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Interpretation & Domination: Adorno & the Habermas-Lyotard Debate Author(s): Shane Phelan Reviewed work(s): Source: Polity, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Summer, 1993), pp. 597-616 Published by: Palgrave Macmillan Journals Stable URL: . Accessed: 15/12/2011 15:59
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& Interpretation Domination: Debate* Adorno & the Habermas-Lyotard Shane Phelan
University of New Mexico This article explores Theodor Adorno's philosophical method and argues that it furthers resistance to domination. The author compares Adorno's position with those of Jurgen Habermas and Jean-FranCois Lyotard and finds that it includes important elements that these later thinkers have abandoned. Habermas moves away from Adorno's insistence on the limits of interpretation and the importance of the particular toward total systems, while Lyotard's attempt to do justice to "the event" leaves him without the purchase for critical theory that Adorno pursued. Shane Phelan is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of New Mexico. She is author of Identity Politics: Lesbian Feminism and the Limits of Community and of articles in a number of scholarly journals.

Why return to Adorno? A glance at the recent flood of literature on critical theory, modernity, and post-structuralism reveals two avenues by which Theodor Adorno is bypassed, relegated to the realm of intellectual history. First, Habermasian critical theory takes Adorno to task for his "abandonment of reason," his retention of subject-centered epistemology, and the political quietism that seems to result from aporetic negative dialectics.1 Second, theorists hail Adorno as a precursor, but share the Habermasian critique of the philosophy of consciousness while claiming

for *TheauthorthanksDianaRobinandDennisFischman theirhelpin the preparation of this article. MA: 1. See JiirgenHabermas,ThePhilosophicalDiscourse Modernity of (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1987);AlbrechtWellmer,"Reason, Utopia, and the Dialecticof EnlightenMA: MIT ment," in Habermasand Modernity,ed. RichardJ. Bernstein(Cambridge, Press, 1985),pp. 35-66.

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598 Interpretation & Domination to have absorbed the best of him into post-structuralism.2 In this view, Adorno's focus on non-identity, the primacy of the object over the subject, and the "de-construction" of concepts of unity and identity are crucial steps in a direction that is travelled further by Jacques Derrida and Jean-Francois Lyotard. What these interpretations share is a failure to address the central paradox of Adorno's thought. Adorno manages to hold together the two impulses that later diverge into schools. His rejection of epistemology and of universalism foreshadows postmodernism, but his strong emphasis on the material bases of domination and identitarian thought align him with Marxism in a way that Lyotard, for example, rejects. Adorno provides an opening into the increasingly important concept of specificity, rather than simple difference or deferral. I will examine the place of specificity in his negative dialectics, with the hope that this examination will help us to articulate aims for political and social theory that have often been elusive within post-structuralist work. I will also argue that Adorno's constellative method can help us to think through the classic absolutist/relativist box that hovers over contemporary political theory and prevents non-totalizing theoretical defense of political action. Adorno provides a model of method that is neither "relativist" nor "totalitarian," but is faithfully dialectical and opposed to domination. I. System and Interpretation If there is a central idea to Adorno's method, it is the belief that "philosophy is not expoundable," that it is not a matter of deductive logic but of active interpretation of the world.3 Adorno states that the

2. See Rainer TheodorW. Adorno'sNegative DialecNagele,"TheSceneof the Other: tics in the Contextof Poststructuralism," Postmodernism Politics, ed. Jonathan in and Arac (Minneapolis: Universityof MinnesotaPress, 1986), pp. 91-111; MichaelRyan, A Marxism Deconstruction: Critical and Articulation JohnsHopkinsUniver(Baltimore: sity Press, 1982). 3. TheodorW. Adorno, "The Actualityof Philosophy," Telos, 31 (1977):74. There are severalextensive treatments Adorno'sthoughtand life. The readeris urgedto conof sult SusanBuck-Morss,The Originof NegativeDialectics:TheodorW. Adorno, Walter and Institute(NewYork:The FreePress, 1977);GillianRose, The Benjamin theFrankfurt Science: Introduction the Thoughtof TheodorW.Adorno(New York: An to Melancholy Columbia Press, 1978);and severalbooks by MartinJay: TheDialectical University Imagination:A Historyof theFrankfurt School and the Institute SocialResearch for (Boston: Adorno(Cambridge: Harvard Little,Brown,1973); Press, 1984);andMarxism University and Totality:TheAdventures a ConceptFromLukacsto Habermas Univerof (Berkeley:

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"matters of true philosophical interest at this point in history" are those approached not by systems or sovereign subjects, but by interpretation: "nonconceptuality, individuality, and particularity."4 This does not and can not mean the end of conceptual thought; interpretation works only through concepts. Interpretation, however, always leads us to its own edge, to a recognition of the inadequacy of any conceptual scheme. Johann P. Arnason describes Adorno's vision as one of a "less restrictive relationship between conceptualization and experience," though not a divorce; the aim is "a permanent self-critique of conceptual thought" rather than its elimination.5 The task for Adorno is to rethink the relation between concept and thing, subject and object, in such a way that neither the concept nor the thing is taken to be supreme over the other or, indeed, to be independent of the other. Adorno's interpretation rejects the forcible positing in theory of unity and peace, "the use of concepts to neutralize the diversity of experience and the tendency to suppress the tension between the conceptual and the non-conceptual."6 He has two objections to such a maneuver. First, he argues that thought cannot be reconciled to or in the world; the nature of thought is not assimilation, but negation of that which appears as given. He states firmly that "thought as such, before all particular contents, is an act of negation, of resistance to that which is forced upon it."7 In his view, "that which is forced" before any content is immediacy. Immediacy blocks thought by eliminating the distance between subject and object that thinking traverses. This negation, however, is subverted by "positive" thought, which blocks the avenues of resistance and critique. "Positivity" is for Adorno the name of colonization, of passivity toward authority, of acceptance of the given as the best of all possible worlds. His second objection has to do with the consequences of the attempt at harmony. Adorno does not criticize the desire for reconciliation, but he does object to the belief that such desire is, has been, or can be met by

