Re: [OPE-L] new publication: adorno and social theory

From: Hanno Pahl (hanno.pahl@UNI-BIELEFELD.DE)
Date: Thu May 12 2005 - 04:40:10 EDT

Re: [OPE-L] new publication: adorno and social theoryJerry, Rakesh and others,

thanks for Your remarks. What concerns those review on an Adorno book posted by Jerry: I would agree with pointing out mediation and totality as central aspects of Adornos theory. I'm not sure how to handle the question brought in by Rakesh whether there is any exteriority for Adorno. What I would like to emphasize is that it seems to me that Adornos recourse on Hegel should be seen clearly within the context of a theory of the modern society. In his last lecture, the Introduction to Sociology from 1968 (English translation: Polity Press 2002 !), Adorno tried to read sociological theories right in the sense Hegel read philosophical positions in his Phenomenology of the Spirit. Sociological theory-construction is regarded as the result of dealing with appearances. For Adorno the most important point seems to be that both subjective (Weber) and objective (Durkheim) sociology are regarded as one sided reflections of the twofold character of the capitalist society. In contrast to that program later inaugurated by Habermas in his Theory of Communicative Action - to link subjective and objective approaches somewhat formally - Adorno points out another approach: Following Adorno, the capitalist society is understandable and non-understandable at the same time. While the first aspect points to the necessity and right of hermeneutics (Webers comprehensive science of social action), the second points to Durkheims faits sociaux as emergent social properties non-reducible to subjective meaning. But instead of simply amalgamating both one-sided perspectives I think Adorno assumes that both Hegel and Marx already fulfilled this task more adequate: To reconstruct in a genetic way the mediation and mutual prerequisition of rational actors (as monades) and emergent structural properties (social forms in the sense of Marx).    

Rakesh: What concerns Sohn-Rethel: In 1991 the correspondence between Adorno and Sohn-Rethel was published in German (edited by Christoph Goedde), covering all letters from 1936-1969. The impact Sohn-Rethels ideas had on Adorno is manifested very clearly in a letter from Adorno to Sohn-Rethel from November 1936 in which Adorno spoke about Sohn-Rethels first expose as 'the biggest intellectual thrill since my encounter with Benjamins work in 1923' (my crude translation!). Of course this refers to Sohn-Rethels attempt to connect the axioms of Kant with those real abstractions taking place in the sphere of circulation. Nevertheless, this position changed a bit over the years (Sohn-Rethel had published a discussion note from a meeting with Adorno in the early 1960s). While Adorno still shared Sohn-Rethels intentions and goals I think he became more sceptical about Sohn-Rethels somewhat causal explanation of the linkage between forms of thought and forms of real abstraction.

Best wishes,


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Rakesh Bhandari 
  Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 6:38 PM
  Subject: Re: [OPE-L] new publication: adorno and social theory

  Hanno and others,
  You may be interested in this very thought provoking paper by Alan Norrie on Adorno and Bhaskar. It focuses on Adorno's critique not of Weber and Durkheim but Kant.

  I find Adorno's formulations often opaque (especially in Negative Dialectics), and don't think I would have understood them if I had not already read Pashukanis and Franz Neumann on the nature of the law. More than twenty years ago, Norrie wrote in defense of the former against important criticisms by Warrington. Adorno is certainly implicitly ambivalent about the critique of Kantian liberalism  carried out by Pashukanis.

  Yours, Rakesh

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