and, particularly, of Benedetto Croce. The reform of the Hegelian dialectic championed by Croce—according to the well-known formula of the ‘dialectic of distincts’-lent new centrality to objective spirit, understood in historical, social and intersubjective terms, within a revival of the Hegelian idea of history as a history of freedom. But Croce understands history as an open process, which does not contemplate systematic closure through some form of absolute knowing. On another front, regarding the reading of the Hegelian spirit in an intersubjective vein,the influence of Alexander Kojève’s work is still very great. Kojève, in his lessons on the Phenomenology of Spirit in the 1930s, was the first philosopher to place the concept of ‘recognition’ (Anerkennung) at the center of the interpretation of Hegel, albeit in the context of an eminently anthropological interpretation of the dialectic and, as was the case with Croce, whilst prioritizing the philosophy of history. Kojève’s interpretation left its mark not only on the subsequent tradition of Hegelian studies in France, but also on French philosophical culture of phenomenological, existential and structuralist orientation, becoming an important point of reference for intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and later Judith Butler

But it is in the German tradition that Kojève’s intuition will be liberated from its unilateral aspects dictated by anthropological and existentialMarxism, to be presented as a possible, coherent model for the interpretation of Hegel’s practical philosophy. In this regard the tradition of Frankfurt critical theory, and especially of Jürgen Habermas, was decisive. Habermas begins, on the one hand, with the historical and social approach to the dialectic already matured within the philosophy of Theodor W. Adorno—whose Negative Dialektik (1966) represents another chapter of the twentieth-century theoretical reform of Hegelianism, based on opposition between the open and negative spirit of the dialectic and the positive closure of the system. On the other hand, Habermas reads Hegel also on the basis of the historicist, dialogical and linguistic approach to Geist  formulated by Hans-Georg Gadamer in Wahrheit und Methode (1960), rediscovering and reviving the continental hermeneutic tradition. Accordingly, Habermas, in Arbeit und Interaktion (1967), presents an interpretative model of the Jena conception of spirit as an ensemble of the “middles” of labor, language and recognition. Interweaving historico-philosophical investigation and conceptual analysis, Habermas essay—from which he would draw the ultimate consequences forty years later, precisely in an engagement with the new interpretations of Hegel developed in the 1990s—made it possible to read Hegel for the first time as the philosopher whose youthful intuitions anticipated and prepared the pragmatic and intersubjective turn at the center of the contemporary constellation: an anticipation of future trends, moreover, that for Habermas was immediately negated by the successive subjectivistic closure of Hegel’s mature system. The problem with this reading, however, was that it completely expunged the role of the Phenomenology—the very text that stands at the center of the current Hegelianism—while delivering Hegel to the metaphysically-oriented subjectivist tradition.

It will be, then, from the meeting between the theoretical work of the Frankfurt School and the exegetic and history-of-philosophy current of Hegelian studies—centering, from the 1960s, around the Hegel-Archiv in Bochum—that the Hegelian theory of recognition, thanks to the work of Ludwig Siep, by the late 1970s would enter the German interpretative tradition no longer as a particular aspect but rather as the general principle for the comprehension of Hegel’s practical philosophy. Reconnecting with Habermas’s reading and, in particular, with Siep’s studies on Hegel’s Jena writings, Axel Honneth, from within critical theory, with his Kampf um Anerkennung (1992) would then make a decisive contribution to the affirmation of recognition asa new paradigm of contemporary social and political philosophy; and this, in the same year in which, on the American side, Robert Williams’ first work on the ethics of recognition is published. This paradigm—again, in 1992—would be relaunched by Habermas and Taylor also within the dawning philosophico-political debate on multiculturalism; a debate that, not by chance, was marked by the meeting of a European philosopher with a North American one whose philosophical position was shaped by an intense engagement with the con-temporary legacy of Hegel.Then, 1994, with the simultaneous publication of works by Pinkard, Wood, and Hardimon, and of McDowell and Brandom’s major works, is the year in which American Hegelian studies and the neo-pragmatism of Sellars and Rorty began to forge strong links and to present them-selves jointly as a new model for approaching Hegel. In successive years also the European philosophers would begin to engage with this new American Hegelianism, an engagement whose first important consolidation would come in 1999 with the publication of a monographic section of the European Journal of Philosophy dedicated to the theme of Hegel’s Legacy and then, in 2001, with  a direct moment of wide-ranging and articulated debate on the occasion of the first Venice conference on Contemporary Hegel. . . [read more]

From Marx to Hegel and Back to the Future

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In einer Zeit globaler wirtschaftlicher Krisen, zunehmender gesellschaftlicher Ungleichheiten sowie neuer sozialer Bewegungen und politischer Kämpfe gibt es ein wiederaufblühendes Interesse an Marx und seinem Denken.  Für eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit unserer Welt ist eine erneute Lektüre von Marx tatsächlich von entscheidender Bedeutung. Das war der Ausgangspunkt der internationalen Konferenz von 25. bis 27. Februar 2016: From Marx to Hegel and Back to the Future. Hier haben wir einige der Vorträge dokumentiert.