sity of California Press, 1984). Most recent is Fredric Jameson's Adorno: Late Marxism, or The Return of the Dialectic (New York and London: Verso, 1990). Critical reading of these texts is required; they do not agree in their assessments of Adorno, though they share a general sense of his aims. 4. Adorno, "Actuality of Philosophy," p. 8. 5. Johann P. Arnason, "Cultural Critique and Cultural Presuppositions: The Hermeneutical Undercurrent in Critical Theory," Philosophy and Social Criticism, 15 (1989): 132. 6. Ibid. 7. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Continuum, 1973), p. 19.

& 600 Interpretation Domination in of through reality.Suchbeliefsparticipate the maintenance capitalism "the neutralization, confirming existentorder,of everyemancipathe by tory step."8 Thus, not only is a prematuretheoreticalpositing of a unified, peacefulworlda turn away from criticalthought,it is compliciof tous in the perpetuation a fragmented,agonisticactuality.As Michel Foucaultwill later put it, "to imagineanothersystem is to extend our in participation the presentsystem."9 For Adorno, such reconciliatory thoughttakesthe form of systematic of conceptualpresentation philosophy.In his view, the Enlightenment's of to the imperative capitalismfor the elimination barriers the market of insisted upon unificationand orderingin thought as well as in politics and economics. As RainerNagele has describedit, "universalhistory does not becomeproblematicfor Adorno becauseit contradictsempirical history,but, to the contrary,becauseit uncannilybecomesmoreand morereifiedreality."'10 this reason,systemis one of the primetargets For of his critique. Producing a new system "would be merely positing anotherdownright'first'-not absoluteidentity,this time, not the concept, not Being, but nonidentity,facticity,entity."'l Rather,his project is to "pursuethe inadequacy thoughtand thing," to resistthe driveto of
identity and unity.12

This pursuitand this resistancedo not entail the classicmaneuverof It that transcends historyand social structures. positingan individuality involvesseeinghow our subjectivity,our experience ourselvesas indiof viduals, is socially constituted. His project, he says, is "to use the strengthof the subjectto breakthroughthe fallacy of constitutivesubjectivity."'3The fallacy in questionis the belief that our conceptsadequately describeand, even more, constructthe world in which we live. Such a belief keeps us blind to the actual forms of dominationaround and withinus. "No elevationof the conceptof Manhas any powerin the face of his actual degradation into a bundleof functions";in fact, the philosophicalfocus on the free individualacts as ideology when the actual social conditionsare those of unfreedom.14

8. Ibid., p. 21. Practice:Selected 9. MichelFoucault,Language,Counter-Memory, EssaysandInterviews, ed. DonaldF. Bouchard Press, 1977),p. 230. (Ithaca:CornellUniversity 10. Nagele, "The Sceneof the Other,"p. 96. 11. Adorno,NegativeDialectics,p. 136. 12. Ibid., p. 153. 13. Ibid., p. xx. 14. Theodor W. Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity,trans. Knut Tarnowskiand Will (Evanston: Frederic Northwestern University Press, 1973),p. 68.

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Challenging this transcendental constitutive subject does not require the denial or destruction of any subject whatever. That is precisely what gives force to the notion of using the strength of the subject to break through the fallacy of constitutive subjectivity. What Adorno seeks is a reformulation of the terrain and nature of the subject. This involves using reason, intellect, and intuition to challenge given conceptions of reason, intellect, and intuition. Simply denying these would be to remain on the terrain given by the dominant social and epistemological order; one either is or is not rational, supports or does not support the subject, etc. It is accordingly very easy to look on the subject as nothing-as was not so very far from Hegel's mind-and on the object as absolute. Yet this is another transcendental illusion. A subject is reduced to nothing by its hypostasis, by making a thing out of what is not a thing. It is discredited because it cannot meet the naively realist innermost criterion of existence.... The subject is the more the less it is, and it is the less the more it credits itself with objective being. 15 Adorno seeks to shift the field on which these concepts have been constructed. Using the strength of the subject, the currently experienced self, he hopes to challenge the hypostatized subject that is blind to its domination. Adorno challenges the idea of the self-constituting, sovereign subject possessing the ability to reflect transparently upon itself, but also the more harmonious hermeneutical projects that acknowledge social and linguistic constitution while overlooking contradiction or fragmentation.16 His blistering attacks on Heideggerian philosophy extend to hermeneuticists such as Hans-Georg Gadamer, who are comfortable with horizons of meaning, with non-transcendental subjects, but who view life within these horizons as full and rich, not cause for anxiety and pain.
15. Theodor W. Adorno, "Subject and Object," in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, ed. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt (New York: Urizen, 1978), p. 509. 16. This contest of course has many recent instances: The Habermas-Gadamer debates are one notable front, but so in different ways are the arguments inspired by Foucault; see Michael Shapiro's review of Charles Taylor's Philosophical Papers, Vols. 1 and 2 in Political Theory, 14 (1986): 311-24; William Connolly, "Taylor, Foucault, and Otherness," Political Theory, 13 (1985): 365-76. Brian Fay recapitulates this struggle in his distinction between interpretive and critical social science, though his critical social science is less indebted to Adorno than to Habermas; see Brian Fay, Social Theory and Political Practice (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1975). For another discussion of this distinction, see William E. Connolly, Politics andAmbiguity (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987).

