Theodor Adorno and the critique of totality

Image: Chris Ofili,


The dialectic between the universal and the particular stresses Adorno's analyzes at all times

Called to the scene, philosophy in Theodor W. Adorno reappears in a melancholic and somber tone. At Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and his partner Max Horkheimer refer to Sade and other “accursed” authors calling them “dark writers”, an appropriate characterization for Adorno himself, since all of them “did not try to distort the consequences of enlightenment by resorting to harmonizing doctrines ” (ADORNO & HORKHEIMER: 1986, p. 111).

Let us also remember that the term “dark” traditionally accompanied dialectical thinkers (Minerva's owl flies at dusk). From Heraclitus, “the obscure”, to Hegel, dialectics distanced itself from the clarity intended by formal logic. in your monumental Aesthetics, Hegel insisted on the contrast between the misleading “realm of friendly appearances” and the “realm of shadows”, the obscure underground of essences to be unveiled by speculation – by the dialectic that does not want to limit thought to immediacy, to the first impression, to positivity , to the luminous appearance given to us by sense-perception. Adorno, in turn, wrote in his aesthetic theory: “To subsist amid the strangest and darkest aspects of reality, works of art, which do not want to sell themselves as consolation, should become similar to them. Nowadays, radical art means dark art, black as its fundamental color. A large part of contemporary cultural production is disqualified for not paying attention to this fact, childishly delighting in colors” (ADORNO, 1982, p. 53).

Adorno's saturnine and disenchanted thought, built in tune with Schönberg's twelve-tone music, has this musical reference to dialogue conflictingly with the dialectical tradition. His whole commitment consists in fighting the reconciliation of opposites that in Hegel would occur in the final moment – ​​the realization of the Absolute Spirit, moment in which the dialectic, at rest, would cease to act.

We are thus thrown into the classic distinction between the revolutionary character of the dialectical method and the conservative character of the Hegelian system. Marx, in the second afterword of The capital, presented himself as a disciple of Hegel, but affirming that it was necessary to separate the rational core (the method) from the mystical shell that surrounds it (the system). The same idea is shared by Engels in Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of classical German philosophy. Adorno, like him, does not limit himself to separating the two spheres, as he understands that the system contaminates, distorts and interrupts the dialectic. Therefore, he defends a new conception: a dialectic without system, “open dialectic” or, in his final formula, a negative dialectic that does not promise an illusory conciliation, a reunifying synthesis. Freed from its old affirmative nature, it becomes an anti-system that “would be outside the charm of such unity”, of reconciliation, since unity for him is always a violence that intends to subject the particular object to a class, thus making it , a mere example of a species, emptied of its own, unparalleled and irreducible characteristics.

A similar criticism had been made earlier of Hegel by Schiller and Feuerbach. The latter resorted to a quotation from Saint Thomas Aquinas to affirm that the wisdom of God consisted in knowing the details and not the mere generalization: God “does not consider the hairs of the human head as a single tuft, but counts and recognizes them all one by one” (FEUERBACH: 1973, p. 140). “Attention to detail”, to the particular and its consequences – the critique of totalitarian generalization – are imperatives that Adorno returned to thanks to the remarkable influence of Walter Benjamim. On this track, he sought to glimpse the truth that escapes the “enchantment” of the universal, the intended unity that everything wants to dominate in its conceptual network. The particular, thus, demands its rights, refusing to be a mere particularization, a transitory moment of the self-movement of the concept, the exemplar of a species submerged by force in it. About Hegel, he observed: “He lacks sympathy for the utopia of the particular, buried under the universal, for the non-identity that would only be if realized reason let the particular reason of the universal enter itself” (ADORNO: 2009, p. 265 ).

Unlike Feuerbach, Adorno never completely broke with the terms proposed by Hegel nor did he exclude the universal from his theoretical horizon. He, on the contrary, criticized nominalism and the idea that the particular explains itself by refusing comparison and integration in any parameter. Something similar to the child who, in order to get rid of a framework, argues: “one thing is one thing; something else is something else”. The Marxism that exists in Adorno intends to relate the observed facts to social determination or, better said, to the mediated relations between individuals and society.

On the other hand, the mediation of the general is not to be confused with the Hegelian totality that would subordinate the particulars to itself. Their place is taken by “constellations”, a term inspired by Walter Benjamin's studies of German baroque drama.

