Allegories of Falling

Howard Eiland’s “Allegories of Falling” 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.

Although the story of the Fall of Man, as recounted in the biblical book of Genesis, has been a continual source of literature and thought, its meaning remains elusive. At issue in the story is the conception of self-consciousness, understood as a power of reflection on the immediacy of experience, a division in being (I am now “beside myself” in shame) that parodies the original division and articulation of things in the act of Creation. Adam and Eve awaken from their child-like absorption, awaken from and to their nakedness; they fall into the world and into history, as into adulthood. It is in the context of this mortal knowledge and emergent negotiation of distance that the ur-Christian problematic of the “now,” involving the distinction of chromos from kairos, manifests its paradoxical gravity, something obscured by linear eschatologies. The messianic awakening is not a simple restoration of immediacy, nor any solid “ground,” but readiness for the sudden transformation of chromos into kairos, an allegorizing of experience as the play of eternal transience. Among the many literary afterlives of the garden/world allegory, this article focuses on examples from the works of Shakespeare, Dickens, and Kafka.

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Naturalism as an Ontology of Ourselves

Maurizio Meloni’s “Naturalism as an Ontology of Ourselves” 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.

Scientific naturalism, according to Jürgen Habermas, represents one of the “two countervailing trends that mark the intellectual tenor of our age,” the other being religious worldviews. Using Foucault’s distinction between philosophy as an “analytic of truth” and philosophy as an “ontology of the present” and “ontology of ourselves,” this essay addresses naturalism less as an epistemological issue than as a global way of rethinking humanness, that is as the theoretical “correlative” of certain local practices, which, under the influence of leading sciences such as neuroscience and molecular biology, contribute today to the naturalization of the human. In the second part of the essay, I will discuss three hermeneutic models through which leading Continental thinkers have reacted to this intertwinement of naturalism and the human condition in modernity: naturalism as a break, as a danger, and as a loss. From their reactions, the antinaturalistic legacy of much of Continental philosophy emerges clearly, and invites us to think of the present naturalistic epoch in a more radical way.

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Adorno's Ethics Without the Ineffable

Fabian Freyenhagen’s “Adorno’s Ethics Without the Ineffable” 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.

There is a perennial problem affecting Adorno’s philosophy: his critical theory seems to lack the resources to account for the normative claims it contains. In an influential article, James Gordon Finlayson has analyzed this problem and offered an intriguing solution to it. According to Finlayson, Adorno subscribes to a normative ethics, but this commitment is in tension with his view that we cannot know the good or any positive values (in short, with his negativism). Finlayson argues that by drawing only on resources within Adorno’s philosophy, it is, however, possible to provide access to a kind of good that is suitable as a normative basis for his ethics (namely, the good involved in the experiences of trying to have insights into what is ineffable); and this is the best way to resolve the tension between Adorno’s normative commitment and his negativism. In this essay, I show that this proposal is unsuitable both (1) as a normative basis of Adorno’s ethics and (2) for explaining how it is possible for people to act according to this ethics. I outline an alternative solution that relies only on Adorno’s conception of the bad and defend it against objections.

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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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On Minima Moralia and Adorno’s Critical Modernism

Roger Foster’s “Lingering with the Particular: Minima Moralia‘s Critical Modernism” 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 argues that the ethical claim of Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia depends on its being read as an original version of the modernist idea of ethical critique as the aesthetic presentation of individual experience. While contemporary efforts to understand Minima Moralia as a form of substantive critique have merit, they have not fully appreciated the character of this work as a type of ethical performance. The second section of the essay lays out the background of this model of ethical critique in Adorno’s understanding of the system of universal fungibility. Adorno’s ethical performance, I argue, is a way of rescuing the ethical import of particularity. The execution of this idea in Minima Moralia through the rhetorical strategy of exaggeration is then examined in the third section. I then turn, finally, to a discussion of the key conceptual contrast between “lingering” and possessiveness. These terms allow Adorno to theorize injustice as a distortion of particularity, and also provide the model for a form of thinking and comportment that resists that distortion.

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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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