3. Reality and Dialectics


But this law is not cognitive; it is real. Anyone who submits to dialectical discipline will, no doubt, pay a bitter sacrifice in the qualitative variety of experience. The dialectical impoverishment of experience, however, so scandalous to hale and hearty opinion, is ultimately in keeping with the abstract monotony of the administered world. The agony of dialectics is agony over that world, raised to a concept. Cognition must bow to the administered world if it is not to degrade concreteness into the ideology that it is on its way to becoming in reality. An altered version of dialectics would be content to be reborn as impotent: to be derived from Kant’s aporias and from the plans drawn up in the systems of his successors, but then never achieved. It can be achieved only by negation. Dialectics unfolds the difference between the particular and the universal, a difference itself dictated by the universal. The subject cannot escape this difference—the rift in consciousness between subject and object—which plows a rut through everything it thinks, even objectively, but this difference would have its end in reconciliation. This would set the non-identical free, release it from coercion and constraint, even of an intellectual kind, disclose, at last, the multiplicity of difference, over which dialectics would no longer have any power. Reconciliation would be the bearing-in-mind of the no longer hostile many, such as is anathema to subjective reason. Dialectics is in the service of reconciliation. It dismantles the coercive character of logic, which it also follows; that’s why some condemn it as “panlogism.” Idealist dialectics was linked with the supremacy of the absolute subject, the force that produces, by negation, every single one of the concept’s movements as well as the course of the whole. Historically, the primacy of the subject stands condemned, even in its Hegelian version, which had outstripped any notion of individual consciousness and even Kantian or Fichtean notions of transcendental consciousness. It is not just that the subject is pushed from the scene by the impotence of thought as it slackens, faced with the superior strength of world history and unsure that it will ever command it. None of the reconciliations maintained by absolute idealism—and they alone were consistent and thorough—ended up holding water, not the logical ones, not the politico-historical ones. A logically consistent idealism could only construe itself as the epitome of contradiction, and this is both its logical truth and the punishment doled out to its logicality as logicality; it is appearance and also necessary. The dialectic’s non-idealist form has, in the meantime, been reduced to dogma and its idealist form to a badge of learning; to put dialectics back on trial is to decide about more than the currency of a traditional mode of philosophizing or the philosophical structure of the object of knowledge. Hegel had given philosophy the right and ability to think again about content, instead of making do with the analysis of empty and emphatically trivial cognitive forms. When contemporary philosophy has anything to say about content, it either falls back into the arbitrariness of a world-view or it embraces the formalism, the “indifference,” against which Hegel once took his stand. This is evidenced, in historical terms, by phenomenology, which was once driven by a burning desire for content and developed into an invocation of Being that expels all content as a kind of pollution. Hegel’s content-laden way of doing philosophy had as its foundation and result the primacy of the subject or, as the famous formulation in the opening remarks to the Logic has it: the identity of identity and non-identity. The determinate individuum, could, for Hegel, be determined by mind, because its immanent determination was meant to be nothing other than mind. Without this supposition, philosophy would, on Hegel’s account, be incapable of recognizing content or essence. If the concept of dialectics produced by idealism does not retrieve experiences that are, pace the Hegelian emphasis, independent of the idealist apparatus, then philosophy is headed for a kind of renunciation; it will deny itself any insight into content, confine itself to the scientific method, declare this to be philosophy, and virtually cancel itself out.

THEODOR ADORNO, NEGATIVE DIALEKTIK (1966), pp. 18-19