The non-identity between the particular and the universal is present in all moments of Adorno's work, unfolding in a set of terms worked systematically from irreducible alterities: nature-society; first nature-second nature; reason-reality; theory-practice; individual-society; rational-irrational etc. This constant sliding between contradictory terms brings surprising revelations in Adorno's sophisticated and precise analyses. But therein lies the difficulty of understanding his texts. Not by chance, Adorno wrote that, if it were possible, a definition of dialectic would be something like “thinking against oneself, without giving up oneself” (ADORNO: 2009, p. 123).

The twisted writing expressing a thought that turns against itself stuns the desirous reader of the appeasing understanding provided by a conclusive explanation that never comes.

Susan Buck-Morss remarked on the matter: “The fluctuating meaning of Adorno's concepts, their intentional ambivalence, is the greatest source of difficulty in understanding his works (…). This gives the negative dialectic the character of quicksilver: the moment one believes to have apprehended the question, it turns into its opposite, slipping between the fingers and escaping” (BUCK-MORSE, 1981, pp. 131 and 360). Aware of the difficulties of your gait, from the blackness of the real and its other, dark thought, Adorno turned head-on against Wittgenstein's recommendation, according to which one should only talk about what can be expressed clearly. For our author, on the contrary, “philosophy is the permanent and even desperate effort to say what cannot properly be said” (ADORNO: 1983, p. 63). To accomplish this feat, Adorno, as we will see later, had to break with the traditional methods of exposition/presentation (presentation) of philosophy, looking for support in the music of Schönberg, who suggested the concept of a model used as examples of the procedure of negative dialectics which, like music, intends to subvert the relations between theme and development.

Abandoning linearity, the “twelve-tone philosophy” put in its place a permanent tension that is embedded within his texts, leading them in a successive game of variations similar to those present in atonal music. This tension has as its backdrop the insistent rejection of the third moment of Hegelian dialectics – the appeasing synthesis. In his classes, Adorno confessed an “aversion” to that word, which sounded “extremely unpleasant”. Hegel's idealist logicism is dismissed as "a mere procedure of the mind to take possession of its objects"; Adorno, on the contrary, proposes a materialist inflection, as he understands that “the movement of the dialectic must always be, at the same time, a movement of the thing itself and also of thinking” ADORNO: 2013, pp. 107 and 119). The development of the spirit, in Hegel, was conceived through the image of the circle which, in its upward movement in the form of a spiral, seemed to return the result to its beginning. Against this procedure that, at the same time, presupposes the identity between thought and being and promotes the “return of the denied”, Adorno maintains the tension between the opposites, refusing conciliation. The negative dialectic, on the contrary, “has the task of pursuing the inadequacy between thought and thing”, because “if the whole is the false”, as he stated, “nothing singular finds its peace in the non-pacified whole” (ADORNO, 2009, p. 133). The materialist inflection, opposing false identity, turns against the straitjacket that dilutes particular beings. Therefore, “surrendering oneself to the object is equivalent to doing justice to its qualitative moments”. ADORNO: 2009, pp. 133).

When Adorno's focus is no longer philosophy, but social life, the critique of the false identity and submission of the particular to the general leads him to what he considers the center of Marx's thought, the chapter on commodity fetishism. . The commodity-form assumed by human labor imposed on society, according to Marx, the principle of false identity: the equivalence of all commodities, including labor power, to the abstract and measurable principle of value, a universal that imposes itself on particular beings. , a quantitative criterion superimposed on the particular qualities of the objects exchanged. By doing so, capitalism hides inequality: the fact that human work, in addition to reproducing its value, also produces a surplus, surplus value. Having forgotten the human origin of value creation, the products of human work gain autonomy and relate to each other as if they were enchanted. Reification is oblivion: alongside autonomous objects, men present themselves on the market as owners of the commodity labor force, sold and bought at its market value.

The objective inversion posed by fetishism crystallizes the existence of a second nature that overlaps the first. Social life has acquired an envelope that covers the essence of reality. This envelope for Adorno goes by the name of ideology – a layer that impregnates the real and is reproduced in theories that limit themselves to positivity, to immediacy, thus disguising contradictions.



The refusal of the Hegelian system that prioritized the domain of the whole over the parts led Adorno to approach the ideas of Walter Benjamin.