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The position of the subject is crucial for the project of philosophy and resistance to proceed, but that position is never free of internal strife and ambiguity. "The human mind is both true and a mirage"; it has access to and has indeed mastered the world, but it is not as clear, as orderly, or as free as it thinks.17 Adorno tells us that he seeks the restoration of the object, but that restoration does not involve placing the object on "the orphaned royal throne" of the subject; rather, "the purpose of critical thought is to abolish the hierarchy."18 Thinking is inevitably mediated by, structured by, and filtered through objective social structures, but this does not eliminate the reality of thinking. Thought is not free of the world, but neither is it simply epiphenomenal. I. Constellations Interpretation is structured for Adorno by the metaphor of the constellation. The constellation enables us to see the totality of a society, never as something essentially given or stable in its identity, but as the product of myriad social and historical forces. As the product of interpretation, constellations are not verifiable in the terms of positivist science, but Adorno argues that they have an empirical reality as images of the relationship between the social structure as a whole and particular persons, things, or institutions. To illustrate this point, Adorno gives us the example of the riddle. The riddle, he explains, has no "being which lies beyond it, a being mirrored in the riddle." Solving the riddle does not expose a hidden reality. Instead, riddles are compact clusters of elements; solving one "lights it up suddenly and momentarily."19 A simple example is the following: "what's black and white and re(a)d all over?" we ask one another in elementary school. The delighted answer: "A newspaper!" The delight comes from the shifting organization of conceptual elements that makes sudden sense out of an apparent conundrum. Just as important as the delight in this conceptual Gestalt is the fact that this solution does not "reveal" some deep truth about the newspaper; the newspaper, indeed, stands as a newspaper, after as before the riddle's solution. For Adorno, the task of philosophy is similar. The task of philosophy is not to search for concealed and manifest intentions of reality, but to interpret unintentional reality, in that,
17. Adorno, NegativeDialectics,p. 186. 18. Ibid., p. 181. 19. Adorno, "Actualityof Philosophy,"p. 127.

ShanePhelan 603 figures,or images(Bilder),out of the by the powerof constructing elements of reality, it negates (aufhebt) questions, the isolated of exact articulation which is the task of science.20 Thereis no "more" to be done once the riddleis solved;no "why is the newspaperblack and white and read?," no "why do humansprogress and regress?";these just are. Still, they are not meaningless.As constellations,ideas are broughttogetherin a way that illuminatesreality, not by means of grand generalizations,but through attention to the small, ordinarydetailsof life. In describing task of philosophyas "negation,"Adorno does not the meansimplythat philosophyis "opposed"to science.Indeed,he argues that "philosophywill be able to understandthe materialcontent and concretionof problemsonly withinthe presentstandingof the separate The sciences."21 differencebetweenthe two projectsis that philosophy does not restwiththe findingsof science,"at leasttheirfinal and deepest findings," as fixed, but ratheras "a sign that needs unriddling."Its of, "negation"is the continualinterpretation the challengeto, the questions and answers of scientific research.This is the heart of critical theory'sattemptto speak betweenscienceand philosophy. The constellationis a compact and powerfulway of expressingtwo the pointsconcerning relationof the knowerto the objectof studyin the of interpretation. First, "constellation"expressesactivity;like process with which Adorno places it, constellationis a noun "construction," that embodiesaction on the part of the subject. Constellationsare not simply "there";they "are" explicitlyas the productof the knowerwho arranges the elements. Thus, the idea of a constellation expresses Adorno's belief that all knowledgeis active construction, and more specificallythat the propermode of philosophyis interpretation. The second point embeddedin the idea of constellationis that the world conceivedby the mind should be taken not simplyas an ordered totality, but ratheras a stablebut shiftingcomplexof elements.That is to say, a philosophyorientedtoward totality does not understandthe and to fragmented concretenatureof thought. Ideasdo not "penetrate" the essence of things, but illuminatethem in their relation to other historicalforms of relathings;they are thus dependent upon particular tions, as well as the internalconstitutionof such ideas. Philosophygoes astraywhenit triesto makeof these relationssomethingeternal,beyond the materialworld. Returning the subjectagain, a constellative to mode
20. Ibid. 21. Ibid., p. 126.

