Criticisms

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 498

In the chapters on “The Ontological Need” and “Being and Existence,” Adorno critiques philosophers Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, jabbing at Being and existentialism with caustic wit. The “need” he identifies is for a materialism that is not “shrouded in vapors.” Hegel’s idealism, embodied in the mind’s increasing control of nature,...

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In the chapters on “The Ontological Need” and “Being and Existence,” Adorno critiques philosophers Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, jabbing at Being and existentialism with caustic wit. The “need” he identifies is for a materialism that is not “shrouded in vapors.” Hegel’s idealism, embodied in the mind’s increasing control of nature, threatens the world with “the very calamity [technology] is supposed to protect us from.” Adorno’s contempt for Heidegger appears in references to “the corny tremolo of the phrase obliviousness of Being’” and to the existentialists’ “posturing as metaphysically homeless and nothingness-bound” as “ideology, an attempt to justify the very order that drives men to despair and threatens them with physical extinction.” Heidegger’s Being is an “aura without a light-giving star.” Heidegger’s account of the word “Being” implies transcendence, not “entwinement,” the appropriate understanding; and it abandons dialectics to achieve an immediacy beyond subject and object. Heidegger’s assertion of a Being without entity is hocus-pocus, and in ontologizing the ontic, he made something out of nothing. Adorno’s final verdict is brutal. Characterizing existentialism as a “Platonic prejudice” for power without Gorgias’s saving devotion to the ideal of justice, he says, “Of the eternal idea in which entity was to share . . . nothing remains but the naked affirmation of what is anyway—the affirmation of power.”

Only some idea can be given of the tortuous arguments in “Negative Dialectics: Concept and Categories,” which often have a theological cast to them, their burden being a scrutiny of Kant’s and Hegel’s views on the subject-object relationship. Kant represents Western “peephole metaphysics,” in which the pure “in-itself” peeps out. However, there is “no peeping out” from the object, says Adorno. In Hegel’s idealism, thought (the subject) somehow creates, or is identical to, matter (the object), and the perceived domination of matter by mind becomes in Adorno analogous to the dominance of individuals by an exploitative economic system:When we criticize the barter principle as the identifying principle of thought, we want to realize the ideal of free and just barter. To date, this ideal is only a pretext.

To seek totality, or identity, is a false goal, for it is out of nonidentity that ideas can be “salvaged.” Dialectical thought—the negative dialectic—is the pursuit of nonidentity.

Responding to Lukács’s Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein (1923; History and Class Consciousness, 1971), Adorno asserts in his brief note on “Objectivity and Reification” that dialectics cannot be reduced to reification and that the true cause of human suffering will be lost in the “lament over reification.” Reification is a secondary worry, for people’s woes issue from their social conditions, not from their perceptions of reality:The meaningful times for whose return the early Lukács yearned were as much due to reification, to inhuman institutions, as he would later attest it only to the bourgeois age. Contemporary representations of medieval towns usually look as if an execution were just taking place to cheer the populace.

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