To assert the autonomy of the parts, Benjamin initially used mosaic, in order to, with that word, defend fragmentary writing. The book German baroque drama it is a mosaic of quotations so carefully arranged that the author hardly needs comment. Removed from their original context, the quotes gain a new framework, an unforeseen range of relationships. In later works, Benjamin, inspired by Mallarmé, replaced mosaic with constellation – a form of composition that compares ideas with stars. Unlike totality, which presupposes a closed, hierarchical structure, the constellation hints at a serial image – the existence of a grouping, a set of stars: each one is different from the other, refuses to be assimilated, shines on its own, is independent, it asserts its freedom by illuminating the darkness.

The spatial distribution of particular beings, the coexistence of the diverse, is opposed to the idea of ​​a totality in progress, to the triadic movement of the concept as it appears in the texts of Hegel and Lukács. As for the first, it is enough to remember the doctrine of the syllogism, in which the concept of universal crosses, in its temporal course, singularity and particularity. As for Lukács, his entire Marxist phase is marked by the primacy given to totality. In History and class consciousness, it is the “revolutionary principle of science” objectified in the class consciousness of the revolutionary proletariat – the identical subject-object destined to put an end to antinomies; in literary criticism essays from the 30s onwards, the totality is remade by the gaze of the novelist who constructs, according to the realist canon, “typical characters” living “typical situations”; in aesthetic theory, primacy is given to the category of particularity – the point of concentration that synthesizes the singular and the universal.

Adorno accompanies Benjamin in rejecting a totality that subjugates particular beings, also preferring the word constellation to, with it, reconstruct totality and also exemplify the procedure of negative dialectics. The preferred form adopted by Adorno is the essay, which “does not aim at a closed construction”, “does not reach a conclusion”, refuses to previously define concepts, as positivism wants, preferring to “introduce without ceremony and “immediately” the concepts , as they present themselves. These only become more precise through the relationships they engender with each other”. Relations is the word that defines the Adornian procedure for reconceptualizing a decentered totality, alien to determinisms. With this new aim, “the essay must allow the totality to shine in a partial trait, chosen or found, without the presence of this totality having to be affirmed” (ADORNO: 2003, pp. 25, 36, 35) .

In this anti-systematic perspective, the totality remains shrouded in indeterminacy – it is not Althusser’s “structured complex whole”, but he harbors with this author the distrust in relation to “determination in the last instance”, which led Fredric Jameson to affirm that, at this point , Adorno was “an Althusserian before la lettre” (JAMESON: 1996, p. 315). Thus, we are far from the historical totality that can be apprehended by class consciousness, as Lukács wants. In turn, the uncompromising defense of particularity against the pretensions of the whole serves as the basis for the critique of realism and the theory of reflection. In this way, Adorno approaches Benjamin's theory of allegorical art, directed both to the German baroque drama of the XNUMXth century and to modern art, which broke with realism.

In the history of art there is an old controversy between the defenders of allegory or realism (the symbol, as it is also called). Goethe synthesized the two procedures to defend symbolic art: “There is a big difference if the poet seeks the particular for the universal, or if he contemplates the universal in the particular. From the first, allegory is born, in which the particular is only valid as an example, as a paradigm of the universal; the second, however, is typical of the nature of poetry: it expresses a particular, without thinking about the universal or without indicating it” (Apud LUKÁCS: 1963, p. 427).

In another register, Benedetto Croce, understanding art as “lyrical intuition”, also rebelled against allegory. Seeking to differentiate “artistic intuition from mere incoherent imagination”, he affirms, as a good neo-Hegelian, the unitary character of art: artistic image “is such when it unites an intelligible to a sensible, and represents an idea (...) well, “intelligible” and “idea” can only mean a concept”. The allegory, on the contrary, has a “frigid and anti-artistic” character; it “is the extrinsic union or conventional and arbitrary approximation of two spiritual facts, of a concept or thought and an image, by which it is stipulated that this image must represent that concept”. This incurable dualism would be resolved in the symbol, because in it “the idea is no longer present by itself, thinkable separately from the symbolizing representation, and the latter is not present by itself, representable in a living way, without the symbolized idea. The whole idea dissolves in the representation (...) like a lump of sugar dissolved in a glass of water, which is and operates in each molecule of water, but we no longer find it as a lump of sugar” (CROCE: 1997, p. 47- 8).