604 Interpretation Domination & will acknowledge existenceand relativestabilityand densityof subthe which is to say, to jects while linkingthem to historicalcircumstances, accidents.Both the constellationas somethingperceived"outside of" the subjectand the constellationas the productof the subject'sactivity is are historicalconstructions. The world,includingthe interpreter, such a construction. The constellationthus providesorderwithoutsystem.Withoutorder, without patterns, riddles could not be solved, for there would be no meaningfuljuxtapositionsof elements. Systems, however, imply and hierarchies Being; but of expressnot simplyjuxtaposition laws, causality, in this, Adornoargues,they imposean inadequate schemaon the world. the to Systemsare antithetical the "irreducible," "concreteparticulars" that are lost in non-dialectical abstraction. the The idea of the constellation, methodinvolvingit, andthe perspective from whichAdorno valuesit originatewith WalterBenjamin.Benas of jamin developedthe idea of the constellation a description the relation betweenideas and phenomena.Benjaminstates that "ideas are to objects as constellationsare to stars," and explainsthat ideas have an existence completely independentof objects, that they "do not contributeto the knowledgeof phenomena,and in no way can the latterbe criteriawith whichto judge the existenceof ideas."22 This Platonismis but the metaphorprovespowerfulnonetheless.As rejectedby Adorno, ceasesto be timeless, FredricJamesonnotes, in Adornothe constellation The and insteadbecomessynchronic.23 constellation does not graspeternal truths,as for Benjamin,but ratherilluminatesa particular historical of elements. configuration role Benjamin's in the notion of the constellation opensus to the larger of Judaism.MartinJay has arguedconvincingly that an underquestion of of Adorno requiresappreciation the role of Judaismin his standing of thought,and this point is nowherebettertakenthan in consideration Platonismis alwaysfilteredor blockedby the constellation.24 Benjamin's resistances Greeknotions of representation truth, and these resisto and tancesreappearin Adorno's work. As one possiblesourceof these resistances,we can look at the differences betweenGreekand Hebrewthought and language.Whiletracing these differences, Thorlief Boman discusses the importance for the

22. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London: NLB, 1977), p. 34. 23. Jameson, Late Marxism, p. 60. 24. Jay, Dialectical Imagination, Adorno.

ShanePhelan 605 Hebrewsof the "configuration."25 configuration hereopposedto The is the form or the outlineof an object;Bomanfindsno wordsin Hebrewto he expressthe latterconcept.Similarly, findsno conceptof "boundary," suchan important idea for Greco-Christian thought,in Hebrew.Thetwo absences go together, for they both rely on an abstractionfrom the actual world that is missingin Hebrewlanguageand thought. What is presentinsteadis a consistentunificationof, or, morestrongly,an inability to separateform or shapeon the one hand and contenton the other. The distinctionbetweenthese two is only possible throughabstraction from the concrete, from a disregardfor actual perceptionin favor of "mental" perceptionin the Platonic manner.This is not a distinction between prelinguisticvs. linguisticperception,but is one of different kinds of languagesand, therefore,of differentsorts of perception. Consistentwith this refusal to separateform and content is another featureof Hebrewthought that clasheswith the Greek. Boman argues that while for the Greeks,"the one who seeksto know is not attempting to alter somethingor other in his environment, he is only tryingto but observehow it reallyis," thereis not in Hebreweven a wordthat we can Instead,therearewordsthat involveusage simplytranslateas "thing."26 by humans-tools, instruments-and a word, dabhar,that can be translated as "matter," but whose only relation to determineobjects is throughlanguage;dabharis " 'the word in spoken form,' hence 'efficacious fact.'

Dabhar means "matter," but also "thing" and

"word."28 cannotseparate thingbeingdiscussedfromthe discusWe the sion itself; realityis createdin and throughlanguage.Note that this does not mean that realityis createdthroughlabels, that thereis no material reality;this wouldbe a Greekconclusion.Rather,it meansthat language and matterare inseparable. These points surfacein Adorno's metaphor.The constellationis not simply"there," but is the productof humancognition.It has no eternal stability;it has no realitybeyondthe idea of the thinker.This does not mean, however,that it does not "reallyexist," or that social structures vanishif we thinkaboutthemdifferently.Thatwouldbe a Greekconclusion. It meansthat they exist only in and throughhuman activity, and that realityis not fixed independently humanknowledge,but existsin of
25. Thorlief Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek (New York: W.W. Norton, 1960), p. 156. 26. Ibid., p. 185. 27. Ibid., p. 184. 28. Dennis Fischman, Political Discourse in Exile: Karl Marx and the Jewish Question (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991), p. 44.

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interaction with it. There is no implication that our activity is "free" in any radical sense; structures are human activity, but they in turn shape activity, restricting and fostering in particular ways. There is no "outside" of the structure for us to be at, to choose whether to be affected by it or not.29 This again is why we must use the strength of the subject to break through the fallacy of the constitutive subject; we subjects have no other avenue. The "shape" of the constellation resounds with the Hebrew notion of configuration, as well. The constellation is not formed by, cannot be described by, its outline or shape, its boundaries, but by its contents, by its elements and their relations. This helps us to understand the distrust of analytic thinking that is common to Adorno and many poststructuralists. Analytic thinking rests on the belief in things, with boundaries that can be marked in abstract thought. Without that premise, a whole logic becomes impossible. Is A = A? It depends on what A is, what is happening to it, what it is doing. This is why Adorno insists on the dialectic as the model of thought; no thought that draws lines as though these were "real" beyond human praxis can be adequate to reality. Rather, he argues, "the clarification of particular concepts, as their complete definition, can be accomplished only through the totality of the fully developed system and not through the analysis of the isolated particular concept."30 HI. Totality and Domination Providing Adorno's constellative practice with a context thus helps us to see why "equivalence" is such a threat for him. When he charges that bourgeois society "makes the dissimilar comparable by reducing it to abstract qualities," he is repeating the charge of the Hebrew against the Greek.31There can be no equivalence that does justice to the uniqueness of things. This uniqueness is not outside of history, but is instead the
WithoutUnity:A 29. On the fallacyof inside/outside,see WilliamCorlett,Community Press, 1989), Politics of Derridian (Durhamand London:Duke University Extravagance Part III. Construction the Aesthetic, trans. Robert 30. TheodorW. Adorno, Kierkegaard: of of Hullot-Kentor University MinnesotaPress, 1989),p. 4. (Minneapolis: trans.John and 31. MaxHorkheimer TheodorW. Adorno,Dialecticof Enlightenment, Cumming (New York:Continuum,1989),p. 7. ArnasonnotesthatDialecticof Enlightenboth Greekand Hebrewthought,but not symmetrically; ment radicallydecontextualizes in elements Greeksociety this decontextualization shortchanges possibleemancipatory any and thoughtwhile "the utopianpromisesof Judaismare valuedmore highly" (p. 138). Indeed,at some pointsAdorno'srejectionof systemitself borderson the paranoid.

