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4 - Enlightenment, domination and non-identity: Adorno's negative dialectics

from part II - German Hegelianism

Robert Sinnerbrink
Affiliation:
Macquarie University, Sydney
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Summary

Like other varieties of Hegelian thought, what I am calling “German Hegelianism” is characterized by a selective appropriation of certain concepts or themes, notably the concepts of alienation and reification. In this chapter and in Chapter 5 I shall explore the ways in which the German tradition of critical theory – from Theodor Adorno to Jürgen Habermas and Axel Honneth – appropriated key elements of Hegel's thought, while at the same time submitting the system of Hegelian metaphysics to various forms of critique. As we shall see, Hegel's critical justification of modernity, his “dialectical method”, and elements of his philosophy of history, all played a significant role in the development of Frankfurt school critical theory as well as being central targets of its critique. This chapter will focus on how critical theorists Theodor Adorno (1903–69) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) transformed these Hegelian concepts into their own radical critique of modern reason and the domination effects of consumer culture. Their transformation of the Lukácsian concept of reification enabled Adorno and Horkheimer to present a powerful critical diagnosis of the dangers posed by the rule of instrumental or subjective rationality in modernity (“instrumental” in the sense of employing reason as a means to achieving a given end, and “subjective” in the sense of subjectively chosen ends, above all, self-preservation). It also allowed Adorno to point to ways in which the dominance of calculative “identity thinking” could be overcome through recourse to the aesthetic experience of avantgarde art and the critical form of “non-identity” thinking.

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Publisher: Acumen Publishing
Print publication year: 2007

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