Adorno did not develop a theorization about allegory as Benjamin did, but maintained an affinity with that vision that valued the autonomy of particular beings and kept distance from the oppressive subordination of the totality, as he found in the modern authors he admired. In this way, he can delimit his distance with the Hegelian legacy, with the defenders of realism and tonal music.

The distance is based on the awareness of the changing relationships between thought and art in the course of history.


art mutations

The heyday of bourgeois progressivism, opened by the French revolution, found its highest artistic reflection in the sonata form in Beethoven, with visible similarities with Hegel's dialectic: in both, the tension between the universal and the particular moment is predominant, as well as like reconciliation at the end of the walk. Kinship, yes, but not conscious influence. Adorno includes both authors in the same historical constellation.

The sonata form is interpreted as a rational construction made in the image of the revolutionary bourgeois world, “an intimate theater of the world”. It is structured, like Hegelian logic, from a relationship between theme and development. The theme, initially, is suggested and not fully announced, but, through the development of the music, it is resumed through variations. In the end, what was given in the indeterminate beginning is reaffirmed (like being in Hegelian logic, the “indeterminate immediacy”, so empty and abstract in its first appearance, but which through successive metamorphoses progressively reaffirms its identity in the midst of contradictions to reappear reconciled in the final moment of the Concept – but now fully enriched with determinations). Everything, therefore, concludes Adorno, is always the same. “But the meaning of this identity is reflected as non-identity. The material that serves as a starting point is made in such a way that conserving it means modifying it at the same time. This stuff is not in itself, but only in relation to the whole” (ADORNO: 1974, p. 51).

The “return of the superseded” observes Adorno, “confirms the process as its own result (…). Not by chance, some of Beethoven's most ideologically loaded conceptions aim at the moment of reprise as a moment of the return of the identical. They justify what once existed as a result of the process” (ADORNO: 2009, pp. 385-6).

The sonata form, reiterating the same, is interpreted as praising the ideals of the revolutionary bourgeoisie. The totalizing musical conception in Beethoven “maintains the idea of ​​a just society”. But the relationship between the static moments, which are always repeated, and the dynamic moments of music coincides “with the historical instant of a class that overcomes the static order, but without being in a position to surrender freely to its own dynamics if it does not intends, with this, to suppress itself” (ADORNO: 2009, p. 392). The interruption of the process and its revolutionary tendencies was accompanied, on the theoretical level, by the reaffirmation of the static (“there was history, now there is no more”), which will be expressed in the Philosophy of law of Hegel and Comtian positivism. Beethoven's genius realized as a work of art the promises that social reality refused. In the late Beethoven, the so-called “third phase”, the harmonious and conciliatory moment could no longer exist and, therefore, it was abandoned, an abandonment that, according to Adorno, cannot be explained by the composer's deafness in his last years of life, but as result of the historical transformations that buried the revolutionary ideals of 1789. The late Beethoven captured the new historical moment: “A process persists in his late work; but not as a development, but as a conflagration between extremes that do not tolerate a safe middle term or a harmony based on spontaneity” (Adorno: undated, p. 25).

Successive historical transformations, altering the material basis of society, continued to bring profound changes to music. In the XNUMXth century, the transition from tonal music to twelve-tone music took place. Art, now, starts to suffer the impact of the growing reification that left behind not only the harmonic totality but also the annihilation of the individual. There is no longer any place for realism in literature: the “problematic hero” is replaced by the dissolution of the character in Kafka, Joyce, Beckett and Musil.

When Adorno moved from the study of music, a form of non-discursive knowledge, to social theory, he had to return to the theme of exposition-presentation (presentation), central to dialectical writing. In the afterword of The capital, Marx warned about the need to distinguish between “the mode of exposition according to its form” and the “mode of investigation” in order to justify the procedure adopted – grandiose categorical architecture, based on history but not following its chronology. Adorno, in turn, proposed for himself, as a form of presentation, paratactic writing, inspired by the paths opened by the compositions of late Beethoven and the poetry of Hölderlin to, with it, interpret the shattered modern world (ADORNO: 1973).

In paratactic writing, terms are ordered without subordination. It is the opposite of hypotaxis, written in which the relationships between the terms are one of subordination and dependence. According to Adorno, language, as representation, is unable to express the truth hidden in singularities, in isolated fragments that resist in their refractory irreducibility to framing and subordination, to violent syntheses that suppress differences in the name of a forced totality interested in camouflage the contradictions.

