Actual Images of the Russian Revolution of 1917: Dynamics and Perspectives

The following paper was presented at the conference “After the End of Revolution: Constitutional Order amid the Crisis of Democracy,” co-organized by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute and the National Research University Higher School of Economics, September 1–2, 2017, Moscow. For additional details about the conference as well as other upcoming events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

It is important not only to analyze the legacy of the Russian Revolution of 1917 from the point of view of historical science, but also to bear in mind its impact on the modern information and ideological processes. Discussing the Russian Revolution has become a way to think and talk about today, and different approaches to the discussion correspond to different views on modernity and different political ethics. There are five approaches to the evaluation of the Russian Revolution in the ideological space of today: the classic liberal, the neoliberal, the Western left, the Russian left, and the traditionalist approach.

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Why Lukács Still Matters

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Linas Jokubaitis looks at Paul Piccone’s “Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness Half a Century Later,” from Telos 4 (Fall 1969).

In 1969, when Paul Piccone wrote “Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness Half a Century Later,” almost fifty years had passed since the publication of Georg Lukács’s magnum opus. Piccone wrote this essay to mark that anniversary, and he argued that this work was an “underground classic.” Moreover, he asserted that this book was essential for any analysis of modern thought. According to Piccone, everyone attempting to understand and overcome the ideological crisis of Marxism would be wise to consult this book.

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Adorno on Astrology

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Sunil Kumar looks at Theodor W. Adorno’s “The Stars Down to Earth: The Los Angeles Times Astrology Column,” from Telos 19 (Spring 1974).

“The Stars Down to Earth” is the content analysis of an astrology column that Adorno wrote during a return visit to the United States from Germany in 1952–53 and appeared in translation in Telos in 1974. The column under scrutiny called, “Astrological Forecasts,” was written by Carroll Righter and appeared in the Los Angeles Times, described by Adorno as a conservative newspaper, leaning far to the right wing of the Republican Party. He engages in a detailed analysis of the column between November 1952 and February 1953. His method is that of the systematic construction of the imagined readers of the column and a critique of the ideology that the column reinforces, that of accepting the social system as fate. Adorno hypothesizes that columns such as these mold to some extent the reader’s thinking and foster an element of blind acceptance. The impetus of the piece, as in “The Thesis against Occultism” (1947), is to highlight the tendency toward irrationality and authoritarianism in mid-twentieth-century Western culture. In the analysis of the column, this irrationality is reflected by the readers’ acceptance of the column’s absurd claim to be inspired by the stars, and the need to look for guidance and succor in the advice of an expert authority on mundane matters. The stars stand in for the reader of the column as a source of authority, and the belief in astrology represents for him or her a belief in a higher order—one that also appears to present to events a veneer of rationality to its opaque origin.

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Carl Schmitt on the Diary

Jakob Norberg’s “Day-to-Day Politics: Carl Schmitt on the Diary” appears in Telos 157 (Winter 2011). Read the full version online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

Early on in his career, Carl Schmitt articulated a cultural critique of the diary. He saw the personal journal as a manifestation and reinforcement of the writing subject’s vanity and self-importance in a sterile modern world. The resulting record, moreover, offered up the diarist’s inner life to the gaze of dissecting readers, who tended to convert polemical arguments into psychological symptoms. Yet Schmitt also kept something like a daily journal and was thus forced to struggle against the diary from within the genre itself. His post-1945 notebooks, entitled Glossarium, constitute a cultural battlefield upon which this struggle takes place. By means of strategies such as scathing portraits of famous diarists and displays of sententious concision, Schmitt sought to expel the diary from his own notebooks, or stage a paradoxical day-to-day resistance to the pathologies of the age emblematized in the diary form itself. The study of Schmitt’s non-diary ultimately sheds light on his political understanding of writing. For him, genres are never neutral vehicles of ideas but rather inflect thought in ideologically relevant ways.

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Adorno and the Dialectic of Environment

Eric S. Nelson’s “Revisiting the Dialectic of Environment: Nature as Ideology and Ethics in Adorno and the Frankfurt School” appears in Telos 155 (Summer 2011). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our store.

As a contribution to a responsive and critical materialist ethics of environments and animals, this essay reexamines the significance of nature and animals in the critical social theory of Theodor Adorno. In response to the anthropocentric stance of intersubjective discourse and recognition in recent figures associated with the Frankfurt School, such as Jürgen Habermas and Axel Honneth, I argue for the ecological import of the aporetic dialectic of nature and society in Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and Adorno’s later works. Adorno’s continuing confrontation with the “domination of nature” traces the tensions between the ideological construction and resistance of “nature” as well as the instrumentalization and implicit disruptive promise of sensuous life. These tensions indicate the material and bodily bonds between human and animal happiness and suffering and the ambiguous role of mimesis in both domination and emancipation. Adorno insisted on the critical prospect of an unforced and non-coercive freedom that brings us toward the object and responsibility for socially and historically mediated and non-identical natural life.

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