2019 International Winter School

Adorno’s Critique of Hegel: Negativity, Totality and Theodicy

February 18th – 22nd, 2019
Application deadline: December 3rd, 2018

Guest: Prof. Ray Brassier

Submission Information

Adorno’s charge sheet against Hegel is severe: the sovereignty of the Concept transfigures the totality of historical suffering into the positivity of an absolute whose self-realization is the absolutization of suffering (cf. Negative Dialectics, Part III, II, ‘World Spirit and Natural History. Excursus on Hegel’). Yet Adorno’s most acute dialectical insights owe a profound debt to Hegel. Indeed, it is precisely the dialectical cast of his critique that distinguishes it from the anti-Hegel vulgate that extols fragmentation against totalization, difference against identity, singularity against universality, etc. Nevertheless, Adorno’s basic accusation is that Hegel’s privileging of identity and reconciliation over non-identity and the unreconciled signals a lapse into the undialectical affirmation of what is. But this stark contrast between affirmation and refusal should give us pause. It raises several questions, which this seminar proposes to examine: 

  1. Adorno takes Hegel's (notorious) assertion (in the Philosophy of Right) that "the actual is rational and the rational is actual" to be a capitulation to what is at the expense of what should be. Yet this is one of the Kantian distinctions that Hegel sought to subvert. Given that Adorno accepts much of Hegel's critique of the Kantian framework, what is left of it to sustain his rejection of Hegel’s alleged ‘positivity’? Is Adorno’s contrast between ‘positive’ (i.e. affirmative) and ‘negative’ (i.e. non-affirmative) itself an undialectical lapse which is subverted by Hegel? 

  1. Hegel's notion of actuality (Wirklichkeit) can also be read as negative through and through and his claim about its ‘rationality’ can be seen as subverting the possibility of transcendent judgment about what should be: actuality is intelligible precisely insofar as there is no transcendent arbiter securing the absolute difference between good and evil. But this is precisely what Adorno finds intolerable and why he wants to reintroduce a radical disjunction between what is and what should have been, which he calls “the standpoint of redemption.” (Minima Moralia, No. 153. Finale). Is this a theological move that reintroduces a radical transcendence exceeding the grasp of conceptualization? 

  1. In what way does prefixing ‘non’ to ‘identity’ index a negativity in excess of the concept? The negativity Adorno adverts to is that of senseless suffering. But Adorno is sufficiently Nietzschean to acknowledge that suffering has to be interpreted, and thereby conceptualized, to be recognized as suffering. If conceptualization is at work, so is the labour of the concept. Does this mean that even the senselessness of suffering is conceptually circumscribed? If suffering exceeds conceptualization, does it not cancel the possibility of acknowledgement?