A aesthetic theory, guided by this form of writing, was interrupted by the death of the author. In his letters to the editor, Adorno insisted on the need for a revision of the work which, perhaps, could make it more comprehensible. Adorno's central ideas, however, remained the same and are more clearly exposed in earlier texts. Marc Jimenes, in the book To read Adorno, stated that one of the philosopher’s “leading threads”, “masked by the paratactic method”, is “the issue of ideological denunciation”. Therefore, his interpretation of the aesthetic theory focused on the relationship between “art and ideology” (subtitle of the book in the French edition), a relationship that, in turn, refers to Walter Benjamin. According to Benjamin, art, after freeing itself from the religious function, became involved in the webs of social relations and their contradictions. In a famous passage, he stated that fascism aestheticized politics and communism responded with the need to politicize art. Adorno refuses this alternative and, on the contrary, defends the autonomy of art and its “uselessness” (absence of “function”), which keeps it, in principle, away from the mercantile logic, even knowing that such autonomy allows to insert art in the mercantile circuit and in the process of ideological domination. Thus, art in Adorno presents a permanent duality: it is, at the same time, an autonomous instance and a social fact, as it is imprisoned in the empirical reality from which it extracts its materials.

The distancing from the real, an attempt to escape identification through the affirmation of its autonomy guaranteed by the “formal law”, is the fulcrum for the critique of realism and engaged art, against which Adorno directed irritated criticism. Those two artistic forms would have made the mistake of getting involved with what they intend to criticize. Once the necessary isolation is lost, the non-identity becomes entangled and contaminated in the alienated world. The opposite mistake is made by those who defend the pure autonomy of an art that does not take social conditioning into account, such as the defenders of “art for art's sake”. Autonomy, affirmed by formal elaboration, is not for Adorno a gratuitous gesture, but a position taken, a refusal to dilute art, that qualitative sphere, in the reified world in which everything is related and equated through a measurable criterion – the law of value.


The whole and the parts

It is difficult to assess a work as rich and extensive as Adorno's. Its most relevant part, it seems to me, is constituted by the set of memorable essays – an appropriate form for an author who refused systematization. However, the brilliance and impact caused by the essay texts and their lean form are not repeated in the comprehensive attempts of more ambitious works such as negative dialectic, Dialectic of Enlightenment and the unfinished aesthetic theory. It is worth recalling the opinion of one of the greatest specialists in Adornian work, Martin Jay, who stated that in those more globalizing works Adorno seems to “walk in circles”, remaining faithful to his method of juxtaposing contradictory concepts and keeping them in permanent tension. The resulting impasses prevent him from adding new and significant elements to the findings present in his previous essays.

Complex issues remain on hold. It is enough to think here of the negative dialectic, constructed from the debatable assumption that Hegel diluted particular beings in the undifferentiated totality. And more than that: the belief in the universal as a sphere that “compresses the particular as if by means of an instrument of torture until it crumbles into pieces” (ADORNO: 2009, p. 287). Adorno recalls Feuerbach, one of the first authors to associate totality with totalitarianism and the suppression of particulars, and also recalls the subsequent criticism directed by several authors to the Leninist concept of “democratic centralism”.

The Adornian position is at the opposite pole of Althusser, who accuses Hegel not of crushing particulars in the clutches of a dominating totality, but, on the contrary, of being an empiricist who lets himself be guided by empirical data, without separating a real object from an object of knowledge. (ALTHUSSER: 1979).

If we take as reference the negative dialectic, Adorno's critique of Hegel focuses mainly on Reason in history and Philosophy of law, works of greater conservatism by Hegel, in which the work blocks the revolutionary possibilities of the method. As to the greater works — science of logic e phenomenology of the spirit – they are not the focus of Adornian criticism.

Hegel has always been an eternal puzzle for interpreters. In addition to the aforementioned opposition between method and system, the authors grapple with the dispute between a Hegel philosopher of necessity or a philosopher of contingency, between knowing whether he refers to effective history or to historicity, that is, to the phenomenology of consciousness (DOSSE: 2000 , pp. 180-5). It also discusses whether he was a conservative and not a liberal, as Norberto Bobbio wants (BOBBIO: 1981), or whether this opposition is false and meaningless, etc. (LOSURDO: 1997). The very Hegelian definition of the dialectic as idealist-objective divides interpreters who traditionally cling to the attribution of idealism or, like Lukács, see an oscillation between logicism and materialist ontology.