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The Use of Bodies, Prologue (Agamben)

1. It is curious how in Guy Debord a lucid awareness of the insufficiency of private life was accompanied by a more or less conscious conviction that there was, in his own existence or in that of his friends, something unique and exemplary, which demanded to be recorded and communicated. Already in Critique de la séparation, he thus evokes at a certain point as intransmissible “cette clandestinité de la vie privée sur laquelle on ne possède jamais que des documents dérisoires” (“that clandestinity of private life regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents”; Debord 1, p. 49/33); and nevertheless, in his first films and again in Panégyrique, he never stopped parading one after the other the faces of his friends, of Asger Jorn, of Maurice Wyckaert, of Ivan Chtcheglov, and his own face, alongside that of the women he loved. And not only that, but in Panégyrique there also appear the houses he inhabited, 28 via delle Caldaie in Florence, the country house at Champot, the square des Missions étrangères at Paris (actually 109 rue du Bac, his final Parisian address, in the drawing room of which a photograph from 1984 shows him seated on the English leather sofa that he seemed to like).

Here there is something like a central contradiction, which the Situationists never succeeded in working out, and at the same time something precious that demands to be taken up again and developed—perhaps the obscure, unavowed awareness that the genuinely political element consists precisely in this incommunicable, almost ridiculous clandestinity of private life. Since clearly it—the clandestine, our form-of-life—is so intimate and close at hand, if we attempt to grasp it, only impenetrable, tedious everydayness is left in our hands. And nonetheless, perhaps precisely this homonymous, promiscuous, shadowy presence preserves the stowaway of the political, the other face of the arcanum imperii, on which every biography and every revolution makes shipwreck. And Guy, who was so shrewd and cunning when he had to analyze and describe the alienated forms of existence in the society of the spectacle, is equally innocent and helpless when he tries to communicate the form of his life, to look in the face and dissolve the stowaway with which he had shared his journey up to the end.

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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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Rusticating Marx

karl-marx-as-a-glacier

No more Marxism on the Cambridge syllabus

Simon Hewitt, RP 191 (May/Jun 2015)

In March the Philosophy Faculty at Cambridge removed a course on Marxism from its syllabus. This was in spite of significant opposition, including two student-led petitions. Along with another course on Power this constituted the entire coverage of non-liberal political philosophy, leaving coverage of questions about human society dominated by the liberal tradition. [1] At Cambridge, as elsewhere, political philosophy as a sub-discipline looks set to become the enterprise of writing footnotes to Rawls. [2]

In earlier decades courses on Marxism were not unusual, and research in the field considered credibly part of the philosophical enterprise. Neither is the case now; the seemingly inexorable decline has been marked by prominent departmental milestones, of which the loss of the Cambridge course is one, the ending of the federal University of London BA another. [3] It may be that the situation is better in departments with a continental orientation, where if nothing else Marx can always be smuggled in under the catholic auspices of ‘critical theory’, but these are in a minority in the UK system.

It was not always thus. It is a curious feature of the history of English language philosophy since Russell and Moore, generally not considered a radical affair, that Marx always found favour in some quarters. As partisan a positivist as A.J. Ayer was prepared to give Highgate Cemetery’s best-known resident a hearing, on the basis that Marxism entailed historical predictions, which were subject to the test of empirical verification. [4] The ethos of postwar British philosophy was receptive to a certain understanding of Marx, namely a scientistic and historically determinist one, even if such a ‘Marx’ was a caricature. Marx’s writings have always been dubiously situated with respect to the analytic–continental division in Western philosophy, a division whose clarity is in no way as great as the earnestness with which its boundaries are policed, and whose own material basis in the academy is long overdue critical investigation. The standard narrative about this division identifies Kant as the last shared ancestor of analytic and continental philosophy. Marx, like Hegel, postdates Kant, but pre-dates the cementing of the rival traditions, often reckoned to have taken place in the persons of Frege and Husserl. He awkwardly escapes the discipline’s own self-narrative, and ever threatens to shatter the all too cosy symbolic order of the philosophical academy.

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Karl Marxio Bros.