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embodiment of it. This understanding is the basis for his charge that Soren Kierkegaard abandons history even as he speaks of it: Precisely what constitutes authentic history, the irreversible and irreducible uniqueness of the historical fact, is emphatically rejected by Kierkegaard. According to his doctrine, this is simply because this uniqueness itself excludes the fact-on account of its uniqueness-from history.32 He adds, furthermore, that "Kierkegaard attempts to rescue the content of real historical uniqueness," but does so through categories that appear as non-historical.33 Thus, Kierkegaard continues the tradition of Platonism that can understand and locate things and ideas by their participation in the general or the abstract. This is in direct contradiction with Adorno's sense that the unique is the historical, or rather that the historical is the unique, the real, the concrete, the singular. History is not the summary of great events, the "ahistorical, general determination of the race," but is only real in the particulars that embody it.34The oppositions of the particular and the general, the unique and the historical, rest on a misunderstanding about the nature of reality. The particular is not the isolated, but is the unique, which exists always and only in a social historical context. This contextuality, however, does not make the particular simply an instantiation of a generality; "it could not be identified by placing it within a general category, for its significance lay in its contingency rather than its universality."3s Thus, while "universal history must be construed and denied," we need not deny historical unities. There is a "unity that cements the discontinuities, chaotically splintered moments and phases of history-the unity of the control of nature, progressing to rule over men, and finally to that over men's inner nature."36 As this passage makes clear, however, that unity is not "natural" or pre-ordained and is certainly not the united history of the progress of reason; the particular form that unity has taken in the modern West is that of domination. Adorno does not "collapse" the idea of totality, as Martin Jay has claimed, so much as he has redescribed it.37For Adorno, the threat of modernity is precisely that the world is becoming more and more "total," i.e., the room for individ32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. Adorno, Kierkegaard, p. 33. Ibid., p. 34. Ibid. Ibid. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p. 320. Martin Jay, Marxism and Totality, ch. 8.

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uality is shrinking as the world is increasingly organized and rationalized. The dream of totality is seen by him as part of the problem, rather than part of a subversive solution. While many commentators have seen in his famous statement that "no universal history leads from savagery to humanitarianism but there is one leading from the slingshot to the atom bomb" the signs of a totalizingly bleak picture of history, I would argue that what is manifest here is instead a resistance to what Lyotard will call "metanarratives of emancipation," the stories that make sense of history and legitimate current societies by reference to the progress of humanity.38 As such, his message is a crucial one, both for his age and for ours. Further, his statement is empirically strong: while the events of the twentieth century leave us questioning the possibility or benign face of humanism, the consistent "progress" and use of weaponry is beyond dispute. Even as the world is increasingly totalized and dominated, however, Adorno insists that this process can never be total. Foreshadowing deconstruction, Adorno turns to language itself to make this point. "Totality," he argues, "is to be opposed by convicting it of nonidentity with itself-of the nonidentity it denies, according to its own concept."39 The condition of non-identity is embedded in our language, which is always inadequate to express reality completely. It is in this non-identity that Adorno places his hope for the future. The reading of Adorno as a "hopeless" thinker who leaves us no way out of his own theoretical totality of domination fails to see the importance of this fundamental concept. The capacity for thought, which is also that of resistance, finds fruition not in system, not in identity, but beyond them, in affinity. We will never reach a reconciliation involving the identity of subject and object or of subjects with one another, nor should we hope for one: The reconciled condition would not be the philosophical imperialism of annexing the alien. Instead, its happiness would lie in the fact that the alien, in the proximity it is granted, remains what is distant and different, beyond the heterogeneous and beyond that which is one's own.40 His hope lies, not in a new system or general theory, but in the possibility of "a togetherness of diversity."41 The proximity of which he speaks is

38. 39. 40. 41.

Adorno, Ibid., p. Ibid., p. Ibid., p.

Negative Dialectics, p. 320. 147. 191. 150.