Adorno, in turn, confronts the negative dialectic with the Hegelian system. This is closely approximated with Durkheim's sociology: in both the primacy of the one and the adoration of society would be put into practice. The criticism of Hegel seems to focus on the concept of the cunning of reason expressed in the famous passage: “reason causes the passions to act through it and what thanks to which it comes into existence is lost and suffers damage”; but, “reason cannot rest on the fact that singular individuals have been harmed, particular ends are lost in the universal”.

Hegel intended with this statement a final harmonious encounter between the particular ends of individuals and the reason that, with its cunning means, set individual passions in motion: in this way, the universal is projected “in the particular ends and through them is realized” . Reason and passion thus constitute “the woof and thread of Universal History”, but this history is not the ground of happiness, but “the concrete image of evil”, a “butcher shop where individuals and entire peoples are sacrificed” . Faced with this scenario of horrors, and despite it, Hegel states that reason “repudiates the category of the simply negative and assumes that, from this negative (...) a permanent work will flow, that our effective reality constitutes a result of the history of the entire genre. human” (HEGEL: 2020, pp. 103, 52, 246 and 88).

One cannot forget that, for Hegel, it is the State that gives meaning to history. After all, only in this institution can freedom, which is the final objective of history, be realized, effective, since only in the State are the general will and particular wills fully reconciled. With its full realization, according to its concept, the State leaves behind the war of all against all (the “butcher shop”), making the social being able to realize itself in a rational-reality finally made fully social (= politics) .

This positive vision that finally triumphs over human wreckage has, of course, a religious background: the identification between the course of the Spirit and divine providence. Adorno delivered a devastating critique of this happy ending to Hegelian teleology. The very idea of ​​continuity of universal history is discarded for subordinating particular facts to the triumphal march of the unified spirit. However, this does not mean that he defends the thesis of the discontinuity of history, which would come to be understood as mere facticity. In its place, Adorno points to the history of a unity that, starting from the domination of nature, turned into domination over men and, finally, into domination over inner nature. Thus, he concludes: “there is no universal history that leads from the savage to humanity, but there is certainly one that leads from the slingshot to the atomic bomb” (ADORNO: 2009, p.266).

Adorno's catastrophism, the result of a unilateral interpretation, condemns the entire civilizing process en bloc, denying theses dear to Marxism such as the self-formation of the human race through work (which does not only mean domination over nature). The very notion of historical necessity, whose ultimate basis is in economic determination, is set aside and, with it, the vision of a contradictory totality structured from its material basis. Both Hegel and Marx would be idealists in deifying an interpretation of history that is based on the identity between reason and reality, in the first, and in the “primacy of the economy” to found “the happy ending as something immanent to the economy” in the second (ADORNO: p 267). In Adorno, the identity dreamed of by Hegelianism and Marxism produced the nightmare of an irrational reason: “the whole is false” which became an ideology that mechanically reproduces itself.

Ultimately, every civilizing process is denied. In Marx, it meant “retreat from natural barriers”, and this is not reduced to the transformation in nature, but also in man himself, who thus became a social being.

In the course of history, however, a contradiction materializes between the development of the totality (the human race, the species) and individual misfortunes. In the book Added value theories Marx speaks of the relationship between the individual and the historical process based on the differences between Sismondi's socialist romanticism and Ricardo's realism. And he defends the latter: “production for the sake of production means only the development of human productive forces, that is, the development of the richness of human nature as an end in itself. Opposing the good of the individual to this end is to assert that the development of the species must be stopped to ensure the good of the individual. “it fails to be understood that this development of the aptitudes of the human species, although it takes place at the beginning at the expense of the majority of individuals and entire classes, finally breaks down this antagonism and coincides with the development of the isolated individual; that thus the highest development of individuality is only achieved through a historical process in which individuals are sacrificed” (MARX: 1980, p. 549).

