Negative Utopia as the Ground for Universality

In his Critique of Judgment, Kant explains how “subjective judgments” resemble theoretical claims about truth in that they claim universal assent, even though they do not have an objective basis for doing so. In other words, although they are subjective, they assert a strict sense of objectivity and claim a universal ground for truth. Therefore, the proof of the validity of these judgments cannot be found in a specific “observable feature” of the object, but rather in the “actual intersubjective agreement.” While truth in his third Critique is neither a matter of the intellect nor a thing reducible to conceptual realm, it seems that he offers a different sense of truth that influenced the major trends in continental philosophy. One can trace this sense of truth as it provides a ground not only to “test the limits of our historical era” but also “to go beyond them.”

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Utopia Alone

Utopia is necessary: it alone “can rescue a very limited reality” (16). Without it we are shackled by the thoughts of others, confined within realms of possibility defined by those in power. Peace, disarmament—both can seem idealistic, even ridiculous. But our incredulity results not only from the distance of these concepts from the everyday. We have been taught to understand pacifism as impractical, disarmament as suicide.

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Feminist Performance Art and Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory

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, Carlos Kong looks at Julia Rothenberg’s “Form, Utopia, and Feminist Performance Art: Toward a Rehabilitation of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory” from Telos 137 (Winter 2006).

In “Form, Utopia, and Feminist Performance Art: Toward a Rehabilitation of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory,” Julia Rothenberg attempts a recovery of Adorno’s aesthetic theory through an unconventional application of its utopian hermeneutic gestures to feminist performance art of the 1970s. Reading beyond popularized characterizations of Adorno’s pessimism, his apoliticism, his privileging of high modernism, and his negativistic theorizations of culture under late capitalism, Rothenberg suggests that overlooked, utopian elements of Adorno’s critiques of Enlightenment and commodified exchange practices both prefigure and are revived by feminist performance art. Rothenberg’s focus on Adorno’s disavowal of instrumental reason and his turn to art as counter-dialectic to the dominating potential of knowledge accrues a new politicized relevance when reread in relation to feminist performance practices. Thus, a rehabilitation of Adorno’s critical utopianism, as Rothenberg ultimately maintains, further invokes the possibility of political praxis and social transformation when expressively performed in the body of the subjected.

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