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that situation Derrida describes as "intimate distance," in which both the intimacy (rather than immediacy) and the distance of heterogeneity are crucial. Such proximity amounts to living cheek-by-jowl with that or those whom one can only begin to understand, and finding this living to be enough. Seeking neither to incorporate the "alien" into one's scheme of things nor to eliminate it, Adorno's ideal approximates what Gloria Anzalduia and William Connolly have each referred to as a "tolerance for ambiguity."42 While this may be disappointing to those who expect theory to provide blueprints of utopia, his criticisms of systematic theory should lead us to question our expectations rather than condemn his failure to produce. Adorno is relying heavily here on a conception of reason that allows for intuition. That reliance, however, does not translate into a rejection of the dialogical, as Albrecht Wellmer charges in reference to Adorno's view of art.43Intuition is the form of reason that is not yet fully articulate, that may never be such. It requires proximity because it cannot be annexed; however, that does not make intuition simply "internal" to a subject rather than intersubjective or communicative. Philosophical descriptions of it as internal, and personal experience of it as such, betray not a truth about intuition but the continuing subject-centered and logocentric interpretation of mental processes in modernity. In his critique of Henri Bergson, Adorno argues that Bergson shares with scientism the strict division between reason and intuition. While intuition is "sudden" and "ego-alien," Adorno argues that "whatever is at work in rational cognition also enters into inspirations-sedimented and newly remembered . .. [d]iscontinuity in intuition does honour to continuity falsified by organization."44 Thus, "intuition is not a simple antithesis to logic"; rather, it is that which reminds reason of its limits while participating in reason itself. Intuition is crucial to Adorno's project of using the subject to break down the subject; experience of intuition as "subjective" and "internal" is a social realtiy, not an epistemological one. He points out the connection between exchange relations and the experience of oneself as a transcendental subject rather than embedded, changing individual:

42. Gloria Anzaldia, Borderlands/LaFrontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987);Connolly,Politics of Ambiguity. 43. Wellmer,"Reason,Utopia, and the Dialecticof Enlightenment," 49. p. 44. TheodorW. Adorno,AgainstEpistemology: Metacritique, A trans.WillisDomingo MA: MIT Press, 1984),p. 46. (Cambridge,

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If the exchange form is the standard social structure, its rationality constitutes people; what they are for themselves, what they seem to be to themselves, is secondary. They are deformed beforehand by the mechanism that has been philosophically transfigured as transcendental. The supposedly most evident of things, the empirical subject, would really have to be viewed as not yet in existence; in this perspective, the transcendental subject is "constitutive."45 In such a world, intuition can only be experienced as unreliable even while seeming certain; thus the poles of rationalism and irrationalism. But Adorno's practice of looking for the cracks in the edifice of social and self-constitution leads to the awareness of "actual, live individuals" where philosophy and theory posit transcendental subjects.46 The practice of negative dialectics reminds us that a focus on the specific does not eliminate the ability to see history or social structure. Rather, it shows us the particular forces at work in the unities that we so misleadingly label "history" and "society." Intellectuals are called upon by Adorno to call attention to particular operations of power rather than to build a new grand edifice of unified theory. IV. Specificity: Between System & Event What exactly can specificity and constellations provide that later theories cannot do just as well-or better? Adorno's concern for totalization in social theory has been expanded upon by Lyotard and Foucault, among others, while his insistence on dialectics and theory capable of addressing social totalities, most specifically modern capitalism, has been retained by Jiirgen Habermas. Both Lyotard and Habermas have written of Adorno as trapped in earlier paradigms and aporias that they have escaped, but they have avoided these problems more than transcended them. Their failure to provide a method that enables political practice leads us to reconsider the difficulties they have fled. Habermas's critique of Adorno is by now better known than Adoro's work itself. Habermas finds Adorno trapped within the philosophy of consciousness, a trap he claims to have avoided. Further, he reads Adorno as an irrationalist, as one who rejected reason altogether. Habermas's defense of reason against those he takes as its opponents has been perhaps his least compelling work. His attack on the Dialectic of Enlightenment portrays Adorno as a simple Nietzschean (if there could be such a
45. Adorno, "Subject and Object," p. 501. 46. Ibid., p. 500.

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thing).47 He accuses Adorno of performative contradiction in using reason to demonstrate reason's limits.4 While he mentions paradox in this same passage, the force of the contrast between contradiction and paradox escapes him. He reads Adorno as a "pessimist" who had given up on modernity. Habermas, however, simply fails to come to grips with Adorno's thought. This is due to an overriding constitutional difference between the two thinkers: if Adorno is a prophet crying in the wilderness, Habermas aspires to be a legislator. Whatever their shared substantive concerns or even their shared relation to critical theory, they are fundamentally opposed at the levels of methodology and ontology. To the legislator, the prophet appears only as the isolated, ineffective, negative voice; when the prophet cries for justice and reconciliation, the legislator demands the program. If perhaps Adorno's charges of paranoia are excessive, Habermas's charges of irrationalism and pessimism certainly are. While Adorno has been charged by Habermas with a neglect of the intersubjective world, in fact in practice he relies more completely upon such a world than does Habermas. Adorno's intersubjective realm is not an abstraction, an object of discussion, but is the field within which his work makes any sense at all. While Habermas writes of communication within an intersubjective realm, his insistence on and belief in the possibility of consensus betrays the monological nature of his thought.49 Habermas represents the return of a reason ignorant of its own location and limitation. The dispute between these two illuminates one aspect of specificity as a methodological principle. While Habermas would endorse "specifying" the location and role of institutions and actors, his allegiance to systems theory precludes any real appreciation of the singularity of those actors and institutions. In his quest for a robust intersubjectivity, Habermas can give no weight (or only negative weight) to elements that disrupt or exceed integration.50 Further, Habermas cannot finally rest with