The dialectic between the part and the whole, the individual and the gender as two inseparable poles of the social being was worked exhaustively by Lukács in the Ontology of the social being. In an opposite line, romantic and regressive, is Adorno. His radical anti-evolutionism opposes the Marxian thesis of human emancipation from nature. The entire evolutionary process, which begins with the primitive community, is replaced by the speculative dialectic between myth and enlightenment that drives the narrative of Dialectic of Enlightenment that Adorno wrote in partnership with Horkheimer. The origins of this pessimistic view, according to Perry Anderson, would be in the philosophy of Schelling, who saw “all history as a regression from a higher state to a lower state of “fallen” nature, after a “withdrawal” of the divinity that had abandoned the world, and prior to an eventual "resurrection" of nature through the reunification of deity and universe. Adorno and Horkheimer adapted this mystical-religious doctrine and transformed it into a secular “dialectic of enlightenment” (ANDERSON: s/d, p. 106).

Adorno also criticizes Marx for preaching a “revolution of economic relations” and not “the transformation of the rules of the domination game”, as the anarchists wanted and also Adorno himself aligned here with Weber's theses on rationalization/bureaucratization. Domination, in this register, began to occupy the place that Marx attributed to capitalist exploitation. Ideological domination thus replaces class struggle.

 The second reference in Adorno's critique of Hegel centers on the Philosophy of law. Here, too, the thesis of the subjugation of particulars in the universal would be realized. This, represented according to Hegel by the political State, is only effective in individuals (civil society). Therefore, the State reintegrates in its universality the interests that until then remained dispersed and antagonistic in civil society, making this a moment of the State. There is a two-way movement: the State opens itself to civil society through what Hegel called the “private plot”. The assemblies, the legislature, the bureaucracy, etc. are recruited from civil society. On the other hand, corporations, unions, parties, etc., bringing together hitherto scattered individuals, make themselves present and recognize themselves in the universality of the State. We are, therefore, within the mediations of an organic totality. From reading this text by Hegel, Gramsci drew decisive political conclusions. Corporations, for example, are not the Universal's diabolical instruments to crush particular beings. They, on the contrary, are at the same time public and private, state and social entities. They are places where consensus is formed and struggles for hegemony. But politics is not on Adorno's horizons.

Marx, in 1843, also shared the thesis of the subordination of the whole to the parts in Philosophy of law as a result of logicist devices (the doctrine of syllogism) applied forcibly in that work. A few years later, he wrote to Engels stating that Hegel “never described the reduction of “cases” to a general principle as dialectic” (MARX: 1976, p. 291). And it was no mere chance that I reread the science of logic before venturing to write The capital.

Adorno, paradoxically, emphasizes the thesis of the dilution of particulars in the totality, as a characteristic of Hegelian philosophy and the basis of all negative dialectics. When he leaves the philosophical plane, as in the text on the cultural industry, for sociological analysis, he seems to confirm what he had criticized in Hegel: “it is only because individuals are no longer individuals, but mere crossroads of the tendencies of the universal, that is possible to fully reintegrate them into universality. At this point, concludes Adorno, “the cultural industry has malevolently realized man as a generic being. Each one is only that through which he can replace all the others: he is fungible, a mere exemplar. He himself, as an individual, is absolutely replaceable, pure nothing” (ADORNO and HORKHEIMER: 1986, pp. 133 and 135).

The dialectic between the universal and the particular strains Adorno's analyses, giving them original aims and also often leading him to insurmountable antinomy and contradictions. Not surprising for an author who invites us to think against thinking itself. Such an invitation, however, could turn against Adorno himself. When referring to Weber and Thomas Mann, he stated that in these authors “what is decisive is what is not on the map, that is, those things that contradict their own official methodology” (ADORNO: 2007, pp. 279-280). An in-depth study that contrasted the negative dialectic with Adorno's brilliant essay production would certainly bring surprising results. It would show not only what contradicts the “official methodology” but, conversely, how the methodology sometimes arbitrarily imposes itself on the analyzed objects – this is the case of jazz, whose intemperate criticism was made in the service of a method whose original intention was to develop according to the immanent analysis of the objects and not, as was actually carried out, arbitrarily framing them from a priori concepts.

Subsequent retreats from the assessment of jazz are very modest and could not go further, as they would clash with the rigidity of the method, thus putting Adorno’s own normative theory in check, which would be threatened by what “is not on the map” . For this reason, Adorno's unconditional admirers avoid criticizing texts about jazz, repressed as mere harmless slips that do not deserve to be remembered.

*Celso Frederico is a retired senior professor at ECA-USP. Author, among other books, of Lukács: a classic of the XNUMXth century (Modern).



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