restricted access 1. The Inability to Return: German Jewish Intellectuals after the Holocaust
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1 The Inability to Return: German Jewish Intellectuals after the Holocaust Theodor W. Adorno: Essay, Exile, Efficacy Theodor W. Adorno has figured quite prominently in recent discussions on exile and diaspora. Building on texts from Adorno’s exile in Los Angeles, Edward Said has established him as a paradigm of the émigr é intellectual whose critical acumen derives from a sense of separateness from his place of residence, a condition that enables the emigrant to historicize phenomena of everyday life and put them into critical perspective. 1 Los Angeles is also the focus of a chapter by Nico Israel that attempts to differentiate the widely accepted view of Adorno’s nostalgia for European high culture by analyzing his complex relationship to the city he loathed but also recognized as a prototypical site of administered culture. 2 Less has been made, however, of the meaning of displacement in Adorno after his return to Germany in 1949. This return was not easy. Apart from Adorno’s own doubts as to whether postwar Germany offered a climate of genuine reflection and discussion , his professional career moved slowly and was tainted by attempts to dismiss his appointments as measures of restitution and compensation . In 1953 he was given a “Compensation Chair” (Wiedergutmachungslehrstuhl ) and upon his appointment as a full professor in 21 CHAPTER 1 22 1956, several of his colleagues attributed his success to his status as a Jewish re-migrant rather than his professional accomplishments. 3 If the image of Adorno as a successful re-migrant nonetheless prevails , this might be so because he himself at times emphasized the measure of cultural continuity that was possible despite the rupture that the Holocaust brought about for Western concepts of civilization and subjectivity . In his 1965 essay “On the Question: ‘What is German?’” he famously bases his decision to return to Germany on the affinity between the German language and his own philosophical project. He seems to embrace an essentialist notion of an authentic language the expressive potential of which cannot be fully utilized by a non-native speaker: “At least the native German will feel that he cannot fully acquire the essential aspect of presentation or of expression in the foreign language.” 4 Yet upon closer inspection, even in this essay he comes to valorize the effects of a displacement that forever changes a person. If Adorno values the intimate knowledge of a native language, it is in the figure of the returning emigrant, who has lost the natural bond with this language, that he locates a form of authentic language beyond the “jargon of authenticity” 5 : “The returning émigré, who has lost the naïve relationship to what is his own, must unite the most intimate relationship to his native language with unflagging vigilance against any fraud it promotes.” 6 In this section, I will examine Adorno’s postwar valorization of diaspora by tracing his definition of the essay as a quintessentially diasporic genre and tool of critical intervention. In a close reading of his essay “Heine the Wound,” I will show how he deploys strategies associated with exile and diaspora in an effort to disrupt the systemic continuity of fascism in postwar West Germany. I will also suggest that Adorno’s essays shed new light on recent debates about the modes and functions of post-traumatic writing, and in particular the roles of historical reference and force of address in such writing. In their famous Dialectic of Enlightenment, written in Californian exile in 1944, Adorno and Horkheimer ground their valorization of diaspora in the historical experience of the Jews and the theological foundations of Judaism. As Anson Rabinbach has shown, they draw on the Judaic taboo on mimesis, or Bilderverbot, to propose a model of enlightenment that would not, in the name of historical progress, regress to the merely mimetic and blindly destructive. Rabinbach also provides evidence that Adorno and Horkheimer explicitly associate this GERMAN JEWISH INTELLECTUALS 23 model with the historical condition of diaspora in letters and notes exchanged during the conception of the book. 7 This valorization of the Jewish diaspora and the prohibition on graven images is predicated on the notion that both mark intermediate stages in the process of enlightenment , the critique of which is the main subject of Dialectic of Enlightenment. Mimesis, according to Adorno and Horkheimer, allows for a nondominating relationship with nature but also presents a step toward instrumental rationality in its attempt to control and even annihilate an other that is both feared and desired...