was work 47. In Habermas's reading,the Dialecticof Enlightenment (1) Horkheimer's when it was good-i.e. the first chapter;(2) otherwiseAdorno's, reflectingthe "weakand his nesses"that ranthroughout work.For a discussion refutation,see RobertHullotKentor,"Backto Adorno," Telos, 81 (1989):5-29. 48. Habermas,ThePhilosophical Discourseof Modernity,p. 119. 49. For a moreextensive of discussion this point, see DavidRasmussen, HaberReading mas (Oxfordand Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell,1990),esp. ch. 3. 50. See NancyFraser,"What'sCriticalAbout CriticalTheory:The Caseof Habermas and Gender,"in Unruly Practices: Social Power,Discourseand Genderin Contemporary of Theory(Minneapolis: University MinnesotaPress, 1989).

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Adorno's belief that critical theories are always addressed to a particular group of agents; as Raymond Geuss has observed, the later Habermas feels compelled to eliminate the specificity of critical theory and provide it with quasi-transcendental foundations, thus substituting grammatical structure for intersubjectivity.51 Lyotard shares with Habermas the view of Adorno's pessimism and of his subject-centeredness. He characterizes Adorno as the proponent of a negative theology, a theology appropriate to the carnage of World War II, but argues that that moment is past: in language reminiscent of Friedrich Nietzsche, he asserts that "we have the advantage over Adorno of living in a capitalism that is more energetic, more cynical, less tragic."52 In this new capitalism, "the tragic gives way to the parodic" as representation is collapsed upon itself (or the social is placed entirely within representation). Lyotard has no patience with Adorno the prophet. If Habermas is the social theorist as legislator, then Lyotard is the philosopher as jester. Neither has any patience with the prophet. If Habermas wants Adorno to buck up and get to work, Lyotard wants him to stop worrying and have some fun. Lyotard argues that Adorno's resistance to capitalism remains ensnared within capitalist rules of representation and equivalence, and he moves instead toward revealing "another libidinal apparatus" that moves in a way "incommensurable with that of kapital."53 Lyotard heigntens the epigrammatic, the singular, seeking to free objects from determination within systems of representation. He moves past Adorno's care for the specificity of elements within a constellation to an effort to detach elements from any field whatever. In many ways, Lyotard provides a refuge from Habermas's legislative compulsion, but he moves beyond specificity to decontextualized singularity. The "eventhood of the event" is an important corrective to magisterial theory, but in Lyotard's hands it threatens to go beyond micropolitics to no politics. As Nancy Fraser and Linda Nicholson describe it, Lyotard "throws out the baby of large historical narrative with the bathwater of philosophical metanarrative and the baby of social-theoretical analysis of large-scale inequalities with the bathwater of reductive Marxian class theory."54
51. Raymond Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 64. 52. Jean-Francois Lyotard, "Adorno as the Devil," Telos, 19 (1974): 128. 53. Jean-Francois Lyotard, Derive a partir de Marx et Freud (Paris: Union Generale D'Editions 10/18, 1973), p. 17. 54. Nancy Fraser and Linda J. Nicholson, "Social Theory Without Philosophy: An Encounter Between Feminism and Postmodernism," in Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda J. Nicholson (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 25.

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To the extent that Lyotard avoids this problem, he does so through the same mechanism that Adorno endorses. Lyotard states that "this thing that I call here the differend bears in the Marxist 'tradition' a 'wellknown' name"; "it is that of practice or 'praxis.' "55Lyotard backs off from the strong statement that there is no universality and no resolution, and instead argues that "universality cannot be expressed in words, unless it be unilaterally";56"the differend cannot be resolved by speculation or in ethics; it must be resolved in 'practice,' in what Marx called critical practice."57 This is precisely Adorno's point. The "practice" invoked here is not simply "action" as that is so often understood, but is the practice of interpretation of constellations. Adorno neither agrees with the later Habermasian transcendental "resolution," in which he would see "the liberal fiction of the universal communicability of every thought," nor with the strongest Lyotardian formulation, in which discourse inevitably does injustice to the event.58 Adorno's constellations allow for events to shine forth without abandoning theory altogether. Specificity is not particularity or singularity, not isolated eventhood, but traces patterns without grand systems. None of this is meant to suggest that Adorno had nothing to learn from anyone else, or that we should read Adorno instead of Habermas, Lyotard, or anyone else. It simply means that Adorno is not dead, subsumed within or surpassed by later thinkers. As the prophet of late capitalism, Adorno has a unique place amid the legislators and the jesters. Adorno's practice was theoretical and isolated, but he never abandoned the hope of political action and change. When the prophet cries "We are lost!," the aim is not resignation but action. Failure to recognize this is due perhaps to society's rejection of the prophet rather than deficiencies in the prophet's message. The nature of the change desired is much too vague for orthodox Marxists, even for Habermasian critical theorists, but Adorno provides a real indication of his aims. A new categorical imperative has been imposed by Hitler upon unfree mankind: to arrange their thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself, so that nothing similar will happen. When we want to find reasons for it, this imperative is as refractory
55. Jean-Franqois Law, Form, Event (New York: Columbia Lyotard,Peregrinations: Press, 1988),p. 61. University 56. Ibid. 57. Ibid., p. 62. 58. TheodorW. Adorno, MinimaMoralia,trans. E. F. N. Jephcott(London:Unwin BrothersLtd., 1978),p. 80.


