5. The Antagonistic Whole

This notion of the dialectic makes one doubt whether it is even possible. To anticipate non-stop motion within contradictions seems, however modified, to proclaim the totality of the Mind, precisely the now abrogated identity thesis. It is said that the mind that reflects assiduously on the contradiction in some thing or item could hardly be anything but the totality, provided the latter is organized into the form of a contradiction. All truth, which in the idealist dialectic rushes past each and every particular, because particulars are one-sided and so false, would have to be the truth of the whole; if this truth were not rehearsed in advance, the dialectical steps would lack all thrust and direction. To this one must respond that the object of the mind’s experience is the antagonistic system, which is antagonistic in some intrinsic and exceedingly real way, and not only when it is mediated by the knowing subject that rediscovers itself therein. The constitution of reality is itself coercive; idealism projected this coercion into the region of subject and Mind; the task now is to translate it back. What remains of idealism is the idea that the Mind’s objective determinant, which is society, is as much the quintessence or comprehensive concept of all subjects as it is their negation. In society, they are made unrecognizable and powerless; hence society’s desperate objectivity, hence its status as Concept, which idealism mistakes for the positive term. The system does not belong to the absolute Mind; it belongs to the entirely conditional Mind of those who command it without even knowing how much it is theirs. The subjective preformation of the material and social process of production, fundamentally different from its theoretical constitution, is its unresolved term, the thing that cannot be reconciled with subjects. Its own rationality, which, unconscious like the transcendental subject, generates identity via exchange, cannot be made commensurate with the subjects that it reduces to a common denominator: the subject is enemy to the subject. The preceding version of universality is true and untrue at once: true, because it is the “ether” that Hegel calls Mind or Spirit; untrue, because its rationality is not rational; its universality is the product of a particular interest. This is where the philosophical critique of identity overtakes philosophy. And yet something that cannot be subsumed into identity—use value, the Marxists call it—is equally necessary if life is to go on at all, even under the relations of production now dominant; this is the ineffable quality of utopia. Utopia intervenes into what is being plotted to prevent it from coming to pass. In the face of utopia’s concrete possibility, dialectics is the ontology of the wrong state of things. The right state of things would be set free from dialectics; neither system nor contradiction.

-ADORNO, NEGATIVE DIALEKTIK (1966), pp. 21-22

One response to “5. The Antagonistic Whole

  1. You’re my hero.