9. Representation

This might help explain why philosophy has to care about how it is presented, why the style and form of philosophy are immanent in its idea and not external terms. Its intrinsic expressiveness, unconceptual and mimetic, can only be made objective if represented, which is to say, by language. Philosophy’s version of freedom is nothing other than the capacity to give voice to its unfreedom. If its expressiveness sets itself up as something more than that, it will degenerate into just another worldview; but if philosophy relinquishes its expressiveness and the onus of presenting itself, it becomes indistinguishable from science. Expression and rigor are not, for philosophy, possibilities between which one must choose. They require one another; the one cannot exist without the other. As expression struggles with thought and thought struggles with it, thought relieves expression of its contingency. Thought never cinches anything until it has been expressed, until it has been represented in language; laxly spoken is poorly thought. It is the act of expression that commands rigor from what is being expressed. Expression is not an end in itself, at the expense of what it expresses; rather, it spirits the latter away from its monstrous thingliness, which is itself the object of philosophical critique. Speculative philosophy with no idealist undercarriage requires a loyalty to rigor in order to override rigor’s authoritarian claim to power. Walter Benjamin’s original Arcades Project combined, in a way never since matched, speculative capacity with a micro-proximity to its material contents; in a letter, he himself rendered a verdict on the earliest, intrinsically metaphysical stratum of that work, saying it was “impermissibly ‘poetic’” and would have to be brought in line. This declaration of surrender designates both the difficulty of a philosophy that does not want to wander off course and the point on which the concept of philosophy will need to be pushed further. It was no doubt his blind acceptance of dialectical materialism—as, if you like, a worldview—that prompted this surrender. But the fact that Benjamin never got around to writing out his Arcades theory in finished form should serve as a warning: that philosophy becomes something more than a business only when, in response to the traditional way that thought cheats its way to absolute certainty, it lays itself open to complete and irreversible failure. Benjamin’s defeatism in the face of his own ideas was conditioned by a remnant of un-dialectical positivity that he brought with him, unchanged at the level of form, from his theological phase into his materialistic one. It is compared with this that Hegel’s identifying thought as negativity—a negativity that safeguards philosophy against scientific positivity or against amateurish contingency—finds its roots in lived experience. Thought is, in itself and when presented with any particular content, negation; it resists whatever has been forced upon it. Thought has inherited this feature from the relationship of work to its material, which is its archetype. If ideology is, now more than ever, trying to whip thought up into a riot of positivity, then all this does is register cunningly that this is precisely contrary to thought and that it takes a friendly pep-talk from the authorities in order to habituate it thereunto. The effort that is implicit in the very concept of thought, as sworn enemy to passive sense-perception, is already negative, a rebellion against the unreasonable demand, made by all immediacy, that thought should bow to it. Judgments and conclusions, the thought-forms that even the critique of thought cannot dispense with, contain within themselves the seeds of critique. The certainty they evince is also the exclusion of anything that does not come within their compass, and the truth that they mean to organize denies, albeit on questionable authority, anything they haven’t themselves already stamped. The judgment that something is such and such a way potentially staves off the possibility that the relation of its subject to its predicate could be expressed as anything but a judgment.  The thought-forms want to go beyond the merely present, the “given.” The sharp end that thought points against its materials isn’t just the domination, in spiritual form, of nature. Thought might commit violence against the objects drawn up into its syntheses, but at the same time it is harkening to a potential that lies waiting in these objects, its counterparts, and it is obeying, unconsciously, the idea that it should make amends to the world’s scraps and fragments for what it itself has wrought; philosophy becomes conscious of this unconscious program. Implacable thought is joined to the hope of reconciliation, because the resistance of thought to the merely existing, the imperious freedom of the subject, also intends those features of the object that were lost when it was made into an object, which is to say a specimen.

ADORNO, NEGATIVE DIALEKTIK (1966), pp. 29-31