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On Adorno’s Critique of Lukács

Timothy Hall’s “Reification, Materialism, and Praxis: Adorno’s Critique of Lukács” appears in Telos 155 (Summer 2011). Read the full version online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

This essay focuses on Adorno’s critique of Lukács in Negative Dialectics. While Adorno is generally viewed as a trenchant critic of Lukács, Adorno’s work testifies to a lifelong engagement with Lukács’s early writings, up to and including History and Class Consciousness. The essay looks at the seemingly contradictory critique developed by Adorno that Lukács’s concept of praxis was both idealist and romantic anti-capitalist. It was idealist insofar as a latent subjectivism in his thought led to a “productivist” account of the subject and the social world; it was romantic anti-capitalist in that it opposed an economy based on use value to the capitalist present dominated by the principle of exchange. The essay argues that there is no inconsistency, on Adorno’s part, in maintaining both. Romanticism as a critique is internal to the enlightenment, and the oscillation between idealism and the romantic rejection of it evidenced in Lukács’s work was consistent with the instability at the heart of the idealist account of enlightenment modernity. The essay concludes by speculating on the possibility of an object-centered conception of praxis in Adorno’s work.

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