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Language Without Soil

Adorno and Late Philosophical Modernity

Gerhard Richter

Publication Year: 2009

Theodor W. Adorno's multifaceted work has exerted a profound impact on far-ranging discourses and critical practices in late modernity. His analysis of the fate of art following its alleged end, of ethical imperatives after Auschwitz,of the negative dialectic of myth and freedom from superstition, of the manipulation of consciousness by the unequal siblings of fascism and the culture industry, and of the narrowly-conceived concept of reason that has given rise to an unprecedented exploitation of nature and needless human suffering, all speak to central concerns of our time. The essays collected here analyze the full range of implications emanating from Adorno's demand that the task of critical thinking be to imagine a mode of being in the world that occurs in and through a language that has liberated itself from the spell of an alleged historical and political inevitability, what he once tellingly called a language without soil.Adorno' s finely chiseled sentences perform a ceaseless gesture of thoughtful vigilance, a vigilance understood not in the sense of moralizing or ethical normativity but of a rigorous attention to the presuppositions of thinking itself. The volume's fresh readings conspire to yield a refractory and unorthodox Adorno, a suggestive and at times infuriating thinker of the first order, whose intellectual gestures sponsor politically conscious modes of theoretical speculation in a late modernity that may still have a future because its language and aspirations are without soil. Also included is an annotated translation of a seminal interview Adorno gave in 1969 concerning the relationship of Critical Theory to political activism. In it, the dialectical interplay between thought and action forcefully emerges.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-9

The renaissance that has developed on both sides of the Atlantic around the work of philosopher, sociologist, political thinker, musician, musicologist, and cultural theorist Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969) has outpaced interest in other members of the Frankfurt...

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1. Without Soil: A Figure in Adorno’s Thought

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pp. 10-16

What is the target of the critique practiced by Adorno? Adorno’s critique is targeted at what exists. But not because what exists is not as it should be, because it must be changed and instituted in some other way. In that case, critique would fall between what exists and what does not yet exist. It would be critique of what exists in the name of what does not yet exist. A critique that targets what...

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2. Taking on the Stigma of Inauthenticity: Adorno’s Critique of Genuineness

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pp. 17-29

‘‘The search for authenticity, nearly everywhere we find it in modern times,’’ writes Marshall Berman in his book on Rousseau, The Politics of Authenticity, ‘‘is bound up with a radical rejection of things as they are . . . the desire for authenticity has emerged in modern society as one of the most politically explosive of human impulses.’’2 Even those with less radical agendas, like Sigmund Freud...

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3. Suffering Injustice: Misrecognition as Moral Injury in Critical Theory

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pp. 30-51

Injustice is the medium of real justice. A just world should not be defined as one that is regulated by the norm of the equal consideration of every individual’s interest, nor as a world that is in accordance with Jürgen Habermas’s idea that justice is now...

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4. Idiosyncrasies: Of Anti-Semitism

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pp. 52-75

The often brutal condemnation of contemporary society in Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment is founded at least in part on their understanding of the devastating consequences of domination, including, but not limited to, that described by the determination of the subject by the economic. Thus, while...

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5. Adorno’s Lesson Plans? The Ethics of (Re)education in ‘‘The Meaning of ‘Working through the Past’ ’’

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pp. 76-98

Toward the end of the essay ‘‘The Meaning of ‘Working through the Past’ ’’—one of his most-cited works and probably his most-cited short essay—Theodor W. Adorno offers this unexpected proposal, one that would seem to contradict his later claim that he never said anything that was ‘‘immediately aimed...

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6. Adorno—Nature—Hegel

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pp. 99-116

My argument in this essay concerns Theodor W. Adorno’s surprising critique of G. W. F. Hegel in Negative Dialectics, surprising because for a brief interval Adorno appears to side with nature against Hegel. This is not precisely the move one might have expected of Adorno, for whom nature ought to have...

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7. The Idiom of Crisis: On the Historical Immanence of Language in Adorno

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pp. 117-130

‘‘The whole is the untrue.’’1 This phrase, one of the signatures of Adorno’s most unmistakable work, Minima Moralia, points to an irony that perhaps not even its author could have discerned. Notwithstanding the truth of its bitter rebuke to the Hegelian dialectic as apology for capitalist modernity, as a philosophical dictum in its own right it would itself have to be judged false, fatal to any aspiration...

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8. Aesthetic Theory and Nonpropositional Truth Content in Adorno

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pp. 131-146

Readers of Theodor W. Adorno’s texts, especially those devoted to philosophical aesthetics, can hardly fail to be struck by their chiastic structure. The aesthetic theory that Adorno develops constitutes not only a theory of the aesthetic but also a theory that is itself aesthetic, hence a theory of literature that exhibits...

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9. The Homeland of Language: A Note on Truth and Knowledge in Adorno

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pp. 147-156

In section 50 of Minima Moralia Adorno states that it would be wrong to demand an author to ‘‘show explicitly all the steps that have led him to his conclusion, so enabling every reader to’’ immerse him- or herself in the world of the writer’s imagination.1 But why should writers refuse to give readers insight into...

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10. Of Stones and Glass Houses: Minima Moralia as Critique of Transparency

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pp. 157-171

To mark the centennial of Theodor W. Adorno’s birth, in September 2003 the city of Frankfurt erected a monument in his honor on the university campus. Designed by the Russian artist Vadim Zakharov, the installation consists of a transparent glass cube housing a representation of Adorno’s study, including a section of wooden flooring, a chair, and a heavy wooden desk, upon which...

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11. The Polemic of the Late Work: Adorno’s Holderlin

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pp. 172-194

What does it mean to conceive of philosophy, in an essential and not merely incidental sense, as polemical? What is at stake when a philosopher polemicizes on behalf of poetry in order to salvage a polemic deemed to be proper to poetry itself? I want to explore these questions in this essay through a selective reading of ‘‘Parataxis: On Hölderlin’s Late Poetry,’’ an address to the Hölderlin...

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12. Twelve Anacoluthic Theseson Adorno’s ‘‘Parataxis: On Holderlin’s Late Poetry’’

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pp. 195-205

What follows is a transcription of notes from a seminar devoted to Theodor W. Adorno’s ‘‘Parataxis: On Ho¨ lderlin’s Late Poetry.’’1 The notes, themselves tentative, were presented tentatively at the time of the seminar, albeit in thesis form.2 I have decided to preserve the somewhat anomalous thesis form here, opting for clarity of exposition,...

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13. The Ephemeral and the Absolute: Provisional Notes to Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory

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pp. 206-226

Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, initially shunned or attacked when it was posthumously published in 1970, has become increasingly his most widely and carefully read work. While the interpreters are still in disagreement about the appropriate reading of the text, there is largely consensus about its significance as the culmination...

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Appendix: Who’s Afraid of the Ivory Tower? A Conversation with Theodor W. Adorno

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pp. 227-238

‘‘Philosophy, which once seemed passe´,’’ Theodor W. Adorno’s Negative Dialectics 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...


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pp. 239-292


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pp. 293-296


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pp. 297-301

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248070
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823231263
Print-ISBN-10: 0823231267

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2009

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  • Adorno, Theodor W., 1903-1969 -- Congresses.
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