Adorno and Existence

Adorno and Existence

by Peter E. Gordon


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From the beginning to the end of his career, the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno sustained an uneasy but enduring bond with existentialism. His attitude overall was that of unsparing criticism, verging on polemic. In Kierkegaard he saw an early paragon for the late flowering of bourgeois solipsism; in Heidegger, an impresario for a “jargon of authenticity” cloaking its idealism in an aura of pseudo-concreteness and neo-romantic kitsch. Even in the straitened rationalism of Husserl’s phenomenology Adorno saw a vain attempt to break free from the prison-house of consciousness.

Most scholars of critical theory still regard these philosophical exercises as marginal works—unfortunate lapses of judgment for a thinker otherwise celebrated for dialectical mastery. Yet his persistent fascination with the philosophical canons of existentialism and phenomenology suggests a connection far more productive than mere antipathy. From his first published book on Kierkegaard’s aesthetic to the mature studies in negative dialectics, Adorno was forever returning to the philosophies of bourgeois interiority, seeking the paradoxical relation between their manifest failure and their hidden promise.

Ultimately, Adorno saw in them an instructive if unsuccessful attempt to realize his own ambition: to escape the enchanted circle of idealism so as to grasp “the primacy of the object.” Exercises in “immanent critique,” Adorno’s writings on Kierkegaard, Husserl, and Heidegger present us with a photographic negative—a philosophical portrait of the author himself. In Adorno and Existence, Peter E. Gordon casts new and unfamiliar light on this neglected chapter in the history of Continental philosophy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674986862
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 08/13/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,196,370
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Peter E. Gordon is Amabel B. James Professor of History and Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and Resident Faculty at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction: A Philosophical Physiognomy 1

1 Starting Out with Kierkegaard 12

An Unlikely Cathexis 12

The Kierkegaard Reception in Germany 15

Adorno's Kierkegaard Book 18

Reading Kierkegaard against the Grain 20

Aesthetics and Interiority 25

Wahl's Études kierkegaardiennes 28

Kierkegaard on Love 31

2 Ontology and Phenomenology 37

Reading Philosophy in the 1930s 37

Philosophy and Actuality 40

Heidegger's Crypto-Idealism 46

Historicizing Nature 49

Anticipations of the Hegel Studies 54

Lukács and Benjamin 55

The Metacritique of Phenomenology 58

The Antinomy of Idealism 64

Failure and Nonidentity 70

Husserl's Progress, Heidegger's Regression 73

Toward Negative Dialectics 79

3 The Jargon of Authenticity 84

Existentialism's Aura 84

Satire and Secularization 88

"The Wurlitzer Organ of the Spirit" 96

The Miserable Consolation of Self-Identity 98

Grace and Dignity 102

Endgame as Negative Ontology 107

On Hölderlin and Parataxis 114

4 Negative Dialectics 120

Adorno's "Fat Child" 120

Rage against Nature 124

Toward a Primacy of the Object 127

Pseudo-Concreteness 129

Aura and Mimesis 136

French Existentialism 139

Kierkegaard's Nominalism 142

Heidegger's Critique of Reification 146

Ontology as Wish Fulfillment 149

Into the Looking Glass 150

Disenchanting the Concept 154

5 Kierkegaard's Return 158

Salvaging Metaphysics 158

Materialism as Demystified Idealism 162

The Family Scandal 167

Odradek as Damaged Life 173

The Mirror Image 182

Hope against Hope 187

Aesthetics and Interiority 188

Conclusion: Adorno's Inverse Theology 194

Notes 201

Index 239

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