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as the given one of Kant was once upon a time. Dealing discursively with it would be an outrage, for the new imperative gives us a bodily sensation of the moral addendum-bodily, because it is not the practical abhorrence of the unbearable physical agony to which individuals are exposed even with individuality about to vanish as a form of mental reflection. It is in the unvarnished materialistic motive only that morality survives.59 This thought, which had been developing in Adorno before Auschwitz as well as after, tells us much of the reasons for, as well as the limitations of, interpretive practice. To fully understand it, we must ask, what happened at Auschwitz? We know of the torture and extermination, the attempts to annihilate human personality as well as races and peoples. But even before the event Adorno understood this attempt as part of identitarianism run wild, as paranoia. Such paranoia can only understand reconciliation as annexat tion, as imperialism. Preventing Auschwitz requires that we head off such paranoia, in its theoretical forms as well as political ones, for the! two are never really separate. To this extent, interpretation itself is a political practice, is political action. Crying out for the pain of the world is political action. The crying that Adorno urges here is perhaps surprising. The focus on the pain of bodies appears here as the last refuge of morality because every other form of domination has become too mundane, too everyday, and too embedded in societies to form the basis for judgment. Bodies, in| their singularity and specficity, are here the "objects" that can bring down the transcendental, paranoid subject. It is for this reason that Adorno argues against the law's rule of equivalence. Law "is a preservative of terror" because it provides statutory authority for terror over "its" citizens, thus blinding us to the evidence of bodies, and also because it cloaks inequalities beneath a veneer of equality.60 Thus, the political action he might endorse is not simply parliamentary, seeking to change laws and enact better ones. Rather, his "reconciled condition" requires a rethinking of law itself, of its implication in domination. He casts the whole class of legislators under suspicion. What, then? Is this a call to social or cultural change without attention to the juridical sphere? Adorno is almost opaque at this point, but I suspect his answer would be, "no." For all their dangers, laws can also operate to ban the bodily assaults that are one of the overwhelming lega59. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p. 365. 60. Ibid., p. 309.

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cies of Auschwitz. He insists, however, that laws are always dangerous, that in modernity they deform the right. At this point, two arguments seem plausible. In the first, familiar scenario, Adorno "gives up" on the world, whether in his enormous guilt of survival or in his basically mandarin instincts. Indeed, were it not for his new categorical imperative, that is a plausible view. Let me suggest another. Perhaps Adorno is remaining faithful to his conviction that legislation is an inappropriate model for philosophy, and that the specific actions and thoughts required will be found, only to be challenged again, in processes of dialogue rather than monological statements. Rather than revealing exhaustion, Adorno's silence on what actions to take (he is more vocal on which to avoid) is consonant with his desire to find "proximity" to the alien within and without our selves. He is akin to Lyotard in this, but he does not move, as Lyotard often seems to, toward valorizing the existing world for lack of another. Adorno's silence is always the silence of negation, of the demand for happiness that will not, can not accommodate itself to less.

V. Conclusion Recognition of constellations requires the ability to accept introspection and implication in a system that is not of one's own making, or that perhaps is not fully endorsable, and yet within which one inescapably lives one's life. It is to see domination within oneself as well as without, or, to use less bifurcated language, to recognize one's position as a node in the network of meaning and power that is made visible by constellative work. The paranoid personality is precisely that one closest to its own destabilization without the resources or ability to tolerate that instability, resulting in a flight from internal probing toward external threatperception. Adorno's critique of reason leads us not to nihilism, but to the recovery of forms of reason that enable us to resist domination and foster reciprocity. As an enterprise involving actual others, theory must be local and specific, thereby providing the possibility of actual democratic decision making rather than submissive endorsement of a "consensual" order. This specificity, however, must not sacrifice all generalizations; without generalizations conceptualization and argument are impossible. Indeed, the opposition between general and particular is seen by Adorno to be illusory at some point; generality without specificity is meaningless

616 Interpretation Domination & in its abstraction,just as specificitywithout generalization unintelis


Politics is alwaysa limitedenterprise, ironic and tragic. It alternately is limitedby language,by the limitsof possibilityembodiedin particular discourses,by materialresources.It is simplynot the case that common actionwill resolveall choicesso that the best becomesthe only important cannotreally good, or that we will all agree.The systematicphilosopher this. Adorno'sstrengthis his refusalto abandoneitherside acknowledge of the tension. This abandonment occurred,however,in the generahas tion following his. The dispute between critical theorists and postmodernsis at least partlya battlebetweenuniversality particularity, and with both sides resistingtragedy.Both camps try to fall to one side or anotherof the Adornianaporia:Habermas seeksthe end of domination in reason and speech that come to agreement,while Lyotard seeks guerillaresistanceto univocality.Adorno stands in the middle, aware that his words always say more than he means but never abandoning reason as Habermassuggests. Thus, we may learn from his attemptsat non-universal history and He providesus with models and warningsfor developing philosophy. historicallyspecific argumentsagainst oppressionand domination.An insistenceon specificityremindsus that we do exist in particular times and places, that these places/times have particularpower formations that may not haveexistedearlierand may not last forever,and it encouragesus to developformsof reasonand actionthat addressour needsand problems rather than those of another place/time. Surely this is "reason" enoughto reconsider Adorno's place in politicaltheory.
61. Ibid., p. 146.